Chapter 1: The Sky's the Limit
The Sky’s The Limit
During the war, we were all so focused on the end of it that we actually forgot what it was like not to be at war. Everyone knew life was on hold. It was always, when the war’s over, our lives will go back to normal. We’ll get to have all those rationed desires detained from us for so long. Coffee, sugar, even the soles of our shoes would change back again. Like Cinderella and the strike of midnight, the fairytale would be over. And those boys, whom we’d worked so hard for, for so long, would come home and our real lives would finally begin.
And then it happened. The war finally ended and suddenly everyone was making up for lost time by packing as much life into their post-war lives than what seemed humanly possible. Lives were swiftly filled with houses and babies and cars galore. Oh, how wonderfully impatient we all were.
Of course, even with all that living, it wasn’t long before we had new things to worry over. Cold Wars and recessions and fears of nuclear holocausts, we just knew another round of doom and gloom was waiting for us with the world’s fate at stake. It’s amazing how we worried over things that weren’t in our control or never even came to be. Of course, we also thought we’d be living on the moon by now or that the invention of the flying car was just around the corner.
Yes, we weren’t always great at judging the future, but then again, we weren’t always wrong either…
“How much longer do we have to wait for this flying potato contraption?” Carol asked, bouncing on the balls of her feet to keep warm as Betty, Kate, Gladys, and Vera all looked up into the dark night’s sky.
“It’s not some starch hurtling through the air, you know,” Betty huffed, shaking her head at the other girl’s comment. “It’s Sputnik. Some new thing they call a satellite that the Russians built.”
“I read it means ‘fellow earth traveler’ or some such,” Gladys offered. “Kind of poetic, I think.”
They were all standing in Betty and Kate’s backyard, staring up towards the heavens above, waiting for their first glimpse of the future as it crossed paths before them.
“How did they even get it up there?” Kate asked, crossing her arms for warmth as she searched the sky for any sign of the spacecraft.
“They shot it up there with rockets and now it’s a scientific wonder circling the earth.”
They all listened to Betty’s description as it came out more whimsically than her usual cool tone.
“Well, I hope this scientific wonder hurries up, I think I’m getting a crick in my neck,” Vera replied finally, rubbing the back of her neck as she kept her head craned skywards.
“Yeah, and it is a bit air-ish out tonight,” Gladys piped in, pulling her jacket closer around her.
“Air-ish was 20 minutes ago,” Carol complained. “Now nothing but catching your death could come from this kind of cold. They couldn’t have done this in the summer?”
“It should be flying over any minute,” Betty said, ignoring their complaints while her eyes scanned the sky with more focus than the other girls. “It’s flying 500 miles above the earth’s surface and traveling about 18,000 miles per hour across space.”
“Gee, are they sure the Italians didn’t develop this technology? I know one who could move faster than that if fueled by his libido or hunger.”
Gladys laughed and looked over to Vera, who gave her a wink. “How is your Italian Stallion?”
“Home with the boys,” She said with a happy sigh. “I have a feeling I’ll be paying for this girls night out on a later date.”
“Ah, yes. I know those family obligations all to well. They don’t tell you about the missing vows after ‘in sickness and in health’ comes the part about taking his poker nights for your business trips away, do they?”
“You know it. Marriage, bringing you the barter system since the beginning of time,” Vera replied back with her hands sweeping out as if she were showing off a prize while Carol and Kate looked down at them with interest.
“There it is!” Betty announced, excitedly. She pointed to the sky as all their heads shot up towards the stars.
“Where?” Carol asked what the other three were thinking as they searched the hundreds of stars shining above them.
“Right there,” Betty said, pointing again to a lone moving spot in the sky. She briefly looked back over at Kate and smiled when she saw her spot the moving object.
“Wow,” Kate gasped with a bright smile. “That’s something special.”
Gladys and Vera found it next and smiled with Oohs and Ahhs at the sight.
“I still don’t see it!” Carol exclaimed, throwing her arms up when she realized she was the only one who didn’t see the shiny wonder.
“Good grief, are you blind, it’s right there!” Betty pointed as if it were as bright as the moon in front of her.
Carol squinted her eyes, focusing on the spot everyone was so enthralled with.
“That speck moving?” She asked as if she were expecting something more. “That’s it??”
“What do you mean, that’s it,” Betty repeated, annoyed. “That’s a modern marvel, right there.”
“I have to say, it kind of looks like a distant plane moving across the sky,” Gladys shrugged, now less impressed as she tilted her head to the side, watching its steady trek.
“Yeah, I thought it would be a little more glitzy or something,” Vera agreed as the satellite’s orbit fell just out of their eyesight in the backyard.
“You people are hopeless,” Betty grumbled. The historic flight was over for them. “You all wouldn’t know how to spot a scientific achievement of this magnitude even if it crashed down right on top of your bloomin’ heads.”
“I tell you what,” Gladys chuckled at her friend’s aggravation, feeling only slightly bad for downplaying the event. “Why don’t we go inside and celebrate this historical flight with some of my famous martinis?”
“Now you’re singing a tune I know,” Vera smiled, turning to go back inside while looping her arm through Carol’s. “Come on Carol, I’ll even let you have first stab at the space heater, just as long as you don’t try to burn the house down again.”
“That only happened once,” Carol replied as they made their way into the house behind them, their voices growing distant as they entered the warm home. “How was I supposed to know faux-fur was so flammable?”
Gladys followed them towards the house, but paused at the back door.
“You guys coming?”
Kate turned back and shook her head. “I think we’ll stick around a bit longer. Marvel at the wonder of it all.”
Gladys gave her a knowing smile before opening the door to go through it.
“You two try not to freeze then,” She said with a singsong voice and a wink before slipping through the doorway.
Kate watched with a blush as Gladys disappeared into their home. She turned back to find that Betty was still mesmerized with the twinkling stars above them. She looked back at the house once more before making her way behind Betty to slip her arms around Betty’s upper arms, pulling the blonde close to her chest. Betty sighed contently as Kate rested her chin on her shoulder.
“Tell me more about this Sputnik,” Kate whispered as she felt Betty relax against her. In the dark of night, in their own back yard, they could have this moment.
“Ah, you sure you wanna hear it? The others seem to think it’s less then stellar.”
“I want to hear anything you think is worth saying,” Kate whispered, smiling into the crook of Betty’s ear.
The corners of Betty’s mouth twitched upwards as she let the words warm her against the cold night’s chill.
“Well, it’s only the size of a basketball, but it orbits the earth every 98 minutes and flies over North America seven times a day,” Betty began, lacing her fingers through Kate’s, warming both of their hands in the process. “The rockets they used to get it up there would have taken more than all the bombs produced at VicMu during its glory days.”
“Betty McRae, have you’ve been hiding this fascination with science all this time? It reminds me, I do always dig hearing you go all shop talk.”
Betty smiled and craned her neck to look back at her. “Oh yeah? I guess that means when I come home and get on a spiel about production times every month, it must really get you going then?”
Betty was now the production manager at Royal Frigidaire, Canada’s leading refrigerator manufacture. It was how VicMu’s heritage lived on. Instead of bombs, they built iceboxes. They improved family’s lives rather than destroyed them.
“Mmm hmmm,” Kate hummed, turning her head to breathe in the aroma of Betty’s hair, still half expecting the faint scent of amatol to follow. “You have no idea how seductive cold storage can be.”
“Duly noted for the future then,” Betty grinned, looking back up at the stars above them. “I guess good old Sputnik just reminds me of all the possibilities.”
“How so?” Kate asked, looking up at the sky with her now.
“If they can send something like that into space, just think of all the possibilities. They’ll be able to travel anywhere, anytime, and be whoever they want to be.”
“Yes, which, I think that’s why everyone’s all up in arms about this new space race with the Soviets leading the way.”
“Nah, I see it only as a good thing. It’s challenging everyone to step up their game. To be better and reach for the stars like never before. Soon mankind will be embracing change and innovation… accepting what they once thought was impossible as fate instead. Those stars were hung as reminders of what everyone is promised in life. A future of possibilities, you know?”
Kate was now looking at Betty the way Betty was looking at the stars.
“Yeah, I do,” she said, kissing Betty’s shoulder. “The sky’s the limit.”
Kate rested her head against Betty’s as they both closed their eyes. They didn’t need to see the stars above them to know their future.
Laughter from inside the house brought them back to their present though. A warm home filled with friends.
“Wanna go inside and warm up?” Kate asked.
“Sounds nice, but somehow I don’t think what I have in mind for warming up is going to be found in Emily Post’s Guide to Etiquette, you know, when one is hosting a gathering of acquaintances.”
Kate giggled at Betty’s attempt to sound proper. “Perhaps not, but we should probably go in and be cordial anyways. And to make sure Carol hasn’t set fire to the curtains or anything.”
“You go ahead,” Betty said, holding Kate’s hand up to her lips before releasing it. “I’m gonna stay out here for just a bit longer.”
Kate took her cardigan off and wrapped it around Betty’s shoulders, replacing the warmth of her arms for the next best thing she could offer.
“Don’t stay out too long, you wouldn’t want to prove Carol right about that whole catching your death theory … cause I am kind of fond of you, you know.”
Betty looked back at Kate and watched her walk back to the house. “Yeah, yeah. You just keep me around for the warmth.”
“True,” She said with a smile, pausing at the door to look back at her once more. “You are pretty good at that.”
Betty smiled back as she watched Kate slip into the bright glow of their home, the sounds of music and laughter trickling out as the door swung open and close.
She turned back to the sky, pulling Kate’s sweater closer around her. With the warmth of Kate’s arms still tingling her skin and the scent of her wrapped around her, Betty watched the stars shine on brightly above her with a smile.
“The sky’s the limit, indeed.”
Chapter 2: Brought to you in living color.
A collection of ordinary moments during extraordinary times in history. A peek into what the lives of Betty, Kate, Gladys, Vera, and Carol might look like over the years.
Brought to you in living color.
So much of our life is defined by what is expected of you. From society, from your friends and family, even from what you expect of yourself. A whole lifetime of goals and dreams placed upon on your shoulders early and carried within us as time rolls on. Some are fairly placed while others are brandished unjustly.
When you first started out, life was about keeping up with those standards and expectations. Then as you become older, you begin to realize maybe life isn’t about what the world expects of you, but what you expect of the world.
Of course, you did always say price is the cost, but value is what your willing to pay for. And our expectations were no different. The stock we placed in happiness was paid with long hours of hard work and desperate savings.
But what happens when those expectations aren’t met? When our hopes and beliefs are put to question? In those moments, when life catches you resting on your laurels and blindsides you, how did we get by?
Maybe it was in these moments of the unexpected that the expected triumphed and carried us through. When the familiar absolute held us glued together and made us whole again…
“Hello?” Kate asked walking through the foyer as she slipped her gloves off.
She rounded the corner leading into the living room, but stopped when she saw man kneeling on the floor in front of the newest piece of furnishing in their home.
“Oh, good,” She smiled. “It’s finally here. I feel like I’ve been waiting ages for it to arrive.”
“Yup, it’s here alright,” Betty’s cool tone drew Kate’s attention as she looked up to find Betty, Vera, and Carol all standing behind the man, watching him fiddle with nobs on the new piece. A cloud of cigarette smoke hung heavily around them like a building storm as Betty nervously blew out another round of billowing clouds.
“Oh, Betty, I was hoping I’d beat you home. I wanted this to be a surprise... well, surprise! I bought us a brand new color television!”
Betty rubbed the back of her neck as the man in front of the television looked back and forth between them before turning his attention back to the set in front of him.
The wooden box sat in the middle of the living room with its broad sideboards stretching out obnoxiously, while their old smaller black and white television sat pushed into a corner.
Sensing Betty’s uneasiness, Kate continued.
“Doesn’t it look lovely?”
“Not sure those are the words I’d choose…” Betty grumbled.
“Than how do you think it looks?” Kate said, her smile faltering with Betty’s mood.
“Oh, don’t worry about that silly,” Kate smiled again, hopeful that she could quell Betty’s uneasiness. “With my new gig at the Blue Note, I can swing a few luxuries for you now.”
“Mmm, lucky me,” Betty replied, her mouth tight as she turned away from the TV in question and the stranger who was working on it.
“Betty, they call it a super screen, it’s suppose to have superior sound and picture. I thought you might like that for when Marco or the boys come over to watch the fights.”
Betty only gave a grunt as she stared out the window in front of her.
“Oh, I think the fight will come in crystal clear today,” Vera nervously whispered over to Carol, who nodded and pushed her horned trimmed glasses up as she watched the two in front of her.
“I think that’ll do it,” The man behind the set said, looking up at the women behind him with an anxious smile. “This nob controls the color contrast and this one, the volume.”
He turned the dial to show the difference as the picture on the screen blended in a range of warm red, green, and blue hues.
Vera chuckled at the sight of the man on the screen changing colors before her eyes.
“Look at Gordon Pinsent, he’s a dreamboat even when he’s as green as a martian.”
The man behind the TV stood up and handed a rectangular object to Kate. She turned the odd object over in her hand.
“That’s the clicker. The two buttons on it allow you to change the channels from a few feet away.”
Kate looked down at the item that was about the size of her hand with a smile. “Well, isn’t that clever? What will they think of next?”
“Did I hear you say you work at the Blue Note, does that mean you are the same Kate Andrews who use to sing at the Jewel Box?”
“The one and the same,” Kate said, smiling at the memory of a club long gone. It was the place Kate got her first real start in her career. A place where it seemed so many things began.
“I thought the name on the order form sounded familiar. My wife Rue is going to flip when she hears where I delivered to today. We practically fell in love dancing to your voice back in the war. She made sure we spent every Saturday evening at the Jewel Box for you.”
“Aw, well aren’t you sweet Mr…?” Kate said, extending her hand to the gentleman with a warm smile.
“Grey, but you can call me Benny.”
“Benny, you should treat that lovely wife of yours for a night out and bring her to the Blue Note sometime soon. Tell the boys up front you’re old friends of mine and I’ll make sure you’ll have the best seat in the house.”
It wasn’t uncommon for Kate to be recognized these days. She was somewhat a local celebrity with her solo act at the Blue Note taking off. She and Betty were still getting use to both being in one place again. She had spent the better part of the previous decade traveling from one venue to the next as part of whatever show she could land.
“Swell, that should get me bonus points the next time I’m in the dog house,” The man joked as he gathered his tools. He turned and nodded to Betty before stepping towards the door to leave.
Kate let the deliveryman out with a small wave and turned to find that Betty was still rooted by the window, grounding her cigarette out in the ashtray beside her.
“I can’t believe you bought a color TV, I’ve been hounding Marco to buy us one for months now.”
“I know. I’ve been envious of Hazel MacDugall ever since she landed one last spring. I’d simply kill for one,” Carol said matter-of-factly.
“You don’t have to kill for one, just marry for one like Hazel,” Vera teased. “Just wait until we can lord it over her head this time.”
“So, Betty?” Kate asked, hoping the others enthusiasm would catch on. “Don’t you think it’s pretty neat?”
“Since when did keeping up with Hazel become a priority?”
Kate flinched at Betty’s cold tone and sighed as the blonde turned around with her arms crossed.
“What? No, it’s not. It’s…it’s just that now that I have a steady gig with the club, we can afford a few luxuries.”
“Well, isn’t that swell, between this nifty behemoth and Carol’s TV dinners, we’re really blazing through the 20th century now, aren’t we?”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake, Betty. It’s a television, not a Buick,” Kate shot back.
“No, it’s just the size of one. Besides, a Buick would have been more useful, at least we can get somewhere in that. Where are we gonna go with that?” Betty shrugged towards the new TV.
“Anywhere in the world it shows us. I thought you’d enjoy watching the news or your stories in color. It’s supposed to have a great picture.”
“Well, this is going down hill quickly,” Vera muttered. “Why don’t we get on with cards, shall we? I’ll keep track of the score this time.”
“What’s wrong with our black and white set now?” Betty said, ignoring Vera’s attempt to steer them away from the uncomfortable fight brewing.
“That rickety old thing? Poor Jamie had to practically re-build the antenna with wire and foil last weekend,” Kate said, her voice growing agitated.
“It’s called building fortitude!” Betty explained.
“It’s called unnecessary!”
“You know what? We’re just gonna take off,” Vera said, nudging Carol towards the front door. “We’re not really needed for this conversation.”
“Sit!” Both Betty and Kate turned and barked at them.
Vera and Carol froze at the unison order.
“We can still play cards,” Betty said, nodding for them to take their seat.
They obeyed by plopping heavily down onto the love seat behind them.
“How far is this going to set us back?” Betty turned back to Kate and asked with her lips perched tight with stubborn indignation.
“I told you, the price tag wasn’t a problem…” Kate shook her head as Betty rolled her eyes. “Is that the problem? That I was the one who could afford to buy us a new television this time?”
“Don’t be absurd, of course not.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“Why are you trying to cast out our perfectly fine television for this new fangled thing?”
“Hey, is that the Flintstones in color?” Vera asked out of the blue.
Kate and Betty both turned to the TV to see the cartoon was indeed in color.
“Hey, look Betty,” Carol smiled, pointing to the TV. “Wilma has red hair. You oughta like that!”
Off of Betty’s glare, Carol shrugged. “What? I’m just trying to be helpful by stating the obvious.”
“Maybe you could try to be a little less helpful sometimes,” Vera offered while patting the other girl’s hand.
“We’ll be the first ones on the block with a color TV,” Kate said as if it were a selling point.
“Great, because that’s all we need,” Betty said with a shake of her head. “The neighbors traipsing through the yard, looking through our windows, just to get a glimpse of the wonder that is Wilma Flintstone’s hair color.”
“Oh look, there’s Gladys pulling up now,” Vera laughed nervously. “Thank the heavens. She’ll know how to diffuse this keg or save the survivors one.”
Betty and Kate were still facing off with their arms crossed, glaring at each other as their friend ambled up the front steps and through their front door. She was never one to knock or announce her presence before barging into their home as if it were her own, but this time her entrance was a little different. Instead of gliding into the room like she was accustomed, she rounded the corner and stopped in the doorway to stare despondently at the floorboards stretching out before her.
Vera raised her eyebrows at the peculiarly hopeless entrance. She was use to the heiress usual eloquent demeanor. Now she stood looking pale and stricken.
“You okay, Hun? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
This got Kate and Betty’s attention as they both turned towards their distraught friend.
Gladys shook her head and looked up at them with a world of hurt shining on her face.
“Jamie is going to Vietnam.”
The air in the room shifted as the news struck each one of them. Betty’s folded arms fell limply to her sides while Kate took the statement with a small step backwards.
“What? To do what?” Carol asked, astounded by the news.
“To fight in the war. He volunteered,” Gladys shrugged helplessly as Kate stepped over and gently guided them to the couch, sitting down beside Gladys to place a soothing hand on her back.
“How is that possible? Canada doesn’t even have a dog in this fight,” Betty incredulously asked after rebounding from the initial shock of the news.
“They do if the Canadian marches across the border and lists Plattsburgh, New York as his place of residency, just so he can enlist in the 1st Marines Division.”
“This is absurd. Canada is supposed to be non-belligerent or whatever the hell that means.”
Betty’s arms were crossed once more as she tried to make sense of it all.
“He just came home and told us over lunch. We had a huge row over it. He said he feels like it’s his duty to help and I said otherwise, but it was all wasted breath. Now he’s set to ship off for Fort Bliss, Texas in two weeks for basic training.”
They sat in silence as reality set in while Gladys sat despairingly on the couch. It was an unusual pose for the normally cool and composed woman, who now happened to be one of Canada’s first women CEO’s as the head of Witham Foods Corporation, a company that offered whole food sales to grocery stores chains across Canada and parts of the United States. Now it would seem she’d be offering one son as well.
“Do you want his Aunt Betty to go talk to him? He’ll listen to her, he always does,” Kate offered softly.
“Yeah or I’ll knock some sense into him for pulling such a boneheaded stunt,” Betty huffed, knowing full well she was only giving an empty threat for the boy she and Kate considered like a son.
“Not sure it would do much good. I’m afraid he’s being awfully stubborn about this one,” Gladys said, smiling sadly at Betty. “I think he gets his stubbornness from you.”
“I dunno,” Betty said, returning the small smile as she sat down on the other side of Gladys. “Running head first into a war without a second thought, all in an effort to better the world… kinda sounds like the annoyingly tenacious apple doesn’t fall far from the annoyingly tenacious tree to me.”
Gladys nodded to acknowledge the truth she couldn’t deny. He was definitely her son.
“How about your boys, Vera,” She asked, looking up in desperate hope that the blonde could explain the reasoning for such drastic actions. “Are they as hot headed about the war as Jamie?”
“Hot headed? Yes, unfortunately with Marco and I as their parents, it only comes as natural as breathing, but they’re take on the war seems to be quite different than their friend Jamie’s, much to Marco’s displeasure.”
“How so?” Carol asked.
“It seems Michael and Louie are all too ready to embrace their inner free spirit and oppose any and all military involvement in the conflict. They are a product of their time, I guess. They’ve even helped a few draft dodgers cross over the border. And let’s just say Marco hasn’t exactly been pleased with this viewpoint. Something that brings up snubbed memories, I guess.”
“I could imagine. With as much trouble Marco went to enlist in the Canadian forces for our War, I’m sure he’s been thrown for a loop by all this anti-military sentiment,” Betty said.
“Yes, you should see it when they visit home. It becomes a war zone in itself. Weapons in the form of words like hippies and warmonger are thrown around like bullets. It seems Marco has a hard time understanding this new generation’s way of thinking and vice versa.”
“How about you?” Kate asked cautiously.
“A part of me understands that some wars are necessary. The costs are entirely too great, but their efforts should be respected. Like back in our day.”
“But?” Gladys asked, knowing there was more.
“But I’m also a mother now, these are our boys this time, so I’m torn,” Vera sighed.
They all fell into silence as they thought of the differences between the two eras.
“The man he was named after died in a war he never wanted to be a part of,” Gladys finally said, looking up with tears in her eyes. “James only volunteered because he thought it was something I wanted him to do. He died because he was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons. And now my little boy may be facing the same fate.”
“We don’t know that,” Kate tried, trying to ease her friend’s worry. “We’ll be there when he leaves and when he returns. And, of course, we’ll pray for all the days in between.”
“And what if he doesn’t return?” Gladys threw out the one question no parent wanted to ask.
The silence in return was heavy and fraught with uncertainty.
“Then we’ll be there for that day too,” Betty said finally, reaching over to slip her hand into Gladys’.
Gladys closed her eyes as tears slipped down and leaned into the comfort of her two friends on either side. They sat in silence knowing that times were changing faster than anyone ever expected, but their friendships remained the same.
After a long moment, Gladys finally looked up.
“…Is that the Flintstones in color?” She asked, her voice raw from the emotions of the day. They all turned to look at the television set and the argument that had long been forgotten.
“Yeah, we have a new set now,” Betty said, finally acknowledging the new TV as theirs.
She looked over Gladys’ back and met Kate’s eyes, the silent truce floating out between them. The warm look exchanged made it clear that neither could stay mad at each other for long.
“Turns out, even the Stone Age was in living color,” Betty offered with a small smile. “Kinda neat, wouldn’t you say?”
“I don’t know…” Gladys sniffled. “It’s kind of… weird.”
“Oh, we’ve been down this road before,” Carol deadpanned, shaking her head as if she were giving a warning. “Don’t bring up Wilma’s hair color, it’s a touchy subject for some.”
“Once again, less is more,” Vera said, leaning into Carol with a smile.
The glow of the television casted pale blue hues across the darkened room. As the last bit of sunlight faded into the night, Kate laid stretched out on the couch with Betty comfortably tucked behind her, propping her head up with one arm while her other held Kate close to her chest as they both watched the colorful images flash before them.
They were watching the news and just as it had night after night for the last three years, the images of a far away jungle warfare with fresh face boys in dirty uniforms filled the broadcast. This newscast was different though. This time the fresh face boys mirrored the one boy they knew, the one who had the kind eyes and heart of his mother. This same boy, whom they had spoiled and helped raise would soon be marching through those dense jungles looking as despondent and lost as the ones reflecting back on the screen in front of them. A thought neither one of them could shake.
“It does have a nice picture,” Betty softly said, leaning down to kiss the back of Kate’s shoulder. The only response she received was a small nod.
“Delta Company, 2nd platoon faces enemy machinegun fire on the other side of the hedgerow, perhaps 20 yards away…”
The deep voice of the newscaster echoed in their empty living room.
The others had left an hour before and now it was just Betty and Kate lying in the dark with only the glow of the television illuminating their anxious hearts and hold on each other. Even though Kate’s back was to her, Betty knew the exact expression Kate would be wearing. It was a look that took years to learn and one that Kate only trusted Betty with as she let the sadness finally shine through.
Betty also knew the meaning of that look by heart. There was some part of Kate’s day, some small bit of reality that brought back the memories of a horror long ago. When they first got together, Kate would sometimes wake with a start unable to breathe. It took Betty some time to learn that she couldn’t reach out and battle those dark dreams for Kate. It was a struggle Kate would have to conquer by her own methods. And during those times, when her past followed so closely behind, Kate would turn to Betty in need of peace and control. It was times like this where Betty knew it was Kate’s show. Her time to conduct the passion between them in order to save herself from whatever memory she was running from. She would direct every move, every kiss, every touch and all Betty could do was sit back in awe as Kate took the lead and allowed her desire to reign over the repressed misery of another time. Tonight would be no different.
“Do you think he’ll be okay?” Her voice was quiet and somber as she watched the screen in front of her.
“I dunno,” Betty sighed and answered truthfully. “I hope so. It’s Jamie.”
On the screen, a formation of helicopters hovered a few feet off the ground as young men poured out of the aircrafts on both sides. The pale green color of their uniforms clashed against the blue sky.
Kate slowly turned around, maneuvering herself carefully to keep close as she turned towards Betty and laid her head on the bend of her elbow, staring up at Betty with a look of desperate hunger.
“I don’t want to see this anymore,” She whispered as the pictures on the screen behind them showed boys bloody and bruised from some unseen battle. “I don’t want to know this anymore.”
Betty swallowed the lump in her throat and nodded, “Okay.”
Kate leaned up and kissed Betty on the lips passionately, pressing herself closer to Betty as the TV flickered on in the background forgotten.
If Kate was lost in the sea of her past, Betty would always be the fixed point on the horizon that she could set her sails to and she would always be the safe port in the storm.
Women Back Into Stelco
It’s funny how life slips up on you.
When you’re a child you think time goes as slow as molasses. Every Christmas and birthday comes at you at a snail’s pace while you dream of fairy tale futures. Then you do actually grow up and you realize time has been against you since day one and it would always be smarter, faster, and sneakier than you ever took it for. The babies you held in your arms not long ago were having babies of their own. And nothing revealed time’s cruel joke like picking up those precious grandchildren and feeling the twinge of old age pulling at the muscles of your back or like looking over old photo albums to see just how young we all were when we first started out together.
These days I find myself seeking asylum in those dusty old timekeepers with their faded memories of glory days gone by. Those frozen images with our innocent smiles and eyes filled with hope because we were foolish enough to think time was still on our side. And the soft skin and colorful hair shining brightly through the blurry pictures of happier times, showcasing the effortless beauty that comes with the young.
No, we never saw life go barreling by until we could feel it in our bones late at night or saw it in the reflection of a mirror that revealed the lines of the living across our skin. We never saw ourselves growing old, until we were old. And we never knew how to respect time until it had backed us into a corner.
But then, when we finally did learn to slow down and respect the lesson time had to offer, well, that was when we learned how to feel young again…
Betty looked over at the alarm clock on the nightstand and watched its bright green numbers roll over to 3:30 a.m., the sound of its dial turning sounded thunderous in the darkened room. If she fell asleep now, she could get a good 3 hours worth of sleep. It wouldn’t be enough, but it would get her through the day.
She reached behind her and punched the pillow up in hopes it would be the magical trick to solve her current bout with insomnia. She settled down into the pillow and closed her eyes, willing herself to go to sleep. After a few moments, she turned onto her side facing the clock, hoping this would be the position to carry her off into sleep, but after a few minutes her knees began to ache, so she flipped back over with a huff. This was the nightly dance she was cursed with now.
Tonight was different though. Tonight was a night she desperately needed her sleep because soon the sun would rise and with it a big day would follow. She would be speaking at the Ontario Federation of Labour conference on behalf of the National Council of Women. She wasn’t exactly sure how she landed the gig, but she knew Gladys had her hand in it. Gladys and Vera had been active in what Gladys called the ‘second wave feminism’ as they began participating in rallies, benefits, and organizations that promoted various women’s issues. She thought it was all well and good and she even donated to their cause because she believed in them, but she didn’t really consider herself the active type like Gladys or the young pretty college types, who paraded around in front of government offices demanding change. Simply put, she was too busy doing the actual work they were so ambitiously fighting for.
She would leave it to Gladys to charge into those government offices with a rally of troops behind her. It seemed some at this conference were gunning for a fight with a steel company with a nasty tendency to lean heavily on the male population for its workforce and so Gladys had come calling a few weeks before armed with a case of beer and one of her long-winded speeches. She had hammered home her argument using heavy words like duty, having our say, and equal-rights with equal opportunities. Betty half expected her friend to break out the old hat box again and before she knew it, her name was in bold on the conference’s agenda.
Now she was lying in the dark, going over the talking points in her head and feeling the butterflies build in her stomach. It reminded her of the time Lorna nominated her to speak at VicMu’s Governor General’s shindig. Lorna had been there to calm her nerves before the big speech then though.
She sighed at the memory. They lost Lorna last spring after a bout with pneumonia. She wished the older woman were here now. She’d go into that room full of old high-society men and know exactly what to say to get their goats. Oh how she missed her old mentor. She’d give just about anything to hear Lorna call roll for one of her dreaded VicMu inspections. She could almost hear Lorna’s unimpressed voice as she tagged Gladys for wearing some fancy hair clip… or was that Vera? Or maybe it was a necklace that Hazel MacDougall stole…
Betty shook her head to clear her foggy memory. She gave into another round of tossing and turning, before throwing her arms out in irritated defeat. She lifted her head to see if her bed companion had noticed her sleepless frustrations and was happy to see the even rise and fall of Kate’s back. Her hair was shining in the moonlight that streamed through the window beside their bed. It seemed Kate’s hair only began to lighten in the last year, giving it more of a strawberry blonde color that gave her a youthful air that most women would pay big bucks to achieve with a bottle. Kate was aging more gracefully than any of them and Betty began to wonder what her secret was after all this time.
With that thought, Betty sat up and looked over towards Kate’s side of the bed.
“Kate?” She whispered out. When there was no answer she carefully leaned over to look at her.
“You awake??” Betty whispered half-heartedly. She bounced lightly in her spot and waited for a response. Kate only grumbled and tucked her head further into her pillow, before going still again. Betty sat back and bit her lip as she leaned her head against the headboard of their bed.
She held her breath as Kate’s breathing took on a rhythmic pattern that was usually Betty’s favorite melody to fall asleep to, but tonight the glorious sound wouldn’t calm her. Tonight, she had a different mission.
“I have a confession…” She started out, half afraid of what she was about to say. “… I think I had a hot flash the other day.”
The statement came out quiet and reflective. The only thing that greeted Betty was a dog barking down the street.
“Before you say it, I’m not like Carol… I’m not about to start wearing black for every birthday… Or... or threaten to ingest every vitamin known to mankind to slow time down… It’s just…”
Betty blew out a nervous breath as she looked up at the ceiling, trying to piece her words together in her jumbled mind. Finally, she looked back down and straight ahead as if she were prepared to surrender the truth to the enemy.
“Every joint hurts. My eyesight has gone to crap. My hair is doing some weird gray thing. I’m tired all the time. And where I use to lift 25 pounders with ease, now I’m lucky if I can lift the cat.”
Betty’s ramble fell away as silence settled on the dark room once more. She briefly looked over at the still form beside her before continuing on to the crutch of the issue…
“What if I’m not who they need tomorrow?” She whispered into the night. “Let’s face it; the Betty McRae’s of the world aren’t exactly Norma Rae material. That’s Gladys cup of tea. No one is going to listen to some old factory hand like me. What have I ever done to deserve the attention? …I don’t know what Glady was thinking asking me to do this.”
The lulled silence of their house was her only answer. Betty slumped back down onto her pillow and turned on her side away from Kate. She may not be getting much sleep tonight, but she could at least stop blabbering on like an idiot in the dark. She closed her eyes in frustration, but they shot back open when a tired voice behind her spoke out and startled her.
“You’re growing older, but you’re not getting old...”
Kate yawned before continuing as Betty’s breath caught in her throat.
“You’re only as old as you let yourself feel and with the way you still bound up stairs or dance around the living room with the grands, you make us all envious. As for tomorrow, they are going to listen to you because you’ve been there, you’ve been in the trenches all these years, making a difference in the work force, and you’re going to show them just how lucky they are to have the Betty McRae’s of the world on their side… You’re going to inspire them, you just wait and see.”
Betty lifted her head to look back at the sleepy voice behind her and smiled softly. Of course Kate had heard her. She probably heard every word she’d said. She always had in some ways.
As if on queue, Kate turned and curled up behind Betty, pulling her closer to secure her safely against her chest. Her breath brushed against Betty’s ear, sending a thrill rushing through her, reminding Betty of the first time Kate pulled her close for a dance at the Sandy Shores. What a twirl it had been. A memory that was several decades old now, but one that held the same electrifying thrill now as it had then, when they spun around that dance floor, so close and carefree, awakening feelings inside of her that made her feel all kinds of things.
As Betty slipped her fingers through Kate’s and melted into the warm body behind her, an old familiar bandstand song played in her head, and suddenly, she felt young again.
Finally, that night Betty fell asleep with a familiar feeling beating on inside of her as Kate held her close. She may not have youth on her side anymore, but she would always have hope and for now that would be enough.
A/N: Sorry for the short, delayed chapter. Life’s been hectic.
A/N 2: Welcome Back Into Stelco is a real slogan from a worthy women’s rights fight in the late 70’s. I can’t help but think that some of our Bomb Girls would have been real heroes during the women’s rights movement.
Tear down this wall.
During the war, we became accustomed to the cloud of doom and gloom that followed quietly in the backdrop of life. It’s dark, looming shadow threatening to strike its misery down at any moment. In the briefest of moments, a lovely afternoon could be ruined with a telegram. A fiancé could be missing in action. A son could be killed by friendly fire with only a month left in the war. A dear friend could be overseas and unheard from for months. These were the days that left their marks on the soul.
I guess over the years we forgot their toll. We moved on and lived our lives like those days never happened. We had to. Life demanded of it and there wasn’t time to dwell on the past. Plus, there were plenty of happy days that followed to help ease the pain and scars of the tougher years. And there was plenty of alcohol to help erase the rest.
It’s funny though. Those days were a lifetime ago, but I can still feel them. I can still smell the fragrance of amatol mixed together with hope and uncertainty. And I can still hear the sound of hearts stopping as a famously dropped canister clattered across the factory floor with a thunderous disruption.
Sometimes I wonder though if all the sadness and fear was worth it. Did the war years need to be so filled with such fret? You and I certainly did our fair share of stressing over the meaning of fate, didn’t we?
But, maybe in the end, the point of those days was to prepare us for the days to come that weren’t very happy. For those days when life seemed to be coming a part at the seams. And for the days when you felt like you were drowning on dry land…
“On Friday, the American President challenged the Soviet leader to seek peace and prosperity with a bold statement…. ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall’… It was a historic moment for these two nations with a turbulent past…”
Betty turned away from the annoyingly chipper news anchor reporting the same news story that seemed to be on loop and blaring from the small gray television hanging from the corner of the room. With a roll of her eyes, she wondered who made the rule that every hospital waiting room must come equipped with a television set, set to the decimal of pain in the ass with no remote control in sight.
As she began her pace back towards the chairs, she focused on the rain tapping on the fogged over windowpanes of the narrow room. Somehow, Mother Nature seemed to be the only one on her level of thinking when it came to setting the appropriate mood for the day. All others were slow on the uptake…
“I think this will lead to great things for Central Europe,” Gladys said. “It’s about time change be demanded for that region. You wouldn’t believe the intense effort it took for the occupations to settle on an agreement for Berlin after the War.”
“Witham, it’s been over 40 years and you’re still dropping elusive hints of your time over there. Will we ever get to learn the juicy details of your oh so secretive years saving the world?” Vera quipped wryly.
Vera, Gladys, and Carol sat in the hard plastic bank of chairs against the wall. The crowded room didn’t leave much room for them, so they sat closely together. Leaving one empty chair beside them for Betty.
Gladys simply smiled at Vera’s teasing as they both watched Betty walk back and forth in front of the windows. The room was full with anxious strangers, but none seemed to be as restless as the woman before them. Her nerves were in full view as she stalked her worries with a hint of a clipped gait from years of hard work. Her greying hair was tangled from nervous fingers constantly fidgeting through it. Gladys knew her friend would also be feeling the effects of the weather in her bones, but knew Betty would never let it show.
“Betty, why don’t you come and sit down? It will be hours before we hear anything on Kate. There is no need in straining your back by standing all day.”
Betty could feel the others worried eyes on her. “I’m just fine where I am.”
She heard a sigh behind her and could picture the “there’s stubborn Betty” look exchanged between Gladys and Vera. She wondered how they could sit so calmly and talk as if they were having tea at the bakery down the street instead of sitting in a hospital waiting room.
“Well, I for one can feel the rainy weather. How can a simple weather front moving in make me feel so old?” Carol wondered out loud.
“Ladies, let’s face it. We’re no spring chickens anymore. Last week, I heard Eugene Corbett’s grandson got his driver’s license,” Vera replied with a scoff and an unbelievable shake of her head.
“Well, there’s a scary thought, I learned long ago to never trust a Corbett behind the wheel.”
Vera and Carol both laughed at Gladys’ joke while Betty fought the urge to roll her eyes again. They all turned to see if Betty would respond, but were only met with the steady pace she was determined to keep.
This time it was Vera who tried her hand at calming their friend.
“Betty, I’ve read pacemaker procedures are a pretty common surgeries these days. And you couldn’t ask for a better place, last year Marco landed here after a flair up with kidney stones and received superb care.”
“I read in Chatelaine that the Duchess of Kent toured this hospital on their last visit,” Carol responded matter-of-factly.
“I heard it was more than just a tour after a rough bout with some bad oysters.”
“Really, how fascinating!” Carol replied, turning to Gladys and clasping her hands together in excitement.
“And you’ll note Betty, that sounds like a pretty common visit and treatment. It must be a legit place if the fancy titles come here to slum it with the regular folks for their ailments.” Vera pointed out.
Betty whirled around with an incredulous look.
“Nothing about this is common for Kate. She’s not here for some lousy kidney stones or for an insipid celebratory visit. Nothing about this is common. Nothing. Not the surgery. Not with how sick she’s been lately. And certainly not with her care here.”
Betty clinched her teeth and stopped herself from going on. She wanted to scream and cry and shake them until they understood that nothing common ever happened in hospitals. It wasn’t common when her mother went to one for a persistent cough and came out dying of cancer so long ago now that she could barely remember the sound of her mother’s voice and it sure as hell wasn’t common for Betty to feel so helpless now. Not after all this time.
The others stayed silent as Betty tried to regain her composure by turning her back to them. They realized nothing could be said that would be calming to the former blonde. She was in full bloom “worried for Kate” mode and nothing would see her through except seeing that Kate was safe and sound with her own eyes.
Finally, Vera broke the silence with acceptance of the situation.
“Come on, Gladys, let’s go get some coffee for everyone at the cafeteria. As bad as that muddy water is, there’s something about hospital coffee that makes it the most comforting brew you’ve ever tasted.”
Gladys nodded as she pulled herself up and made her way towards the door, on her way by she gave Betty’s arm a small squeeze.
“Kate will make it through this like the champ we know she is and she’ll be home for you to worry over before you know it.”
Betty only nodded as she heard her two friends disappear down the hall. With a rub of the back of her neck, she resumed her march in front of the windows.
“Oh, good grief, not that again,” Carol called out.
“Come and sit down and give the stalk and worry parade a rest… you’re making others more nervous than they already are.”
For the first time that day, Betty looked at the other people around her. There were a few strangers staring at her anxiously. Tensions were high for all in that small room and her obvious anxiety wasn’t helping the atmosphere of the cramped quarters. She sighed and made her way to the hard chair beside Carol.
They both sat in silence for a few moments before Carol’s voice broke into Betty’s thoughts.
“Did I ever tell you why I broke things off with Walter?”
Betty blinked at the extreme conversational turn that Carol had just taken. “Huh?”
“Walter… you know, why it never worked out between us.”
Betty looked at Carol with her brow furrowed at the random absurdity of the conversation at hand, but after a moment, her shoulders slumped in defeat as she accepted that this was Carol sitting with her and random and absurd were her specialty.
“Walter the first or Walter the second?” Betty asked, reluctantly giving into the topic.
“The Second. The first Walter was only a War fling. The second Walter was different.”
“No, I guess I don’t know what happened, I just assumed he didn’t meet the Carol Demers standards.”
“Oh no, he was a dreamboat. Handsome, came from notable family, War hero, rising star in the banking business… he pretty much had high marks across the board when it came to marriage material.”
“Well what happened to Mr. Dreamboat then?”
Carol turned forward in her chair as she thought back, staring off in front of her as if she were going back into time in her head.
“Remember my New Years Eve Party of ’64? Oh what a party that was, the champagne was flowing, spirits were high, I had on that fantastic floral pants suit of mine… I think Walter was even going to pop the big question some time soon…”
“Yeah, yeah, I seem to recall that time period,” Betty nodded, thinking back. “You were particularly abuzz about Walter asking the question.”
“Well, Walter…” Carol sighed. “Let’s just say he was a bit ornery when it came to people who weren’t like him. I could ignore it for the most part, but then, well I guess he must of saw something…”
Betty stared at her blankly, still unsure where this was all going.
“Saw something with you and Kate, I mean. The rest of us knew you two use to sneak off to ring in the New Year in private, you both weren’t exactly stealth-tastic by then, but Walter didn’t know about the two of you and he must of seen something he didn’t like. I’m sure it was innocent enough, but boy did I hear about it later.”
Betty went still as Carol’s story unfolded. It was a type of story she and Kate should be use to by now, but it still made her blood run cold to hear such things, even if it had happened decades before.
“He went into a tizzy, forbidding me from seeing you both, saying it wasn’t normal and other unmentionable things. Well, that’s when I knew; this bird wasn’t putting up with all that nonsense. No siree, Walter the second had to go.”
Betty couldn’t believe her ears. She was never a big fan of Walter, he always seemed like a hoity toity type, but she had no idea how he felt about she and Kate.
“So wait, let me get this straight. You called things off because of how he felt about Kate and me?”
“Eh, that and because he wore socks to bed.”
Betty’s eyebrows rose again. She opened her mouth to say something, but closed it again, unsure what to say. Carol turned towards her and shook her head as if they were having the most normal conversation in the world.
“I mean, there’s a lot of things that aren’t normal about you, Betty… but what you have with Kate… the feelings you have for each other, it’s normal. It’s more than normal. You two make your relationship work better than any other couple I know.”
Carol reached over and grabbed Betty’s hand in her lap just as Betty’s jaw tightened from desperately trying to keep her emotions in check.
“…It wasn’t right back in ‘64 and it wasn’t right this morning when the nurse gave you that look as you leaned down to kiss Kate goodbye. And then to have the nerve to tell you that you might not get to visit Kate after her surgery if you weren’t family?” Carol shook her head in disgust. “I’ll tell you, that’s what’s not normal with this crazy world and it’s not fair.”
“Yeah, but those looks and sentiments aren’t exactly uncommon for us.”
“Not today and not in this place. That old bat won’t keep you from seeing Kate after the surgery. We’ll make sure of it.”
“We will, huh?” Betty smirked.
“Sure, you know how persuasive Gladys can be. She’ll charm the pants off of them and then have them ready to name a wing after her by the end of the night. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll fake a conniption while you sneak around back, you know, like they do in the movies.”
Betty tilted her head and she regarded the woman beside her. “You’d do all that?”
“Well, I’m certainly not here for the coffee and pleasant atmosphere.”
Betty nodded and swallowed the lump in her throat. She could hear what Carol wasn’t saying. Somehow, during the 40 plus years of bickering and loathing and a whole lot of sarcasm, they’d become friends. She was more than just an acquaintance Betty played cards with every Wednesday, and more than the person who brought the disgusting fruit salad to their holiday parties, somewhere along the way Carol Demers had become the one who could keep her grounded on this no good day. Today, she was here for her, her friend.
They both sat in silence as the comfortable acceptance settled between them while Carol held tightly to Betty’s hand, giving her the strength she needed to get through the day.
Finally, Carol’s voice broke the moment.
“…But if anyone famous walks by, I’m throwing your hand down and pretending I don’t know you,” she said, giving Betty a small sideways smile to show she wasn’t serious… completely.
“Happy to oblige, powder puff,” Betty shot back, returning the same taunting smile.
It was the only real smile Betty was willing to give away that day. As the fate of the old German wall was declared for all the world to hear on the TV above them, Betty was just thankful for a hand to hold onto while sitting in the small waiting room of St. Michael’s Hospital.
Betty sat in the darkened room and took in the small figure lying in the bed before her. Her eyes followed the path of each cord strung across Kate, taking note of how each held its own special purpose in keeping her comfortable. She could see the top of the white bandage poking through her hospital gown and knew not far below would soon lay a surgical scar. It had been decades since she had received such a purposely-placed scar across her body. Betty breathed in an idea that suddenly occurred to her. She had kept her word– she’d kept Kate safe after all these years.
Kate groaned softly and scrunched her nose as she began to stir for the first time since the nurses had brought her back from the surgery. Betty’s breath caught in her throat as she scrambled to her feet. She was at Kate’s side, ready to see those blue-green eyes flutter open again. As they did, Betty felt like she could breath again.
“Hey there, beautiful,” Betty smiled softly and whispered as if she were afraid too much commotion would be too much for either of them to handle.
“You’re here,” Kate’s slow smile and groggy eyes held Betty’s as she reached out and squeezed her hand weakly.
“Of course, I am. No old crony nurse is going to stop me.”
Kate only nodded as Betty’s free hand came up to gently stroke back the hair fanning Kate’s face.
“How are you feeling?”
“Like I could run a marathon,” Kate teased softly, her voice still raw from her deep sleep.
“Good, we’ll sign you up for one then ‘cause the doctor says everything went well and you’ll be feeling much better soon.”
Kate closed her eyes again and took comfort in Betty’s voice and presence beside her. “And how about you?”
“I’ve had better days.”
“I know the feeling. Did Gladys keep you calm and collected?”
Betty paused for a moment. Sensing something more, Kate opened her eyes.
“Actually, it was Carol. We had a moment. Turns out she’s not so bad to have around during a personal crisis. She held my hand through it all.”
Kate blinked hard at the statement her ears had just heard. “Carol and you?”
There was a small pause again before Kate said the only thing she could think of…
“Good grief, how long was I out for?”
Betty let out a shaky breath she meant to be a laugh, but the tears pooling in her eyes gave her away.
“Too long… far too long,” She said, her voice shaking.
Kate lifted her hand to wipe away the few tears that dared to break free. Betty sighed as she took Kate’s hand and kissed the same palm she had kissed while sitting on a piano bench in the darkened bar 46 years before. Just as she had back then, she cautiously leaned over to kiss Kate on the lips, this time though the moment was met with love and acceptance.
Kate groaned as she inched her away over in the hospital bed and reached out to pull Betty up so that she could crawl into the bed with her. They had perfected the knack of lying comfortably in a small bed long ago. Betty was careful of Kate’s bandages, laying her head on Kate’s shoulder and interweaving their arms together so that she could slip her fingers through Kate’s by her side.
“So tell me about this moment with Carol,” Kate said weakly as the hum and pings of the machines droned on in the background, telling them that Kate had made it through.
Betty took comfort in this fact first hand by watching each rise and fall of Kate’s chest as she lay beside her.
“Well, it all starts with the hope of tearing down a few walls.”
A/N: I’m going to make a confession– I love Carol Demers. One of the many things I hated to see the show go was that we’d loose the possibility of more Carol scenes. And, even better, Carol and Betty scenes. That quirky, snobby little bird got to me and I miss her, along with the other girls, of course. I think even Carol would have been a Betty and Kate fan eventually. She called them a great team after all.