Printed from WriteWords -

Our Lizzie

by  Flamenca

Posted: Sunday, May 3, 2009
Word Count: 1981
Summary: A novel set in 1941, Lizzie moves from the north of England and a devoutly religious family life. However you can take the girl out of the religion - but can you take the religion out of the girl?

May 9th 1941

‘Lizzie…you can’t do this. How can you leave me here in this God forsaken dump and go away.’ Doris sat on her sister’s bed, her face red and swollen with tears of rage and frustration.
‘God hasn’t forsaken you, Doris – or me for that matter, but it’s time for me to make a change. I have a life to live and it has to be somewhere else. I can’t stand it any more.’ Lizzie brushed her dark curls back from her face and patted her young sister on the shoulder before resuming her packing. ‘Don’t make a fuss.’
‘But I don’t want things to change.’
‘Well I do. I’m twenty-four and all I’ve done so far is learn to run a cotton loom.’
‘Is that so bad?’
Lizzie shrugged. ‘You should try it. You wouldn’t last a week, and anyway I won’t have a job here for more than a few months as the cotton mills are closing. And I want more! I want to see a bit of the world. You’re sitting on my red dress.’
Doris reluctantly pulled the dress from beneath her and attempted to smooth the creases. ‘But there’s a war on. It’s dangerous. I’ll be frightened without you.’
‘Everyone’s frightened, and anyway you have Eve who will baby you when I’m gone, and Joe.’
‘I hardly see him now he’s courting.’ Doris began to sob again. ‘He goes off to the pit with Dad, comes home, has a wash and then he’s off to her house. I hate her.’
Lizzie felt a pang of sympathy with her young sister, for her brother’s intended was an ugly young woman with sharp claws and a holier-than-thou attitude which irritated even Lizzie’s long-suffering father.
‘He‘ll tire of her if you leave him alone. The more you rattle at him, the longer it will last. But he’s in the same bind as me as he’s expected to marry someone from The Truth.’
‘And so will I,’ wailed Doris. ‘And there’s no-one of my age I could even think of going with.’
‘You’re sixteen…’
‘Nearly seventeen…’
‘Nearly seventeen - but you’re still too young. Anyway it isn’t a good time to think about getting married with the war.
‘I hate this war,’ Doris sighed.
‘Don’t moan. You have a job, a home and family. There’s millions worse off.’
‘Lizzie, there’s something I want to ask you.’
‘Well?’ With a sigh Lizzie gave up on her packing and sat beside her sister on the bed.’
‘If I left The Truth, would you hate me?’
‘No, of course I wouldn’t. But I’d worry about you. It’s an obligation you know, once you have the knowledge. You can’t ever pretend you weren’t taught.’
‘But it’s so restricting. My friends go dancing, have lots of boyfriends, enjoy parties and smoke. Mum would have fifty fits if I did any of that.’
‘I know it’s hard, Doris, but you’re too young to make a decision about leaving. The Truth has been the bedrock of all our lives. I can’t imagine life without it, and I still want to find someone within it to marry one day.’
‘I wish I didn’t know then. I wish I’d been born a Catholic.’
‘Doris! That’s a dreadful thing to wish.’
‘Why is it?’
‘Well look at the Connolly family next door.’
‘What’s wrong with them? Patrick Connolly is a good looking boy with those blue eyes and dark hair.’
‘So he might be, but he worships idols in their over-decorated church, believes he has a soul which somehow floats out of his body and to Heaven or Hell when he dies, and that if he sprinkles holy water round his bed at night it will keep the devil away. Superstitious rubbish!’
‘I think it’s nice to believe you have a soul.’
‘It’s nice to believe in fairies too. We who know and practice the truth will be raised up when Christ comes again and there will be a thousand years of peace. The lion will lay down with the lamb….’ Lizzie quoted the familiar mantra while considering which coat to take with her.
‘So what will the lion eat…dandelions?’
‘Don’t be disrespectful.’
‘Sorry. Lizzie, please, please, when you’re settled can I come and be with you?’
‘No! I’ll come back often to visit and you can come and see me. But you know, much as I love you, I’ve been your nursemaid most of my life. Mum expected me to look after you a lot and I didn’t mind, but now I want to stretch my wings a bit. I’ve probably got a job, and St.Albans is out of the line of fire of most of the German bombs. I’m not going to be in London.
‘What about our Eve? She’s going to miss you so much too.’
‘Eve is engaged to George, so as soon as he’s out of prison and in a job, she’ll get married and have a home of her own. Now, Miss Misery, it’s my last night at home, so let’s make it a happy one. The family are coming over later and I want to remember cheerful faces when I get on that train tomorrow.
The first members of the family duly turned up at six o’clock. Lizzie went downstairs to greet her mother’s sister, Aunt Lily with husband Bill. Doris lingered at the top of the stairs having been threatened with no tea if she showed a sulky face.
‘So you’re off then, dear,’ said her Aunt, settling herself into a fireside chair in the front room. ‘Can’t say as I blame you. Let’s hope you find a young man soon, our Lizzie, because you’re not getting any younger.’
‘Tactful as always, Lily,’ muttered Bill, giving her a dig.
‘And if you’ll take a tip from me,’ she continued, ignoring him, ‘I’d take a bit of a holiday from this religious nonsense and have some fun. You can always go back to it later and say sorry.’
‘Aunt Lily, you’re incorrigible. Have a cup of tea.’ Lizzie rose, poured from the large blue pot on the table and handed her aunt a china cup and saucer. ‘A biscuit?’
‘Don’t change the subject, Lizzie. I mean to have my say before your mother comes into the room. Life is too short to be hamstrung by a religion practised by a few hundred people at most. Stands to reason they’ve got it arse about face and I really hope that when you get away from this hotbed of bigoted, po-faced, eccentrics that you’ll see it for what it is. Bertha….how are you love?’ Lily rose and embraced her sister.
‘I’m all right, Lily, but I don’t know what I’m going to do without my girl.’ She brought out a handkerchief and wiped her eyes.
‘Mother, don’t start. I’m going to St.Albans, not Australia. Now have a cup of tea and I’ll let in Jack and Elsie.’
Lizzie went to the front door and with a tight smile showed into the room Lily and Bill’s daughter Elsie, a small, blonde with a vacant expression , followed by her new husband Jack.
'Lizzie...' Jack passed her, too closely for comfort. She could smell the ale on his breath. Lizzie ushered him and Elsie into the front room, where Lily demanded waspishly,
‘How are you today, Jack?’
‘Doing better, Mother,’ he replied. ‘Doing better?’
‘Signing up soon then?’
‘All in good time. Fallen arches are not good for soldiers. Can’t march on bad feet you know.’ He leered at Lizzie. ‘I’ve brought you some stockings as a farewell gift. If you let me know where you’re staying I could send you some more...’
‘Thank you, but no. I have a principle about buying off the black market.’
‘Suit yourself,’ he shrugged, accepting a cup of tea from Bertha. ‘Elsie’s got a job in the munitions factory, haven’t you, little darling?’
‘Yes,’ replied Elsie.
‘Is it fun?’ asked Lizzie. ‘Are you working with some friendly women?’
‘I’ll re-fill the teapot.’ Lizzie swept from the room and bumped into Doris who was waiting outside.
‘I can’t stand Jack, Do I still have to be cheerful when I go in there?’ she demanded.
‘I can’t stand him either. He’s a spiv and last time he was here he pinched my bottom.’
Doris giggled. ‘I bet nobody from The Truth has ever done that. Did those two you got engaged to ever…you know, put a hand where they shouldn’t?’
‘You’re blushing.’
‘Well, you shouldn’t ask things like that.’
‘Why not? I’m not doubting you’re still a virgin, but surely you did more than kiss goodnight.’
Lizzie glared at her, remembering Harold’s fumbling attempt to put a hand up her skirt, and the unexpected French kiss which had revolted her. She had ended the engagement the next day. As for Arthur, well, she had always feared he would rather have spent time with Joe than her. She had put aside the idea that he might be homosexual because that was forbidden in The Truth and, as her mother had explained to her, was a nasty habit started in the trenches in the First World War when there were no women available. But nevertheless, when Joe was in the room Arthur sought him out and forgot to pay Lizzie any attention at all. She had ended the relationship and Arthur had wept with relief.
A knock at the front door signalled the arrival of her father’s brother John with his overblown, overlarge wife, Fanny. Fanny puffed into the room and breathlessly sank into a chair which creaked in protest. John, who clearly wanted to pay a duty call and be gone, lingered by the front room door, a cigarette dangling from his fingers and a bored expression on his face. In his forties he had so far avoided being called up and Lizzie had heard rumours he was involved in a number of unsavoury enterprises, including dog fighting.
Fanny accepted a cup of tea and helped herself to two biscuits.
‘You’re off on an adventure then, Lizzie,’ she began. ‘I hope you know what you’re doing.’
‘I hope so too, Aunt Fanny. If it goes wrong I can always come home, can’t I, Mum?’
Bertha began to weep again. ‘She’s my rock.’
‘Now, now, Bertha. Give over and let the girl leave happy tomorrow. You shouldn’t make her feel guilty. After all you ran off with Joseph when you were eighteen and never gave a thought to your poor mother.’
‘But I didn’t have the knowledge then Lily. That came to me after, and now I know better.’
‘You ran off with Dad before you were wed?’ This was news to Lizzie, who sat upright with shock.
‘It was to escape a dreadful situation…’ began Bertha.
‘Tell us about it,’ pleaded Doris, who had slipped into the room unnoticed. ‘It sounds so romantic.’
‘It was a long time ago and best forgotten.’ Bertha’s tone brooked no argument and they all fell silent, embarrassed. ‘God doesn’t blame us for what we did before we knew the truth. He forgives us for that,’ she added piously, and the gathered company sighed with frustration.
‘So, you’ll be staying with friends, then. From the church,’ said Lily, turning a wicked smile on Lizzie.
‘How many times, Lily. We don’t call it a church because that smacks of the idolatrous Catholics and the C of E which is hardly any better. We just refer to our gatherings as meetings – as you well know.’ Bertha had recovered her composure and was happy to divert attention from the unwelcome revelation by her sister.
‘All right…Lizzie, you will be staying with friends from “the meeting”,’ continued Lily, pulling a face at Bertha.
‘Yes. I shall be morally chaperoned,’ Lizzie smiled affectionately at her aunt. ‘And they have a telephone, so you can all call me.’