Henry found his job at another nearby factory, this one dedicated to the manufacture of small arms for the troops. He felt bad about leaving young Jet by himself for so many hours, but he knew he risked losing their living arrangement if he did not earn enough money. The work was unglamorous, but as he put it to himself, At least I won’t turn yellow here.
He always got home before the munitionette. She worked long, arduous hours and got little sleep, especially on those infrequent nights when she would slip outside. On such occasions, Henry and Jet were always woken up, but they always pretended to still be asleep. “What does she do?” Jet would often ask his brother, but Henry never had a valid answer.
“Maybe she goes out looking for yellow-skinned men,” Henry would snicker. “Do you suppose when she does get married, she’ll have a yellow baby?” Jet laughed at the joke, though he had no idea where babies came from.
“I like the cockatoo,” Jet said one night, unable to fall back asleep. “She’s nice to us letting us stay here.”
Henry burst into laughter, and when he was able to speak again, explained that it was ‘canary,’ not ‘cockatoo.’ “Canaries are little yellow birds that go into coal mines. That’s why the munitiontionettes are called that; they’re yellow.”
“Why do they go into coal mines?”
“The birds go into coal mines to make sure it’s safe for people to go through the tunnels.”
Jet paused before furthering his question. “Is that why she goes into the factory before everyone else? To make sure it’s safe?”
“I don’t know, Jet. I don’t know.” He rolled over and tried to go back to sleep.
Henry had sensed by subtle sounds like quickened breath that Esther was getting emotional. I haven’t even gotten to the sad part, he thought to himself.
“Are you alright, Mrs. Lawrence?”
The answer came slowly, after her breathing steadied. “Yes, I’m fine,” she did an excellent job of fabricating a chipper tone, but Henry could see through it. Even so, he knew that she wanted to hear the rest of the story. Best not to rock the boat when I actually have an engaged listener, Henry thought.
“Well, autumn came round and we were still living with the woman. When Jet’s sixth birthday arrived, she surprised us by bringing home a cake to celebrate.”