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Where We Began

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Student Nurse Delia Busby had just finished her shift in the paediatric ward at The London Hospital. It had been a long, but relatively simple shift. She liked paediatrics; the children had so much hope, so much fight in them, and the parents had so much love. As a student nurse she wasn’t qualified to do a huge amount, but she checked vitals and made sure the children’s spirits were up. Her final task for the day was to drop off a patient file to the administrative office. She had only been to the administrative office once since starting at The London about six months ago so, out of fear of being reprimanded for not knowing her way around, she wandered up and down several corridors looking for it. As she passed the sterilisation room she heard a loud crash, she peered in cautiously - if it was a doctor or a senior nurse then she shouldn’t interrupt - but it wasn’t. Delia softly opened the door and was surprised to see Patsy Mount.

 

Student Nurse Mount was in her class, but they didn’t really know each other. Delia was a quiet, diligent student, who was happy to slip under the radar. Patsy on the other hand wasn’t just noticeable because of her unbelievably long legs that made her stand heads above everyone else and her glowing ginger hair that was always perfectly pinned; she also oozed pure confidence and grace. She didn’t scuttle around in the background trying not to be noticed, like the other student nurses did; she marched around the hospital like she owned the place, and in their classes she had no hesitation in answering questions, despite not being top of the class. To be honest, most of the other student nurses found her a more than a little intimidating.

 

That is why Delia was startled to see her surrounded by broken glass in the sterilisation room, looking utterly terrified. “Are you ok?” Delia asked kindly, “are you hurt?” Patsy took a deep breath and squeezed her eyes closed. Delia stepped towards her, gently taking her hand and examining it for cuts. “You look fine. No damage done,” she said, offering the taller nurse a kind smile. Patsy opened her eyes and smiled back weakly.
“Thank you,” she said, heartfelt. “I’m sorry, I’m not having a good day.” She shook her shock away, tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear, and bent down to start picking up the shards. Delia flung out an arm to stop her.
“Careful,” she said, “I’ll get a container.”

 

Working together, it took them mere moments to clear the floor and set out a new tray of test tubes ready for the next shift. “Thank you so much, Delia,” said Pasty gratefully, “It is Delia right?”
“Yes, that’s me,” she grinned, not surprised that Patsy hadn’t been sure of her name.
“I owe you one!” said Patsy sincerely.
“Well, Is there any chance that you know where the administration room is?”
“Next to Dr. Malent’s office.” Delia gave a questioning look, “Down the corridor from the first floor waiting room.” Delia still looked a little unsure. “I’ll show you.”

 

After their expedition to the first floor, then a brief visit to the nurses’ room to collect their coats, they had both finish their shifts. As they stepped out of the staff exit and into the sunny London side street, Delia leaned her head back and breathed deeply, letting the warm light caress her face and the cool air fill her lungs. “Back in Wales we never spent the whole day inside, even on the coldest rainiest day,” she said, wistfully.
“But I’m sure the air there isn’t full of smoke and fog,” Patsy pointed out, “I do worry for the lungs of the poor chaps who are working out in the streets all day.”
“You’re right. Back home the air is fresh and clean, refreshing and clear. It feels actively healthy. Here everyone seems to cough, and sometimes you can’t even see the sky.”
“Do you miss it?” Patsy asked, although she immediately regretted asking such a personal question to a mere acquaintance. Delia thought for a moment.
“The air, yes. And the countryside; miles upon miles of green grass dotted with sheep, the hedgerows filled with wild rabbits. But I don’t miss the quiet. There’s nothing to go, ever. Or the fact that the villages are so small that everyone knows all your business. There’s no such thing as a secret in the Welsh countryside.”
“Some parts of London are like that too!” said Patsy.
 “True. But there’s so much more freedom here too,” smiled Delia, “If I’d stayed back home I would probably already be married to some boy that I’ve known since we were babies, having children, and that would have been it. He’d have been a farmer and so would our sons. There are no opportunities for girls in the countryside. Our job is just to cook dinner and clean up after the men.” She sighed. “Here I can get an education, a job, some independence. And I can get away from my nagging parents.” She said. Patsy laughed, but when Delia turned to look at her she saw sadness behind her eyes. “Oh goodness, I’m so sorry. I’ve been nattering away about myself. You’ve not been able to get a word in edgeways.” She laughed at herself. Patsy smiled back at her, the sadness having gone back into hiding.
“Would you like to get fish and chips?” Patsy asked, unexpectedly. Delia was a little taken aback by the unanticipated question. She had been hoping that Patsy would share something personal, to make her feel less uncomfortable having shared so much about herself. “I’ve had a rotten day and I’m awfully tired. It’ll be a nice treat.” Patsy continued.
“Ok then, why not,” grinned Delia. She almost never treated herself.

 

Shortly, they were perched on a bench in a quiet part of Victoria Park, each with a paper parcel of steaming fish and chips in their laps. “This was a very good idea,” said Delia, taking her first bite of the indulgent meal. “But you still haven’t told me, why has your day been so awful?” Patsy suddenly developed an intense interest in a duck that was grooming itself on the edge of the pond in front of them. “I’m sorry,” said Delia, a little flustered. “I shouldn’t have asked. It’s rude to pry. I...I just...I just thought that you might want to talk about it.” Patsy turned her head to face her. The sadness was back in her eyes, but this time it had spread across her whole face. “You can tell me, Patsy,” assured aid Delia softly, reaching between them and giving Patsy’s warm hand a quick, reassuring squeeze. “I promise I won’t tell anyone.” Patsy sighed, looked at the hand that was offering her such kind, unconditional comfort, then took a deep breath.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked, “Why are you being so kind to me? I know that none of you like me very much.” A faint hint of bitterness was audible in her voice, but so was insecurity.
“That’s not true Patsy. You’re just so... so... I don’t know,” she paused, trying to find the right words. “It’s like you’re separate from the rest of us. You’re more... together. We admire you. We just haven’t been able to get to know you.” Patsy swallowed guiltily as she recognised that description of herself to be very accurate.
“Apart from the part about me being together, I think you’re probably right.” She admitted. “I’m not particularly good at making friends. Or trusting people.” There was a moments silence between them while Patsy decided whether or not to trust her new friend. She squeezed her eyes shut to stop the tears from putting in an appearance.
“Today is the 21st March. The anniversary of my Mother’s death.” She stopped, and took a deep breath to steady herself. Delia took hold of her hand again. “Typhoid,” she managed. Her voice shaking.
“Oh gosh, Patsy. I’m so terribly sorry,” said Delia quietly; unsure quite how to comfort the woman who was normally so incredibly composed. “Would you like to go to St Mary’s chapel and light a candle for her?” This expression of kindness caused Patsy to finally crumble. The tears flowed freely down her cheeks, and a quiet sobbing noise came from the back of her throat.
“That would be lovely. Thank you Delia. But let’s finish these chips first. Otherwise they’ll get cold.”

Chapter Text

Over the next few weeks Patsy and Delia started spending more time together. When they were on the same shifts they sat outside together during their breaks, Patsy elegantly smoking a cigarette while Delia enjoyed the ‘fresh’ air. And they usually walked back home together at the end of the day too. Even if they were on different shifts they always managed to have a quick cup of tea in the garden of the Nurses’ Home before one of them had to go to the hospital. A few times, when their days off coincided, they had gone back to that same spot in the park to sit and talk, relaxed by the privacy of the secluded bench they always visited. There had also been several evenings of whiskey and hushed laughter in Patsy’s room at the Nurses’ Home. They were both a little surprised by the speed at which they had become such good friends. Patsy because she had never been one for making fast friends; and Delia because she’d had such a different impression of Patsy before she got to know her. One night, when Patsy was on a late shift, a group of the other student nurses were gathered in the living room playing cards. “So Delia,” Victoria said, slyly, “Why have you been hanging out with Mount so much?”
“Yes,” agreed Mary, “She’s such an oddball.”
“Did you see Dr Horley ‘admiring’ her behind during the respiratory assessment demonstration.”
“It wouldn’t surprise me if they were fooling around behind Mrs Horley’s back.” This made the rest of the nurses blush and giggle. Delia rose from her seat slowly.
“How dare you?” she spat furiously. “How!? Dare!? You!?” The others were shocked by her unusually raised voice. They had no idea that little Delia Busby was capable of such ferocity. “Patsy works harder than all of you put together. She’s kind. And caring. And generous. And funny. And the most brilliant listener. She may not be the easiest person got get to know, but she’s worth it when you do. So don’t you judge her. Don’t you spread hideous gossip about her. She deserves better.” There was perfect silence. The nurses were all feeling a little ashamed. But then they became aware of a figure standing in the doorway; they weren’t sure how long it had been there. Their faces turned even redder when they realised who it was. “Patsy,” gasped Delia. Patsy just turned on her heels and marched up the stairs.

“Pats,” whispered Delia, knocking lightly on her friend’s bedroom door, “It’s just me. Can I come in?” There was a moments pause.
“Ok,” came the quiet reply. Delia opened the door but didn’t enter immediately, she just hovered on the threshold, watching Patsy angrily yank pins out of her hair.
“Ouch,” she cursed as one of them got stuck, tangled up with all the lacquer. She pulled hard at it with frustration but it remained fast. Delia silently walked over to sit behind her on the bed, removed Patsy’s hand from the pin, and gently worked it out of her hair, eventually placing the now-free pin on the bedside chest.
“I’m sorry,” she said softly, feeling guilty and mortified that Patsy had heard her little speech earlier.
“You’ve got nothing to apologise for,” said Patsy, unusually quietly. “I’ve never heard anybody speak that kindly of me.” This made Delia smile. “But do they really all hate me that much?” Rare insecurity evident in her voice.
“They don’t hate you Pats,” said Delia, placing a comforting hand on her friend’s shoulder. “Like I said: they just haven’t had the chance to get to know you.” Patsy sighed. After what she’d heard tonight she wasn’t sure if she wanted to get to know the other nurses. However she didn’t voice this thought. Instead, the two of them sat in silence as Delia picked up a hair brush and stated to lovingly and delicately remove all the pins from Patsy’s do, and brush out the lacquer. Patsy closed her eyes and breathed deeply, feeling more relaxed than she could ever remember.

The security that she felt as a result of Delia’s kind gesture clashed with the insecurity she felt from hearing the other nurses’ opinions of her, and completely overwhelmed Patsy. She started to cry. Delia felt the sobs shaking through her friend’s body so put the brush down and readjusted her position so that the two of them were facing. “Oh Pasty,” breathed Delia, heartbroken that her friend was so upset.
“My mum used to do that,” said Patsy, barely above a whisper, “Brush my hair like that. And I used to brush my sister’s” she explained. “We’d sit in a line on the bunk; mum, then me, then  Chrissy. We’d borrow an extra brush from someone else in our cell, and we’d sit in silence brushing each other’s hair. Chrissy would pretend to brush her doll’s hair.” She smiled through the tears, enjoying one of the few nice memories of her family. Suddenly she noticed the look of shock on Delia’s face.
“You’re cell?” asked Delia, her voice only just audible. Patsy took a deep breath. This was going to be a long, and difficult conversation.
“Delia, I do want to talk to you - to tell you about my childhood - but can it wait? I’m so tired, and it’s not an easy story to tell.” She fidgeted with her hands uneasily. “We both have Wednesday off don’t we? Maybe we could get out of the city? Find some of that fresh country air you’re always pining for. We can talk then. Is that alright?”
“Of course,” said Delia kindly, despite that fact that she was already on edge, anxious to know the story. She took Patsy’s hands and squeezed them reassuringly. “I’ll let you get some sleep,” she said, “but don’t hesitate to knock on my door if you need to talk, or just want some company.” Patsy thanked her genuinely, then bid her a fond goodnight.

Delia didn’t sleep much that night; tossing and turning, trying to imagine what Patsy had been through. She felt a heavy, sickening guilt when she realised that she had shared so much about her own upbringing, whereas Pasty had shared none of her own. Delia had told her all about her mother and father; her two little brothers David and Gareth; the little village that she grew up in, and all the people who lived there. But Delia knew absolutely nothing about Patsy’s childhood and upbringing - apart from the fact that her mother had died of typhoid. She didn’t know when, or under what circumstances. This evening’s mention of a sister was the first time any other relative had been mentioned. But the words ‘bunk’ and ‘cell’, alongside the tears that Patsy had shed, rang serious alarm bells for Delia. She was under the clear impression that Patsy’s upbringing had been nowhere near as pleasant as her own. It broke her heart. But she also felt a kind of pride, that Pasty had chosen her to confide in. She was glad that she had earned her new friend’s trust so quickly, and she was pleased to have seen a little side to Patsy Mount that none of the others had ever seen before. A side that none of them knew.

After their regular lunch together in the Nurses’ room on Tuesday, Patsy hurried to be back on the ward in time for Dr Tracey’s afternoon rounds, and Delia set about preparing a luxurious picnic for their trip. She went a little overboard at the fruit stall on the market; buying more ruby red apples, glassy green grapes, and ripe sunny bananas that they would possibly be able to eat. From the butchers she bought some freshly sliced ham, and a pork pie. She stopped off at the bakery just to get a loaf of bread, but a tray of spectacular individual cakes caught her eye, each with a stunningly red half-strawberry sunken into the fluffy white icing. She just had to buy two, carefully placing the box on top of the rest of her purchases as to keep them from being squashed. Back at the Nurses’ Home Delia rummaged through the linin cupboards to find a picnic blanket which she promptly ironed. She placed the folded cloth onto the picnic basket, tucking it around the edge of the feast. She left herself a note not to forget that the meat, pie, and bottle of lemonade were in the refrigerator.

She spent the rest of the evening curled up in an armchair with her book, but she didn’t even finish one more page, her mind elsewhere. There were butterflies dancing energetic spirals in her stomach, a mixture between excitement and nerves. When Pasty arrived home, exhausted from a stressful day working with the infuriating Dr Tracey, Mary cajoled them into a game of Monopoly so they barely got a moment alone. No matter though, they knew that tomorrow would be a wonderful day.