attached the baby to her other breast. Mollie gave a half-hearted cry of protest before the new breast was thrust into her mouth.
‘Lena’s is the only house where he couldn’t go in the front – where it wouldn’t look funny, like.’
‘D’you think they’re actually doing it, Bren?’
Brenda grinned. ‘Doing what, Sheil?’
‘Oh, you know what I mean – it !’
‘Well I hope so,’ Brenda said with a chuckle. ‘George Ransome can come through my back door any time he likes. Eh, you should have seen this chap who’s just been to ask if I’ll make a dress for his wife. He brought this lovely pink satin with him, a bit loud for my taste, but …’ She paused and a look of delighted recognition spread over her face. ‘I know, he wants it for himself!’
Sheila looked started. ‘What?’
Brenda wandered into the kitchen, where she put the kettle on and washed two cups and saucers. ‘He wants the dress for himself,’ she repeated.
‘Like Old Mother Reilly and Kitty, you mean? They were on at the Empire Theatre last year. That woman who works in the fish and chip shop in Marsh Lane, Millie Felice, she went to see them.’
Brenda supposed Mr Lester might be on the stage. ‘I dunno,’ she muttered. But if that was the case, she would have understood perfectly if he had said the dress was for him. There would be no reason to pretend it was for his wife.
‘In real life,’ Sheila went on, ‘Old Mother Reilly is a man and he’s married to Kitty.’
‘I know,’ Brenda acknowledged. ‘Would you mind if your Calum dressed up as a woman?’
Sheila shuddered. ‘I’d go right off him if he did. What about you?’
Brenda narrowed her eyes and tried to imagine Mr Lester in a pink satin dress. ‘I don’t think I’d mind,’ she said. ‘It would depend who it was. Oh, and talking of Kitty, it’s ages and ages since we heard from our Kitty.’
The women were silent as they thought about their friend Kitty Quigley, who’d left Bootle last year to be a nurse on a hospital ship.
‘She left about a year ago, last August or September,’ Brenda continued. ‘She wrote me one letter and you had one too, didn’t you? Since then, nothing. Her dad hasn’t heard anything either. He’s worried sick.’ Kitty’s dad lived along the road with his two stepsons.
‘I hope she’s all right,’ Sheila said worriedly.
‘So do I,’ agreed Brenda. ‘The trouble with Kitty is that she’s too nice by a mile.’
Sheila smiled. ‘Not like us, we’re horrible.’
Brenda nodded in agreement. ‘Dead horrible.’
Kitty could hear the woman talking about her. She was being deliberately loud, knowing that she was in earshot, standing behind Kitty in the queue outside the greengrocer’s.
‘She’s lived there over a year and there’s been no sign of a husband,’ sneered the woman. She lived in the basement in the same house as Kitty – a three-storey terraced property close to the docks – and was never seen without a ciggie in her mouth. She must get them on the black market; ordinarily, cigarettes were impossible to buy on a regular basis.
‘I know a woman whose hubby’s in India and has been on leave just once since the war started,’ another voice said reasonably. ‘Mrs Quigley’s hubby could be anywhere in the world.’ The voice belonged to the girl who lived next door and had just had a baby, a little boy. ‘And don’t forget, she wears a wedding ring.’
‘Huh! Y’can get wedding rings sixpence a time in Woolies,’ the other woman said scornfully. ‘They’re made of brass. And anyway, what about letters? She hasn’t had a single letter either, not before the baby, nor after.’
‘You’re right,’ put in another voice. Although Kitty couldn’t see the speaker, she knew that this voice belonged to the woman with the hairy chin who was a friend of the smoker. ‘I mean, even if her husband’s not in a position to write, she must have friends, relatives, but not one