You're Coming With Me
The subtle clunk of the letter box was accompanied by hurried footsteps as a small nurse with a great deal of expectation ran to receive them. She rifled through them at speed with shaking hands, rapidly scanning for the red and blue striped edges of an air mail envelope.
Only plain white envelopes and British purple stamps with an all to familiar face that screamed home. The bottom dropped out of her stomach. Unfortunately this had been something she had become accustomed to feeling every morning after she’d got up early to check the post. She bit her bottom lip to prevent it from quivering as the large wooden door of Nonatas creaked open behind her.
Lowering the letters she raised a weary head to see Phyllis looking between her and the letter with concern etched in her motherly features.
“Nothing from Hong Kong?” Nurse Crane asked gently.
Delia struggled to maintain a level voice but she was very aware of her misty eyes.
“No.” She paused. “Not yet."
It had been over a month since Patsy’s last letter. She’d written religiously every week since she’d arrived in Hong Kong, delivering updates and words of comfort to her love while she cared for her father. And Delia had replied - half her wages spent on stamps and stationary. Patsy’s long, eloquent cursive had been somewhat of a lifeline she’d clung onto since the spring. Even if they hadn’t been able to share their innermost thoughts and feelings, they had to keep things superficial in case of prying eyes. Sister Monica Joan had a tendency to read private letters, even discarded ones after all.
At the beginning, every time Delia received a letter her heart would jump into her mouth with excitement. As time wore on the excitement turned to longing and finally to a pang of sadness. She knew it wouldn’t be forever. At least, she kept telling herself that. But for some reason no matter how many times she repeated that mantra it didn’t seem to help. She’d read the letters under cover of darkness with a single candle. Ripping them open methodically she’d inhale the scent of their contents. The paper always smelt vaguely of Patsy - but still at some remove as though reminding her of the oceans that separated them.
She had thought the absence of Patsy would have made her love for the redhead grow stronger, but as she stood with trembling hands filled with disappointment she could feel only emptiness.
Nurse Crane give her another sympathetic look and walked off, the sound of her heels reverberating off the walls of the empty house. And it was empty. No matter how much Phyllis silently sympathised with Delia, she was no replacement for her love. She couldn’t begin to even think about what she missed most about Patsy, it would hurt too much. What at first had been an exciting game of lovers on an adventure was now turning into something a lot less romantic. Instead of blind excitement and anticipation she found herself in tears most nights, silently sobbing away her evenings to herself. Her final midwifery exams were coming up soon which certainly did not help the sway of emotions pulsing through her tired mind. The frustration had caused her to become irritable and rash, sometimes acting without thinking. And this had not gone unnoticed by Sister Julienne. She’d been reprimanded a few times for tardiness and neglect of chores. Often followed with a muttered rebuttal or a quick apology and attempt to hide the tears as she retreated.
“Nurse Busby, I would appreciate it if you would stick to the cleaning rota as it is written. It is your turn to make sure the autoclave is clean and dust free.” Sister Julienne was brisk in her manner.
It seemed today was likely to be stressful, Trixie had been assigned to St Cuthbert's and they were short staffed.
“I’m sorry Sister, I’ll get it done right away.” She bowed her head.
Sister Julienne’s face softened slightly as she took in the nurse’s weary face and baggy eyes.
She knew Delia was on edge and was prepared to be lenient to a certain extent. After all she was stressed with studying and of course she missed her best friend. People didn’t know of the long nights she spent staring at the ceiling, yearning to feel the warmth of Patsy against her back, her long arms wrapped safely around her, enveloping her in a cocoon of safety.
Delia scrubbed at the autoclave until her hands were raw. She laughed at herself dryly. It was Patsy who was always the one for cleaning to take away the pain. Now she began to understand why. There was something about the mundanity of cleaning that put an order to the chaos. It felt controlled and the results easy to see straight away.
It was getting late as she dragged her weary feet into the communal area later that evening. Socialising was the least of her plans but she knew she had to seek out some form of company for fear of regressing into her own negative thoughts. Sister Monica Joan was engrossed in the offerings of evening television and seemed unwilling to engage in much conversation.
She sat on the sofa and observed the set, but none of the images or sounds registered with her. Her mind felt numb, as if doused in ice. She couldn’t be here right now. She needed to be somewhere she could breathe, where she could be herself. Just then Trixie appeared in the doorway looking rather lopsided with her hair in curlers but very excited nonetheless.
“Delia, we’re browsing some bridal magazines for some inspiration. Would you care to join us? We’d welcome an extra fashionista into the mix!”
And so Delia found herself sitting opposite what had once been Patsy’s and was now Valerie’s bed, flicking through the pages of white dress pictures. It had been quite a good distraction for a while to get caught up in the excitement of planning a wedding. Barbara however seemed intent on something low-key, as was her style. But as Delia sat staring at a picture of a beautiful red haired model in a gorgeous strapless number, her mind wandered.
She’d never really yearned for a fairytale wedding when she’d been younger. While many girls her age had played at happy families and getting married she’d always been more partial to climbing trees and making dens out of sticks and mud. Her mother would tut loudly when he daughter would arrive home with a muddy face and grazed knees. But the beaming smile on her face would always ensure she was never punished.
But seeing Barbara caught up in the whirlpool of romance had struck somewhat of a painful nerve. She might never have desired a white dress wedding but even if she did, it would never even be an option to her. She would never be in Barbara’s place, stressing about flowers and hairbands and material. The thought filled her with a sudden sadness. She had told Patsy, in no uncertain terms that she wanted to marry her. And for all pretence and purposes she supposed they were married in a way. It was sad because they would never be able to make it official. It had to be kept behind closed doors, hushed exchanges and fleeting glances. They had been together for years now but only by being apart for months did Delia fully begin to understand how much she needed Patsy in her life.
“Delia, are you alright?” Valerie was looking at her shrewdly as if she could hear the heartache erupting inside her head.
Delia shook herself out of her thoughts and forced a smile. “I’m fine. Just a bit tired.” She stood up. “I’m sorry Barbara I think I’m going to have to call it a night, I really need to finish up on brow presentations before next week.”
Having excused herself from the frivolity of bridal planning she slunk into her bedroom, lit the oil lamp and eased into her pyjamas. Opening the third drawer of her bedside cabinet she fumbled with some undergarments, pushing them aside to reveal a stack of letters secured with blue ribbon.
She would have to seek comfort in words tonight.