They sit on the big iron roller in the shadow of the stands, looking across the perfectly mown pitch. The day is dazzling. Mel’s a groundsman, responsible for the green velvety stripes. Val sells ice cream. They grew up together in the same shabby Stockwell Street. He’s just proposed. She thinks, “I’ll never be this happy again. It isn’t possible.”
She doesn’t know (how could she know?) that war will be declared a week after the wedding, that cricket will be cancelled for the duration, the Oval designated a POW camp. He’ll be called up; she’ll work in a munitions factory: long hours, high jinks, dirty jokes and oil-stained fingers, a lonely bed at night. Always the underlying dread: “Is he alive?” There’ll be a glorious lifting of the cloud when he arrives from Dunkirk, grey as a ghost. In that moment she will think, “This is perfect. I cannot possibly be this happy again.”
Once more alone, dealing with morning sickness and bedbugs, cheated by her landlady, nightly she’ll study a map of North Africa. Her Mum will be bombed out, the old street destroyed: no home to visit for comfort. At night she won’t dare carry the baby to the shelter, the pavements slippery and treacherous, beams of light criss-crossing the sky, sirens screaming. She’ll cradle him in the coalhole when the V1s start, crawling out black-streaked and shaky after next door takes a direct hit.
Soon after VE Day, a knock on the door. She’ll stand on the step, the baby (wearing a knitted hat that makes him look like a chessman) on her hip. Mel and the child will stare at one another. She’ll think, “I cannot believe this happiness. Can anything be this perfect ever again?”