She licked her fingers clean, scraped every crusted bit of chocolate from her thumb whorls with her eye teeth.
Soldiers rarely gave their chocolate rations without strings to girls over twelve.
Ann felt guilty even as her wretched ribs scraped her palms when she wiped saliva onto her frock.
She’d been sent to trade three pouches of bean seeds, carefully cultivated and cleaned last autumn, for nothing less than five loafs of bread, two legs of lamb, or one hen in perfect health no more than eight months old.
Ann was, by necessity, a fearless negotiator.
But the farmer down the way knew she’d accept a hen with a bout of bronchitis if he supplied her with two roots of ginger.
After the trade, when she found cover crouching behind a large boulder, she opened the burlap sack and pushed her whole face into the mildew dark.
Starving for that cure, she bit into the root before anyone could find it and take it away.
Ann gasped and spit putrid mush onto the grass. She pulled the roots out, still feeling physically assaulted by the taste, and saw that the ginger had some kind of fungus right through the centre. She could see no salvageable bit to cut and replant, if growth was even possible in this climate.
She longed for the bittersweet taste she knew earlier that day. But it was gone.
Desperate, Ann put the rotted roots back in the sack and looked up in time to see the hen wander away.
The bird had a coughing fit, which slowed her down. Ann caught up to her and tucked her under her arm.
“Let’s go home and heal that cough, sweet girl.”