Jim reeve

Joan and Jim at Basildon Library carrying out a signing
Joan and Jim at Basildon Library carrying out a signing.
A Soldier’s War
The Suitcase
In the Beginning
To Ben With Love
The First Casualty

This is a true short story which came third in a competition run by the Society of Women Writers' and Journalists. I was the first man to receive a prize from them.

“The Morris Duo” Short Story Competition - “It’s a Kind of Magic”

The Suitcase

   How could an ordinary brown suitcase have changed one’s existence?

   How could it have turned one’s life on its head leading to a life of happiness and contentment. It is difficult to believe that a suitcase has such powers but mine has!

   As I carefully packed my Royal Air Force kitbag to go on an exercise, I knew that, no matter how carefully I put my clothes in, they would come out like rags and I hated ironing. I decided it was time to do something about it.

   After the exercise, I visited the village shop in Fassberg Germany, where I was doing National Service and bought a brown suit case for 12 marks, which was about a pound in 1956.

   A few days later, my anticipation began to grow as I put my application in for U.K. leave, with the added bonus of avoiding crumpled clothes and no ironing. Then one of my squad cast his envious eye on my case and asked if he could borrow it to go on leave. He promised he would be back long before I was due to go. Despite grave misgivings I finally gave in. I should have known better; he was renowned for being unreliable. He returned, minus my case!

   The air was blue! It was only the fear of having my leave cancelled that we did not come to blows but I was determined to recover my case. After some friendly persuasion I extracted his address and was pleased to find he lived near my parents. A fortnight later, with my clothes crammed into my kitbag I went on leave.

   Towards the end of my three weeks I decided it was time to recover my case, and so I visited his parents. In camp, this colleague was always boasting about his large house and how affluent his parents were. As I turned the corner into his street I expected to see a palace or at least a castle but there, stretching out before me, was a row of ordinary two-up and two-down terrace houses. His middle aged parents made me welcome and after handing back my precious case invited me back for tea the following Sunday and being broke and with nothing else to do, I accepted.

   A week later, I turned up, feeling confident and wanting to impress his parents I wore my best uniform, displaying my senior air force badge and crossed rifles. As they opened the door I thought I had arrived at a young man’s heaven, for there, standing by the side of his parents was this beautiful angel. I could hear my heart thumping. I was having difficulty breathing. My voice croaked. I was so taken with her I did not even hear her name as we were introduced but I could see by the sparkle in her eyes the feeling was mutual. The afternoon went in a magical blur as we had tea, gazing into each other’s eyes. Later she sat on the floor at my feet while we listened to Top Twenty on Radio Luxemburg. Occasionally, she would glance back with her big brown eyes and smile, sending quivers of desire through my body.

   Suddenly, as in Cinderella, the clock struck twelve but luckily her dress did not turn into rags nor did she lose a glass slipper but it was time to go. Soon we were in the street and the door closed behind us. Perhaps my colleague had been right and he did live in a magic castle after all and I had just met its princess. I put my arm around her to guide her across the road and in an instant we were kissing, spot lighted by the harvest moon.

   We finally reached the bus stop only to find that the last bus had gone, so we walked in a haze to Leytonstone Station, stopping occasionally to embrace, only to find when we got there that the last train had gone. We telephoned her parents from the box outside the station. It was still there up to ten years ago and we always smiled when we saw it, remembering our first few hours. Her mother was frantic. “Don’t move, I’ll send a taxi.” As the taxi drew up I felt in my pocket to ensure I had enough money for the fare, luckily I had. I was warmly greeted by her mother and father and was treated to one of her mother’s famous cheese and tomato sandwiches which melted in the mouth. At two o’clock in the morning I sat at the kitchen table before a roaring fire, talking to her father ,who had been in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War and was a retired rubber planter. As we talked the door opened and one by one Joan’s five brothers and sisters poked their heads round it to inspect me. The final straw came when an old, bent lady, with a wart on her face, put her head round the door. Apparently, my future mother-in-law had taken her in many years before, as a domestic help as she had nowhere to go.

   Next morning, I travelled up to London with Joan and after drawing out the last of my savings, waited around until lunchtime when I took her to Lyons Corner House for lunch. To impress her, I asked if she wanted wine, praying she would say “No” as I could not afford it. I remember we had braised beef, carrots and mashed potatoes served by a waitress in a black and white uniform with a little cap on her head. In the evening we travelled back to Joan’s house, having been invited by her parents to stay the night. Although the bus was crowded, as far as we were concerned, we only had eyes for each other. I remember the conductor saying,

   “Isn’t love grand!”

   I had only three days left and we spent them in a love mist. Finally, it was time to go back and I had to catch the 9pm train from Liverpool Street Station to Harwich for the troop ferry. We sat in the station for as long as we dared, after all, I would not see her for five months, when I was due for demob. Reluctantly, we parted and I watched her off but I had left it too long, I had missed the train! Not sure what to do, I reported to the transport sergeant who shrugged his shoulders as if it was an everyday occurrence and instructed me to report to Whitehall the next morning, which I did and was told to come back in two day’s time as there was not another military train until then. Pretending I was in Germany, I telephoned Joan and asked,

   “Would you like to go out to lunch?” She giggled, pleased to hear from me and whispered down the telephone “I’d love to but it’s a bit far to travel just for lunch!”

   “Would two days be enough then?”

   “If only! It’s a long way!”

   “I have magic powers, see you in five minutes.” We went to Lyons again. Then we had two extra wild exciting days in which we talked and talked, walked hand in hand through Hyde Park and got to know each other so that after my extended leave we decided to get engaged when I got demobbed.

   All good things have to end and so after two days extra leave, Joan stood on the platform waving me good-bye. With a heavy heart I leaned out of the carriage window and watched her disappear into the distance. Suddenly, the carriage door was thrown open, tumbling me out of my dream world as a Red Cap glared down at me and demanded my pass. As he stared at it, my heart stopped while I waited for him to discover I had been absent without leave. Suddenly he looked up, his face breaking into a sarcastic grin. “You’re late, Airman and I’m charging you!”

   I swallowed hard and looking him straight in the eyes I replied “I’ve already been charged at Whitehall, Corporal.” Disappointed, he returned my papers. All the way back to camp, each time I was challenged I told the same story, “I’ve already been charged at Whitehall!”

   As I stood outside the guardroom at Fassberg, the Air Force Police Sergeant glared down at me.

   “You’re late!”

   I repeated my story and he marked their records “Awaiting Charge.”

   They are still waiting to this day!

   For five months Joan and I wrote to each other each day. I had just crossed the last day off my demob calendar and was lying back on my bed anticipating my meeting with Joan and listening to the radio when my world was shattered. The announcer said “British Forces have invaded the Suez Canal.” Being a signaller I knew there was a good chance they would send me and cancel my demob. Fassberg was an enormous airfield and it took two days to visit every department to obtain a signature to say you had returned any equipment you had borrowed. Every moment of those 48 hours I dreaded to hear that my demob had been cancelled.

   When I finally walked out of the gate at R.A.F. Cardington in England, I breathed a sigh of relief, I was free! I got home and asked Joan’s father if I could marry her, as was the tradition in those days.

   We married the following year and took the brown case on honeymoon packed neatly with our clothes. That was fifty three years ago this September and the old brown case is a bit battered but is still working its magic as it sits in the attic. In it is my neatly folded R.A.F uniform.

~ by Jim Reeve.

© Jim Reeve