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Spitfire Autumn THE funny thing is neither of us had even seen a Yank before much less danced with one. Here he was, a little dark man on crutches standing in the corner of the pub chewing a chocolate ice cream where what we expected was a tall dreamy cowboy with pistols and high boots. The very first Yank for two runaround girls of eighteen, and he turns out looking underfed, underpaid, and under-you-know-what, not the other way around like everyone was saying. But what was so extraordinary was he was chewing on the ice cream, not licking it like anyone else would have done. "I'm going to dance with him," Angel said, just like that. "You can't!" I said for no particular reason except my being there to watch out for her. That and because seeing all those brown uniforms for the first time sent shivers all down my spine and I couldn't think very clear. What you have to remember was that to Angel and I, growing up south of the river, the West End was just as far-off and foreign as Texas or California or anywhere else. And I'd lost my mum in a raid you see. They'd taken her away to hospital during the night, and since Mrs. Williams next door was already gone off to work and I was the oldest they had me wait by the tube station for my dad coming home. They gave me a piece of paper with the name of the street on it in case I forgot. Dad changed after that. I don't think it was her dying so much as the time he had trying to get 125 SPITFIRE AUTUMN 126 across the burning city to where she was. It took him the better part of all day, and when he got there it was too late. But what I intended to say was that for a lot of girls like Angel and I coming on to be eighteen or so the West End in those years represented heaven and all we could think of was someday getting there. Here we were cooped up in the Depression, then the Blitz, all the young men gone off, our baby brothers and sisters out in the country, not knowing if we would even make it to seventeen much less eighteen, stuck there to rot in school with nearsighted masters who coughed and got the blackboard all moist so you couldn't properly write your sums without the chalk slipping.... Here we were and not ten minutes away by underground was paradise swarming with Yanks and money and bright lights and all the things we'd ever dreamed about. It was too much for a lot of the girls-a lot of them went out on the street straight away. And it's a wonder Angel didn't, too, because she was that type of girl in some ways. Wild like, full of fun, always needing new clothes and lipstick her mum and dad couldn't possibly afford. They were terribly strict besides, and of course that's what made half of them do it in the first place. I suppose we must have looked that kind, God knows, all fancied up in nylons we'd practically stolen for, out the first time for ourselves in Piccadilly, and here Angel is going up to ask a Yank who's at least four inches shorter than she is to dance. "Wish to hell I could, babe," he said, a little Adolf mustache under his nose from the ice cream. I'm not sure what Angel said after that. There were a lot of Tommys there, too, and one of them was giving me the business. Polite like but you knew what he wanted. In those days it was always "Let's you-know-what, Kay, we don't have much time." After the war it was always "Let's you-know-what, Kay, we have to make up for lost time." Nowadays, nowadays when all most of them should be thinking about is a nice warm chair in front of the SPITFIRE AUTUMN fire and a quiet read it's the "Let's you-know-what, Kay, we don't 127 have much time" all over again. But anyway the next I knew they were really dancing, Angel and the Yank. He still had his crutches with him-he was leaning on...


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MARC Record
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