Chapter 1: Act One
Mature Jenny’s voice over begins:
In 1960, Poplar was as vibrant a place as could be found in London. New babies were blessed in countless different ways; they were greeted, joyously, in countless different languages; born to families from countless different places. And they were welcomed into families of shapes and sizes that defied the imagination. These changes were not always welcomed by all, but change, and difference, had always been a part of the fabric of the East End. It was the differences that separated us from the rest of London, and what bound us to one another.
We see scenes of various Nonnatuns attending a Hindu naming ceremony, a circumcision, and a christening. Meanwhile, a large, excited family chat around the bed of a Chinese mother with Sister Winifred. The grandmother grasps Sister Winifred’s hand to express her thanks and Sister Winifred smiles in response. In the late afternoon sun, she rides her bike through the vibrant, busy streets of Poplar, nodding at all the greetings that come her way.
Dr. Turner and Shelagh are sitting at their breakfast table, with Angela bouncing happily on Shelagh’s lap, trying to get her hands in Shelagh’s breakfast. In the background, Timothy, in his uniform, putters loudly.
“You’re in a bit of a rush this morning,” Shelagh says, dodging another grab from Angela.
Dr. Turner looks up from his paper. “And already dressed? This is a first.”
“I’ve got to get to school early. Billy Curwen’s holding football tryouts before school,” Timothy says, around the piece of toast he’s just shoved into his mouth.
“Football tryouts? Good on you,” Dr. Turner says. “I wouldn’t mind bragging about having a son on the grammar school football team.”
Shelagh gives him a deprecating look. “We’re very proud of you, Timothy.”
“It’s not the school’s team. It’s Billy Curwen’s team. He always plays with the same team at break, and they always win. But now Dean Ramsey’s been expelled for fighting and there’s a free space.” Dr. Turner and Shelagh look at each other in surprise. “And everyone’s trying out.”
Dr. Turner shakes his head and returns to his paper.
“Oh, I don’t know if I like the sound of that. It sounds a bit exclusive to me,” Shelagh says.
“Don’t, Mum,” Timothy says, pointing his crust at her. “Don’t try and suck the fun out of this.” He shoves the crust in his mouth, checks the clock and dashes out of the room.
“Good luck, I suppose,” says Dr. Turner, while Shelagh chuckles. The front door slams.
Dr. Turner folds his paper. “I should be off, too.” He leans across the table to kiss Shelagh, and stroke Angela’s hair.
“I’ll be there just as soon as I drop Angela off with Mrs. Penny,” she says as he heads out the door.
Angela makes another grab and puts her hand directly into Shelagh’s marmalade toast.
Shelagh sighs. “Oh well, I was finished anyway,” she says as Angela slowly looks at her while licking marmalade off her palm.
Sister Winifred hurries into the medical room the next morning. Everyone else is already there, chatting. She starts getting her bag together.
Nurse Crane is referencing her clipboard.
“Right. Sister Mary Cynthia, you’ll be at the Maternity Home this morning. Nurse Gilbert and Nurse Franklin, prenatal visits, if you please.” They nod. “Nurse Mount, you’re on call. Nurse Busby and Sister Winifred…” They both look up at their names being called. “You two are on district rota today, as am I. Look sharp, we have a few new patients.”
Delia and Sister Winifred make fairly awkward eye contact and give each other tight smiles at being paired up. They don’t know each other that well yet.
To the sound of that familiar bouncy tune, everyone gathers their bags and files outside, one blue and red uniform exiting Nonnatus House after another, and soon the bikes set off in a row through the narrow, cobbled streets of Poplar. In ones and twos they split off to their various duties. Delia and Sister Winifred smile at each other as they are left cycling together.
At the Maternity Home, Shelagh and Sister Mary Cynthia are boiling urine and cleaning vials in the clinical room. Dr. Turner comes in to grab a file. As he is on his way out, he turns.
“Oh, Shelagh, I’ve had a telephone call from Meredith; her train arrives at 4:00 tomorrow, I’m going to the station to pick her up.”
“Good. I’ve already set up a makeshift bed for Timothy in Angela’s room. I’ll tell him to tidy up a bit,” Shelagh says, looking up from her urine sample.
“Who is Meredith?” Sister Mary Cynthia asks.
“She’s Maggie’s sister, and my sister-in-law, and she’s coming to stay for a few days. Unfortunately,” says Dr. Turner.
Shelagh gives him a disapproving look. “Patrick. She’s your family.”
“I know. And you can’t pick your family. Or Meredith certainly wouldn’t have chosen me." He sighs and turns to Sister Mary Cynthia to offer an explanation. "Meredith was never any fan of mine, even when Maggie was alive. I suppose no one was good enough for her little sister. At least I wasn’t. And since I married Shelagh, well…” he trails off with a shake of his head, and walks out of the room.
Sister Mary Cynthia turns back to Shelagh with a curious look. Shelagh smiles.
“Needless to say, Meredith is no fan of mine either. But that’s understandable, as I did marry her sister’s widower. But what matters is that Timothy has a relationship to his aunt.”
“It still must be hard on you, hosting someone in your home who makes clear she doesn’t like you,” Sister Mary Cynthia says.
Shelagh gives a little shake of her head. “I try not to say anything. It’s only for a few days.” She smiles and turns back to her boiling urine.
Sister Winifred and Delia lean their bikes up against the wall of an old, somewhat dirty, red block of flats, with children running around beneath billowing laundry. Upstairs on the outdoor landing, they knock on a nondescript door.
“This is one of our new patients, a Miss White, who recently had a heart attack,” Sister Winifred informs Delia.
The door is pulled open by a frail, old woman with hair tied in a bun at the base of her neck and a cardigan draped over her shoulders.
“Oh,” says Sister Winifred in surprise. “Miss White?”
“No, my name is Miss Allen. You’re the nurses? Please come in.”
Delia and Sister Winifred step into the tiny flat. They are in dark-wallpapered living room with the blinds drawn. The kitchen is separated only by a counter, a bathroom is visible, and there is one other closed door. Sitting in a chair facing the rest of the room is another, somehow frailer, woman curled into the back of the chair and covered with a blanket. Her short cropped white hair frames her wrinkled face. She watches the nurses with a mildly interested expression.
“Are you a neighbour, Miss Allen?” Sister Winifred asks, as they set their bags down.
There is a beat of silence before: “This is Miss White. Dorothy. She still has some days where she is quite alert but…today she is in her own world. She has been ill for quite some time. Even before the attack.”
“Is Miss White often out of bed, Miss Allen?” Delia asks.
“She gets so restless,” Miss Allen says.
“It would be better if she didn’t move around so much. Did you help move her yourself?” Delia asks.
“I can manage,” Miss Allen says.
“We wouldn’t want either of you to have a fall.” Delia says. Miss Allen nods, worry on her face.
Sister Winifred crouches down in front of Miss White. “Hello, Miss White. I’m Sister Winifred and this is Nurse Busby. We’re here to look after you. Now, let’s have a little look at your breathing and your temperature.”
Thermometer in hand, Sister Winifred approaches Miss White’s mouth. Miss White’s eyes widen slightly in alarm, and she moves her head away, clearly confused. This gives Sister Winifred pause.
“Oh no, don’t worry, my d- old friend. The nurses are here to help you. And see, I’m right here,” Miss Allen says. She comes to put her hand on Miss White’s back and grasps her hand.
Delia pauses and eyes them as she approaches with her medical bag. With a smile and a nod, Sister Winifred takes Miss White’s temperature and the two nurses continue their medical check-up.
“Miss Allen, does Miss White have someone here who can take care of her? We can apply to the Council to provide a full time nurse, but it would be better –” Sister Winifred starts.
“I live here,” Miss Allen says. “I take care of her.”
“Oh,” says Sister Winifred, and both she and Delia both look up in surprise.
Delia meets Miss Allen’s gaze with wide eyes and an awestruck expression, but quickly looks away when Miss Allen starts to squirm. Instead her eyes land on the two women’s intertwined hands, but she quickly looks away again and isn’t sure where to direct her gaze. She glances at the window, and sees a vase with fresh flowers sitting there. She understands the situation, of course.
“You live here, Miss Allen?” Sister Winifred asks, still confused.
“We are…old friends,” Miss Allen explains, while Delia loudly and rather nervously busies herself with supplies. “We began sharing a flat when we were younger and as neither of us ever married, it just made sense to go on living together. Financially, you see.”
“That’s unusual. You didn’t want more privacy and space in your retirement?” Sister Winifred asked.
Miss Allen smiles a tightlipped smile. “Oh, a little company is always nice, especially for two old spinsters like us.”
“We’ll teach you how to give her her medicines, and some techniques to help relieve some of her discomfort,” Delia says kindly, giving Miss Allen a shy smile.
Sister Winifred tries to give Delia a confused look but Delia avoids her eye and carries on with their check-up.
There is a knock on the door and a little voice calls, “Miss Allen, it’s Lucy.”
“Come in, dear,” Miss Allen says.
A little girl enters carrying cake tin. “Good morning, Miss Allen. My mother sends some cake for Miss White. And you, if you’d like some.”
“I don’t think she’s quite up to cake today, Lucy, but leave it in the kitchen, and say thank you to your mother.”
The little girl obediently leaves the tin in the kitchen, watching the nurses warily.
“Say hello to the nurses, Lucy,” Miss Allen instructs.
“Hello, nurses,” says Lucy obediently, making Delia and Sister Winifred chuckle. “Is Miss White going to be okay?”
“We’re here to make sure she’s nice and comfortable,” Delia assures her.
Miss White, who has been mostly ignoring the two Nonnatuns and their administrations, makes an attempt to wave at Lucy, who waves back obligingly.
“It was you Nonnatuns who delivered little Lucy, of course. Sister Evangelina, I think. Lucy is the daughter of our neighbour, Mrs. Walter, just next door,” Miss Allen explains. “Dorothy and I helped her when little Lucy was born, and with all the older Walter children: cooking and cleaning and babysitting and that.”
“How lovely,” Sister Winifred says with a smile. “Mrs. Walter must have been so appreciative.”
“Well, it was right that we look after her, with her family being up in Birmingham, and we never had – I mean neither of us ever had children of our own,” Miss Allen says. “And now Mrs. Walter looks in on us every day, or sends one of the little uns, so I do have help. Run along now,” she says to Lucy.
With Lucy gone, the nurses finish with their check-up.
“I think it best that we check up on Miss White daily now, Miss Allen,” Sister Winifred says.
“She is…quite near the end, isn’t she, Sister?” Miss Allen asks, with a break in her voice. One hand fiddles constantly with the top button of her cardigan.
Sister Winifred presses her lips together. “We’re going to do our very best for her, Miss Allen. To begin with, we can pop her back into bed before we go.”
Miss Allen continues to fiddle nervously with her top button. “Oh no, that’s perfectly alright. She gets so restless lying there.”
Sister Winifred and Delia share a look.
“Miss Allen, she really does need to be resting. I’m sure she’d be more comfortable in her own bed,” Delia says cheerfully.
“Well, no need to trouble yourselves. I can manage myself. Or I can ask Mr. Walter to help me with her once he gets off work,” Miss Allen says.
“No need to wait till then, with us here,” Sister Winifred says. She and Delia are already helping Miss White out of her chair, each allowing her to lean on them with her frail arms. She seems confused but quite amiable to the change.
“Oh, I don’t want you to trouble yourselves,” Miss Allen says worriedly.
“Miss Allen, this is our job,” Delia assures her.
“Where are the bedrooms, through here?” Sister Winifred asks as the pair lead Miss White towards the only closed door in the flat.
Miss Allen closes her eyes, lets out a long sigh, and nods.
Gingerly and slowly, the two nurses support Miss White across the room and Miss Allen opens the door for them. The trio hobbles through the door into a single bedroom. The bed neatly made, with two bedside tables, a neatly kept vanity table to one side and a window, with the blinds. Miss Allen is feverishly fiddling with her cardigan as they lead Miss White in.
Sister Winifred stops short when she notices. “One bed?” she says in shock. She turns to Miss Allen, who is still standing in the doorway. “Where is the other…why is there only one bed?”
Miss Allen gulps and then draws herself up to her full height. “We only have need of the one, Sister.”
Delia, eyes wide, keeps her gaze steadfastly trained at the ground.
Sister Winifred stares at Miss Allen a few seconds longer as the reality of the situation sinks in. “Oh, Miss Allen,” she says finally, disappointment heavy in her voice.
Miss Allen holds her head high. “We have always been discrete,” she assures them.
“But,” breathes Sister Winifred, shaking her head.
“Sister Winifred, let’s get Miss White settled in her bed,” Delia says.
“We can’t put her there – it isn’t right,” Sister Winifred says desperately.
“I think our patient is getting tired; she needs to lie down,” Delia says pointedly. Miss White has indeed begun to shift from foot to foot.
“Oh – of course,” says Sister Winifred, and the two get the old woman settled into bed, propped up on lots of pillows.
As soon as they do, Sister Winifred, looking very uncomfortable, gives Miss Allen a guilty look and brushes past her out of the room.
Delia is left standing awkwardly in front of Miss Allen, and manages a smile. “Remember the techniques we taught you to relieve her discomfort. We’ll be back to check on her tomorrow.”
Miss Allen looks as if she is trying to think of something to say, to save face, but she can’t. Neither can Delia, so she leaves.
Chapter 2: Act 2
The Nonnatuns discuss Miss Allen and Miss White's situation, and Dr. Turner's sister-in-law arrives
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The Nonnatuns are sitting around the dinner table and the room is filled with happy chatter, the clatter of cutlery and the chaos of dishes being passed back and forth.
“Nurse Gilbert,” Sister Julienne says. “How did it go with Mrs. Harding this afternoon?”
Barbara pauses her cutlery, her eyes gleaming. “A healthy baby boy, born at over 9 pounds. He was absolutely massive,” she says gleefully.
“Golly, poor Mrs. Harding,” Trixie says with a horrified expression as the others laugh.
“And Sister Winifred, how did you get on with the new patients and Nurse Busby?” Phyllis asks, leaving around the nuns. “Is she up to Nonnatus standard yet?” she asks playfully.
“Yes, Delia did splendidly,” Sister Winifred says. She puts down her cutlery with a sigh and a troubled look. “But we did have a problem with one of the new patients, Miss White.”
“What’s the matter?” Sister Julienne asks.
Delia cuts in quickly. “She seems very near the end of her life. Her heart attack seems to have taken a great deal out of her. I don’t think there’s anything we can do to help her at this point; she is over 80. But I suppose we can help her feel more comfortable.”
“I’ll write to our friend Jenny, who nurses the terminally ill, for you, and see if she has any insights on caring for the dying that could help you,” Sister Mary Cynthia says kindly. Delia nods her thanks.
“Oh, but that wasn’t the only problem,” Sister Winifred says bitterly. “Miss White lives in a flat with another woman and has done so for years and… well, they…” Sister Winifred struggles for the most tactful words to make herself clearer, evidently feeling embarrassed. But from their wide-eyed looks, and awkward shifting, it appears that Trixie, Phyllis, Sister Evangelina, and of course, Patsy, have already figured the situation out.
“They share a bed,” Sister Winifred stage-whispers. “And appear to be, for lack of a better word…lovers.”
“Oh my,” Barbara says in shock. There is an uncomfortable silence for a moment as everyone takes this information in. Sister Julienne looks as if she does not get paid enough to be dealing with this.
Patsy looks surreptitiously at Delia, eyebrows raised, curious. Delia nods at her, letting her know it’s true. Patsy tilts her head and makes an impressed face, as if it has never occurred to her that it was possible to maintain such a relationship in old age.
“Are you…quite sure?” Sister Julienne says. “That this was the situation? Nurse Busby, did it appear this way to you as well?”
Delia gulps. “It was quite clear.”
“They were…like homosexuals, but women?” Barbara asks, genuinely confused.
“Homosexuals are women, too, Barbara,” Trixie says with a smile.
“Really?” Barbara says, intrigued. “I didn’t know women could do that.”
“Of course they can, silly, and they do,” Trixie says. Patsy and Delia are both turning bright red, and Sister Winifred and Sister Mary Cynthia are squirming too.
“I’m sorry, but you said she was in her eighties?” says Sister Mary Cynthia in disbelief.
“She is,” says Delia.
Sister Mary Cynthia shakes her head. “That part is a surprise.”
“I think it’s sweet,” Trixie says with a nod of her shoulders. “To think how long they’ve been together.”
“Sweet?” cries Sister Winifred.
“Well, it’ll take a bit more than a pair of old ladies to shock me. You don’t practice as a nurse for as long as I have without encountering ALL SORTS of patients,” Sister Evangelina says loudly.
“Amen, Sister,” says Phyllis forcefully. “And none of them do any harm to anyone.”
“Heavens, there are sisters of this very order, and I shan’t name any names, who chose to take their vows to quash the temptations they were having themselves,” Sister Evangelina says. “Personally, I think that was an admirable choice, but it’s no secret that this life isn’t for everyone.”
Sister Julienne looks as if this is brand new information to her. “Are you quite sure, Sister?”
“This was shared with me by a sister before I came here to Nonnatus,” Sister Evangelina says, raising a hand.
“It is quite true,” Sister Monica Joan says anxiously. “A friend, who was a postulant with me, gave the very same reason. But these private confessions would never have been shared with those of you who forget your mortal place, and pass judgement.”
“Nobody is judging, sister,” Sister Julienne insists.
“Well, you might not have been shocked, but I certainly was,” Sister Winifred says. “I wasn’t comfortable at all.”
“Sister, none of us are perfect, and neither are our patients. We cannot help the sins of others, but we can help which sins we choose to avoid, beginning with avoiding judgement, as Sister Monica Joan wisely counsels.”
“Oh yes, they’re the worst kind of sinners; elderly women trying to live out the ends of their lives. What a pair of disgusting old crones,” Patsy says bitterly. Everyone is quiet and shifts guiltily for a moment. Trixie gives a nod of approval at Patsy’s words.
“You are right to point out that my words were too harsh. I merely meant to remind us to let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Let us remember our place as healers and put all else from our minds,” Sister Julienne says.
“I’m sorry, Sister Julienne, but I find it very difficult not to judge, especially with people who should know right from wrong,” Sister Winifred says.
“I know you do, Sister,” Sister Julienne says with a sad smile. “Which is why you must work very hard to control yourself.”
“Right from wrong?” Delia says indignantly. “Neither Miss Allen nor Miss White has done anything wrong. They aren’t hurting anybody.”
“Here here, Delia,” Trixie says.
“What they are doing is sinful: the Bible teaches us that women were designed for men, and vice versa,” Sister Winifred says heavily, as if the words pain her.
“Jesus never said anything about that,” Delia says fervently. She looks to Phyllis and Sister Evangelina. “Jesus only talked about love. Isn’t that the part we should remember and live by?”
Beside her, Patsy huffs angrily at how upset Sister Winifred has made Delia.
Sister Winifred gives a little shake of her head. “I can’t believe we left our patient in a bed she shares with another woman.”
“My, what a wild imagination you have, Sister Winifred,” Patsy says with a false smile. “None of the rest of us find ourselves dreaming about what happens in our patients’ beds.”
Unbeknownst to everyone else, beneath the table Delia presses her hand firmly against Patsy’s thigh, asking her to shut up.
“This conversation is becoming rather heated. We must remember that to our patients, we are nurses, and also that we are family,” Sister Julienne says ending the conversation. Sister Evangelina gives a disapproving shake of her head but stays silent. “Nurse Franklin,” Sister Julienne says cheerfully, “Mrs. Buckle was telling me that she enjoys your Keep Fit classes immensely. How are your pupils coming along?”
As Trixie answers Sister Winifred looks into her food pensively.
Later as all the nuns gather at the chapel to head into Compline, Sister Winifred approaches Sister Julienne.
“Sister, I should have come to you in private, about Miss White.”
“It is no matter,” Sister Julienne says kindly, and returns to flipping through her bible.
Sister Winifred takes a deep breath. “Is it at all possible for her care to be given to someone else?”
Sister Julienne looks up in surprise. Sister Winifred stammers through her next words. “Only, I am still finding it difficult not to judge. And I wouldn’t want that to affect my treatment of her.”
“I am confident you will not let it affect your treatment of a patient in your care,” Sister Julienne says indignantly.
Sister Mary Cynthia approaches quietly. “Sister Winifred, you can’t be serious. You have treated many patients whose actions we believe to contravene the word of God, but it’s our duty to treat everyone. You’ve even treated patients of other religions without objection.”
“Yes, but it’s quite different with people who ought to be good, Christian women,” Sister Winifred says in distress.
“I admire your fervent commitment to the Bible, but you must remember, care for our patients is of the utmost importance to Him. Come to my office tomorrow, Sister, and we will pray together for the strength you will need to continue with your duty. Because you will continue your care.”
Chided, Sister Winifred looks down. Sister Julienne enters the Chapel and begins the singing, while the other Nuns file in after her. Sister Mary Cynthia squeezes Sister Winifred’s arm as she follows them. To the sound of the nuns’ hymns, Sister Winifred looks to heaven, takes a breath, and follows.
Inside the Turners’ flat, Dr. Turner opens the door and sweeps in with a tall, prim woman in a stylish black coat, fashionable gloves, and fur hat. Timothy runs to greet her, followed by Shelagh with Angela in her arms.
“Aunty Meredith,” Timothy says, giving her a hug. She squeezes him back tightly.
“My, look how you’ve grown,” Meredith says. She holds him at arm’s length and tilts his chin up to get a look at him. “You look more like your mother every time I see you.”
“That’s what Dad says,” Timothy says with a grin.
“Hello, Meredith. It’s so lovely to see you again,” Shelagh says with a wide smile.
Meredith starts pulling her gloves off by the fingers, looking Shelagh up and down slowly. “Shelagh,” she says simply.
Dr. Turner gives Shelagh an annoyed look with a tilt of his head. Shelagh has plastered her smile onto her face, and ignores him. Angela is observing the interactions warily.
“And you have to meet my sister,” Timothy says enthusiastically, pulling her out of Shelagh’s arms by her armpits. Angela looks rather alarmed.
Meredith gives a tightlipped smile as she looks Angela over.
“Yes, you haven’t met our daughter,” Dr. Turner says proudly, brushing her hair back.
“Angela, this is Aunty Meredith,” Shelagh says to her daughter. “Say hello.” Angela eyes Meredith.
“I’m not her aunt,” Meredith says quickly.
Shelagh pauses, lips pursed. Timothy is distracted with soothing a now-fussing Angela with funny faces. “Of course not, but I shouldn’t like my daughter calling a grown woman by her first name; that wouldn’t be proper at all,” she says with a bit of a chuckle.
“Of course not. Then she may call me Mrs. Drew,” Meredith says simply.
Dr. Turner makes no attempt to hide as he rolls his eyes.
“Quite,” Shelagh says, a shake to her voice. She takes Angela back from Timothy. “Angela, say ‘hello’ to Mrs. Blake. Timothy, take your aunt’s bags to your room, and show her where she’ll be staying.”
“You’re staying in my room, Aunty Meredith,” Timothy says, eagerly scooping up Meredith’s suitcase.
“Well, lead the way, dear,” Meredith says warmly, following Timothy out of the room.
Shelagh and Dr. Turner turn and watch them go with dumbfounded expressions.
“Maggie would have been mortified to hear her speak to you like that,” Dr. Turner says deeply, with an earnest look at his wife.
“Oh, I shouldn’t have told Angela to call her ‘aunty’,” Shelagh says worriedly.
“She calls all the nurses ‘aunty’ and they’re less related then she is. Mrs. Drew.” He shakes his head and starts making loving faces at Angela, who is still fussing, and opens his arms to take her.
Shelagh hands her over and looks down the hall where Timothy and Meredith have disappeared, discomfort on her face.
Chapter 3: Act Three
Delia gets to know Miss White and Miss Allen, and the Turners and Meredith spend the evening together
The next morning, Delia, alone, parks her bike outside Miss Allen and Miss White’s flat.
Inside, she sits on their shared bed with her bag open, taking Miss White’s blood pressure. Miss White is propped up with many pillows. Beside her perches Miss Allen, fussing with the end of the blanket.
“That’s all in order,” Delia says cheerily as she takes back the blood pressure cuff, but she looks a bit nervous as she makes a note of it in the file.
“The sister,” Miss Allen says. “Is she not able to keep Dorothy as her patient?”
Delia fiddles in her bag. “A mother she has been caring for for weeks went into labour this morning, and she went to attend the birth. She had no choice in the matter,” Delia says. Miss Allen nods.
Delia takes Miss White’s temperature and as she removes the thermometer and makes a note, Miss White puts her hand on top of Delia’s with a smile.
“You’re a good girl,” she says, clearly. She turns to Miss Allen. “She’s a good girl, isn’t she, dear?”
“Yes,” Miss Allen says, touching Miss White’s shoulder briefly. Embarrassment is clear on her face.
“Kind of you to come and look after me,” Miss White continues.
“It’s my job to look after you, Miss White,” Delia leans towards her. “And I’m happy to do it.”
“I hope you don’t mind, nurse, being in here,” Miss Allen says, looking around the bedroom. “Only Dorothy – Miss White, was too tired to make it to the living room today.”
“I don’t mind in the slightest,” Delia says. “I think it best for Miss White to stay comfortable. And I think it’s rather cozy. I’d like to have somewhere just like it one day,” Delia says, as she continues her check-up of Miss White.
“Have you got a boyfriend, nurse?” Miss Allen says.
“No…” Delia says carefully. She makes a decision. “In fact, I think I dread that question as much as you once did. I have got someone…another nurse.” Delia avoids Miss Allen’s eye, so misses her knowing smile.
“I see, dear. It always amazes me how we can find one another. Without words, without place, in the dark.” Delia nods. “Dorothy and I were lucky; we met at school.”
“And have you been together all this time?” Delia asks.
“Through thick and thin,” Miss Allen says, looking over at Miss White with affection. “We moved to the city together…shared a room in a boarding house, and the landlady never guessed. I remember those days. And we’ve looked after each other all this time. Though times have not always been easy. Life is always more bearable when you have someone to share it with.”
Delia nods with an earnest smile.
“And now,” Miss White croaks, “You look after me in my old age.” If she has not been following the conversation, she at least seems to have understood Miss Allen’s last sentiment.
“It’s what I’m here for,” Miss Allen says, giving her shoulder a squeeze. “Because I love you.”
“When I’m gone, I shall know that I am looking after you,” Miss White says with a peaceful smile. Delia raises her eyebrows. Miss Allen gives a sad snort and a playful swipe.
“She’s always saying that.” Then, by way of an explanation: “I couldn’t live here on my own, without Dorothy. She was a schoolteacher, I was a typist. But since she has no children or living siblings, it will raise no suspicions that she’s left her savings to me. At least, that’s what Mr. Walter assures me.” She turns to Miss White. “You are nothing if not practical.”
Miss White seems to become more lucid at hearing this statement; her eyes sparkle and she says, “And still you love me.” As if they have had this conversation a hundred times before.
“I believe we had it easier in our day,” Miss Allen says. “When no one was talking about it and no one suspected. Nowadays people like us are always being written about in the papers and tabloids. Everyone’s on the lookout.”
Delia nods. “We’re very careful. Patsy especially,” she says, a little sadly.
Miss Allen offers her a warm smile and places her wrinkled hand over Delia’s. “Then she is like me. Always looking over my shoulder. Always double checking the door. Always cautious. I never wanted to be the reason that Dora suffered; and I would have been, if anyone had found out. Sometimes now I wish I could have been more like Dora.” She turns to Miss White. “She was never afraid. At least, that’s the way it seemed to me.” She leans toward Miss White. “What is it you always say, Dora?”
Miss White realizes she is being spoken to. “What is it, my love?”
“Tell the nurse what you used to say, about regrets.”
“You cannot take fame or fortune to your grave, but you can take regrets.”
“There you are. Tell that to your Pattie,” Miss Allen says playfully.
But Miss White isn’t finished. “And I go empty handed, in that regard, because I chose you,” she says, as lucid as she has been all morning.
Miss Allen blushes. “You’re nothing but an old fool,” she says, swatting Miss White playfully.
Delia watches them hungrily, as if she is drinking them in.
The Turners sit crammed around their dinner table, elbow to elbow. Cutlery clicks, and Angela whimpers, but no one is saying anything. Their plates are almost empty.
Shelagh stands suddenly, but they are so crammed that she knocks the table and their glasses rattle. Meredith makes an impatient sound and dabs her mouth with her serviette.
“I’ll clear up; Patrick, why don’t you move to the living room?”
“Can I tempt you with a cigarette, Meredith?” Dr. Turner says, offering her one.
“Thank you, Patrick, but I brought my own,” Meredith says, as she pulls out her cigarette case and lights one. Dr. Turner drops his proffered arm in defeat.
“Timothy, have you got anything new to show me on the piano?” Meredith asks.
“Oh yes. I’m loads better than when you were last here,” Timothy says eagerly, sitting down at the piano. “Listen to this.”
He starts playing expertly, glancing over his shoulder to ensure Meredith is watching. Dr. Turner smiles warmly at his son playing. Meredith watches affectionately as well, but keeps sending annoyed glances over her shoulder when Shelagh’s nervous clattering in the kitchen interrupts the music. On one glance over her shoulder her eyes fall on Shelagh and Dr. Turner’s wedding photo on the side table. She examines it for a moment, face passive, almost sad, before turning her gaze back to Timothy, who is just wrapping up his song.
Dr. Turner and Meredith put down their cigarettes to give Timothy a round of applause. Angela, in her playpen, watches this and starts clapping as well.
“Absolutely beautiful, Timothy,” Meredith says, “You’re a lovely pianist.”
“Yes, we’re so very proud of him,” Shelagh says, coming to join them on the sofa.
Meredith let’s a surprised chuckle escape her lips. “You’re proud of him?”
“As, I’m sure, are you,” Shelagh says nervously.
“Shelagh is a singer; she works very hard with Timothy at his piano,” Dr. Turner says protectively. “He owes a lot of his improvement to her.”
“And his own very hard work, of course,” Shelagh says shyly.
“Yeah, no kidding. After the amount you make me practice every day,” Timothy says wryly.
Meredith raises her eyebrows at this.
“And aren’t you glad now, to be able to show your aunt how you’ve improved?” Shelagh says.
Timothy shrugs. “I’d rather watch television.”
Meredith gives a disapproving flick of her eyebrows, and picks up her handbag. “Speaking of which, I want to take Timothy to the pictures for a treat tonight.”
“Yes!” Timothy says enthusiastically.
“Oh, that’s very kind,” Dr. Turner says.
“Oh – er – Timothy hasn’t yet done his homework for tonight,” Shelagh says worriedly. Meredith looks round at her in alarm and accusation. From the piano, Timothy groans. Behind Meredith, Dr. Turner gives a subtle shake of his head, telling her to back down. “But… for tonight, I suppose, it’s alright. For a special treat,” she stammers quickly.
“Yes, I should hope so,” Meredith says, clutching her purse and standing up. “Come on Timothy.”
Timothy races to grab his jacket and Meredith follows him to the door. “You can pick a treat to have during the film,” she can be heard saying.
“Awesome,” Timothy says, before the door closes.
“Oh dear, I do hope there’s something appropriate for children playing,” Shelagh says.
“Don’t worry, Shelagh. In any event, we have an hour or two of freedom,” Dr. Turner says. He sinks back into the sofa, picks up his cigarette, and takes a long drag.
After dinner at Nonnatus, Patsy and Delia are in the kitchen washing and drying dishes. They keep their voices down as they speak, as everyone else is just over in the parlour socializing and entertaining themselves. Luckily, the sound of the television masks Patsy and Delia’s conversation.
“You should see it, Pats. They have a beautiful flat. With a little bookshelf and yellow, lacy curtains, and a wireless. And fresh flowers in the window. They’ve got pictures on the walls, and a beautiful quilt someone’s made them,” Delia is saying excitedly, almost breathlessly. “Just like I wanted us to have.”
Patsy gives her a sympathetic look. “Don’t start dreaming about that again. Your mother would be here dragging you by the ear back to Pembrokeshire before you could say Jack Robinson.”
“I know,” Delia sighs. “But it was cozy. And they seem so happy.”
“I’m very sorry for them,” Patsy says seriously.
“Miss Allen’s talking about the funeral already. I can’t even imagine what she’s going through,” Delia says wistfully, letting her dish towel drop and looking into space.
Patsy is silent as she hands over a plate to be dried. She stares pensively into the dish water. “I can,” she says quietly.
Delia catches her breath, looking at her. Patsy gives herself a little shake, and puts on a smile.
“I can’t believe they can get away with living together for so long – especially at their age. That none of their friends noticed,” Patsy is saying. She pulls a face. “I suppose none of us would bat an eye if Phyllis announced she were going to live with an old spinster friend in her retirement.”
“Oh, but that’s just it. People do know. I saw pictures of them with friends, and their neighbours send their children over to their home and bake them cakes, and the neighbour’s husband helps Miss White in and out of bed.”
“Really? Do the children know?”
Delia shrugs. “I don’t know. But their friends must.”
Patsy’s eyes widen. “Golly,” she says, with a flick of her head. “I don’t know if I’d ever be brave enough to live like that.”
The sink empty, she dries her hands and retreats to the parlour, leaving Delia, dish and towel in hand, staring after her with longing. And a hint of betrayal.
Chapter 4: Act Four
The situation between the Turners and Meredith comes to a head, and Sister Winifred visits Miss Allen and Miss White
The next afternoon after lunch, the Turners are listening to the radio and drinking tea while Timothy plays with Angela on the floor.
“How’s Pete’s shop doing lately, Meredith?” Dr. Turner is asking.
“Oh, it’s doing well,” Meredith says pleasantly. Dr. Turner waits for her to elaborate, but she doesn’t.
“Can we have that pudding now, Mum?” Timothy asks.
“Oh, why not?” Shelagh says, standing up to serve it.
Meredith is looking between Timothy and Shelagh is horror.
“What did you just call her?” she asks.
“Oh,” says Timothy, looking a little embarrassed. “Well, I call her ‘mum.’”
Shelagh has frozen awkwardly in the middle of the parlour.
“Yes. Now, if we could all move to the table,” she starts to say.
“Why would you call her ‘mum,’ she’s not your Mum, she’s not your mother,” says Meredith.
“I –” says Timothy.
“Really, Meredith, it’s going too far to come into our home and criticize Timothy for calling his own mother –” Dr. Turner starts.
Meredith’s face contorts into one of shock. “Maggie is his mother!”
“Yes, and so is Shelagh,” Dr. Turner says in frustration.
“And to think that you, of all people, has forgotten her,” Meredith snaps.
“How could I forget – I remember her every time I look at his face!” Dr Turner throws out his arm towards Timothy, who is looking very shocked and a little guilty.
“Well –” Meredith says, still scowling.
“Frankly, Meredith, I’m hurt, that you think I could forget Maggie,” Dr. Turner says, touching his chest. “Anything about her. That she gave me my son, that she’s Timothy’s mother. I loved her, and I miss her.”
Tears are welling in Meredith’s eyes now, but she is still red with anger.
“Oh, you miss her? You could have fooled me! With your, with your…” She gestures towards Shelagh, who is standing back, and Angela, who is watching everything with wide eyes. “Every trace of her is gone from this house! And you’ve still got a wife, and another child! Your life is perfect without her. You’re telling me if you could bring her back right now, that’s what you would choose?” Meredith spits.
“Meredith – I don’t get to choose!” Dr. Turner yells. “I spent ages wishing I could bring her back, but of course it never worked, it only made me miserable.” He pauses and looks up, to stop his own tears from falling. “And I wasn’t as good a father when I was miserable,” he sighs. “How can I apologise for being happy? I know if it had been me, I would want more than anything for her to be happy. And you may not like it, but Maggie loved me and wanted me to be happy.”
Meredith shakes her head, not ready to believe it.
“And it’s not just about me – Shelagh is good for Timothy. She takes care of him –”
“Oh right – with the homework and all the piano and having him babysit her child –” Meredith spits. Dr. Turner and Shelagh both look at Timothy, who has gone red and shrinks back into his chair.
“I wasn’t complaining, Mum, I was just mentioning.”
“It’s as if she doesn’t want the child to have any fun.” Meredith gesticulates in frustration.
“That’s not true,” Shelagh and Timothy say at the same time.
“You needn’t worry about this Timothy, you don’t owe your aunt any explanation,” Dr. Turner says.
“Perhaps…I am a bit hard on Timothy, but it is only because I love him,” Shelagh says authoritatively.
Meredith snorts. “You’ve a funny way of showing it.”
“I believe I’m doing what’s best for him,” Shelagh says.
“Well, it’s nothing like what Maggie would have done,” Meredith says, half turning away. “You’ve got to see that it’s nothing like what Maggie would have done,” she says to Dr. Turner.
“Yes, of course I know that…but that’s not the point!” Dr. Turner says.
“If I might tell you my perspective,” Shelagh says, stepping forward. “Meredith, you remember I was a nun for many years.” Meredith makes an impatient sound. “I did not understand what God wanted from me when he called me to this family – but I had to trust Him and now –”
“Awfully, convenient if you ask me. Seems like what God wanted for you is exactly what you wanted for yourself.”
“Really, Meredith!” Dr. Turner cuts in.
“And now I am the mother of two children who would otherwise be motherless. So now I understand why God chose this path for me –”
“So you think you were chosen by God to be Timothy’s mother? Do you hear yourself?” Meredith says, her voice breaking. “And God killed off my baby sister because, what? You were just so perfect?”
Shelagh closes her eyes and lets out a breath. “Meredith, I cannot explain why Maggie died, no one can. And I am sorry. But I am saying that I have learned to trust my parenting decisions because I believe I am here for a reason. I do hold my children to high standards, because I know what they are capable of.”
“God give me strength,” Meredith says, rolling her eyes. “He’s not your child.” She picks up her handbag. “I’m going out for a smoke. I just … I need five minutes.” She storms out of the room.
When she is gone, Dr. Turner wipes his hand down his face, looking shell-shocked.
“Oh dear,” Shelagh says with a tremor in her voice. She is clearly rattled.
Timothy is looking stunned. Angela starts crying.
“Everything is a fight with her,” Dr. Turner says. “It was always like this when Maggie was here.”
Timothy starts heading for the door.
“I imagine she’d like a minute to herself, Timothy,” Shelagh warns.
“But I want to tell her what I think.”
“You are under no obligation to explain yourself to your aunt. And I don’t want her snapping at your or making you feel guilty,” Dr. Turner says firmly.
“Urgh,” Timothy groans and storms off to his room.
“Oh, Patrick,” Shelagh sighs.
Dr. Turner lets out a long, defeated sigh.
Inside Miss Allen and Miss White’s flat, Miss White has her arm around Miss Allen’s shoulders as Miss Allen tries to support her out of their bedroom.
Miss Allen stumbles and lets out a groan while Miss White just looks alarmed and confused.
Sister Winifred opens the door, calling, “Miss Allen?” sees what’s going on, drops her bag and rushes to Miss Allen’s side.
“Miss Allen, what do you think you’re doing?” she cries, taking Miss White by the shoulders, which gives Miss Allen a chance to rest against the wall, and leading Miss White back to bed.
“I just thought, sister, with the nursing visit, it might be nicer to be in the parlour,” Miss Allen explains. “Old habits die hard, I suppose. We can’t have people going into our bedroom.”
“Well, we know the situation now; you might as well let poor Miss White rest in her own bed. We wouldn’t want anything to happen to either of you.” She retrieves her bad and goes to Miss White. She gulps and looks skyward before helping her back beneath the covers and plumping her pillows.
“Is the nurse coming?” Miss Allen asks, with a glance at the door.
“Oh, she has some midwifery training, I’m afraid. But she should be back tomorrow, and we can manage on our own, can’t we, Miss White?” Sister Winifred says heartily.
“Yes, dear,” Miss White answers, although she doesn’t seem to be following the conversation.
Sister Winifred leans over the bed and begins her check-up, while Miss Allen stands back. Miss White still seems disoriented.
Sister Winifred frowns and she looks more and more concerned with each test she runs and each note she makes.
“She hasn’t been herself at all today,” Miss Allen says, concern straining her voice.
“Has she been confused?”
“She hasn’t been upset – but I don’t think she knows me. She looks at me like a kindly stranger. And I am no stranger.”
“Yes.” Sister Winifred makes a bit of a face; she knows how true that is. “Is she taking much liquid, Miss Allen?” she asks, taking her patient’s pulse.
“Er – she’s been drinking her tea and hot water with lemon, when I give it to her – but I can’t get her to eat anything, not even soup.”
“I wouldn’t worry too much about that at this point, but keep giving her tea and water as much as possible.”
Behind her, Miss Allen breaks into a sniffle and covers her mouth with her hand. Startled, Sister Winifred turns around.
“Oh,” she says, eyebrows knitted together and looking lost.
“I’m sorry, sister,” Miss Allen says as she continues to break down, face buried in her hand.
Rather stiffly, Sister Winifred pulls out her handkerchief and offers it to Miss Allen, who takes it sheepishly.
“I’m sorry,” Sister Winifred offers, still somewhat unsure. She has learned how to comfort grieving wives by now, but that isn’t what she was seeing in Miss Allen.
“Oh, sister, how do you make sense of it all?” Miss Allen says through her tears. Sister Winifred looks at her quizzically. “I know I should trust Him. God has always been good to me – to us.” Sister Winifred’s eyebrows fly up in surprise. “But why is He taking her now? I’m not ready,” Miss Allen cries.
“Oh – oh,” Sister Winifred says. She looks shocked. “I didn’t realise you were so…devout.” She steps forward and grasps Miss Allen’s upper arms. This is a language she understands. “I know you’re not ready, Miss Allen, but I think Miss White – Dorothy – is ready to go.” Miss Allen meets her eyes and Sister Winifred attempts a sad smile. “Which I know must be hard, but I promise, He will be there for you again, when she’s gone. And so will we.”
Miss Allen shakes her head. “Dora is your patient, not me.”
“Not as nurses, but as nuns,” Sister Winifred clarifies. “That’s what Nonnatus House is there for.”
Miss Allen attempts a sad smile and wipes her eyes.
“Oh,” she says as an apology, not wanting to return the soiled handkerchief. Sister Winifred smiles and closes Miss Allen’s hand around it.
The Turners, rather subdued, are in their living room, cleaning up the remnants of lunch. Dr. Turner, Angela in one arm, is clearing the table while Shelagh puts her immaculate pudding into the refrigerator. Timothy is washing dishes and scowling about it.
The door opens, and Meredith returns. Everyone looks up.
“Meredith,” Dr. Turner says, his voice lifting in surprise. “We were just about to eat the pudding.” Shelagh freezes again, pudding in hand. “We would very much like you to join us.”
“I realized, Patrick, that I am here to see Timothy, and that is all. We needn’t get along with each other. And as I am not here for much longer, I would like to take him out for dessert. I’m sure everyone would prefer that.” She holds her head high.
Timothy puts down the plate he is holding and glances nervously at his parents, mouth slightly open.
Dr. Turner frowns. “Meredith, I don’t want you talking him into feeling guilty about calling Shelagh ‘mum’.”
Meredith chuckles sadly. “Who guilted him into it in the first place?”
“I didn’t!” Dr. Turner says, sounding rather harried. “I never asked him to call her ‘mum’, I had him calling her Aunty Shelagh.” He turns to Shelagh. “And you never said anything?”
“Of course not,” Shelagh says.
“I started calling her ‘mum’ myself,” Timothy says. Shelagh smiles warmly. Meredith stares at him in surprise. He looks at her. “Because I wanted to.”
Meredith slowly shakes her head. “You were so young when Maggie died. You don’t remember how much she loved you.”
“Of course I do, Aunty Meredith, I wasn’t that young. I was old enough to remember her,” Timothy says, slightly accusatorily. “I call Mum ‘mum’ because she reminds me of Mum,” Timothy says.
Meredith scoffs and shakes her head. “I’m telling you, Timothy, you were too young to remember. This woman is nothing like your mother.” She gestures to Shelagh.
“Well, I know that,” Timothy says with a bit of a smile creeping onto his face. “Mum never made me wake up early on a Sunday to go to church. Mum used to play little jokes on me, and Mum – I mean Shelagh – would never do that. She’s much too serious,” Timothy says with a laugh in his voice, giving Shelagh a cheeky glance over his shoulder. “Mum didn’t mind me being goofy, but she thinks it’s silly. And Mum didn’t know anything about music, so she didn’t make me practice.”
“So, how can she remind you of your Mum?”
“I mean, she reminded me what it felt like to have a mum,” Timothy says. “She made me eat my vegetables and helped me with my homework. She loved me. And that reminded me of my Mum. So, I figured that’s what she was,” Timothy shrugs. “I don’t know, I was just a little kid.” He turns back to look at Shelagh, who has broken into an enormous smile.
“Oh, that’s sweet, Timothy,” Shelagh says. Dr Turner looks at his son with a meltingly loving expression.
Meredith sinks into the nearest chair. “If only you knew how much Maggie loved you, Timothy. You were everything to her.” Meredith reaches out to pull him closer to her and strokes his cheek. “And I know all she wanted was for you to be loved,” she sighs and quickly wipes her eyes.
“Oh, Meredith.” Dr. Turner comes to put his hand on her shoulder. “You’re not the only one who misses her.”
“I know,” Meredith says, holding her head up. “I know.”
Timothy looks over at Shelagh. “Mum, can we please have our pudding now?”
The adults all chuckle, and Shelagh takes the pudding out of the refrigerator with a shake of her head.
Chapter 5: Act Five
When Delia and Sister Winifred arrive at the flat, Miss White is near the end...
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The next afternoon, Delia and Sister Winifred arrive at Miss Allen and Miss White’s flat. Delia enters first, bag in hand and red hat on, calling, “Miss Allen?” There is no answer. Sister Winifred follows her in, and they look around the small parlour, then at each other, with a little bit of trepidation.
“Miss Allen?” Sister Winifred calls again. “Nurses calling.”
There is a small sound from the bedroom; it could be a muffled sob. Delia and Sister Winifred look at each other in alarm and hurry to the bedroom.
Delia pushes the door open and they find Miss Allen siting in a chair at Miss White’s bedside, head bowed, clasping her hand tightly. Miss White’s breathing is shallow and raspy. She is pale and sinking into her pillows. She looks smaller, somehow.
Delia and Sister Winifred rush to either side of the bed. Sister Winifred gently checks Miss White’s pulse, while Delia puts a comforting hand on Miss Allen’s shoulder.
“Oh, Miss Allen, why didn’t you call us?” Sister Winifred asks urgently.
“I couldn’t leave her,” Miss White says, her voice small and desperately sad. She can’t look away from Miss White’s face. “I didn’t think there was anything you could do.”
Delia meets Sister Winifred’s eye as she removes her hand from Miss White’s wrist and feels her forehead, her brow knitted and face pale. Delia looks desperate as well. Sister Winifred shakes her head as they listen to that raspy breathing. “No,” she whispers. “Not now.”
“You made the right choice, Miss Allen,” Delia says, squeezing her shoulders.
Miss Allen eyes their medical bags. “There is nothing you can do for her?”
Delia and Sister Winifred glance at each other and look down at their patient. For a moment there is only the sound of her ragged breath, a sound familiar to both of them.
“She needs you, now, Miss Allen,” Delia says.
Sister Winifred steps back respectfully. Delia holds Miss Allen’s shoulders, while Miss Allen bows her head against their clasped hands. After a moment, she whispers, “Could we have some privacy?”
“Of course,” Delia says. “We’ll just be in the parlour, when you need us.”
Quietly, the women retreat to the parlour to wait. They stand, lost, in a situation that is at once familiar and yet freshly painful. The sad strains of the haunting bereavement theme can be heard as they begin to explore the room these two women shared their lives in, unable to simply stand and wait. Delia finds herself looking at an old photograph sitting on the mantle; it is of the two women, much younger, arm in arm, smiling at each other in a way that is just bursting with happiness, and surrounded by laughing friends. She examines it sadly, touching the frame, and moves on. She runs her fingers along the knitted blanket draped over the back of the chair; her fingers find the note still pinned to it with neat, black handwriting: to my dear sister, and her love, to keep you warm.
She continues on; along the wall are more happy photos of friends, family, a beach, a Christmas tree. Delia stops before a small, silver-framed photo of the two women, more recent, perhaps taken only a decade or two ago, of the two women kissing, arms around each other, outside this very flat. Delia takes a painful intake of breath. Involuntarily, she touches the picture, then her fingers slowly curl away.
Behind her, Sister Winifred stands at the coffee table. A Bible sits on the table, as if it were just being read. She picks it up to find it well-thumbed and worn. Passages have been underlined and notes have been written in the margins. She flips to a passage she knows well, and needs now: Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Beside it, in a slightly different script, is written: “So take heart and be comforted, when I am gone, my love – D”. Sister Winifred touches her cross at her chest and replaces the Bible. She looks once more about the room, her eyes landing on the everyday items she has become used to seeing on home visits. Half-drunk tea gone cold on the coffee table, a pair of reading glasses next to the Bible, dirty dishes by the sink on the counter, a grocery list. Sister Winifred surveilles all this with a lost expression, then she bows her head; eyebrows flutter and lips move silently as she prays.
Delia has moved to the window. She looks down at the vase of flowers, dry and dying by now. Her eyes lift to the windowpane where she sees her own face reflected, faintly hovering in front of the bright outside, now tear-stained.
“Nurse?” Comes Miss Allen’s faint voice. They both look up, as if waking from a reverie.
Miss Allen does not look away from her love’s face as they enter. Sister Winifred, superfluously, she knows, checks for a pulse. Miss White’s eyes are already closed, so there is nothing more to be done.
“I’ll go and ring for the ambulance. Nurse Busby will you stay with Miss Allen?” Sister Winifred says, voice cracking.
“No, please, Sister. Will you sit with me and say a prayer? For her,” Miss Allen asks.
Delia looks up nervously, but Sister Winifred nods. “Of course.”
She kneels beside Miss Allen, who finally lets go of Miss White’s hands as they both clasp their hands and Sister Winifred starts to pray aloud.
Outside in the parlour, Delia wipes her cheek of a stray tear rolling down her face, before she leaves for the telephone box.
Back at Nonnatus, Patsy puts down the telephone and marches into the hall with her bag; back straight, head high, uniform crisp as always, professional as ever. As she is heading out, Delia is coming in. Patsy lights up as they pass one another in the hallway.
“Hello, you – we’re two ships passing in the night today.”
A second later, Patsy notices Delia’s red and tear-swollen face; her generally disheveled appearance: hair coming loose from her bun and her crumpled uniform. She catches Delia by the wrist and Delia is swung round to face her.
“Deels? What’s wrong?” Patsy asks, concern now etched into her face.
Delia sniffles, and looks away. “Don’t you have to go?”
“It’s Mrs. Boswell’s first, and she’s only five minutes away.” Patsy lowers her voice to a sympathetic whisper: “Miss White?”
With a sniffle, Delia nods.
There is a clatter from elsewhere in the house – Sister Monica Joan or Sister Julienne moving about. Patsy pulls Delia into the nearest room, which happens to be the chapel, and closes the door.
“Tell me about it,” Patsy says, rubbing Delia’s upper arms.
“She’s gone. And Miss Allen is alone. She had to watch while her body was taken out.” Delia shakes her head. “Sister Winifred is with her now,” she says.
Patsy brushes away a stray hair from Delia’s face. “I know how easy it is to make our patient’s suffering our own.”
Tears starting to spill over now, Delia nods. “I know it’s silly getting so upset when…when Miss White had all she could ever ask for. And she spent her whole life – a long, happy life – with the woman she loves. So there’s no reason – no reason – its just –” Delia gasps through her tears.
Patsy’s face melts looking at her. She clicks her tongue. “Oh, come here,” she says, pulling Delia towards her.
Delia pulls herself away. “It’s just – I want a life like that. It’s all I want. And I’m scared I’m never going to get it.”
Patsy blinks at her in surprise. “Well, you’ve got me, haven’t you?”
Delia shakes her head. “You say that but, Pats, you haven’t thought about what that really means. Having a proper home means letting neighbours into your life, and friends into your flat, and taking photos together, holding hands, and maybe…maybe the people you love figure things out and … even though you say that, I’m afraid you’re going to wake up one day and be too afraid to go on loving me.” Delia cannot meet her eye when admitting this, instead she speaks to the ground, unable to control the tears running down her face. Patsy stares at her, face taken aback, but knows she has a point.
“Well, I’m sorry if I don’t want to be the reason you get locked up in some jail cell or starve because you’ve been sacked. And you know –” Angry, Patsy sucks air through her gritted teeth and shakes her head before she can continue. “You know people do much worse things to people like us. It just isn’t safe.”
They both pause as the sound of footsteps pass by in the hall outside. Patsy grabs Delia’s wrist again and pulls her away from the door, up the aisle of chairs to the altar so the sound of their conversation does not travel into the hall. They stand facing each other, either side of the altar, the cross stark between them.
“This is what I mean. Do you think I haven’t thought of that? Do you think Miss Allen and Miss White didn’t think of that? That risk is worth it to me, Pats, but I’m afraid of you deciding we’re better off – and safer – alone.” She wipes her tears furiously on her sleeve, but they are quickly replaced by more. “You already know how to survive on your own, but I don’t know if I do. And if one day you decide I’m better off without you – because of the risks,” Delia practically spits, “I’m scared you’d make that sacrifice for me.”
“Delia, may I remind you that I have already learned that I cannot live without you, even if I wanted to,” Patsy snaps. “So, I’m not sure what else you want me to say? Do you want me to promise that that won’t happen, because I will –” Patsy cuts herself off suddenly. She looks around and realizes where they are standing. She gets an idea.
She takes a deep breath, the annoyance washing off her face, to be replaced by a smile starting in the corner of her mouth that she is trying to contain. Delia watches her, confused.
Slowly, Patsy begins, “Do you want me to say, Delia Busby,” Here, she grasps both of Delia’s hands and holds their hands between them. Delia watches her skeptically. “I promise you that I will love you and stand by you from this day forward, for better or for worse…” Delia’s eyes widen, and she lets out a frightened breath as she realizes what Patsy is saying. They are facing each other, the cross on the altar visible between them above their clasped hands. “For richer, for poorer,” Patsy continues, “in sickness and in health, for as long as we both shall live.” Patsy’s wide smile has broken out across her face now, too big to contain, and her eyes are shining. Delia stares at her, lips slightly parted, hardly daring to breathe. Patsy takes a deep breath, shaky with emotion. “Because if that’s what you want, then… I do,” she says significantly. Delia’s face breaks into a smile and she lets out a shuddering laugh in disbelief and joy.
“Do you promise me the same thing?”
“Yes –” Delia breathes immediately, but Patsy stops her with a cheeky smile.
“I mean – Patience Mount…I do,” Delia says firmly.
“Then that’s that,” Patsy says.
Her eyes are bright with tears. Delia is smiling, her tear-stained face shining with bliss. Patsy pulls Delia towards her by their entwined hands and kisses her firmly on the lips as the music swells. They are silhouetted against the window of the chapel, Delia on tiptoe, beaming against each other’s lips as the sun shines through the stained glass and illuminates them. Patsy leans forward enthusiastically, releasing Delia’s hands to hold her face, gently.
Patsy steps outside the chapel, breathing out a shaky breath, and fixes her slightly askew hat, still grinning. She wipes a happy tear off her cheek, gives herself a pleased little shake, picks up her medical bag and struts for the door.
Back inside, Delia stands, stunned, staring after Patsy, with a look of contentment and pure joy on her face.
Sister Winifred, face pale and drawn, stands beneath the cavernous ceiling of Poplar’s impressive church.
Tom Hereward walks out from his office to meet her, hands clasped behind his back.
“Sister Winifred, what can I do for you?”
“Mr. Hereward – I am helping Miss Allen prepare Miss White’s funeral and make all the arrangements.”
“Yes,” Tom nods; he is already preparing remarks for the funeral.
“She is very insistent that she would like Miss White to be buried some place where there is room for her to be laid to rest beside her, when her time comes. I hope you can make arrangements for that,” she says, staring at him earnestly. There is a hint of nervousness about her as she has already anticipated what he is going to say.
Tom sighs, “Sister Winifred, I appreciate that you want to do all you can for your patient’s family, but you know that normally joint graves are for married couples.”
“Asking for a joint headstone and a burial plot is not sacrilege –”
“It’s on consecrated ground,” Tom argues, becoming distressed at having to deny her.
“Mr. Hereward, Miss Allen has suffered a devastating loss, and it would bring her immense comfort if she knew they could rest together forever,” Sister Winifred says.
Tom looks at her guiltily. Sister Winifred sighs. “She is under the impression that it will help them be reunited in heaven.”
“Well, you and I know that that might not be true.”
Sister Winifred raises an eyebrow at him. “Aren’t we reunited with our loved ones in heaven?”
“Yes, but it’s got to be a pure sort of love,” Tom complains.
“And it is! I have seen it, and it is,” Sister Winifred insists. “Mr. Hereward, all she wants is the assurance that she can be buried with her only family. And you can help her.”
Tom sighs, and smiles. “Okay, I’ll see what I can do.”
Sister Winifred gives a sigh of relief.
Mature Jenny’s voiceover resumes:
What sort of love makes a family different, after all? The residents of Nonnatus House were no strangers to love in its many, varied forms. We saw, daily, the many different ways love enters our lives, and the beauty and safety it creates when it does…
Tom, in his curate’s regalia, stands before a group of the bereaved at Miss White’s funeral. Sister Winifred, black habit donned, stands beside a tearful Miss Allen, who is flanked by little Lucy and the entire teary-eyed Walters family, as well as several friends. Delia stands amongst them, Patsy at her side. They all bow their heads as the coffin is lowered into the grave. The headstone is engraved with: Dorothy White 1875 - 1960, and beneath it: and her dearest friend, Mary Allen, 1876 - .
…Love ties us to one with more strength than any other bond. Love overcomes any challenge it must face. Love makes sacrifice bearable, pain survivable, gives immortality to those who have passed….
Further into the cemetery, at an older grave, the Turners and Meredith are congregated. Timothy is holding flowers and gives his aunt a sad smile. Dr. Turner, eyes shining with tears, puts his hand on his son’s shoulder as Shelagh explains quietly to a distracted Angela in her arms. Timothy bends down to leave the flowers on the grave, then stands and embraces his aunt.
At Paddington station, Timothy and Dr. Turner lift Meredith’s bag onto the train.
“Have a safe journey back,” Shelagh says to Meredith as they supervise.
Meredith offers her a smile. “Thank you for your hospitality…Shelagh. You have been…very kind,” she says. She turns away to give Timothy a tight hug, leaving Shelagh with a surprised, but content, look.
“Promise you won’t grow any more before I see you next,” Meredith jokes as she releases Timothy.
“I promise,” Timothy says with a grin.
Dr. Turner gives Meredith a quick hug and peck on the cheek. “I hope we’re parting as friends, Meredith?” he asks.
“Oh, we’ll never be friends, you and I, Patrick,” Meredith says with a conspiratorial smile. “That really would have Maggie turning in her grave.”
Patrick shakes his head with a smile and helps her on to the train.
Delia, dressed up elegantly in a white, full-skirted dress, exits her room and at the same moment that Patsy comes down the hall, similarly dressed up in stylish black trousers and a white blouse. They smile at each other at the coincidence. Patsy presses her lips together and cocks her head as she clearly says something cheeky to Delia. Giggling, they head down the stairs and out the door together.
They are distracted as Sister Winifred hurries out of Nonnatus House behind them. She smiles at them both as she passes and they both nod back at her; she and Delia share a look of familiarity. She rushes on to the bike shed, eager to reach her patient.
As Sister Winifred heads off on her bike, Patsy pauses at the bottom of the steps to Nonnatus, smiles crookedly at Delia and, rather ostentatiously, offers her arm. Stunned, tongue poking out between her teeth as she smiles in delight, Delia threads her arm through Patsy’s and the pair of them set off across the square into Poplar.
…Love is all it takes to create a family.
There! I hope everyone enjoyed this! Please let me know what you think :)