The trunk in Doris’s attic stored teeth.
After the dreaded telegram arrived, Doris had found that grief didn’t alter the pressing need to feed the seven hungry mouths chewing air around the dining table. A slice of Spam and one potato each. Blame rationing.
At least his death had meant there’d be no explaining the eighth mouth on its way. Women, old men, and the feeble were too busy in munitions factories and fields to count the months from her husband’s last shore leave.
Doris held open the trunk’s lid, wondering what to do about the teeth. They were rather nice in their own way. Smooth and shiny, with forked or spiky roots; white or yellow-tinged, like semi-precious stones but quintessentially human. She couldn’t take them with her to the care home, as some busybody would find them. Besides, she wanted the trunk to transport her photo albums and mementos from her grown-up children, and from all of her grandchildren; and there were great-grandchildren now, too, with more on the way.
No one else knew about the teeth. Doris needed it to stay that way.
Doris scooped the teeth into an empty plastic bread wrapper. She closed the trunk’s creaking lid, then rose stiffly on equally creaky knees, careful not to smack her forehead against the roof beam directly above. She shuffled back to the loft ladder and tentatively swung one leg into thin air. She ignored the whirling vertigo, which threatened to rob her balance, while her foot found a rung. Slowly, awkwardly, she climbed down. She stood absolutely still for a moment, glad that her feet were now safely planted on the hall carpet.
“Come on, Scamp,” she said to the grey-muzzled mongrel curled up in its basket. “Time for our walk.”
The dog dutifully wagged its tail as it yawned and staggered, bleary-eyed, to its feet, shaking its head rapidly so that its ears flapped like limp propellers.
That afternoon, the park was almost empty. Golden-red and amber leaves floated on the olive-green surface of the lake, where geese and mallards cruised. As soon as Doris pulled the bread wrapper from her coat pocket, the ducks paddled rapidly towards her. If anyone was watching from a distance, they’d just see another sweet, little old lady feeding the birds.
Back during war-time, those ducks would have been dished up for someone’s Sunday dinner. Survival, that’s what counted.
Doris palmed the cold teeth and scattered them in the lake, which wouldn’t be dredged for years to come, most likely. Doris was confident that she would have shuffled off her mortal coil by then.
Survival. She’d had eight to feed, plus herself. She did not want her children to grow stunted like those shamed weaklings rejected by the armed forces, and nobody would miss the few stray simpletons who came begging at her door. Meat for the table. Bones for the soup, then for the pig. Clothes re-stitched for the children. She made do.