The day had started out basic enough.
As basic as things could while in the middle of a world war, anyway.
St. Josephine’s Hospital was what a polite person might call “quaint”, so as not to offend. But compared to Griffith Hospital, the biggest medical facility in the state, housed in National City, there wasn’t much else you could say to describe the hospital where Kara Danvers worked.
They were over an hour out of the city, by train. Kara had always planned to move to the city when she’d finished her nursing degree, eager to be part of the life and energy.
But then the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbour, and all ambition of leaving home had gone up in flames.
These were interesting times. But Jeramiah was still off overseas, and the less frequent his letters and telegrams became, the tighter Eliza’s grip became on the family she had left.
Kara had thought all the excitement and drama would be in the city.
She was wrong.
It was a regular day, until just after one in the afternoon. They had all been in the cafeteria, Kara and the other nurses, chatting together over sandwiches and pots of soup about what had been on the wireless that morning, new films coming out, what soldier had flirted with which nurse.
Then the matron had come in.
All of them sat up instantly to attention. The matron was a stern, middle aged woman, who demanded respect every time she walked into a room, despite her short stature and noticeable limp. Whenever the matron was about to speak, you listened.
“There’s been an explosion,’ was all she said.
It took a moment for these words to sink in, for Kara and the other nurses to all exchange a glance, before the room was filled with the deafening scrape of wooden chairs being scraped against cheap linoleum as they as all rushed to their feet.
The news had come down the line, quick and fast – explosion at the munitions factory, two dead, three critical, seventeen non-critical.
Kara leapt aside now as another gurney wheeled past, blinking out of her moment of reverie. The sound of heavy footfalls, screams of pain, and calls of instructions for vials of morphine to be brought and bandages to be prepared, were deafening. The smell of burned flesh and alcohol turned her stomach.
All around her, the wards were in chaos
They had been coming in slowly and steadily for half an hour. The ambulances were only able to carry so many at a time. The most severe had come in first; two women had been rushed in, one covered with so much blood Kara had not been able to tell what she truly looked like underneath. The other was missing the last three fingers of her right hand, blood streaming down her forearm as she kept it elevated, the bandage around it soaked scarlet and the entire right side of her body singed and charred. Her moans were unlike anything Kara had heard before.
It had almost been too overwhelming. Her shift had suddenly gone from emptying soldiers’ bedpans and fluffing pillows, to complete pandemonium.
But the sense of duty had quickly stepped in, blotting out the screams of agony, the smell of charred skin, the ache in her whole body as she rushed from ward to ward, assisting with as many treatments as she could.
Kara tried her best. Nursing school had prepared her in theory for her duties, but the reality was somewhat different. They had instructed her on what certain jargon meant, how to not take the harsh tones and snappy wards of doctors and surgeons to heart, how she should try and keep calm always. How to bandage wounds, fill syringes, make slings… nothing had prepared her for this.
As expected, the Doctors had shouted orders at her and the other nurses around her, and like her comrades she had rushed to do their bidding. With shaking hands, her fingers had fumbled over bandages, medicines, trays and syringes in her eagerness to get them to the doctors, and in hindsight she would look back and feel a moment of pride in herself for not actually dropping anything.
The smell had been the worst. It was like nothing she’d ever experienced before. Eliza had burned some dinners, she’d done mulching in the back garden with Jeramiah…
She’d never seen so much blood before.
It had slowed a little now. With every woman who came through their doors, workers of every shape, age and size, the injuries were less severe. From head wounds and burns, they were now dealing with more minor cases, like smoke inhalation and fractures. But that didn’t stop the bustling; the rush, and the running, and the urgency.
“Nurse Danvers! Get in here!”
Kara, arms full of the fresh bandages she had been sent to retrieve, snapped out of her daze once again and dashed into the nearest ward. All eight beds were full. Six bodies were still, triaged and adrift in a blissful haze of pain killers. Two were sitting up, one insisting she was fine despite the giant gash in her arm, the other following the doctors finger as he moved it around slowly in front of her face.
Kara quickly found the woman who had called for her. “Yes, Matron?”
The Matron jabbed a thumb over her shoulder. “See to bed forty-six. Doctor Winslow needs assistance.”
With a quick nod, Kara squeezed past the other nurses and headed for the bed in the left corner of the room.
She couldn’t see the woman lying there, at first. There were already two nurses and a doctor standing in the way.
But she could hear her.
Guttural groans sent goosepumps all along Kara’s skin. As Kara pushed through, gently nudging her shoulders against Betty and Marjorie, the two other nurses at the bedside, she saw the woman on the bed, who was squirming away from the doctor’s hands.
“It hurts,’ she snarled through clenched teeth.
Doctor Winslow sighed, looking every moment his sixty years in his exasperation. “Yes, my dear, I can see that. But I won’t be able to help that if you do not let me examine you properly.”
“I told you,’ the woman snapped, ‘it’s my shoulder. It’s dislocated.”
“I need to confirm,’ Doctor Winslow said.
He then beckoned with a little wave, and Kara and Marjorie both stepped forward. Marjorie moved around to the foot of the bed, hands hovering over the woman’s ankles. Kara stepped to her bedside, and placed a hand on her right, and uninjured, shoulder.
The woman’s head snapped around at her touch. Kara saw bright, green eyes glare out at her from underneath an amazing amount of dirt, grease and grime. Her dark hair was matted in places and splattered metal shavings and flecks of sawdust, making her look like some sort of wild thing.
It was enough to make Kara blanch slightly in fear. Being on the same side of the arm that didn’t hurt wasn’t much of a comfort.
But duty overtook her anxiety, and Kara just straightened and gave her what she hoped was an encouraging smile.
“It’ll all be over soon,’ she soothed. ‘The quicker you let us look, the quicker we can leave you be.”
The woman considered her for a long moment. So long, in fact, Kara half expected her to very impolitely tell her to put the nearest medical tools someplace extremely uncomfortable.
But Kara held her gaze, and eventually the woman’s expression softened slightly, and she turned back to Doctor Winslow.
“Hurry up,’ she complained.
The problem was quickly found. All Doctor Winslow had to do was slip his aged hands through the collar of the woman’s shirt, feel around her shoulder, and hear her cry of pain and see her flinch to know.
“Dislocated,’ he nodded.
The woman let out a gruff laugh, and Kara bit her lip to hide her own.
“I need to recorrect it,’
Doctor Winslow nodded at Kara, and she took his meaning instantly. At the foot of the bed, Marjorie’s hands slipped around the woman’s ankles.
Kara squeezed the woman’s good shoulder. “What division do you work in?”
She turned her attention away from the doctor, her face still contorted in pain, every breath in laboured, making her nostrils flare.
“The factory,’ Kara clarified. ‘What’s your job?”
“Uh, well… usually I’m either in the chemical line, with the bombs, or down with the mechanics,’ the woman ground out. ‘But today they were short staffed in the shop, so I went into help because they know how good I am with…”
The woman swore so loudly, Kara flinched. She’d hung out in enough in bars with men to hear things; not to mention her sister had quite a vernacular, but she’d never heard such a word leave the mouth of a woman before.
The woman’s whole body had contracted; Kara was sure the only reason she hadn’t kicked Marjorie, was because Marjorie had been holding her feet down.
“There now,’ Doctor Winslow said softly, as if he’d simply placed a band-aid on a skinned knee, ‘all better. Betty, the sling, if you would?”
The woman glared at the old man as he stepped around to examine the gash in her leg, but didn’t put up a fight as Betty stepped in to put her arm in the sling.
Instead, she looked back at Kara, her brow knotted in pain but a smile peering out from underneath the filth smeared across her skin.
“Nice distraction,’ she chuckled, wincing. ‘They teach you that in nursing school?”
Kara offered a small smile back. “Yes, actually. It was either that, or ask you recite the Declaration of Independence.”
The woman quirked an eyebrow. “You’ve done this a heap of times, I’m sure.”
“Kara,’ Betty asked, waggling her fingers across the patient, ‘pass the pins?”
Kara did as she was asked, and Betty fixed the sling into place. “Once or twice. Soldiers are easier to distract.”
The woman laughed at that, and then shuddered again. “All they need is a pretty face like yours to look at and I’m sure they’re putty in your hands.”
Kara felt her cheeks burn, and Marjorie’s eyes on them both.
“Well…’ she chuckled nervously.
After a long gaze, the woman breathed, “I’m Lena.”
With a smile in return, Kara replied with, ‘Kara Danvers, nice to meet you.”
Lena offered a quick smile, before she hissed in pain again, and glared down at the doctor. He was cutting open the leg of her overalls, one hand on her upper thigh in an attempt to keep her still.
“You have contusions on calf, and lacerations on your leg,’ he explained. ‘What did you fall into?”
“There were tools all over the ground, and scrap metal…’ Lena, a slight shake to her voice. ‘Am I going to be okay? I heard infection can…”
“We will treat these and bandage you up promptly,’ was all Doctor Willis said.
And with quick instructions to Kara and the other nurses, he then hurried off to the next patient without so much as a ‘feel better’ or ‘you were very lucky’.
Lena squirmed as Marjorie made to begin to clean the large gash in her leg.
“I’m sorry,’ Kara said kindly, ‘I know those overalls don’t come cheap.”
Lena simply sighed. She threw her head back into the pillow, eyes clamped shut and cords of her neck prominent.
“It’s not a problem,’ was all she said.
“I need a nurse in here!”
The call came from the next ward, urgent and firm. Betty was still constructing the sling, Marjorie surrounded with bloody, damp rags.
Kara looked back down at Lena, who was gazing up at her.
“I guess that’s your cue,’ she said.
And because Doctor Willis hadn’t said it before, and because she really meant it, she gave Lena a tight-lipped smile, squeezed her good shoulder again and muttered, “Feel better,’ before rushing off.
When Kara stepped through her front door three hours later, the door had barely closed before she heard a voice from the living room.
“Kara? Is that you?”
With a sigh, Kara slumped into the next room. Eliza was sitting in her usual armchair by the radiator, paper crumpled in her hands. The wireless was crooning away just behind her head, sitting on the mantelpiece.
Like the rest of their house, the living room was anything but palatial. A small, slightly cramped room, it felt even more cramped because of the plush furniture. But it wasn’t claustrophobic. Kara liked to think of it as cozy, more than anything. It had enough room to sit them all – when they were all there – and a space in the corner for a Christmas tree once a year. What more did they need?
“There was an explosion…”
“At the munitions factory,’ Kara nodded, flinging herself into the nearest chair. Her shoulders slack with exhaustion and feet throbbing, all her thoughts were on a bath. She’d already washed her hands several times at the hospital, but she still felt as if there were blood and grime along her skin. “I know.”
“It must have been horrible! They’re saying two women were killed? Patty Morningside’s daughters both work there, you know. Did you see them? Are they okay? You must be exhausted!”
Question after question was thrown at her, and Kara knew it would be quicker to let Eliza get them all out and then try and answer what she could remember, than to interrupt.
“The twins are fine. No, I didn’t see them, I was too busy. Yes, there were several burns victims, all of who’s screams I will hear in my sleep… if I get any. I’m not sure exactly what happened, I didn’t get time to hear the details… something about chemicals reacting? I was too busy passing bandages and tools to doctors.
“Fuses,’ Eliza explained simply.
Kara made a there you go gesture, and continued. “No, I didn’t get in on any amputee surgeries, but then there was only one person who was possibly beyond repair and they’re waiting until morning to reassess her. Where’s Alex?”
“Still at the lab. She should be home soon, though.”
Kara rubbed her eyes, and thanked the Lord that Alex had, for once, been malleable enough over dinner six months ago to be convinced that she’d be better off working in the lab with Eliza, rather than at the munitions factory like she had originally wanted to. Otherwise Kara could have seen her on one of those gurneys today.
The thought made her blood run cold.
“Is there anything to eat?”
Eliza put the paper down in a crumpled heap, and Kara followed her eagerly through to the kitchen.
She sat down expectantly at the small, round table where bowls were already set. Eliza was at the stove, the largest appliance in the kitchen, and spooning hot food into Kara’s bowl in no time at all.
Kara had already shoveled three mouthfuls of rice into her mouth before Eliza even had the chance to sit down at the table adjacent to her. Too used to Kara’s ferocious appetite to comment anymore, Eliza simply handed over two letters without a word – one opened, the other still nestled in its envelope – and poured herself a fresh cup of coffee.
Kara adjusted her glasses and read the first one over her bowl. It was from Jeramiah; and update on his whereabouts (stationed just off the coast of Japan), his general well-being, and his well wishes of love to his girls and how he hoped to be home soon. The date at the top read two weeks ago. Kara hated how slow the mail could be sometimes.
The other letter, Kara tucked into her pocket.
“I’ll read this later,’ she said.
Eliza’s smile was distorted around her coffee cup as she took a mouthful. Kara felt her cheeks burn, and was glad when Eliza didn’t comment.
“I would have thought Alex would be home before me,’ Kara asked, hoping to change the subject.
“She should be home soon. That strike is still happening, and the bus schedules are all over the place. It took me forever to get here, too. I think she said she would try and get a ride home with someone from work.”
“And you thought she was the smart one,’ Kara teased, ‘when I’m the one who chose to work somewhere within walking distance. Speaking of which...’
Kara felt Eliza shift uneasily as Kara got to her feet, the chair groaning loudly as it scraped against the linoleum.
Before Eliza could even open her mouth, Kara explained, “I offered to work a double shift.”
“Because of the accident at Luthor Munitions?’
Kara nodded, and Eliza sighed.
‘Those poor women. I would have thought they would have sent them to National City. Nothing against St. Josephine’s, but they have better facilities in the city to deal with these sorts of injuries.”
“We were closer,’ Kara shrugged. ‘Some ended up going there anyway, we ran out of beds. But we’re under staffed as it is, so I volunteered to go back in... three hours,’ Kara glanced at her watch, and suddenly felt extremely tired. ‘So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go wash up and have a quick nap. Save me some dessert?”
Eliza got up, wrapped an arm around Kara’s shoulders, and kissed her temple.
“No promises. It’s apple pie.”
Kara sighed, feeling her hops diminish – that was her sister’s favourite.
When she made it upstairs, Kara washed and dried quickly. When she finally laid on her bed, she let out a sigh of relief as she felt every muscle in her body uncoil. Her feet were throbbing – not a new sensation for a nurse – and when she angled her neck, she felt the bones shift and crack back into place.
The street was quiet outside her window. The occasional car spluttered down their street, somewhere dogs were barking, she could hear the distance tinkle of children’s laughter as gangs of kids played up and down the street. Normally these were comforting sounds – familiar and soothing.
Despite her exhaustion, and the almost overwhelming want to succumb to slumber, as soon as Kara closed her eyes visions of burnt skin, bloody gashes, bones protruding through skin, legs bent at unnatural angles, and other equally gruesome pictures flashed through her mind. Kara felt something for the women who were still lying in hospital beds, dealing with crippling pain, while she lay in her own bed, safe and healthy and comfortable. Was it pity? Guilt? Admiration? Pride? Kara somehow suspected it was a mixture of all of these things, and more.
The women who worked in the factories were notoriously strong, in body and spirit, and Kara had a high regard for those sorts of women. After all, she’d grown up with two of them. It felt wrong, somehow, to see such individuals so vulnerable.
Kara mind was like a beehive. She wanted to ferment every face she’d seen that afternoon in her mind, creating a sort of shine to them in her memory.
But there had been a lot of women.
It was quite a while before she finally drifted off to sleep.
And it seemed like only a few minutes later someone was kicking the end of her bed, jerking her back into the land of the living.
Kara sat bolt upright and looked around blearily. The sun had begun to go down; her room was full of dull shadows, one of which was moving around.
“Mom said you said to wake you up by six,’
Putting her glasses on, Kara’s sister Alex came into focus. Short, brown hair, overalls with a brown jacket, heavy boots that always made a thunk noise on the floorboards, even when she tried to be silent… yep, it was her sister, all right.
She hadn’t switched the light on in the room (they were trying to save power and money), and was now peeling off her overalls and kicking off her boots.
“Damn strike,’ Alex grumbled.
“You didn’t actually walk, did you?’ Kara said. ‘The lab is miles away!”
“I got a ride as far as Market Street.”
“That’s the industrial area. It’s not safe to walk around there alone, Alex! Why didn’t you just get the bus with Eliza?”
Alex didn’t answer right away. She was as exhausted as Kara; she didn’t need the lights on, or to even see her face, to know this about her. Sharing a room for as long as they had, Kara had become quite attuned to Alex’s moods, and could read the slump of her shoulders, and the forceful way she shut drawers as easily as any street sign.
“I was held back.’ Alex said, flopping down on her bed on the other side of the small room. ‘You’re pulling a double shift? You’re keen. At least they let you come home and rest.”
“They insisted. I told them I could stay longer...”
Alex chuckled, and lay down with a sigh. ‘Of course, you did. I heard the factory blew up.”
“It didn’t blow up exactly.”
Kara got to her feet, and began dressing in her nurses’ uniform for the second time that day.
She explained what had happened. How one of the mine fuses had accidently ignited, sending a chain reaction along the entire line. The woman nearest had been killed instantly, and other nearby workers burnt horribly from the proximity. The explosion had shaken the entire factory; the shock felt throughout all the floors, causing other minor injuries on other floors.
Kara stared into space when she was done, shadows dancing across her vision.
“You okay?’ Alex asked.
Kara blinked. “’Course,’ she replied. ‘I’m fine. I’m absolutely fine.”
Alex sat up then, and pursed her lips before crossing the small distance and sitting herself down beside Kara so she could put an arm around her.
She said nothing; all the atrocities they’d seen during this war, sometimes there just weren’t any words that could offer enough comfort, or any at all. Alex was usually good with at finding the right thing to say to make Kara feel better, but this was something that transcended that; something that couldn’t be soothed with emphatic sentences and pep talks.
Sometimes, you just needed to be held, feel an arm around you and a kiss against your temple that said everything that needed to be said.
This was one of those times.
The moment passed as quickly as it started; Kara nodded, feeling the impact; that sense of duty rise up within her once again, recharging her, sending adrenaline to every nerve ending and sinew.
“Hey…’ Alex grip on her tightened, and then she whispered, ‘…wanna see something amazing?”
Despite her exhaustion and apprehension, Kara laughed. “Sure, why not?”
“Just don’t tell Mom,”
This sort of ultimatum was enough to spur Kara to her feet in a flash of movement. Alex lead the way, creping down the creaky staircase like when they were teenagers, sneaking out to watch the fireworks down by the river every near years, or go to the park well after their curfew, with a telescope under Kara’s arm to watch the constellations shift and morph.
They skipped the second last step on the staircase – it would creak loudly under the softest footstep – and peered into the living room. Eliza was back in her usual plush armchair by the fireplace, newspaper open in front of her face, obscuring her two daughters from view.
Exchanging a quick glance, they crept past on tiptoes and ducked out the front door.
The night had turned crisp. Kara could feel the moisture in the air, smell the freshness that suggested rain.
She tugged her cardigan more tightly around herself as she still followed her older sister around to the garage. With a slight grunt, Alex lifted the metallic door and revealed the thing Kara instantly knew was definitely not supposed to be there.
“Alex…’ she stared warily.
But her sister just stood aside and beamed, hands on her hips. “Isn’t it beautiful?”
Kara stepped forward. Like the rest of the house, the garage wasn’t large. Old, wooden ladders, half empty pain buckets, broken bicycles from their youth and boxes of old toys aside, the was only enough space left to barely fit one single car, if they’d still owned one. They used to – Eliza had sold it last year to cover the bills – and there had been a vacant space for so long now, that it was almost impossible to notice the new, foreign object.
The motorbike rested against its own kickstand; a glint of light flashed against the red and white paint that decorated the fuel tank, where the word Indian was written in large, gold letters. It wasn’t new, Kara knew for sure. Alex would had picked it up second hand.
Kara’s eyebrows rose. “Eliza is going to kill you.”
Alex didn’t seem to hear her. She stepped past Kara and dropped to her knees to run her slender fingers along the metallic frame.
“A nineteen thirty-one Indian Chief,’ Alex cooed. ‘It still needs a little work done, but I have books, and they showed me how to change the oil and everything so I should be able to do it myself.
“You can’t put a price of beauty.”
“Not much.’ Alex insisted. ‘They’re practically giving these bikes away to make room for the new models, and this one is over a decade old…”
Alex sighed. “Two hundred.”
Kara put her head in her hands with a groan. She could feel a migraine coming on.
Her sister was on her feet, facing her again with her hands up and guilt all over her face.
“I know what you’re thinking…’
“That I’m about to be an only child?’ Kara laughed. ‘Because you’re absolutely right. What were you thinking? Two hundred dollars?”
“By not having to get the bus anymore,’ Alex reasoned forcefully, ‘it’s practically going to pay for itself! And I didn’t skive of any of the bills, if that’s what you’re thinking…’
“It’s not what I’m thinking that you need to worry about.”
“I’ve been saving every spare dollar and cent I could for months.”
Kara knew this already. She’d found the jar full of pennies, nickels and crumpled up dollar bills in the bottom of their closet one day. But she hadn’t known what it was for, and hadn’t thought it polite to ask. She’d felt invasive enough finding something personal, and assumed Alex was saving for something special.
She hadn’t ever imagined it would be this.
Alex’s passion for motorbikes was nothing new. Jeramiah had owned one when they were younger, and only sold it when they had needed extra money to buy a new car. Alex had in the past also mentioned that she would like to have her own bike one day. Kara could still remember the argument.
Alex was watching Kara apprehensively now, surely with a dozen more arguments on the tip of her tongue that were ready to let fly, should the opportunity arise. She’d no doubt been ready for this sort of backlash.
Don’t tell Mom, she’d said. Why did Kara agree to these promises every time? When would she learn?
Kara folded her arms over her chest. “Where did you get it?”
“It’s not a junkyard,’ Alex frowned, ‘and don’t let Bertie Parson hear you saying that, or he won’t let me come back.”
“What are you going to tell Eliza?”
Alex looked everywhere but at Kara. “The truth. What I just told you. She won’t be that mad…”
Kara laughed at that, short and loud. Alex just rolled her eyes.
“I’m an adult,’ Alex insisted. ‘And I didn’t cheat anyone out of anything, I saved for this fair and square. And I’m going to be responsible and safe, despite what Mom says about weather conditions and accidents and all that other baloney.”
Kara pursed her lips.
“Do you even know how to ride it?”
Alex’s expression softened a little in relief, and she turned back to the bike. She rummaged around for something on the other side of it, and then straightened up and held out a brown, leather helmet with large goggles resting around the rim.
“Come on,’ Alex smirked, ‘I’ll take you to work.”
“I am not getting on that thing.”
“No, I’m sensible. Unlike some people…”
“Don’t be such a chicken!”
Kara lifted her chin defiantly.
Alex rolled her eyes, too used to this stubbornness to let it stop her anymore.
“Kara, it’s going to rain – I can smell it. You really want to risk walking the twenty something minutes when I can get you there in five? You want to show up at the hospital looking like a drowned rat?”
In a last-ditch effort, Kara gestured helplessly at the motorbike. “How did you even get this thing in here? How are you going to get it out?”
Alex smirked. “I walked it the last few blocks – all uphill. Why do you think I was so sweaty before? And it’s almost six thirty – Mom will be so engrossed in Murder Masterpiece Theater that she won’t even notice. Come on, Kara. You’ll like it, I promise.”
Kara knew few things about herself for certain. Ones twenties, a phase in their lives that was filled with doubt and self-discovery, left little room for certainty and confidence. But Kara had been raised by two strong women – her sister and Eliza. And she knew her self well enough by now, at the age of twenty-six, to know what she was and was not comfortable with.
Riding on the back of a motorcycle, was not going to be one of those things.
But Alex’s expression, so eager and confident and excited, was also hard to argue with. And Kara felt her frown soften and her inner resolve crack under her older sister’s enthusiastic gaze.
“Okay,’ she surrendered. ‘Okay!”
Alex’s smile was as dazzling as the sun.
“But be sure to stick to the speed limit!”
“I always do.”
“And don’t take the corners too hard.”
“Do I look like an idiot?”
Before Kara could even say another word, Alex had rushed back inside. Through the open, living room window, Kara could vaguely hear Alex’s excuse of how she was going to walk Kara to the hospital, and would be home soon, and to save some of the apple pie for her.
All too soon, Alex was back in the garage. Without a word, she handed the small, leather helmet to Kara, and began to walk the motorcycle out into the street.
Kara followed her. It wasn’t until they were well up the road, out of earshot of the house, did Alex swing her leg over the bike, sit herself down and kick the motorcycle into gear. It roared into life with a loud growl; the headlight flickered for a significant amount of time before finally settling – alight, but dim.
Kara swallowed down her apprehension.
“Jump on,’ Alex called over the rumble of the engine.
After a moment of hesitation, Kara fastened the helmet upon her head, positioned herself snugly behind Alex, and when her hands were secured to her sister’s hips, Alex revved the engine with a flick of her wrists, and then they were off.
Kara was glad the engine was so loud – it masked her sudden cry of surprise. They weren’t going dangerously fast, but it was a foreign sensation none-the-less. Kara and Alex had grown up riding pushbikes to school and down to the lake on weekends, so Kara knew how to balance and lean into the corners. It was the engine that unsettled her, the speed, the lack of control.
They weaved around traffic, overtaking Pontiacs, Chevrolet’s, Lincoln’s, all going at a much more sensible speed, Kara thought. Raised eyebrows from men, and impressed glances from women flashed by as they rode in and out of lanes.
The rain was beginning to take form now. Kara shivered as she felt tiny droplets splash against her skin. She wanted to put the goggles which were wrapped around the helmet on her eyes, but she was afraid to loosen her grip around her sister.
Alex obviously didn’t have any of the concerns Kara had. Despite her earlier promise, she took turns with a speed Kara was sure was unnecessary. And when they leveled out, the engine spluttered and the frame shook as Alex went straight back up into a higher gear, increasing their haste.
Kara could only see her profile, if she craned her neck, but it was enough to see the grin on Alex’s face as the wind blew her short, brown hair out of her face.
To Kara’s relief, all too soon they were over the hill, and across Alex’s shoulder she could see the lights in the distance – the hospital.
Alex’s foot backed off the accelerator, and she let the bike roll down the hill. Kara’s stomach churned from the dip. She was immensely glad when Alex controlled herself and didn’t skid to a stop, but instead brought them to a gentle halt at the front gate.
Kara stepped onto the sidewalk with jelly legs, and took a moment to smooth out her nurses’ uniform while Alex laughed.
“You didn’t exaggerate,’ Kara checked her watch, ‘you did get me here quickly.”
The rain thickened the tiniest of fractions. Kara stepped back toward the gate while Alex turned up the collar of her jacket and squinted up at the sky, blinking droplets out of her eyes.
“You’d better get back,’ Kara insisted.
“Won’t take too long,’ Alex kicked the bike back into life again – the headlight flickered again, dimmer than ever. ‘Now you’re not crushing the life out of me, I can go as fast as I want.”
“Need me to pick you up later?’
Kara told her what time her shift ended, and affirmed that Alex was to show up only if the rain had not passed. With a nod of understanding, Alex blew her a kiss and disappeared back up the darkened hill, tires splashing water out in her wake.
The hospital was much quieter than it had been earlier, Kara discovered, when she stepped in out of the rain. The lights were dimmed. The hubbub from the early afternoon had well and truly died down now. There was no more bustling in the halls. No more loud cries of pain and terror. The dinner ladies were the only ones roaming about now, carrying empty trays back down toward the kitchens.
Kara passed by the wards as she headed for the nurses’ station. There weren’t many people moving about in their beds; only the odd toss or turn here, or a cough there. In the dim light and quiet, the sounds of her shoes on the linoleum, and the rain that was now splattering harder against the windows, seemed to be turned up inconsiderately loud.
She almost tiptoed into the nurses’ station, where Rosie was sitting at the large, oak desk underneath the bay windows that looked out at the hallway.
She was leaning back in her chair, reading the paper, nose almost buried in the pages and red hair as beautiful curled and pinned up as always.
When Kara appeared in the doorway her brown eyes glanced up, and relief was suddenly written all over her face.
“Danvers! You know, this is exactly why I always love it when you’re the one to relieve me,’ she sighed, folding the paper up, ‘you’re always early.”
Kara smiled at her as she hung her coat up. “I got a ride.”
“And I got verbally abused my Watkins.”
“He’s retiring soon,’ was the only solace Kara could offer.
Doctor Watkins was the oldest physician employed there, almost seventy now. His patience and bedside manner had long since worn out, for both patience and nurses. He was the bane of their existence, always talking down to them, making snide, sexist comments, talking about how ‘these boys didn’t know war’, and how ‘they all would have been toughened up if they’d been in The Great War’. If you had been rostered on to work alongside him more than twice a month, you knew to go straight to the matron and apologize, because you had clearly done something to upset her.
Rosie pursed her lips. “Not soon enough.”
Kara smothered her smile. “Anything I need to know about?”
Rosie filled her in on what she’d missed, which apparently wasn’t much at all. One of the women had had a seizure, and had been transferred to the hospital in National City. Another had tried to walk out, not believing the doctors diagnosis that her ankle was broken, and subsequently collapsed half way out the door and hit her head on the door handle, putting her straight back into bed.
“But other than that…’ Rosie shrugged her jacket on. ‘The medication list is there; last rounds were ten minutes ago so you should be right for a while. Oh, I almost forgot… the woman in bed forty-six has tried to sneak in here a few times.”
Kara looked up from the charts. “What for?”
“She wants to use the phone.”
“And we can’t let her because…?”
“Because then the rest of them will want to use the phone, and we’ll be spending all night policing the line like some darn jail warden,’ Rosie explained with a laugh, ‘and they need to rest, and we have better things to do. Just keep an eye out for her, okay? Goodnight!”
Promising she would, Kara waved Rosie off, and sat herself down at the desk.
Papers were scattered everywhere; haphazard evidence of just how chaotic everything had been earlier. The Matron was usually such a stickler for organization.
Kara took a moment to shuffle things back into something of an ordered manor, before checking her watch again and heading off to do a quick sweep of the wards.
It wasn’t too late an hour – only just past seven. But the wards were still quiet, broken only by the occasional cough, or creak of the bed as someone tossed and turned. Kara checked charts, felt foreheads for any chance in skin temperature, fluffed pillows, brought water glasses to patients who had woken up, and administered penicillin shots to the two soldiers on her list. They protested quietly, irritated at having been woken, but lay still as Kara gave them their injections and reminded them again that it was either this, or let their infections get worse and possibly lose their limbs.
“When I get out of here,’ the second solider, Hildebrand, muttered as he held out his arm, ‘and my leg gets better, I’m gonna take you out dancin’,”
Kara rolled her eyes with a smile. “I told you, I’m spoken for.”
“Promise I’ll be respectful. No more than three champagnes each.”
Kara gave him one last withering look. He grinned at her and winked. He’d promised her this every night since he’d come in three weeks ago, infection so severe he had been on the verge of amputation then, but now well on the mend, thanks to the penicillin.
Bidding him a weary goodnight, Kara carried on through to the next ward.
This was where bed forty-six was, containing the woman who had apparently been causing so much strife. The seven other beds in the ward were occupied by slumbering woman, their chests rising and falling slowly with deep breaths.
Thinking it safe, Kara took her chance. She crept down the line to look at the figure in bed forty-six.
She was curled up in the blankets, rolled up like a cocoon. But Kara recognized that long, dark hair, and knew that if her eyes had been open, she would have seen that dazzling green peering back up at her.
Kara frowned. What was her name again?
She moved to the end of her bed and looked at her chart: Lena Smyth.
Despite it being her job, somehow it felt a little invasive to read her chart just now - even though she had had no problem with reading any of the others. Was it because she was asleep? Perhaps because of their short interlude earlier that day? Lena had been the only woman she’d actually had something of a conversation with, which made their affiliation less clinical. She wasn’t just figures on a chart anymore. She was gritted teeth and sparkling eyes and words that would make a navy man blush…
With one last look at the slumbering Lena, Kara read through enough to ensure she didn’t need to be woken for any bandages changes or injections, and then carried on with her rounds.
An hour and a half later (she’d got caught up talking with the other nurses on duty, made herself a coffee, had several visits to the lavatory, and shared in a muffin with one of the dinner ladies), she was sitting back down in the nurses’ station. The wooden chair at the desk was hard, but still a relief from all the walking.
Kara sighed and leant back in the seat gratefully, just as she had seen Rosie doing earlier. She took a moment to listen for any sounds. Other than the usual creaking sounds of the walls, it was quiet – almost eerily so.
Figuring this was as good a time as any, Kara reached into her pocket and retrieved the letter that had arrived for her today. She flicked the envelope open, and a letter toppled out onto the desk, along with tiny granules of dirt, and a small, white, pressed flower.
Kara smiled, touching the flower delicately, and turned back to the note.
The division was pulled out this morning, back to base, and I finally have a minute to write this letter to you… hiding behind the cafeteria tent.
I can still smell the last scraps of our dinner – stew with chewy, bland meat and vegetables. They say we need to keep our strength up, and to do that we need as many vitamins and minerals as we can get, and they don’t care how we get it in us, just that we do.
But the thought of your face, the memories of your arms around me, your eyes sparkling, our date by the lake, coming home to you, is what will keep me fighting more than any gut-churning stew.
Even if I could find the words to describe this place to you, I don’t think I would. There are horrors here beyond description. I’ve seen a side to mankind I never thought was possible – and that’s both a good and bad thing. Where I have seen evil, I have also seen heroes rise up against it. It’s part of what keeps getting me up in the morning. That kind of courage, that heroism, is worth fighting to protect.
But I will tell you that, even though I wake up every morning missing you, the sun rises with a golden glow, the colour of your hair, and I feel you here with me and then I don’t feel so alone anymore.
I hope the flower reaches you in a decent enough condition. I carried it all the way through Belgium. I don’t know its true name, but I got bored one morning and called her Patricia.
Keep me in your thoughts, as I do of you. I’ll return home to you soon.
All my love,
Kara smiled, and ran her fingers along the flower again. Her heart clenched as she pictured him in a trench somewhere, fighting not just Nazi’s, but exhaustion, hunger, cold, loneliness…
His letters were always short, concise, full of words she knew he would have spent so much time worrying about because even though in person he was often not very ample at expressing his feelings, when he wrote them he had time to think, and he would consider and plan until he found just the perfect ones.
His letters were small solace from her sadness that came from their parting, but anything was better than nothing.
Spurred by her fresh thoughts of him, Kara reached for the nearest pencil with which to jot down her reply.
But in her haste, she misjudged the distance, and knocked the tin of pencils to the floor with a clatter.
Wincing, Kara listened hard for any reaction to the sudden noise. Somewhere, someone snorted loudly, and a bed creaked… but then there was nothing.
With a breath of relief, Kara ducked under the desk to clean up the mess. They had rolled far underneath, and it took a lot of fiddling and stretching to reach them all.
When she straightened up onto her knees, and put the cup and pencils back on the desk with a huff, that’s when she saw she was no longer alone.
Like a deer in headlights, Lena Smyth was crouched in the doorway. Kara’s best guess was that she had just crawled along the bottom of the window to avoid being seen. Her hair was tucked behind her ears; she was dressed in a spare hospital gown, her left arm in a sling.
They were eye-level, and both stared at the other in equal shock of not having expected the other to be there.
Kara was the first to remember herself.
“Miss Smyth,’ she said curtly, ‘may I help you with something?”
“My…’ Lena cleared her throat. ‘My sling… it’s loose.”
“Not something that should bother someone who, just ten minutes ago, looked completely dead to the word,’ Kara replied.
Lena’s eyebrows rose, and then she looked away with a soft laugh.
“Touché,’ was all she said.
Kara got to her feet then. Clumsily, and with a badly disguised wince, Lena followed suit.
“You need to return to your bed,’ Kara said. ‘You need to rest.”
“I know,’ Lena nodded empathically. ‘And I will. Absolutely. I just…”
“Need to make a phone call?”
Lena pursed her lips, like she might try to deny it. But she gave up almost instantly, and took a tentative step forward.
“It’s only for a minute. Please. I need to call my father.”
“Your family will have been notified of your condition by now. The nurses on the last shift…”
“I gave them fake details.”
The words tumbled out of her mouth quickly, followed by a short, irritated sigh.
Kara frowned. “Why would you do that?”
Lena chuckled again. “Well it would defeat the purpose of keeping them secret if I just went ahead and told you, wouldn’t it?”
“Is your name even Lena Smyth?”
“I’m Lena,’ she affirmed, ‘let’s just leave it at that.’
When the moment Kara took to process this information passed, Lena took another step forward – toward the phone.
‘Please? I just need to tell him I’m okay.”
“I can call him for you.”
“If you call him, he’s going to insist on coming down here and it’ll cause a scene. I’ll only be a minute.”
Kara felt concern flare up in her chest. Was her father some sort of abusive parent? Lena was looking at her with an expression bordering on desperation. Kara half wondered if maybe she should call the police.
Lena seemed to read her mind; she shifted her expression in a less anxious one.
“It’s fine,’ she insisted. ‘Everything’s fine. I just really need to speak to him. Please, Nurse - …”
“Danvers,’ Kara finished for her.
Lena nodded respectfully. “Nurse Danvers. You can stay in the room, how about that?”
Kara snorted. “Well, thank you for your permission.”
The anxiety was back, knotting Lena’s brow together. She was clearly and quickly passing by the point of appreciating jokes and sarcasm.
Kara weighed up her options. Either she could let her use the phone and stay in the room and supervise, and then take any further action she felt she needed to take it, be that police intervention or not… or she could send her back to bed, again, and then have to spend the whole night in the nurse’s station because she could tell, from the set in Lena’s jaw and the determined look in her eye, that she would try again and again to use the telephone, no doubt all night if she had to.
With a sigh, Kara pushed the phone toward her. “You can have two minutes.”
Lena nearly collapsed with relief. She breathed her ‘Thank you’ and stepped fully into the office. Kara pushed the chair forward so Lena could sit down, and leaned back against the desk, eyes trained on her as she watched Lena dial.
“What time is it?’ Lena asked, pressing the receiver to her ear.
Kara checked her watch. “Almost nine.”
“Good, he should still be in his offi-… Father, it’s me!’
Her tone had changed instantly. Then she was whispering down the line, and turned away slightly from Kara. But they were still in such close proximity in the small office that, even though she stared at her shoes and tried to pretend she couldn’t, Kara could still hear every word she was saying.
“It was a fuse,’ Lena was explaining what happened. ‘No… no I wasn’t on that floor, but… yes, I know that… you have to –…‘ Lena glanced over her shoulder at Kara, and then turned away again to whisper even more softly, ‘… you need to open an investigation. On any other floor, the entire factory could have gone up. I’m serious! Father, think of the press… if you think it’s worth the risk to lose an entire business…’
Lena was quiet for a long while after this. Kara could just make out a deep voice on the other end of the line, talking away. Lena’s head dropped, and her eyes shut.
“Yes, Father,’ she said, monotone. Defeated. ‘But I’m going back. Yes of course I am. This just shows how much they need me on… Father, you said I could… I don’t know, just tell her I’m at Veronica’s for the night. No, I don’t… oh, hang on…”
Kara shifted her gaze away when Lena looked up at her suddenly, but she hadn’t been quick enough – Lena knew she was listening.
When she turned back, Lena didn’t look mad, but there was a frown there.
“Can I go home tomorrow?’ she asked.
Kara pursed her lips. “I’m not a doctor…”
“What do you think?”
She wasn’t used to that question. Normally, a nurse’s opinion was the last opinion anyone wanted to hear, and even then, they weren’t necessarily respected. But it was late, and there were only nurses on hand right now – the two doctors still there were having their dinner – and Kara didn’t feel she could make Lena wait to go ask them. To do so would not only be leaving her post, but also admitting she’d bent the rules for Lena in the first place.
So, Kara considered Lena’s injuries, and made her own diagnosis.
“You’re one of the least critical,’ Kara finally said, ‘and there are soldiers coming through her often and we need all the beds we can get, so I suppose they will send you home in the morning. But you must understand that that’s not a real medical diagno-…”
“Yes,’ Lena had stopped listening, and turned back to the phone, ‘send him in the morning. Tell him I’ll meet him around the corner. Thank you, Father. I love you, too. Yes, I will, I’m going back to bed now…”
Lena glanced up at Kara, and smirked.
After repeating goodnight’s and I’m fine’s a few more times, Lena hung up the phone with a satisfied clunk.
She turned around in her chair, wincing again, and looked up at Kara with big, green eyes.
‘Thank you,’ she insisted kindly.
Kara shrugged awkwardly under her stare. “Is everything alright now?”
Lena sighed. “It will be. He was about to send out a search party. An actual one, you understand – that’s not an exaggeration.”
Kara got to her feet, and held her hand out. “Come on, I’ll help you back to your room.”
“Can I have some aspirin first? My shoulder is killing me.”
“If it says so on your chart.”
“It’s just an aspirin.”
“And you’re just in my care. Come on.”
Lena could have probably made it on her own. She was obviously mobile enough to have crawled there in the first place. But Lena didn’t argue with Kara’s instruction, and Kara hoped she didn’t suspect that, really, she just wanted to make sure that Lena actually got into bed, and stayed there this time.
As they began to walk, Lena leant a little against Kara. Her weight was not unpleasant. When she let out a little sigh, and swallowed down a yawn, Kara realized just how much repeated attempts to sneak into the nurses station could take it out of you.
“Why did you give us fake details?’ Kara whispered on their way down the hall. ‘We could have called your father and set his mind at ease hours ago.”
Lena’s grip around Kara’s arm tightened a little. “I wasn’t sure if my mother would answer or not.”
The way she said it sent Kara’s stomach churning again. Were both of her parents’ tyrants?
“Your mother doesn’t know you work at the factory?’ Kara surmised.
It wouldn’t have been the first time she’d come across a headstrong woman who was going against her mother’s wishes.
“She does,’ Lena admitted slowly, ‘she just… doesn’t know what I do there… exactly. She thinks I’m just a secretary. And no secretary working up in the offices, would have been hurt like this. The only reason she let my father give me a job there in the first place is because we compromised – I assured her that I wouldn’t step outside the offices or away from a typewriter.”
“So how are you going to explain this?’ Kara gestured toward Lena’s sling.
“Won’t be a problem,’ Lena said. ‘They’re out of town.”
Kara processed this as they entered her ward. She helped Lena sit down gingerly on her bed, and pulled back the covers so she could get in under them.
Lena sighed in relief as her body relaxed. Kara resisted the urge to brush the hair out of her face.
Kara turned to leave, then, but felt like she should say something more.
“I wanted to go overseas,’ she murmured. ‘Enlist… be an army nurse… but my foster mother wouldn’t let me go. Said she couldn’t stand losing another of us. My father is over near Japan right now. He’s been gone almost a year. He writes… but it’s not the same.”
“So, you think my mother is right to be so overbearing?’ Lena frowned.
“No… I’m saying I understand that drive to get away. To be a part of something, feel like you’re making a difference, even when those who are meant to support you tell you not to because they think they know what’s best for you.”
Lena gazed up at her, eyes becoming heavy with sleep. Kara felt herself slightly unsettled by their strange effect on her.
“What’s your father’s name?’ Lena asked.
“Jeramiah. What’s yours?”
Lena yawned then, deeply. “L-L-Lionel.”
Kara frowned. Cogs were turning in her head, pieces were fitting together. They way she’d spoken to him on the phone, about investigations… how he’d been the one to give her the job there…
“Lionel… as in Lionel Luthor? As in… Luthor Munitions?”
Lena pointed at her lamely, eyes closed. “Tha’s the one.”
“I’m… going to get you that aspirin.”
Kara didn’t even stop to check her chart, just went back through to the medical cabinet to fetch the pills.
Her mind was reeling. Lena Luthor? Heiress to the Luthor millions? The Luthor Family were a tycoon, philanthropists, and had big stakes in the war effort, not just in munitions but also in food supplies and transportation. They were famous throughout the nation for their aid in the war efforts both domestically and overseas. Kara even had a picture of Jeramiah, accepting a crate that had been airdropped to his base with the words Luthor Co. printed on it in big, black letters.
No wonder she didn’t care about her overalls being destroyed, Kara thought absentmindedly. Who cared about the price of things when you could afford everything?
Kara’s mind was still buzzing when she walked back into the ward. She had questions of course, but from all the trouble she had gone to, to give a fake name and trying to sneak into the nurse’s station to make secret phone calls, Lena clearly didn’t want anyone to know who she really was. Kara was oddly flattered that she had trusted Kara, someone she hardly knew, with the secret.
And if there was one thing Kara never wanted to do, it was let someone down who had put their faith in her– even if that someone was a total stranger.
When Kara got back to Lena’s bed, the brunette was already fast asleep.
Kara checked her chart properly this time, before putting the pills down on the little beside table with a cup of water.
She tucked Lena’s covers in just that little bit tighter, and then made her way back through to the nurses’ station, mind still buzzing.
When her shift ended, three am precisely, the rain had stopped. But there was still a shiny, red motorbike waiting for her by the gate.
Kara didn’t even pretend to find this irritating. Without a word, feet throbbing and eyes itchy with fatigue, she simply settled herself behind her sister with a sigh and rested her cheek on Alex’s back.
Alex squeezed her knee gently, then kicked the bike into life, and they were off.
They rode in silence, but it was only a short trip. They didn’t speak at all until they were in the house, upstairs and settling into bed.
“I told Mom,’ said Alex.
Kara, already curled on her side under the covers, watched as her sister went through her usual nightly routine – watch taken off her wrist and placed on bedside table, hair brushed, stretches of her arms, back and legs – all performed while sitting on the edge of her bed.
“About the bike?’ Kara asked.
Alex nodded, lifting her arms over her head.
“Well the house is still standing,’ Kara observed, ‘so that’s a good sign.”
“I just stood there and let her yell at me,’ Alex admitted. ‘Seemed to be the best way to handle it. But she’ll probably have fresh things to say in the morning.”
Kara smirked. “How lucky that you have an early start tomorrow?”
“I can hardly believe it,’ Alex chuckled. ‘Unfortunate that we work in the same lab though.”
“She won’t yell at you in front of colleagues.”
“My luck continues.”
When Alex finished her routine, settled in and switched off the light, her voice broke through the darkness.
“Anything interesting happen in your shift?”
Kara stared up at the dark ceiling. “No. Nothing.”
She expected Alex to contest this; Alex had a knack for knowing when Kara wasn’t entirely truthful.
But there was no response. All too soon, Kara could hear was soft snoring.
It wasn’t long until she too was doing the same.