Ten Minutes Left
‘Please stand by for a special announcement.’
Kath looked at me and she had an enquiring look on her face. I just shrugged my shoulders.
We had arrived at the cottage just the day before. It was our holiday home and we tried to visit as much as possible, work permitting.
It was the end of October 1962 and we were lucky as the weather was still quite warm for the time of the year. Up there in the Peak District, with all the kids back at school and most people remembering their holidays as a far distant thing in the past, we had decided on a late break to get away from everything and everyone. The news had been depressing, to say the least, for some time, especially about Cuba and it would be nice to take it easy and forget about the cares of the world. We were both accountants, I know, boring stuff for some but for us it was a career that had led to many rewards, one of them being that as partners, we could decide when and if we had a holiday.
We had a competent staff that had been with us for many years and we could rely on them to keep the wheels turning while we had our well earned break.
The cottage was a bit sparse, but at least we had a comfy bed and chairs, a decent kitchen, electricity and a lovely log filled fire place.
There was no phone as we valued our privacy and up there in the peace and quiet overlooking the hills and woods, it was if there was no one else around and we liked it that way. We had just turned on the radio for a bit of background music while we ate our tea. All thoughts of food left us as we listened to the radio.
'This is the Prime Minister; I regret to inform you that we are in a dire situation. Russia has launched a nuclear attack on the United States of America, the United Kingdom and other countries following the bombing raids on Cuba. We have little time left. Our forces are trying to counter the threat, but due to the high levels of missiles aimed at this country, we do not think that we will be able to stop the ingress of large numbers of these missiles.
'Please stay in your home and take what shelter that you can. Please do not try to leave your home, as to be frank, there is nowhere that you can go which will be safer than where you are now.
'We have very little time left and expect the first attack in approximately ten minutes. May God have mercy on us all.'
'Oh John,' said Kath as she came into my arms, the full import of what he had been saying sinking in fast.
I was numb, not knowing what to do or say. What do you say to someone when you know that you are both on the point of dying? Our world had turned upside down in moments. We had looked forward to a long and happy life but now, our dreams and wishes would be in tatters.
We went over to the sofa and sat down holding hands. There was a man screaming away on the radio, he didn’t sound like an announcer, more a reporter. Why didn’t he go and hide? I suppose that there was no point really.
‘With maybe nine minutes to go, there is pandemonium out in the streets as people try to escape on foot and in cars I will stay on air for as long as I can.’
There were tears on Kath’s face and on mine too; we held each other close.
‘I’m glad that we didn’t have children now.’ she sobbed, ‘what a world to bring up children.’
‘Thank you for being my wife and lover.’ I said kissing her gently on her lovely full lips.
She looked at me, her eyes red and her face pale but oh so beautiful. She was trembling and looked absolutely terrified–that was probably how I looked to her too.
‘I’m scared,’ she said.
‘So am I, we are all too young to die; it isn’t our time yet or anyone else’s for that matter.’
‘Seven minutes to God knows what. We have had reports of rioting in London, Manchester and Birmingham. I will stay on the air; I don’t know what else to do. If you are listening Marion and little Peggy, I love you both with all my heart.’
Already my ears were straining for sounds of engines, although whether we would actually hear anything when it happened, I didn’t know. My mum told me that during the Second World War in the blitz, you evidently didn’t hear the one that was coming for you...
‘John,’ said Kath, her voice full of emotion.
‘I ... I need to tell you something. I don’t want to die with the secret still in me.’
‘What is it love?’
‘Y...you know when I worked at Sackvilles Solicitors for about a year after we married?’
Where was this going, we didn’t have time for all this...
‘And, I went to the office party in the Manchester office and stayed over?’
‘’Yes,’ I replied, one ear listening to the increasingly hysterical reporter.
‘I....I got drunk and there was this co worker. I didn’t know what I was doing and I woke up next morning in his room, naked. We had had sex, I think, though I can’t remember. He had left me a note on the pillow that just said “sorry”. He was married, I think and I never saw him again as he left the firm. I am so sorry, I should have told you but I was ashamed and scared about what you would think.’
‘Just a few minutes to go now. Lots of jets are flying over the capital and there is an uproar in the streets and everywhere is gridlocked. Where do they think that they can go? There are no hiding places. Sirens are blaring out and people are just running about aimlessly or clutching on to one another, it’s so sad to see.
‘Children are being trampled underfoot, oh God, this is terrible!’
‘Our radio links to Paris, New York and Rome are down now so I can only think the worst.'
My heart was beating loudly as I clutched her and regretted so many things.
‘I am so sorry,’ wept Kath.
‘It doesn’t matter now; it wasn’t your fault, it just happened.’ I said and then I took a deep breath; it was now or definitely never.
‘I have a secret that I have kept from you too. I ...I like dressing as a woman. I can’t help myself. I ... love you so much and didn’t want to lose you. I thought that I had beaten the urge when we got married, but I hadn’t and I started dressing again in secret. I even sometimes tried on your things, not panties and other under things, but skirts, blouses and dresses. I was so worried about getting caught out but I just couldn’t stop myself. It doesn’t mean that I’m gay or I don’t love you, it’s just something that is part of me and will never go away.’
‘Only a few seconds left. Can I say how much it has been a privilege to work for the BBC. Marion and Peggy I love....’
Suddenly, without warning, there was a static noise as the radio cut out, but I only had eyes for my darling Kath.
She looked at me and smiled sadly.
‘John, I have known that you have been wearing my things for years. Do you think that I wouldn’t have noticed that my clothes were not exactly where I had put them in the drawers and closet? I love you for who you are and if you wanted to wear dresses and then so be it.’
‘Why didn’t you confront me?’
‘Because I was waiting for you to tell me.’
‘Oh you silly man!’
There was the sound of a jet or something overhead, and we clutched at each other tightly. I was scared of dying but if I was going to die, I was glad that I was there with the one love of my life. I had so many regrets and the secret that I had buried in me for so long–oh, things could have been different, why, oh why didn’t I just tell her?
I could hear the loud beating of her heart and I am sure that she could hear mine too. We closed our eyes in the last embrace that we would ever have...
I love you darling!’
‘I love you so much too!’
The hissing on the radio stopped, then a silence. Our ears listened for that last final awful moment as the world ended...
The radio came to life, making us nearly jump out of our skins.
‘That was a drama entitled, “Ten Minutes Left” by James Trenton, with Peter Miles as the announcer and Clive Watson as the Prime Minister. Next, the news, followed by “Workers Playtime”.’
‘Here is the news, reports from Washington state that the Cuban Missile Crisis is now over as Mr Khrushchev announced over Radio Moscow that he has agreed to remove the missiles from Cuba. The USA has downgraded its alert status from DEFCON 2 to 3. A Washington spokesman has just said that we can all sleep easier in our beds tonight’
My thanks go to the lovely and talented Holly Hart for editing, and pulling the story into shape.
Please leave comments and kudo thingies...thanks! ~Sue
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