Emily Pryce hoped to slip out of the house without waking her parents, but just as she started down the stairs, her mother called out. “Emily? Is that you?”
Mrs. Pryce stood in the doorway to her bedroom in her nightdress and barefoot. She was very thin, almost skeletal, with a long braid of grey hair hanging down her back. “Where are you off to this early?” She asked in an accusatory voice.
“I’ve promised to help at the Seaman’s Mission, Mum,” Emily answered, knowing her mother would disapprove. Her parents disapproved for two reasons. First, because the Seaman’s Mission was run by the Salvation Army (a religious organization, and so part of the apparatus of the ruling class designed to keep the proletariat in darkness), and second, because work at the Mission was increasingly close to “war work,” and her parents vehemently opposed the war.
“This really is getting out of hand!” her mother responded with a fierce frown. “I can’t see what you hope to accomplish there!”
“We provide meals and a place to relax for lonely sailors who don’t want to go to the pubs, Mum.” Because her parents were passionate nondrinkers on account of the disastrous impact alcohol had on the standard of living and social behaviour of the working class, Emily hoped this reminder would soften her mother’s opposition. She added, “In fact, today’s the first day we’re going to try offering a hot meal, which is why they need a little extra help.”
“I don’t know why you got a university degree if all you intend to do is work in a canteen!” her mother countered unfairly. Emily knew that if the canteen had been run by the Trade Unions, or better still, the Party, her parents would have had no objection to her working there. They had made it clear to her from the start that the only point of any education was to use it to enlighten the working class – as they had both done by becoming teachers at a council school here in the poorest part of Portsmouth.
Her parents came from humble homes, and each had been the first in their respective family to get higher education. They had met through the Communist Party, in which they were both active, and taken jobs together more or less because the Party had sent them here. Sometimes, Emily wondered if even their marriage had been directed by the Party. At best, it represented an alliance dictated by ideological and practical considerations. Certainly, they showed no particular affection for one another, and they had maintained separate bedrooms for as long as she could remember. But they remained true to the Party even now – despite the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and all that had followed.
Emily had become disillusioned with Marxism-Leninism long ago – or rather, when her friends from University went off to Spain to fight for the Republican government and came back, if they came back at all, with horror stories about the Republicans as well as the Fascists. Nor had she been able to stomach Stalin’s treachery in making a pact with Hitler – and then dividing up Poland with him. Emily was through with Marxism and her parents’ rigid devotion to the Party line, but she didn’t want to argue about it with them. She knew she would never make them see things differently. Since her mother had not asked a direct question, she responded with a non- committal gesture of her head and continued down the stairs.
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