Henry woke to a shriek. Was it night or early morning? His eyes shot open and settled upon a woman’s silhouette. Struggling to focus, he realized that most of the woman’s skin was the color of lemons. She had stopped in her tracks when she heard Jet’s cry and was now staring at the boys.
“What are you doing out here?” she asked accusingly.
Henry could sense that she was nervous and jumpy. She was fiddling with a small key trying to unlock the door to the large edifice. Seeing as she was the only adult around, Henry had the steel to reply, “What are you doing out here, miss?”
“That is none of your business. I work here. You’re just some homeless squatters, aren’t you? Why aren’t you in an orphanage?”
Henry thought fast. “You’re not reporting for work; no one else is here yet. You’re up to something. I can tell. So how about this: you provide us a place to sleep at night, and we never tell the police what the canary lady is up to.”
“I am a munitionette. Not a damn bird. I hate that term. If I’m a canary, you are most certainly a street rat. I have a very important meeting inside the factory this morning to which you have made me late. Good day.”
“So this means you’ll be letting us stay with you, then? It won’t be all bad. I’ll find a job and do my best to pay for my food and my brother’s. If any money is left over, it’s yours. We won’t be a terrible burden, and we’ll all stay out of trouble this way. What do you say?”
“Shockingly enough, my blackmailing worked. In less than an hour, while it was still fairly dark out, the woman emerged, her face a little paler than before, and took Jet by the hand, leading us to her meager abode. There was a small bed, a table and chairs, a fireplace, and a sad little corner she called the kitchen. An alcove covered with a curtain housed the tub and served as a water closet.
"We were made to sleep on the floor, but I don’t think Jet minded. We had a roof over our heads and we were together. Jet was a trooper. An inspiration, really. I’ve never known someone who could stay so positive despite having been through so much at his age. I remember he even called the canary 'Mum' once. She never did give us her name.”
Esther had heard of these “canaries,” women whom had worked so long in the munitions factories that the nitric acid used to make TNT had stained their skin bright yellow. But something about this part of the story startled her. She would not dare interrupt this man while he seemed so engrossed in his storytelling, but she was beginning to think they might have something more to talk about after he had shared the rest of the tale with her.