No Hope for the Future
Fred Burton had married young. He had to because Margaret told him she was expecting and he was the father. She already had a child, an energetic two year old boy named Alfred. Her short marriage to Tom Painter ended when he was crushed by an out-of-control wagon. She sought consolation in Fred’s arms and in a short while they were a family of four. After a daughter called Muriel came Eva, then Elvia and finally Florence. If Fred wished for a son of his own he didn’t complain. To Alfred he was Father and he followed Fred whenever he could.
The day Margaret died began like any other. She served him an egg and a mutton chop for breakfast, complaining that she was feeling tired. He left for work but at midday Alfred appeared telling him he must come home at once. Margaret lay on the bed panting in short sharp breaths. Her face already had a blue tinge despite the heat radiating from her body. The doctor, face masked, shook his head and steered Fred through the door.
“We can’t take her to the hospital. It is full, even the corridors are full. The nurses are only up to half strength. Better for her to stay here, but I must warn you, chances of her survival are slim. Your whole family must not leave the house until the quarantine period is over.”
No-one else in the family became ill but Margaret did not live to see another dawn.
Fred was now a sole parent with five children ranging from 5 to 14. Alfred was almost a man but the four little girls were inconsolable and scarcely able to function without their mother. For months they all stayed at home, steeped in misery and eating from their store of flour, oats and tea. The school had been closed because of the influenza pandemic. Eventually it burnt itself out and people began to emerge from their houses, trying their best to return to life as before. Families were missing mothers or fathers and many of the people who had kept the town running were now gone.
For the Burton family their only hope had just arrived in town.