by Jo Davies
Mary was very particular about tea. For over seventy years she’d made it in precisely the same way: warm the pot, measure out the loose tea leaves, ensure the water is boiling and let it brew.
She plunged a teaspoon into the steaming pot and swirled it around before closing the lid and placing a knitted green tea cosy on top. Five minutes.
Her eyes went to the calendar hanging on the wall beside the pantry. This month’s photograph was of a Spitfire in flight over north-eastern England in 1941. She’d been mesmerised by the image since turning the calendar over last week. The pilot was looking out of his cockpit towards the camera, his eyes clearly visible above his mask.
“Are you one of my boys?” she whispered.
She’d been trying to decide if she recognised him. Truth was, she couldn’t tell.
Mary had only been sixteen when she’d started work at the airbase. She could remember her first day vividly. The cook, Mrs Hollingsworth, had shown her the ropes before issuing words of warning.
“Don’t get attached, don’t mother them too much and don’t learn their names.”
Mary had frowned at that. “What’s wrong with knowing their names?”
“It’s for your own good, dear. You’ll see.”
Soon she had understood. Many of the pilots failed to come home at night. New faces would appear for a while and then, one by one, they too would disappear. The mess hall staff knew better than to ask, but they heard names murmured by the grim faces of those who returned.
Mary did her best to support them. No matter what worries she had or how tired she felt, she always gave the lads a warm welcome and ensured a decent brew was available. To this day, she was convinced that tea had been the lifeblood of the whole war effort.
Five minutes were up. She removed the tea cosy, stirred the pot and poured the tea through a strainer. The ritual gave her comfort; it was a moment of constancy and reassurance amid life’s changes.
Tea in hand, she looked at the photograph of the pilot again.
“I miss having you all to make a brew for,” she said with a lopsided smile. “I hope you made it, whoever you are.”
She turned and shuffled out towards the company of the television where the evening news was starting.
One hundred and thirty-seven miles away, Alison entered room ten.
“Evening, George,” she announced. “I’ve brought you some tea.”
The ninety-three-year-old gave a start and looked up. In front of him the television newsreader was announcing the headlines, but his eyelids had been lowering and his thoughts were deep in memory. He smiled as the care assistant placed the mug beside his armchair.
“There you are. Nice and strong, just how you like it. A few digestives too. All right dear?”
George smiled. “Thanks, Mary love.”
“My pleasure,” Alison replied, bemused. He had a terrible memory for names.
Jo Davies is a new British writer. By day, she works as an editor and publisher in the civil service; by night her imagination comes out to play in the form of flash fiction and short stories. She lives in Berkshire and enjoys finding story prompts in everyday life. Her work has appeared in Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Spelk and New Flash Fiction Review.