A Subdued Dinner by R. T. Hardwick

The funereal tones of Neville Chamberlain rolled across the airwaves. Six people, three married couples, sat eating a meal that felt like ashes in their mouths. A fifth, a boy of eight, sat on a small chair near the fire. He was reading a Radio Fun comic. Sandy Powell and his: ‘Can you hear me now, mother?’ always made him giggle. Something in the attitude of the adults caused him to stop giggling and to listen. 

‘I heard there’ll be rationing,’ said the child’s mother. ‘Four ounces of bacon and cheese a week and four ounces of sweets per month.’ 

The child looked up, horrified. Four ounces a month. That was an ounce a week. ‘I’ll starve,’ he said. 

‘They’re not rationing vegetables,’ said his father. 

‘I hate vegetables,’ the child wailed. 

‘I read in the News of the World that we’ll be getting Anderson shelters,’ said Mrs Wilson. ‘We’ll have to sleep in them every night.’ 

‘That’ll be fun in winter,’ observed Mrs Carter. ‘Having to grope our way into the garden and sleep in a damp, cold and smelly shelter.’ 

‘Spiders,’ thought the child. ‘They’ll crawl all over me and climb into my mouth. I can’t go in there.’ 

‘There’s bound to be an invasion,’ the boy’s father said. ‘We’re not prepared for war. We’ll have Jerries on every street corner.’ 

‘Chamber pots on every corner?’ thought the child. 

‘There’s talk of an imminent gas attack,’ said Mr Wilson. ‘Mustard gas and chlorine.’ ‘Stop it, you’ll frighten the boy,’ said Mrs Carter. 

‘Never mind the boy, you’re frightening me,’ said Mrs Wilson. 

The child, anxious, began to cry softly. 

‘It’s not as bad as all that, son, you’ll still be able to go to school.’ 

The child sobbed even more loudly. 

Published in Issue #16

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