Soldier | Part Five
Pietro’s arm vibrates with the force of the lump hammer as it comes down hard on the metal plough.
“Woah there, soldier,” the Tommy jokes, the guard with the thin spider-leg eyebrows and the beady eyes of a rat.
“Thee mean’a be fixin it, not breakin’ t’up.”
His use of the word ‘solider’ and the thick lilt of his northern accent reminds Pietro too much of Molly and shakes the hollow loneliness he had tried to bury. He misses her so fiercely that it burns. He has lost the energy and enthusiasm the other men so revered. Now he is just another lost soldier biding his time before the war ends.
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It has been a whole month since Pietro has seen Molly; when she told him about the baby.
He had been shocked but delighted and impulsively proposed marriage before the reality of her words sunk home. A baby. Their child. A family? Pietro already had a young wife at home, a girl he had waved to loyally as he boarded the Regia Marina in 1939. But would he ever return to her? Had she remained loyal to him or had she stepped out with another man? Their marriage had been hastily arranged and even more hastily consummated like so many others in the desperation of the depression and then wartime. Despite sending home letter after letter, he had received only one brief reply from his mother, most of it blacked out by the censors and with no word of her.
In the cold January evening, full of promise of the new year ahead, he considered the fact he may end up with two wives — or none. But he had not seen his young lover since.
Molly struggles up the steep stone steps, the basket weighing heavy against her left hip. She tries to offset it to one side, balancing the bulk opposite the bulge of the baby that she struggles to ignore as each day passes and the thing grows inside her belly.
Reaching the soft heat of the stove, she bends to pile on a few more wooden logs inside, welcoming the pain of a sharp splinter in the delicate pad of her fingertip. She curses impulsively aloud in Italian, “accidenti!” and sucks at the bright ball of blood, as hot tears mix with her freckles. Pitiful sobs overcome her and she sinks to the floor. Her sweet fairytale has soured.
When her parents discovered her pregnancy and she revealed who the father was, she was forbidden to leave the house. She lost her job at the camp, she lost her income and she lost her freedom. But most of all she lost her dream. Her colourful bright life had faded to black and white.
At first they threatened to send Molly away, far down the country to Devon where she would stay with a distant cousin and escape what they called her ‘shame’. But she felt no disgrace, she loved Pietro and she knew what they felt could not be wrong.
Now, locked away in the house she is permitted to escape only as far as the small courtyard shielded from view by high brick walls. Her imprisonment only compounds her longing for Pietro, now understanding his captivity. But none of that matters, she will never see him again, or his baby. It is to be given to the church for an older, childless couple to care for and raise as their own. Molly does not care, she has nothing left to care with.
Molly cradles the tiny bundle in her arms, unable to believe she has given life to this small delicate creature. She looks into the sweet cherub face new to this world and sees the perfectly English rosebud lips and silky Italian-dark skin. She promises never to let go of her little girl.
“I’ll call you Charlotte,” she whispers.
This was the finale of ‘Soldier’. Thank you for reading, and please enjoy the other excellent content available on The Story Shack.