Pale Butterflies

pale butterflies

The History Society. They slipped into the lecture theatre and sat there for half an hour listening to heartbreaking anecdotes about the Blitz. But even this did not succeed in penetrating the cocoon they had created for themselves. An old man in a threadbare army uniform sat on the stage, articulating his memories. ‘I was overseas for a long time. My wife lived in the East End. She was claustrophobic and hated being pressed up against others. She hated the odour that emanated from the bodies of those around her: stale sweat and damp overcoats. So she would not go to the shelter. She stayed home. Every night she would take the barbiturates the doctors prescribed for her. As soon as she heard the sirens she would pop one into her mouth and slip beneath the bedsheets. The cat would jump onto the bed and sit perched on the pillow beside her. And she would fall asleep.

The air raid warden would try to persuade her but to no avail. Short of removing her by force there was nothing they could do. Eventually they gave up. ‘Oh sod you. You do whatever you want to do. I have more deserving people to deal with. One thing I can guarantee is that if you go on like this you won’t survive the night.’ Then he strode towards the door without looking back. And you know something: she’s still here.’ he flashed a toothless grin. He pointed at the auditorium. His wife was sitting in the front row. The audience stood up to applaud her.

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