V for VioletBy: Alison Rattle
Battersea, London 1961
I was born above our fish and chip shop on Battersea Park Road, at the exact moment Winston Churchill came on the wireless to announce the war was over.
Nobody saw me come into the world. Nobody saw me land on the newspapers that had been laid out under Mum’s bottom and across the mattress to protect it from stains. Even Mum missed my birth, she was so busy cheering along with the rest of them. The rest of them being my dad (Frank the Fish), Mrs Rice the midwife, my sister Norma and a motley collection of neighbours who’d come in to listen to Mr Churchill, because they didn’t have a wireless of their own. Mum had insisted on taking the wireless into the bedroom with her when the first pains started, so of course it stood to reason that everyone else crowded in there too.
It was a while before anyone saw me lying there, all goggle-eyed and gasping for air. ‘Never felt a thing!’ Mum said, when Mrs Rice finally turned her attention back to the goings on between Mum’s legs and exclaimed out loud at the sight of me floundering around on the bloodied pages of the Evening Standard.
Violet, they called me.
V for Violet
V for Victory
Most people don’t remember the moment of their birth. But I’ll never forget it. One minute I’m cocooned in a delicious warm, safe darkness, dreaming of nothing in particular. The next, I am being squeezed so tightly that my soft little ribs pop. Then the shock of cold and wetness and a terrible burning as my first breath inflates the delicate tissue of my lungs. Then white, aching light and the stink of stale fat and newspaper print (although I couldn’t have put names to the things I was smelling then, of course).
Once my eyes had blinked a few times and got used to the new sensation of brightness, I looked around. And there they all were; blurry faces turned towards the small box on the dressing table.
Long live the cause of justice
God save the King
Those were the first words that crackled down the tiny coils of my newly unfurled ears. The voice of the British Bulldog. I’m lucky they called me Violet. They could have given me a really stupid name, like Winnie or something.
Anyway, there I was, a tiny pink creature, star-fished in the middle of the bed, blinking and breathing and waiting for somebody to pick me up and love me.
There’s a photograph standing pride of place on the mantelpiece in our front room. Mum dusts it religiously every day. The frame is an ugly, heavy thing, made from carved oak. It reminds me of the coffin they buried our neighbour Mr Dennis in last year. Which is quite funny really, because the face staring out from the centre of the ‘coffin frame’ is of a dead person too.
It’s my brother Joseph. He looks like a proper bobby dazzler all done up in his battledress. The collar of his jacket is buttoned tight around his neck and his cap is balanced very dashingly on the side of his head.
He looks as though he is swallowing a smile; trying to be all serious when really he just wants to fool around. In the photograph, Joseph is only nineteen. There’s the trace of a pale moustache along his top lip and twinkling stars in his eyes
I never met him. He went missing in action before I was even born. Norma told me once that no one had ever heard a scream like the one that came out of Mum’s mouth on the day the telegram was delivered. It was like her soul had been ripped from her insides, Norma said. But then Norma has always been prone to dramatics.
The telegram is on the mantelpiece too, in a tortoiseshell frame. I remember when I was younger I used to worry about the poor tortoise who had been robbed of its home so its shell could be cut up and polished and stuck up there on our mantelpiece. I asked Norma to teach me to knit so I could make little blankets for all the naked tortoises so at least they would be warm at night. ‘You really are a ninny, Violet,’ she said to me. ‘Only you would think of such a thing.’
When I got older and learned to read, I forgot about naked tortoises. Instead, every time I read the telegram my tummy went all squirmy. At first, I thought it was sadness making me feel like that. But as I got older, I realised the feeling was something much worse.
From Wing Commander D. A. Garner
Royal Air Force Station