has put pen to paper in all this time.’
‘Well I feel sorry for her,’ the girl with the baby said. ‘And I wish you wouldn’t talk so loud, or she’ll hear.’
‘I hope she does hear. This is Portsmouth. We don’t like strange women landing on us with their bastard kids. Why doesn’t she go back to Liverpool where she belongs?’
Why didn’t she? Kitty wondered when she was back in the small, dreary room in which she had lived for so long. Why hadn’t she left months ago, when she still had the money for her fare, when she could have turned up in a nice new coat with her hair styled, looking eminently respectable? Why on earth had she stayed until now, when all her savings had gone and she looked like death warmed up? And out of interest, where would she have turned up? The only place she could go was Bootle, Pearl Street, where she knew people, where her father lived.
She’d been too ashamed to go back; ashamed of Rosie, her beautiful little girl. What did it matter how smart she looked, how elegantly her hair was styled, when she was accompanied by a child who’d been born out of wedlock? That was what people would notice, her child, not her clothes or her hair.
She glanced down at her four-month-old daughter. She was fast asleep, lying on her back, her tiny arms stretched upwards in a gesture of surrender, eyelids fluttering slightly, breathing steadily, not a trouble in the world, entirely unaware of the havoc she had wrought on her mother.
How was it possible for people to regard such innocent perfection with disgust?
Kitty’s mind went back to the day she had left Liverpool, so proud to have a job as a nurse on a troop ship, though at the same time devastated at having discovered that her boyfriend, Dale, an American serviceman, who she assumed she would marry in the very near future, already had a wife and two children back in the States.
At first, she’d considered that her life was over, that nothing would matter any more; even now she could still collapse into tears when she thought about how much she had loved him – and how much he had claimed to love her. But for the sake of other people – her family and friends – it was essential she return to being at least a shadow of her old self.
And she had done it. But she had only been a few weeks on the ship when she realised she was pregnant. It seemed no time since she had experienced the shock of Dale revealing he was married; now there was the further shock of discovering she was expecting his child. She had thought she could manage at least another month before having to tell someone and go home. But she was living among nurses. Some were already aware of her bouts of morning sickness.
It was Matron, who wasn’t just an ordinary matron but a senior officer in the navy, who had noticed her thickening waistline. Kitty was given a good talking-to and ordered to leave the ship when next it docked in England, which turned out to be in Portsmouth. She had found the place where she now lived within the first half-hour – there was a crudely written card in a downstairs window: Room to let, 3/6d week, sherd kichen .
She’d enough money in a Post Office account to get by on for a while. For the next few months she hardly moved out of the room, only to register with a grocer and buy the basic rations. She was allowed extra milk for being pregnant. There was a kitchen in the house where it could be warmed, and she would dip pieces of bread in it. It was virtually all she ate, all she felt like eating.
She had returned to the room after having Rosie. She felt too weak to travel all the way to Liverpool. She wasn’t a properly trained nurse, but she knew enough to realise she was probably anaemic; the baby had taken a lot out of her. She needed iron – decent meat, fruit if it was available – but still she existed on milk and bread. It was easy to get and easy to eat. She breastfed Rosie and felt only half alive.
But now something would