Hurricane Ian spread his residule rain and high winds up the East coast keeping many inside this weekend. My prayers to those who suffer in Florida. In Virginia, at the Blue Ridge Mountains, powerlines and trees snapped around our county. We needed to stretch and get out of the house. Here are five shots of yesterday’s misty afternoon walk at the Peaks of Otter.
We have lived in Bedford, Virginia for several months. Trying to set up a home, receive family, and begin a new job has me in a flurry, but I am happy we moved. Here are a few shots from the summer to last weekend to give you an idea of what’s up in my corner of the world.
Now that I’ve settled into my new high school and feel a rhythm of routine, I hope I can resume blogging on a more regular basis.
Baie Dankie (Buy a donkey=thank you) for our personal safari. Hosted by Hein, our Afrikaner son, and daughter Ronna, it will be unnecessary to visit a zoo anytime soon. No sightings of lions or rhinos, but plenty of other wild animals to ooh and aah over. Here are several shots of what we saw in the Kruger last week. Which one do you like best?
You might be aware that Jim and I have spent the last eight months preparing to cross the country by heading east to Virginia. My family prods me to make a post chronicling the adventure before we forget. Are we nuts? Some people think so. I can’t complain I’m bored!
September 2021. I daydreamed of living on a high hill overlooking a gorgeous view. For the past few years, we vaguely discussed returning to Virginia. Daughters and sons bore babies, four under the age of four. My son relocated to South Carolina, and his son is a toddler. Five grandsons. That’s the reason for moving back to the east coast. A new generation to watch grow up. Jim said to me, “Yes, let’s go.” So began our adventure.
October 2021. Taking advantage of the housing market, we sold our townhouse far above what we paid for it. In two days. Yes, crazy! Three estate sales later, ninety percent of our stuff was gone. I loved discovering what truly mattered to me. Donating/selling the clutter was like downing a detox drink. Clear and absolved, we tucked away our emotional treasures in a storage unit.
November 2021. The closing arrived a day before Thanksgiving. Where will we live until the end of my teaching contract? Jim happened upon an excellent 2003 Monarch Class A motor home. Should we pay cash for it and sell it at the end of May? Or, rent an apartment for several months? With a dog, that’s hard. Rent rates are astronomical here. We chose to purchase the motor home. We happened upon a great RV resort on a hill overlooking Sedona Red Rocks. An effortless solution.
December, January, and February. I needed a job before we could buy a house. How many times did we love a potential house only to give it up because I did not have a contract to prove I’d pay the mortgage? Researching towns. Researching areas. Shrinking the region of southern Virginia, until one day, I got a job offer at a high school in Lynchburg. I found a house on the edge of a neighboring town on a quiet cul-de-sac abutting a hilly cow field with the Blue Ridge Mountains surrounding us.
Jim and I learned a lot about ourselves. We wanted acreage for a garden. We wanted trees and a view and a fireplace and a garage. After compromises, we bought a house with more square footage than we’re used to. It sits in the middle of half an acre. We’ll have to plant some trees and bushes and flowers. That’s fine by me. Jim gets his garden. I get the location at the edge of town with a view.
March 2022 We bought the house unseen! That’s crazy. We used live-time technology to walk around the grounds. We found a marvelous real estate agent, employed an inspector, and Jim’s son did the final walk-through making sure all was in order. Emotionally, it was painful to rely on others to ensure we were not buying a lemon. What about the town? The neighborhood? My mind was in Virginia while my body was carrying out the responsibilities of my workday. Split time is painful. Anticipation sucks. I kept my complaints to myself, for the most part.
It is not a fancy house. It is an affordable house that reminds me of my rural Illinois hometown. Bedford, Virginia is in the Southwest part of Virginia between the cities of Lynchburg and Roanoke (Virginia Tech University). I like it because the interior is redone with fresh paint, flooring, bathrooms, and windows. It’s waiting for our personal stamp. We bought a new fridge and washer and dryer. It makes me happy to enter my new home with the three appliances I use constantly. A house gift of sorts…
April 16. Supposed to have shoulder replacement surgery. The doctor canceled. I’ll have to take my bad shoulder with me.
April 28. Our four-year anniversary! I am grateful for Jim’s adventurous spirit and hard work ethic. How did you pack, store, unpack, arrange and make it all happen at age 72?
April 27. We sold the RV to a couple who saw our advertisement the day before. Yes, after one day, we sold the motor home 2k more than we bought it for. Crazy!
April 29. I moved into my daughter’s apartment (Vanessa and Milly) and slept on a blowup mattress. It was satisfying to discover we three girls had a harmonious time.
April 29. Jim escorted Ruby the golden retriever and the Uhaul while towing the VW Beetle. He set up the house while I completed the school year. Three weeks is my limit away from him. I don’t like being apart for that long. But, why make a mortgage payment and rent an RV lot?
May 27. It’s the girls’ turn to do the Rt. 40, 2,000-mile journey. Vanessa’s new job is the innkeeper at the Glass House Winery and B&B outside of Charlottesville. She starts on June 1st. I have a side job starting on June 1st, too, for a week grading AP history papers. We will leave Friday and arrive, we hope, by Monday evening.
Stay tuned for new photos and posts after we settle in. Settle in? Did I tell you we’re going to South Africa on June 26? Jim’s daughter and family live by the Kruger National Park. Let’s go see the big 5!
Crazy? You bet.
This is the first draft of my dedication novel to the women and men who fought in the Philippines during WW2. The previous chapters are located at the right margin of this blog. Criticisms and questions are welcome.
April 9, 1942
Six nurses huddled close, unable to see. Barbara crouched in the inky night waiting at the jungle periphery of Mariveles Harbor for a boat to transport them to Corregidor Island. To deprive the enemy, dynamite explosions rumbled and fire flashes announced U.S. efforts to demolish weapons and ammunition. She looked at her wristwatch and tilted the face until a flare illuminated it was 0330. During the intervals between detonations, the darkness was like a dense fog that insulated them from the demolition of war. Only their voices were heard.
“Where’s our boat? It was supposed to be here at 0200.”
“Be patient. It will come.”
“I wish it were daylight. All I see in this blackness are faces. Our patients. We left them.” “How could we?”
“What were we supposed to do? We followed orders. We did our best.”
“I see the scared faces of the villagers who begged for a ride out of the jungle.”
“What of the soldiers waiting for surgery?”
“Where will the Japs take them?”
The patter of small arms fire nearby interrupted their talk. A jeep arrived at the docks. Barbara breathed a sigh of relief when a flash illuminated Captains Roland, Fox, and Lt. Nesbit. Where was Jack Schwartz? One of them whistled at the officers. In the jungle ferns, Barbara sat on a log with Cleopatra Dulay who shivered with chills. Yesterday, the Sergeant had mild symptoms, but now Malaria throttled her. Barbara blindly stretched out her hand and aimed for Cleopatra’s forehead. She was feverish. Barbara tried to distract Cleopatra from her uncomfortable situation. Curiosity prompted her. “How old are you, Dulay?”
Barbara heard teeth chattering. Cleopatra answered, “I am thirty.”
“I know. I’m so tiny, people assume I’m a girl.” Barbara sensed Cleopatra wrapping her arms around herself. Through clenched jaws, she continued, “My mother wanted me to marry and have children. My aunts and sister had problems delivering babies due to our size.” She started to wheeze. “That’s not for me.” It took time for her to regulate her breathing. “I enlisted in the Filipino Army when I was eighteen. It was the only way to bypass village life. Join the Army. Send money to the family.”
“You did a fine job as the chief supply clerk. No. 2 ran smoothly because of you, Cleopatra.”
She tapped Barbara’s hand in thanks. Her voice stuttered with trepidation. “W-w-w-what will Malinta Tunnel be like?”
“Better than the jungle, surely? Safer? Fewer bugs?”
The male officers drew closer to the nurses and stood vigilant on the sandy beach. Lt. Nesbit batted away fronds and crawled over buttress roots to get to the pair. “I thought it was your voice I heard. How are you holding up, Sgt. Dulay?”
“I’m glad you finally found us, Ma’am. What happened?”
“When we got the order to move, in the confusion, some of us had to walk until I came upon Captains Roland and Fox. Has anyone seen Ethel Thor? I can’t account for her.”
Without the luxury of sight, the nurses heard the twinge of worry that warbled Nesbit’s voice. “It’s a hodgepodge scramble. I’m sure Sgt. Thor will catch up.”
The voices whispered their assurances in turn.
“She’s a tough cookie.”
“I watched her help Capt. Roland with a complicated surgery. Her hands were inside the cavity rearranging the innards of a patient while Paul stitched his aorta.”
“A crusty old bird, that one.”
“She’s a lifer.”
Then the nurses turned to themselves. “Not this nurse. As soon as the war is over, I’m head’n back to Atlanta to kiss my future husband and watch my children grow up.”
“Fitzgerald? That you? Amen to that, Carol.”
“I’m going to live in a big city and eat in cafes every day. I’ll find a nice man who loves books, and we will live together in sin.”
“Who said that?”
“What? That was Barbara?”
“I thought you’d be back in your Minneapolis neighborhood, married, and filling up on bagels with lox?”
“And a chocolate egg cream.” Barbara chuckled. “I pledge to order both every day for the rest of my life. But it won’t be in Minneapolis.”
“And no husband?”
“Of course, if the right man came along. Someone like Jack. But I’m going to New York City. My mother will eventually get over it.” Won’t she?
Laura Wolfe said, “My mom did not want me to be a nurse. If I made this a career– it wouldn’t be in the Army. I don’t want to grow accustomed to this craziness.”
Josie Nesbit’s contribution surprised them. “My mother wanted me to marry. I told her I have had a thousand husbands and saved them from death. Isn’t that enough? Why must I be married?”
The blanket of camaraderie covered them and settled their nerves until a hefty explosion silenced their chattering. They had a clear view of an ammunition dump explosion along the coast. The fireworks catapulted upward like white ribbons reaching for the moon. Lt. Nesbit announced, “I’m going to the pier. Maybe there’s someone who can take us to Corregidor. If a boat arrives, nurses, make sure you take it.”
“I’ll go with you, Lieutenant,” said Lt. Fox. They scrambled down to the harbor buildings. Soon a Navy seaman waved his flashlight in their direction. He pulled a cord and started the outboard motor attached to the stern of a dinghy.
Captain Roland said, “Go, girls. He can take the six of you across the bay to the island. We’ll catch the next ride.”
Barbara, Cleopatra, Laura, Carol, and two Filipino nurses crept with their heads down to the dock. The waning moon kept the waters dark, and their eyes adjusted to shadows. As the boat puttered away from Mariveles Bay, no one said a word. The water was smooth, and Barbara inserted her finger into the coolness. Laura reached over and yanked on her arm. She pointed. A few yards away the water shifted and rolled. The dorsal fins of several sharks sliced up through the water testing the air. Barbara yelped and put her hand back in her lap.
* * * * * *
It did not take them long to cross five nautical miles to Corregidor Island. They thanked the inscrutable sailor who grunted he needed to return to get the others. Barbara thought of the ferryman Charon. If she had a gold coin, she would have tossed it to him, for she felt she had crossed the Styx and was indeed in the underworld. She forgot about the boat and turned to climb up the steep path that cut through a grove of Dap-dap trees. The nurses helped each other up the incline by using the flexible branches for leverage. The scarlet blossoms glowed eerily in the pre-dawn light. The two Filipino nurses gathered several blossoms and stuffed the petals in with their personal belongings.
Barbara asked, “What will you do with them?”
They answered simultaneously. “Monthly cramps. A tea for joint pain.”
“I think the Armed Forces should take advantage of your knowledge of what’s offered on the islands.” Barbara suddenly slapped her neck. “What repels mosquitos?”
Cleopatra moved slowly. She leaned against the top of a boulder to balance herself. “My lola told me to gather lemongrass and plant it next to our home. It helped keep them away.”
“Well, if you see any, point it out. I’m going to stuff the grass in every pocket I have. Hell, I’ll even wash with it.”
Laura puffed out a sound to show her amazement. “Babs, you’re the only one of us who has not come down with Malaria.”
“I’d like to keep it that way.”
When Carol was excited, her southern roots appeared. A one-syllable word became two, and the ends of her words lingered. “I’ll start a po-ol. I’ll wager a dolla’ that Kiss won’t get Malaria by the first of Ju-ly.”
“I like those odds.” Barbara stopped to breathe and stared at the east horizon brightening. She said to her friends, “I refuse to get Malaria.”
The nurses marched on. Mercury-vapor lights greeted them at the cement mouth of Malinta Tunnel. It was wide enough for a bus to enter. They moved out of the way to allow an ambulance to deliver new patients while corpsmen hurried to meet the truck. Inside, an Army private first class volunteered to escort them across the main hospital area to the nurses’ barracks.
Laura choked on her words. “Wow! It’s the size of a city block.”
Barbara counted several lateral tunnels to where stretcher-bearers disappeared with patients. They walked by several side tunnels where a blur of medical personnel entered and exited. Carol said to Barbara, “I hope they let us sleep a little before reporting to duty.” Carol’s lips contorted into a grimace as she reached behind her ear to scratch the itch from a bee sting inflicted on the way up the path. Behind her, Barbara likened Carol to the Irish Setter scratching. The PFC led them down a side tunnel to a long row of bunk beds. It was dimly lit and smelled clammy from oily shoes and hardened socks. Nurses slept two to a bunk. One set of bunk beds was empty. The PFC announced, “This is all that’s left.” Carol dragged herself up to the top bunk, and Cleopatra followed behind her. Laura and Barbara looked at the Filipino nurses who traveled with them.
“Shall we flip a coin?” said Barbara. The pair were good sports. “We’ll trade with you every other day.” They took off their metal helmets and lay on the cement floor against the tunnel wall and fell asleep instantly. Barbara and Laura flopped down on the lower bunk’s decrepit mattress. After months of noise and upheaval, the nurses were too numb to register the odors of thousands of people who hid in the Malinta Tunnel with them. In the narrow space, Laura yawned and passed out. Barbara ignored her aches and pains and welcomed the motionless moment as if she floated naked in warm waters.
They slept for four hours before a high-ranking nurse ordered them to awaken. Ringing ears, scratchy eyes, and stiff limbs made it hard to stand. The PFC who met them at the entrance now waited for them in the main tunnel. He spoke, but in Barbara’s ears, it sounded like bees buzzing.
“Chow time. Follow me.”
The new arrivals shuffled their feet behind him. Their hollow steps reflected their dopey minds until they entered the main hangar. Noisy machines and crowds of civilians and soldiers shocked them awake. They descended by stairs to a lower level where the chow hall was located. Barbara strained to catch sight of SSG Oscar Wozniak and thought, I don’t even know if he’s alive. They entered the line and grabbed a metal plate peering ahead, salivating with hope. This was more food than they had eaten in a week. Coffee. Boiled eggs. Toast. Oatmeal. They accepted all of it, squeezed into a crudely made picnic table, and wolfed down their food. Their stomachs filled too quickly, so they crammed toast into their pockets for later. They saw Lt. Nesbit a distance away with Ethel Thor, Patty Parr, and a group of Filipino nurses who they recognized from Hospital No. 2.
“Anyone surprised that Ethel and Patty made it?” asked Laura, swallowing the last spoonful of her oatmeal.
Carol snipped, “I bet when the Japs faced Parr, she growled, and they raced for the hills.”
Dulay lifted her wobbly arm and waved at them. Lt. Nesbit’s worry lines softened, and her eyes rounded with joy behind her glasses. She marched over to their table.
Carol’s eyebrows lifted and arched. “How does she have the energy to move so fast?”
“Excellent! Here you are.” Nesbit scribbled a number on a pad of paper. “We are all counted for. All eighty-eight nurses from Hospital No. 2 survived the transit with no losses.” She lifted her face up to the brick convex ceiling and mouthed to God, “Thank you.”
Barbara asked, “Have you heard anything about the patients we left behind?”
Patty Parr elbowed her way to the front of the group. “Hey, how’s it going?” Most of the nurses forced a smile and nodded back. Barbara wondered, Why do we feel the need to be nice to unpleasant people? Patty stared at Barbara waiting for a sign of recognition. Barbara looked at her short, spirally hair and squat nose. Straight eyebrows framed the eyes the color of steelies like the marbles she played as a girl. Barbara conceded Parr had an enviable, curvy figure. If she would just calm down and smile once in a while, she would be less frightening. Barbara’s face remained impassive until Patty looked away and said, “So now what, Lieutenant? What’s the plan?”
Ethel Thor stepped forward. “We just heard there are 12,000 people crammed into this tunnel. More wounded come by the hour.”
Lt. Nesbit said, “Our job is clear. We are professional nurses for as long as we stay here. I will have your assignments posted in an hour.” Josie smiled at them, her merry crinkles surrounding the warmth in her eyes. Her authority was unquestioned. Throughout the unending chaos, Lt. Nesbit kept the order, and that was what kept the unit calm. Barbara felt the mutual admiration around the table for this grand woman.
“Finish your breakfast, wash your pits and privates, and meet me back here in one hour.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” they answered in unison.
As an afterthought, Nesbit added, “Oh, before you go, I’d like to introduce you to Navy first class petty officer Vogel.” She seemed to produce him from behind her back like a magic trick and brought him forward to the nurses sitting around the table. “Petty officer Vogel briefs newcomers about Malinta Tunnel and Corregidor Island.”
“Hello.” He pushed his glasses up on his nose above his bashful smile. He picked at the button on his fatigues and took off his hat to wipe the sweat off his forehead. Barbara could not refrain. She leaned toward Laura’s ear and whispered, “a toy Spaniel.”
With the hint of a stutter, he inhaled a big breath which made his cheeks puff out like a trumpet player. Barbara instantly liked him. Goodness. Are we that intimidating? Barbara swept her eyes around the table of sunken eyes and bony bodies. Cleopatra Dulay looked faint. Laura Wolfe was plagued with dysentery. Carol Fitzgerald kept pinching her eyes and grabbing the back of her neck. Patty Parr looked like she had jaundice. For many days, they had no access to the atabrine. Barbara’s stomach cramps abated but in its place her throat was swollen and her ears rang. It was the onset of something. She was so thirsty that her swollen tongue made it hard for air to go down her windpipe. Barbara stared at Cleopatra who stood wobbling between Sgt. Thor and Lt. Nesbit.
Barbara had not been listening to petty officer Vogel. He must have asked if they were fit for duty because Carol became indignant and coughed out an answer, “We may-a-be raggedy on the outside, but our hearts are strong, and we’re still standin’.”
On cue, Dulay passed out. Arms held her up. Patty said the obvious, “Get her to a bunk bed. She’s out of commission.”
Petty officer Vogel started puffing with exasperation. “W-would you like some information now?”
Patty said, “Make it snappy, buster. We have to start working soon.”
He dove into his script and recited in a high-pitched monotone, “Estimates for Malinta Tunnel are as follows: seven thousand combat troops, two thousand civilians, and three thousand military administrators and medical personnel. Civilians are below in subterranean barracks. Your tunnel is next to the hospital, obviously.”
He paused and looked above his paper to see if the nurses were listening. He swallowed a couple times and continued. “There are several layers to the tunnel. The air ventilation system does its best, but most think it’s useless. The tunnel serves as the headquarters of the Philippine Commonwealth government. We also have a classified tunnel where Navy officers and select enlisted men decrypt Japanese radio traffic. Topside there are strategically placed pillboxes defending the island. However, the heart of our defense is Battery Way with four, 12-inch M1890 mortars.”
Barbara asked, “Can they update us on what happened with the patients in Hospital No. 2? We lost our company commander. Can we go ask where Lt. Col. Schwartz might have been taken?”
“Oh, no. That’s a top-secret tunnel. That is, there’s no way they’d let nurses in.”
Patty snapped dryly, “They would if they were hurt. What if we tossed in a grenade to shake things up?” She laughed. Petty officer Vogel stared at her mortified. He realized his mouth dropped open, and he closed it.
Barbara stood and excused herself. Laura followed her. The other nurses reacted and helped one another to stand. Petty officer Vogel stood there. He must have had more information to share, but now he had no audience. With jerky movements, he contemplated staying or leaving. Patty Parr squinted at him and walked away shaking her head. Petty officer Vogel made a decision. He saluted Lt. Nesbit and left, his cheeks puffing.
For the next two weeks, time became a rushed, repetitive cycle as though the medical staff of Malinta tunnel was hamsters running circles in a wheel and getting nowhere. Bombs shook the walls, and the dust entered their nasal passages and traveled to their lungs. Barbara learned to breathe through her mouth to avoid the stench of human waste and blood. She grew accustomed to red lights signaling an air raid. During surgeries, the lights would cut out and corpsmen stepped in with flashlights to shine on mutilated body parts. Barbara retreated into her head, fighting dyspnea by remembering lines from poems or placing herself in her future New York City apartment. In her clean, airy home she imagined tall bookshelves and a pair of velvet wing chairs facing a crackling fire. Though she tried to insulate herself, she could not escape the immediacy of war’s gruesome pressures. The tunnel bore a weight that slowly suffocated them all.
Barbara talked to her patients and asked the same questions. Where had they fallen and did they know Lt. Col. Schwartz’s whereabouts? She could not explain the persistent need to find Jack other than it became a habit to do so. She admired his goodness and his respectability among the medical staff. She felt silly for her infatuation. Was he married? Where was he from? The distraction of wondering about his whereabouts manifested into a pleasant daydream where she added him to her imaginary setting like a figurine in a dollhouse. She set Jack in the velvet wing chair facing the fire and brought him a Bourbon sliding over ice cubes. Tonight darling, let’s discuss“Rappacinni’s Daughter” by Nathanial Hawthorne. He looked up at her, his black hair shiny with waves, his sharp blue eyes loving her. A loud crash pulled her out of her reverie. She was back in the tunnel carrying morphine needles to the third ward, and she cursed the interruption. With daily rapidity, the food and medical supplies diminished, the oxygen evaporated, and in that environment what blossomed inside Barbara was loathing — an insidious flower of poison with one purpose — to hate the Japanese.
She sneaked out of the tunnel at night when the aerial attacks stopped. She swallowed the air with the hope it would sweep out of her cluttered mind. I became a nurse to serve and love. She thought herself superior to the barbaric emotion of hatred. Barbara tried to recall what Rabbi Aronsky said about tolerance and love. His voice disintegrated into a whispery memory each time Japanese pilots flew over the island dropping bombs, and as a result, debilitated soldiers arrived at the mouth of the tunnel.
One night, Barbara, Laura, and Carol exited the west entrance of the tunnel. Air became more important than sleep. Barbara said, “At least we are at the top level. Can you imagine being a civilian and having to stay down below? The crappy way the ventilators work? The air has to be too thin.”
The three followed a path upward leading to a flat ridge hidden by bushes. Should the Japanese bombers decide on a nocturnal raid, they hoped they would not attract attention. They sat shoulder to shoulder and looked at the constellations above them. Laura passed around a cigarette to share. Her platinum hair seemed too bright. Barbara gave her the combat hat she had on. Laura said bemused, “No matter what’s going on down here, the stars stay constant. They couldn’t care less about World War II.”
Carol added, “It doesn’t seem like God cares, either.”
Barbara snorted her disagreement. “Nonsense. Men in power are trying to rule the world. God didn’t create this chaos. The Japanese and Nazis did.”
Laura said, “All we can do is serve with honor.”
Carol took a drink of water from her canteen. “That’s what the Japs think, too. How has honor been so distorted?”
She passed the metal container to Barbara who declined. She did not dare share her germs. Of all the illnesses to get in the Philippines, her childhood complaint revisited Barbara like an odious guest. By the pricking of my thumbs, she remembered the witches scene from Macbeth and mumbled, “Something wicked this way comes.”
Her friends looked at her confused. Laura said, “The Japs?”
Barbara was too tired to explain. Compared to the dying soldiers she interacted with on a daily basis, it was not important enough to mention she had a sore throat. She felt sure she needed a tonsillectomy. She self-prescribed a regimen of gargling with saltwater. She had a low-grade fever, but was not everyone suffering from something? At least she avoided Malaria. Carol’s pool was up to seventeen dollars. Today was May first. In a few months, Barbara hoped to win a small fortune. Distractions. How else would they survive?
Barbara blurted, “I think God is testing us.”
“What do you mean, Babs?”
Barbara felt tears sting her eyes. “Here we are in hell trying to survive and help others survive. I don’t think there will ever be a time in my life where my actions will have this kind of meaning.”
Laura let her hair out of her rubberband and scratched her scalp. In the dark, Barbara imagined Laura on a sunny day back in her small town of Wisconsin. She saw Laura on roller skates with pink-apple cheeks and a flip-flopping ponytail while her arms swung beside her shifting hips.
Laura sounded defiant. “You’ve all seen the victory films. We are fighting against aggression and protecting our freedoms.” She folded her arms. A few days ago, the Japanese had two successful hits. One bomb destroyed the laundry room. During the next sorge, the water tanks exploded. So long clean sheets and showers. Laura exclaimed angrily, “I’d shoot myself before Hitler or Tojo ruled my world.”
Barbara mulled over how the naive girl from Mazomanie Wisconsin came to worry about dictators and death. She said a little prayer hoping Laura would not be so changed after the war that she boxed up her roller skates and stuffed them into a closet to be forever forgotten.
Part Two of Chapter 5 is forthcoming by next Friday as I’ll be leaving Arizona and heading 2,000 miles to Virginia. I am so busy, I apologize for neglecting your posts. Thank you for reading.
Love & Friendship,
The twenty-four-hour escapade was just what I needed. Breakfast was served to us in a basket with muffins, oatmeal, fruit, egg quiche, and coffee. The resort is a bubble world of tranquility. It’s where you should stay if you dislike overtourism. https://briarpatchinn.com/
Vanessa and I are close. Strange we never thought to have a mini-holiday together. We vow to do this every year before Mother’s Day.
The Lost Sisters of Bataan is my dedication novel to the women and men who fought in the Philippines during the Japanese occupation. Your criticisms and comments are welcome.
April 30, 1942
Zorka did not know what to make of her feelings for Ken Suzuki. She was flattered by his persistence to see her. When the Red Cross issued her per diem to travel to San Francisco, he announced that he, too, would travel to California on the same dates via the same way. They sat together on the bus that left Minneapolis in the early morning and headed straight south to Iowa. When they reached Des Moines, they walked a mile to catch a streamliner locomotive headed to Denver with a connection to San Francisco. They sat on a bench outside the depot waiting for their train to arrive.
“I’ll escort you and retrace my steps back to Manzanar.”
“More recruiting for the language school?”
“Yes.” He lit a Chesterfield and looked up at cloud clusters moving across the sky. After a moment he revealed, “My mother would cuff me any time I spoke Japanese at home.” He altered his voice into a nagging pitch. “Americans, Ken. Never forget, you are an American. We are counting on you.” He sat up straight and slowly shook his head. “How–how–”
“Yes, strange that I’ve enlisted to learn Japanese at,” he enunciated for a pretentious effect, “the Military Intelligence Service Language School.” He exhaled the smoke from his lungs and dropped his cigarette. A family with five kids shuffled by their bench. Upon seeing Ken, their eyes widened, and they snapped their attention elsewhere like they had seen something unsavory. Ken squashed the discarded cigarette under the ball of his shoe. “Not only that, I am ordered to persuade my generation to learn Japanese and be ready to die for our country. And that same country doesn’t trust me. We are nothing more than guinea pigs.”
“Desperate times call for desperate measures? You believe that’s what the politicians think, Ken?”
He frowned. “That’s a clever irony, isn’t it? Get the enemy in peacetime to fight the enemy in war?”
Zorka gave him a sympathetic smile. She wondered how it would feel to be in a no-win situation. “But think what will happen when you serve, Ken. You’re doing something about stopping the war. It’s a noble pursuit, and I admire you. Others will, too.”
He rubbed his cheeks as if to wipe away his sulking. “Maybe.”
“Won’t you get in trouble for the detour? I mean, I don’t need to be escorted.”
“I asked the finance clerk at the school to wiggle me in an extra day and to replace a stop at Kansas City with seeing you off in California.”
“Oh, Ken. That’s home for you, right? KC? You should go see your parents!”
Ken brought her gloved hand to his lips. Zorka looked into his infatuated eyes and was impressed with his romantic gesture, but it felt inappropriate to keep him from seeing his family. They bought a sandwich and some coffee and boarded the train. Their cabin contained discarded newspapers with angry headlines, so they gathered up a few and settled into their paired seats. Des Moines rushed past their view and disappeared. Trees bordered the fields and farmsteads.
When a town appeared in view, the sounds of the train altered as air ricocheted off the houses near the tracks followed by a loud whoosh and the clacking of the wheels hugging the tracks beneath them. As they rocked side to side, Ken squeezed her arm and kissed her behind the newspapers. Zorka blushed. When his fingertip dared to trace her breast, she felt the stirrings of arousal combined with the pricklings of entrapment. He moves too fast! In an erotic fog, her body responded notwithstanding the warnings in her head.
Rays of sunlight fell over fields of tilled, black earth. Green sprouts of corn teased with the promise of a profitable harvest. Zorka thought of the allied soldiers in Europe. This corn will help to feed them. She said a prayer that they would hurry and save her Aunt. Where was Aunt Lotti? In a ghetto? A work camp? Dead? She stared at the fields of green shoots passing by her train window, consumed with patriotic pride and akin to Ken in that way. She wished her parents and Panna understood why she left. Zorka recalled the three-part, discordant chord the other night. Zorka arranged for Panna and her parents to meet in the parlor and braced herself.
Mother: “What? How can you do this to me? Kade runs away to Chicago without an explanation. Now both my daughters leave me? I cannot bear this, Zorka!”
Father: “Your schooling! The Red Cross chapter here isn’t enough? All the way to the Philippines? No, Zorka, no.”
Panna: “I’m your best friend! You must have planned this for weeks. How selfish and mean you are.”
At the Nebraska border, the uniformed rows looked no different. Zorka got in the habit of reading the billboards aloud; most of them demanded citizens buy war bonds. When the night came and the cabin was dark, Zorka was glad Ken simply held her hand. They dozed with shoulders pressing. The next day, after the stop in North Platte, their train car emptied except for an elderly couple at the front. Ken read Franklin D. Roosevelt’s April 28th fireside chat recorded in the recent edition of the Chicago Tribune. Zorka read advertisements demanding women to do their part on the home front.
“This great war effort must be carried through to its victorious conclusion by the indomitable will and determination of the people as one great whole.”
Zorka jumped in, “Do you have tires lying around? Drop off your spare for . . .”
Ken interjected, “… a few bogus patriots who use the sacred freedom of the press to echo the sentiments of the propagandists in Tokyo and Berlin.”
Zorka, “On May 1, pick up your victory seeds at Shulman’s Market and plant your own garden. Remember…”
Ken finished with gusto, waving his index finger in the air, “‘. . . it shall not be imperiled by the handful of noisy traitors–betrayers of America, betrayers of Christianity itself–would-be dictators who in their hearts and souls have yielded to Hitlerism and would have this Republic do likewise.’”
She clapped. The elderly couple turned to look back at them. Zorka stood and walked to the newspaper rack attached to the wall at the head of the cabin. They frowned at her. “Good morning,” she said and returned to her place. To get to the window seat, she crossed in front of Ken who was keen to give her a helping hand. Zorka’s mood crashed when she read the headline from the San Francisco Chronicle. “Bataan’s Peril Grows as Japs smash forward! Invaders pour in new troops with tanks, artillery attacks, and dive bombers.”
Ken rubbed her back. “Try not to worry. Your sister sounds resourceful. You have to be if you’re a nurse, right? They are trained to stay calm under pressure.”
Zorka remembered the way Barbara focused on reciting a poem to stay calm. She remembered a patch of time when it seemed like her parents argued daily. Zorka peeked around the corner of the living room where Barbara was forced to sit on the couch and listen to the argument. Zorka spied from the hallway and watched Barbara mumbling with her eyes closed. After their father fled the scene, Barbara opened her eyes and tip-toed out of the room while Mother wept in her armchair. Zorka asked what she was mumbling, to which Barbara replied, “I was reciting Christina Rosetti. ‘Another year of joy and grief/Another year of hope and fear/O Mother, is life long or brief?’” Zorka was six. Barbara was sixteen. To Zorka, her sister was a mystery, spending time behind the pages of a book or walking from room to room reciting lines from poets with strange last names. Zorka grew up thinking her sister floated on air. Barbara had an ethereal knack of performing her duties with one foot on the ground and the other far away in the past. Nothing seemed to upset Barbara.
Outside of Omaha, the train passed an enormous factory complex of some sort. Zorka asked the conductor what it was. He informed her it was a Martin bomber plant making B-26 airplanes. “I’ve been told it’s one of the busiest in the country. My wife’s sister-in-law lives around here. She tells me many of the workers are women. Who knew they could solder metal and twist a wrench like the men?” He chuckled to Zorka. “With the men fighting on the front and women picking up the slack in the factories, you’ll see, we’ll win this war yet!” The train groaned to a stop under rain clouds. Luggage was stowed. Zorka closed her eyes and listened to the muffled stomp of passengers boarding while the crew mumbled outside. Soon a swoosh of air wrapped around her ankles and gave her goosebumps. The train accelerated as she listened to the patter of rain hitting the cold window. The night arrived, and she shivered. They huddled under their coats. Ken took his hand and gently positioned her head on his shoulder. In the darkness, at some point in the night, Ken pressed her palm over his trousered groin. She felt his bulge and did not know what to do. The impropriety of the action as well as the curiosity of where this was leading stunned her. She removed her hand and made light of his gesture by spanking his arm. What am I doing? One action of complicity led to another. Where was the stopping point? Did she want one? She sighed and excused herself to the bathroom.
* * * * * * *
On the horizon of the Colorado plains, they passed by another large complex. A passenger on the train told her it was a factory redesigned to make munitions instead of cans of paint. Zorka chatted with a grandmother whose three granddaughters worked at the artillery plant outside of Denver. At the Denver stop, Zorka watched recruits boarding buses on their way to Camp Carson at Colorado Springs, a training base for soldiers. It appeared to Zorka that the whole country participated in the war effort.
They changed trains that would travel through the Rockies in a westerly direction to Salt Lake City, then cut through Nevada and reach San Francisco in two days. Once more they sat in the back of the train carriage where it was less crowded. The conductor snipped their ticket and moved on. Ken and Zorka spent the day composing harmonies together. She pulled out her viola and played their score, and a few of the passengers clapped. They sang the lyrics Ken scribbled down on paper and laughed when they sang off-tune. Passengers booed. Ken whispered to her, “We better leave the singing to Bing Crosby.”
When they did not talk about the war, they compared their families. Zorka noticed the similarities. Religion was important. The mother ran the house. Dad was aloof and worked. There were differences. Ken Suzuki was an only child. He was on the baseball team in high school. In college, he liked to play in local jazz bands on 12th Street in downtown Kansas City. Ken graduated as an architect last year. He wanted to move to Chicago and work for a firm. “By the time I’m thirty, I want to start my own firm.” He asked her what she wanted to do with her life. Zorka had no idea. It was assumed she would marry someone from the neighborhood and have children. “My family pushed me to become a nurse for the war effort.” Zorka’s throat tightened. “I–I’m not like my sister Barbara.”
At the stop in Salt Lake City, two men in army uniforms passed through their cabin. Zorka guessed a training station was nearby. A tall man with freckles sneered at Ken. “Hey, Nip. Stay out of my way unless you want me to show you what I’m going to do to your cousins.”
Ken’s body tensed. He sat erect and clenched his knees. Zorka was in the aisle seat. Her cheeks flushed with anger. “Save it for the battlefield. He’s in the U.S. Army and not the enemy.”
His blonde friend showed off mangled teeth. “All Japs are the enemy.”
Ken grumbled to her, “Stop. It’s not worth it. They’re getting off.”
The tall freckled one leaned down to Zorka’s ear. “What’s wrong with you? Sitting with the enemy?”
His friend stunk of body odor. “She’s cute.” He touched a lock of her hair. “Let her stay, and you scram Jap.”
Ken stood and pushed around the two men taking Zorka with him. The soldiers stomped away snickering. Ken stared at his stony reflection in the window and did not say much until the California border. A billboard greeted them displaying a caricature of a Japanese soldier with squinty eyes looking like a rodent caught in a mousetrap. Zorka made a goofy face at it, and Ken smiled at her attempt to cheer him up.
She took note of his sad eyes. “What’s Manzanar like?”
Ken chortled. “Let’s just say I’m glad my folks live in Kansas City.”
She stared at him, at his struggle to put into words his incredulous thoughts. “I understand that the west coast is scared of the Japanese invading the U.S. I understand the hatred aroused by the attack at Pearl Harbor. I believe if the Japanese Imperial Army is not stopped, it’s only a matter of time before they do invade California, up the coastline, and into the interior of the country.”
His eyes jumped around the cabin while he spoke with an earnest sophistication that beguiled Zorka. “What I can’t understand is how in the world did citizens–the children and grandparents–become the target? Paranoia put the families into the camps. And the very country that proudly stands for individual liberties stole them from legal citizens without a second’s thought.”
With her eyes, Zorka followed the neckline of his military haircut which accentuated his high cheekbones and the lines on his forehead. She acknowledged it was his uniqueness as a burgeoning linguist spy which gave him an aura of distinction and complexity unlike the Jewish boys and men in the neighborhood. His poise forged the impression he was older than twenty-four. She tried to imagine him huddled over a drafting table drawing up plans for a building. She was fond of how his lips smirked at one side when he smiled. There was a smell to him she found alluring. Like browned butter and mint. The longer they traveled, his scent grew stronger but did not offend.
She made these mental notes about him while he organized his thoughts. He turned to her and took in her stare. Was he blushing? He finished, “I do all of this–recruit at Manzanar, work at the language school, agree to become a spy for Uncle Sam–because the country needs to know me as an American. When they see the Nisei serve and admit that Japanese Americans did not sabotage the country, then maybe everyone will forget to hate us.”
Curiosity won out. When they arrived in San Francisco the next morning, Zorka decided to surprise Ken by renting a hotel room with a view of the bay with her own money. She forced him to close his eyes and led him to the third floor, room 303. “Ta-da!” The space was airy. The window was open and a breeze rustled the sheers. Ken opened his eyes and grinned at her as he went about inspecting the room. Zorka watched him with wonder. Will I ever meet another man who shows me such affection? She heard the squawk of sea birds. Brushing aside the curtains, she admired the slanting streets and the sunlight flickering on the water in the bay. Ken stepped up behind her and pulled the sweater off her head. He unzipped the back of her skirt. She heard him rustle out of his uniform. She took a big breath and turned to face him. He sat on the bed and encouraged her to straddle him. As he explored her body with his mouth, he replicated the rocking they had experienced on the train. She relaxed and copied the rhythm with her hips.
He said, “Let’s do this forever.”
She responded, “Let’s do this today.”
Zorka dispelled all thoughts and languished in the passing of time signified by the sun altering the white walls of room 303. Their blended limbs shared the changing hues of gold and rose until the sun’s influence left the room. In the shadows, the shade of their skin turned violet. When the room was dark, they took comfort under the blankets. Without sight, they dozed and sought the warmth of the other as would newborn puppies.
It was noon before they dressed and left the room. Ken went to purchase his bus ticket to Manzanar while Zorka reported to the Red Cross center. A woman wearing a crisply ironed blouse with a name tag of Sylvia Henshaw explained that due to the Japanese invasion in Manila, The Red Cross suspended orders of new recruits until further notice. “It may be weeks or months before we can send you. Musicians like yourself are not considered essential. It has been classified as a hot zone. Too hot.” Zorka tried to mask her disappointment. Sylvia Henshaw’s orangey lipstick glistened. “The center is packing plasma to be sent to Schofield Barracks in Oahu. From there, the shipment goes to Australia. You are welcome to stay in San Francisco and help us here at the center while you wait.” She left the room.
Zorka looked through the window to the inner facility and watched girls, women, and old men packing plasma in an assembly line. Damn! Now what? A worker in the office closed the bottom file drawer to a metal cabinet. Zorka had not noticed her. The woman was petite with perfect posture; the wrinkles around her eyes suggested she was nearing the age of forty. In seemingly slow motion, she approached Zorka as though she waded through the water. Picking up a stack of papers, the woman pretended to explore the contents with her back to the volunteer workers packing plasma. She aimed bug eyes at Zorka and spoke with cool confidence. “Get yourself on that plane to Hawaii. From there, you can catch a military flight. There are civilian pilots who will take you to the Philippines. Or, have the Red Cross in Hawaii get you on a merchant marine or a civilian ship.” Zorka blinked from the surprising advice.
“I was an officer’s wife in Manila. They shipped all the women off the island two months ago. But some women refused to leave.” The officer’s wife rubbed her fingertips together in a repetitious, circular movement. Zorka was hypnotized. The wife said, “What do you think you are going to do down there?”
“My sister is a nurse. Last we heard, she retreated to the jungle.”
“The jungle hospitals have been evacuated. If your sister is a nurse, she’s probably hiding out in the Malinta Tunnel on Corregidor Island.”
“Malinta Tunnel,” Zorka repeated. She felt dejected. Her eyes dropped to the small suitcase by her ankles. Inside was the book of poetry by Christina Rossetti. She had plans to deliver Barbara the book in person. The door jingled. Ken walked in with his perfect smile. He kissed Zorka on the cheek. Zorka noticed the grimace of the officer’s wife. She reached for a piece of paper, scribbled, and folded it in half. Leaning over the counter, her long forearm stretched toward Zorka in a methodical way. She rolled out her wrist and handed Zorka the note. “When you get to Manila, go to Dewey Boulevard in the Ermita district.” Zorka looked at the contents of her note: 233 Isaac Peral Street. Mrs. Gladys Savary.
The officer’s wife squinted at Zorka. “There are ways to help. An underground.” She opened her eyes wide and examined Zorka like a breakfast morsel. Zorka found her attention unnerving.
“One of their leaders is Gladys Savary. She owns a popular French restaurant called Le Restaurant de Paris.”
Ken grabbed Zorka’s hand. “Come on, let’s get going, Zorka.”
They left the Red Cross center. Zorka tried to forget the bug lady who frowned at them. She focused on Ken’s news. “I am leaving for Manzanar tomorrow morning.”
They went back to room 303. He turned on the radio and George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue flooded the room. Every time Ken took off an item of her clothing, his fingers tapped over her skin like he was playing the piano. He played her arms, her stomach, and her legs which made her giggle. Then, he surprised Zorka by reaching into a paper bag and placing chocolate candies on her skin in a long row like a train. He set about eating the pieces off her hips and feeding her the caramel-covered ones since those were her favorite. In her curly, dense hair, Ken murmured he loved her and wanted to marry her. “How do you feel about me?”
She shifted and the chocolates fell off her body. “You are talented and fun. I do care about you.” She sat up and faced him, sullen with his pushy seduction. “But let’s face the facts — interracial marriages are illegal. Our families wouldn’t approve. No one would approve.” She exhaled slowly. “I just want to focus on finding my sister.”
He chewed one of the chocolates with slumped shoulders. After a pause, he snapped his head up and his eyes flickered with hope. “I will be patient. Please. Let me write. We’ll be friends for now.” He kissed her neck and her body betrayed her.
She told him, “Stop talking.”
He ignored her request. “You’ve got my number and address at school.” He kissed her ribcage. “I’ll be graduating in a couple weeks. You’ll be at the Red Cross chapter in Manila.” He sealed the plan when he covered her with his body. “I’ll write to you there.”
She moaned and listened to Gershwin on the radio. The piano exchanged themes. G Major to C Major. I love the bantering between the orchestra and the piano.
He stopped moving. His eyes glistened with apprehension. “You’re not going to see me again, are you?”
Zorka croaked, “I am sorry. No.” That silenced him. He withdrew, dressed, and left just as the Rhapsody in Blue coda ended in B minor with passion. Zorka watched him exit the room and threw a chocolate caramel at the door.
Zorka climbed the ramp to board a plane to Oahu. She stared out the small window as the plane lifted, and she felt the inertia in her stomach. This was her first flight, and the bumpy ride scared her. She shut her eyes and tried her best not to think about it until the plane steadied over the Pacific Ocean. It was so loud, that she gave up trying to talk with any of the passengers. Once the captain rose above the turbulence, Zorka breathed with regularity.
Ken haunted her with the echo of his passionate pressure and feathery traces. She experienced the emotional hangover, cocooned within the plane, the equivocal pairing of sadness and anger that he was gone, and she had caused it. He had caused it. She was without the coddling attention of Ken and felt vulnerable. When the plane landed several hours later at Hickam Field, Zorka hitched a ride with her viola and suitcase to the Red Cross barracks a half an hour north at Schofield Barracks.
Zorka wondered about the recuperation efforts since the attack on December 7, 1941 and asked the Army corporal sitting in front of her. As the bus drove by Pearl Harbor, he said, “It’s what you’d expect after an attack. As of today, the Navy divers are hard at work on the USS Arizona, Oglala, and West Virginia. Patching and covering holes in the hull. Siphoning the mud. Recovering debris.” Zorka whispered a prayer for the lost souls interred within their coffin ships.
At Schofield Barracks, she was directed to a building painted in camouflage and home to the Red Cross. The staff accepted her orders, and she was escorted to the barracks where she found an empty metal bunk bed that squeaked. She chatted with other female volunteers asking for information. She strolled over to the canteen, basking in the sunshine, and the delicate breeze lifted her mood.
A Navy sailor wearing white crackerjacks tried to buy her a rum and coke. It reminded her of the night in the Jazz bar with Ken and Panna. Was that two weeks ago? Is that what we were? A two-week fling? She asked for ginger ale.
The bartender seemed nice. “Whaddya doin here, sweetie?”
“I’m with the Red Cross, looking for a ride to Manila. Can you help me find,” she looked at the small piece of paper in her hand, “Pilot Kay Weese? I was told she hangs out here.”
A woman with black-braided hair sat at the far end of the bar. She swallowed a shot of tequila and asked for another. The name Weese was patched above the breast pocket of her coveralls. She eyed Zorka. “You’re with the Red Cross? You want a hitch to Manila? Not a smart idea. It’s nuts down there.”
Zorka walked over to her. She sipped her ginger ale. “Why do you fly there, then?”
“I get bored easily.” She drank the shot, smacked her lips, and put a dollar on the bar. “Come on, you can help me get ready for tomorrow morning’s flight, and I’ll do my best to talk you out of going.”
Zorka struggled to keep pace with Kay Weese’s robust movements. They transferred several duffle bags from the woman’s barracks to a jeep and drove to Wheeler Army Airfield adjacent to Schofield Barracks. Kay drove inside the hangar where a silver DC-3 was parked. Inside the plane flanking the vessel were two green benches able to carry a dozen passengers. The rest of the space was open for cargo. Zorka sniffed hydraulic fluid and engine oil along with the stringent odor of ammonia and vomit. Cans filled with spittle and butts sat underneath the benches. As instructed, Zorka dragged a duffle bag to the back of the plane. She whiffed the smell of a decomposing mouse and it made her gag. Kay saw Zorka pinch her nose. “What you smell are back-to-back runs, moving nervous soldiers who drank too much the night before. Add the evacuation of civilians who pissed themselves with relief because they made it out of Manila alive. The maintenance crew will hose her down eventually.”
Kay drove Zorka around to different buildings on the base. They entered with an empty box and came out with it overflowing. The reaction was similar at each stop. “You’re going to make a drop over the camps to the survivors? Watch your ass, Kay. Good luck.”
Zorka admired how nonchalant Kay handled herself while collecting donations. She had no problem asking officers or enlisted or civilians for a contribution. She asked Kay, “I heard you deliver the mail. You’re a private contractor and not with the Red Cross?”
“I’m aligned with a couple of key players. I fly to Australia for the Red Cross in the big plane. I flew for Lt. Jackie Cochran back in the early 1930s as a one of the Ninety-nines. Jackie arranged for my clearance to ferry the mail and personnel throughout the Pacific a year ago. Once in Australia, I volunteer for Captain William Bradford. He’s in charge of the Bamboo Fleet. I fly into the Philippines to deliver quinine and whatever I can smuggle to the nurses and soldiers. He accepts my help because he knows I have over 3,000 hours in the air, and I’m crazy enough to fly his Duck.”
“It’s a Grumman Navy amphibian aircraft. Shot up by the Japs so much, it is a holy mess patched together with rubber inner tubes and bicycle tape.” Kay parked the jeep outside the women’s barracks. She jumped out and covered the boxes with a tarp. They went inside to the common area, and she grabbed an orange Fanta from the refrigerator and offered one to Kay.
“We’ve got an hour before chow. This is a good time to relax.”
Slipping off her boots, Kay lay on the couch and closed her eyes. Zorka crossed to a club chair by a picture window and watched a palm tree sway. She wished she had time to explore the exotic beauty of the island. Across the street, the sun’s rays shined on a rhododendron bush and ignited the Fuschia blooms. Anja would approve of such a beautiful specimen. She thought of Abba and missed their quiet conversations. All her life, her father had encouraged her to play for him. Their habit after the evening meal was to meet in the parlor where she gave him a solo performance. She conjured the image of his long index finger tapping the arm of his chair like a metronome. Her thoughts moved to Panna. She must write to her and try to explain her actions. Plead for forgiveness. After chow, Zorka decided she would write to them all. And Ken? Should I apologize to him, too?
Zorka thought Kay might have drifted off, but she grabbed the end of her braid and flipped it like a rope while talking with her eyes shut. Zorka wondered if Kay was talking to her or thinking aloud. “I don’t know how much longer I can sneak into Bataan. Most of the airfields are bombed so bad I can’t land. Bataan Airfield. Kindley Field. Del Monte. Clark Field. Cabcaban Field. Destroyed or confiscated and used by the Japs.”
Zorka did not interrupt her.
“I’ve been landing on roads and rice paddy fields cleared by the Filipinos. Most of them hate the Japanese for invading their country. Many help the U.S. as much as they can. But not always. Whole villages are hiding in the jungle. Some Filipinos have caved to the Japanese. Last month I heard U.S. pilots and their crew were turned in by the Filipinos and now they sit in POW camps wondering how to escape. They are tortured for information. Starved.”
Kay sat up and looked at Zorka. “Malaria is rampant. Bombings happen daily. If you go to Manila, you might get captured and imprisoned in Santo Tomas, if you are lucky. The other camps I know of are horrendous. The Japs don’t follow the rules of the Geneva Convention. Whatever our nurses or soldiers have to eat or bargain with is smuggled in.”
Zorka asked, “Where are you going?”
“There’s a priest and Red Cross Catholic nurses who are going to the interior on a Humanitarian Mission to Camp O’Donnell. I’ve got medical supplies for them and some canned food.” Kay did some stretches and checked her wristwatch. “There’s a civilian underground in Manila. I’m going to try and get these donations smuggled into Malinta Tunnel on Corregidor Island.”
Kay signaled to Zorka that it was time to get ready for chow. They took turns freshening up. “What’s your plan, Zorka?”
She pulled out the little slip of paper the bug lady had given her in San Francisco. “Le Restaurant de Paris. I’m supposed to ask for Gladys Savary.”
Kay laughed. “Gladys is part of the underground. She’s great.”
Zorka sighed with relief. “I’m hoping she will help me get a job, so I can find my sister and help her stay alive or escape.”
“Is your sister with the Red Cross, too?”
“No, she’s an Army nurse. The last time I heard from her, it was in January. The Japanese invaded in December and personnel retreated into the jungle.”
Kay released her hair and scratched her scalp with her fingernails. She rebraided her hair. “I made a few trips to the two jungle hospitals. Then the Japanese attacked from the sky and flushed them out. The nurses escaped to Corregidor Island and are holding up in the Malinta Tunnel.”
Was Barbara there? Zorka washed and dried her face and hands. “What about the patients?”
Kay dropped her head. “They were marched along the East Road to Camp O’Donnell. I hear the road is littered with the dead. I’m trying to figure out the best way to smuggle goods to the survivors. It’s a nightmare. I seriously recommend you stay here at Schofield Barracks.”
* * * * * *
Later in the evening, Kay stood in the middle of the barracks and shouted to the women, “Ladies, last call! Show me the goods. The nurses need whatever you can give!”
Aiming for the box Kay carried, women pilots, nurses, secretaries, and Red Cross volunteers amicably threw tampons, shoes, socks, brassieres, hairbrushes, pads of paper, pencils, and bars of soap while Zorka helped pack the last empty duffle bag. After a restless night thinking about Ken, the Hawaiin sun shone through the barracks window and Zorka woke up. They ate quickly in the mess hall and drove to the DC-3. Kay sat in the cockpit going over a pre-flight checklist. Her copilot arrived. She called him Eddie, and they chatted while Zorka took a seat closest to the cockpit. Soon soldiers and two civilian engineers claimed a seat while stowing their possessions underneath the bench. They pulled out the butt can and smoked cigarette after cigarette. Nervous energy filled the plane. Zorka smiled but did not engage in conversation.
Kay entered the cargo area and took out a pen and a dollar bill from her coverall pocket. “Okay, friends. Let’s see your short-snorter.”
Zorka watched Kay inspect the dollar bills. She handed the pen to them.” Sign your names. A private looked at his buddy sitting next to him. “What’s this?”
Eddie flipped a switch and controlled the gas with a lever. The propellers rotated and the plane roared to life necessitating shouting the answer. “A souvenir. Wherever you fly, passengers sign your dollar bill. It becomes a good-luck piece. When we get to Australia and have a drink, if you can’t produce a short snorter, you have to buy a round. Try to get as many signatures as you can.”
Kay handed her short-snorter to Zorka. “Sign.” Zorka obliged. Kay said, “Hey, don’t you have a dollar?”
“Sure.” Zorka took one out of her suitcase. She passed it around the plane. When it returned to her, she had nine signatures scribbled on both sides. Eddie whistled to Kay and gave her a thumbs-up sign. “Rest easy, folks. Here we go! Only 5,500 miles to Australia. The first pitstop is Wake Island followed by a stopover in Port Moresby, New Guinea. We’ll reach Port Darwin, Australia tomorrow.” She pointed to the rear of the aircraft. “If you need to use the head, the can is behind the curtain.” She double-checked that the cargo was securely fastened and made her way back to the cockpit. Before getting into the pilot’s seat, she squatted in front of Zorka and looked at her with an expression of “last chance.” Zorka thought about Barbara and prayed she was alive and safe in the tunnel on Corregidor Island. For the POWs, she thought about her Aunt and the rumors of Jews in Europe locked in concentration camps. She could do nothing for Aunt Lotti in Budapest. But maybe in Manila…
“Get this stinking plane up in the air, Kay.”
* * * * *
After an alarming ride in a carromata, Zorka walked down Dewey Boulevard looking for Isaac Peral Street. She tried to steady her nerves and looked down so her hat shielded her face. The Filipino driver spoke Tagalog and no English. She said the address and he nodded enthusiastically. More than an hour went by driving around Manila Bay in the horse-drawn cab, and Zorka started to panic. She kept repeating the address, but he never arrived. He stopped at a major intersection, and Zorka recognized Dewey Boulevard on the street sign. That had a familiar ring to it from her conversation with the officer’s wife in San Francisco. She tossed a two peso note into his lap and leaped out of the carriage with her viola case and suitcase. The driver yelled at her, but she ignored him and walked briskly away.
When she intersected Isaac Peral Street, she turned down a wide street festooned with magnificent Acacia trees. On the sidewalk, it was like walking inside an arboretum tunnel. The neighborhood contained ornate homes hiding behind massive shrubbery and enclosed with wrought iron fences. Zorka looked for the house numbers. There are 233. She walked into the courtyard and admired the Spanish-style stone home. A fanciful sign with an ornate spelling of Le Restaurant de Paris welcomed her. She ascended wide steps and entered the lobby and removed her hat. She asked for Mrs. Gladys Savary.
“I am she.” Gladys Savary was thin and tall with painted lips and wore an expensive suit. She looked at Zorka with indifference and glided past her. Gladys frowned. Inside the restaurant, four Japanese soldiers sat at a corner table. They were loud and yelled at the waitress. Then they called for Gladys Savary in choppy English.
“What you mean no more beer? How about we search your place?” The Japanese officer stood and took out his pistol. He was tipsy and pushed Gladys toward the kitchen. Her face was a stone, and she led him with poise to the back room. Zorka sidestepped to the hallway and stood underneath the staircase and waited. She felt like a child hiding from her parent’s arguing. There was muffled yelling and a gunshot went off. Zorka’s heart pounded as she stood frozen in place. Soon, the Japanese officer staggered back to the table, and the four soldiers left grumbling with displeasure. The patrons in the restaurant sighed with relief when Gladys emerged from the kitchen and greeted her guests calmly, apologizing for the intrusion. Gladys ambled to the reception area and stood behind the podium. She held her shaking hands behind her back. Zorka marveled how Gladys could keep her composure. A Filipino worker brought Gladys a wet washcloth to apply to her cheek where the Japanese officer slapped her. Her cheekbone was puffy and red. Some internal decision snapped her into action. Gladys picked up the reception phone and dialed a combination of numbers.
She spoke firmly. “Twice he has come to my establishment. He is a nuisance and insufferable. That goes against your code of conduct. He destroyed my pantry. He should be reprimanded.” She listened to the response. Her expression altered from anger to disgust. She hung up the phone. She inhaled and exhaled. Then she noticed Zorka standing next to the staircase. “Come out and quit lurking. Who are you?”
“I was given your name in Oahu. I was hoping you had a room I could rent. I wanted to talk to you about–”
“All my rooms are booked. Sorry. It’s only a matter of days before they will shut me down. I’m trying to figure out my next move. What’s your name?”
“Here, breakfast is on me. But then you better move along.”
“To where? I have come to find my sister. I think she might be in Malinta Tunnel. She was a nurse at Hospital No. 2. In the jungle. Her name is Barbara Kiss.”
Gladys lit a cigarette. She offered one to Zorka who declined. “Well, Zorka Kiss, your timing couldn’t be worse. The Japs have destroyed Manila. The Filipinos are the only ones allowed to move about. The rest of us, Americans, British, French are either locked up or forced to leave. You came here for nothing.”
Zorka thought for a moment. “Mrs. Savay?”
“You may call me Gladys.”
“Gladys, I am a musician. I was told there were nightclubs needing musicians for their orchestras to entertain the Japanese. I want to help the underground.” She whispered, “I know you are part of it. Can you at least steer me in the right direction? I want to be around when my sister is freed from that tunnel. I want to help in the meantime.”
Gladys posed with one hand holding up her cigarette and expressed a look of disdain. “In the meantime, you’ll end up in a camp or get shot. Or worse. Where are you from?”
“Go home to Minneapolis where it’s safe. Wait for your sister there.”
Zorka looked out the window. She looked up and down the street. “Should I go this way or that way?”
Gladys examined Zorka by walking around her and puffing her cigarette. She picked at Zorka’s sweater and touched her hair which was corkscrew curly and barely held in place at the base of her neck. Zorka did not need a mirror to know her hair was an unruly mess with ringlets coiled down her back. Zorka thought Gladys acted like a cat. Svelte. Arrogant. Classy. She picked up a pad of paper on the podium. “Go see Dorothy Fuentes down at the wharf. There’s a strip of nightclubs and casinos. She just opened Club Tsubaki and would need musicians and pretty women to flirt with the Japanese officers. Are you up for that?”
She took out a card from the top drawer of the desk. Here’s the address. Tell her Gladys sent you.”
For the first time, Zorka was optimistic. Seeing her smile, Gladys tried to douse it. “Have fun with the Nips! If they don’t kill you, and you bide your time waiting for the Americans to return, you might see your sister. That is if she hasn’t died of malaria or starvation first.”
Zorka nodded, unruffled. “Thanks for the encouragement, Gladys. I’ll take that breakfast first, please.”
Gladys asked a Filipino employee to escort her. “Here. Put these drab clothes on and keep your face covered. You’ll go when it’s dark. A boy around ten approached the table with bright eyes and a shy smile. “Manuel will keep you in the shadows.”
The rain came suddenly with voracious energy. The pattern was intense deluge followed by a break as if the storm needed to take a deep breath before it dumped more water on Manila Bay. At 2000 hours, Zorka followed Manuel out of Le Restaurant de Paris and walked in a downward direction. The slanting street caused the rainwater to slap against her ankles. Zorka knew she was in for blisters and ignored the uncomfortable squishing and rubbing inside her shoes. She could see the lights flickering on the wharf ahead. During one of the torrential intermissions, Zorka asked Manuel how far they would need to walk to get to Club Tsubaki.
His face was in the shadows, the silhouette of him darker than the night. “Club Tsubaki is down this street.”
Zorka followed him block by block at a pain-staking pace. One more mile. Half a mile. They were out of the elite residential neighborhood and into a commercial street of tall buildings lined next to the other. They quickened their pace.
That was when they collided with three Japanese soldiers turning the corner.
Zorka crashed into the chest of one. His mouth was open and his breath stank of booze. Zorka was not sure what happened to Manuel. He squeaked and twirled and disappeared into the rubble of a bombed building. Her viola case and suitcase slid across the street. She looked up into the hungry eyes of the three soldiers. They grabbed her arms and pulled her over to the street lamp to have a look at her. They hollered as though they had won the lottery. Zorka was glad the rain drowned out their voices as they chittered in Japanese to each other. It was a harsh, strange sound. They pushed and pulled her across the street to an abandoned building. One smashed the glass door and opened it. More laughter. Another one spoke halting English. He pulled on her hair and exposed her ear. “American girl. You are dog.” He backhanded her jaw. She fainted.
Zorka awoke on the floor to the sounds of thudding and garbled voices as if she were suspended in a tank of water. Woozy and disoriented, she felt detached from her body. In her semi-conscious state, she saw their uniforms in swirls of grays and blacks and tan. Slanted eyes and drooling mouths spit on her. She turned her head away, thankful her unruly hair covered her face as a shield. Outside, a street lamp illuminated the rain pelting down with a fury.
She was a rag doll. She tried to scream, but she only heard it in her head. When she raised her hands to protect herself, the one who liked to hit her, did so until she stopped resisting. She floated out of her body.
They left as suddenly as they arrived.
Zorka tried to move but her body parts would not cooperate. She wanted to cry, but her sobs were stuck inside her. She flinched when someone entered the building, crouched, and attempted to cover her exposed body with her jacket.
She gasped, “Manuel?”
He pulled her up to a sitting position. She tried not to cry. “Come, miss. I take you to a friend. She is close by. A friend of Gladys.”
Zorka wobbled up to a standing position. Manuel repositioned her skirt and put a shoe back on her foot. Zorka vomited when she smelled the bodily fluids of her assailants. “Come now, miss. Before others see you. Please! Curfew is at ten o’clock. Then I go to jail, too. Please, take a step, miss.”
They left the building and walked into more rain. This time, Zorka looked up and was glad the water washed the smells off her. Her head pounded and she could not see well, for her right eye was swollen shut. She slobbered the air in and out of her bruised mouth. When she inhaled, the pain in her ribs was acute. The tender mash of her pelvic area pulsated.
Zorka had an urge to laugh. This surprised both of them.
“They all tried to warn me, didn’t they?” Did she say this or think it?
She stood in the street convulsed with laughing spasms. It hurt her ribs to do so, but it only made the impulse of release stronger until her cackle turned into sobbing and her wailing diminished into a mew like a lost kitten. Manuel scrambled to pick up her viola case and told Zorka to carry her instrument. He held her suitcase with his other hand, and they shuffled down a side street for a block. The rain paused. She concentrated on the water rushing in the gutters as he dragged her along. Manuel propped her up against the front of an apartment building.
“Here, miss. Don’t move.”
Manuel raced up the stairs and knocked on a door. Zorka heard voices mumbling. Down the stairs came a woman in the dark. Zorka could not see her but through a small slit in her left eye. She was a black woman who shook her head and clucked with alarm. She was thin but strong and half-carried Zorka up the stairs to her apartment. Manuel placed Zorka’s viola case and suitcase at the landing. She heard him race down the stairs and the night swallowed him up. She fell into the apartment anxious for the door to close as if doing so would shut out the beasts of the night.
She heard the door bolted shut, but no matter how hard she clenched her eyes, the beasts waited for her in her mind.
Thank you for taking the time to read.
Rain and cool temps caused the clouds to drop this morning creating unique layers and a dreamy landscape. I wish I was one of the riders in the balloons. I can only imagine the stupendous view.
This is my dedication novel to the women and men who fought in the Philippines during World War II.
February 25, 1942
Barbara’s waking hours were a terrifying repetition of sounds: the drone of Japanese Val planes sweeping the area in bombing runs. Strafing above the tree line sounded like hail ripping through the leaves. The hum of jeep motors lumbered to the triage area while officers barked orders and enlisted shouted a reply. Surgical equipment rattled among the sonance of the groaning wounded. Barbara longed for her spacious bedroom back in Minneapolis with her comfy chair and insulating bookshelves filled with tales of love and woe. She thought, What a difference between reading about adventures and partaking in them. A monkey screeched in the interwoven vines festooned above her, and she jumped as if a bolt of electricity passed through her.
Lt. Colonel Jack Schwartz instituted 24-hour shifts and half rations. At morning roll call, Lt. Josephine Nesbit informed that the hospital held over 2,000 patients. Nurses moved about administering morphine shots and sprinkling sulfa powder on their wounds. When she was not assisting in surgery, Barbara stuffed cotton in her ears. The muffling helped drown out the clangor, but she discovered a side effect. It was as though her brain shifted the focus from the external noise to within. The ringing in her ears amplified. Her hunger cramps howled. As the sensation of needles stabbed her gut, her intestines clenched, and she grunted.
Today there was a rare lull in the noise. Barbara made her morning rounds in section three. A breeze blew through the jungle, and after a few hours of no bombing, Barbara dared to relax. Civilians, doctors, nurses, patients–everyone murmured so as not to break the hush of quietude. The wind stymied the bites of flies and mosquitos, and for that second bit of providential luck, she smiled for the first time in days.
Barbara watched a jeep pull up to Hospital 2. On the passenger side was a woman wearing olive green coveralls. Her face was the color of a strong cup of tea. Her black hair was braided into a single rope that fell down her back to her waist. She identified herself as Kay Weese, the civilian pilot who worked for the Red Cross and volunteered to deliver V-mail, packages, and personal supplies requested by Lt. Nesbit. This was the second time Barbara witnessed the tall woman enter the hospital camp. As the conduit to the outside world, she was an instant celebrity. Barbara believed if Eleanor Roosevelt drove into camp by Kay’s side, the pilot would have better reception. Exhaustion was forgotten as Barbara watched her colleagues hustle and surround the jeep. For a second time, Patty Parr had volunteered to pick up Weese at a makeshift airstrip which was an old rice field next to a village in the area. The Filipinos allowed her to take off and land in exchange for foodstuff and medicine. Patty Parr stood up in the jeep with one foot in the driver’s seat. “Alright, alright. Give us a moment to organize the mail. Roll call in five minutes.”
Lt. Nesbit approached Kay, and they stood at equal height. In her high-pitched voice, Nesbit coaxed everyone to back up. “Please, give our flying angel room to breathe.”
Kay handed Patty the mail who then called out the names. When Patty shouted, “Barbara Kiss,” Barbara stepped forward and shook Kay’s hand. “Thank you, for risking it, Kay.” Kay smiled and squeezed her hand with a firm grip. “Sure thing.”
Barbara received one letter and a small parcel that was battered and damaged as if it had been misrouted to the other side of the world. The package was postmarked from November. She looked at the smudged letters and recognized Zorka’s handwriting. She walked to the vacant mess area where she could sit and read her letters without attention. SSG Oscar Wozniak handed her a cup of hot water steeping a new teabag. She was flattered he anticipated her wants and told him so. After Barbara discovered his paternal mother was Jewish, the crotchety cook softened. She spoke Yiddish phrases to him. He surprised himself by answering back. “My father didn’t care about being Jewish. He didn’t announce it to anyone when he came over to America. He wanted me to speak like an American. But when my bubbe came to live with us, I spent time watching her in the kitchen. She’d talk to me in Yiddish and make these desserts for me. Szarlotka was my favorite. I’d swallow down anything she put in front of me.”
They learned they were fans of the stories by Edgar Allan Poe. Barbara’s edition of his works was sent to her by Zorka last summer. A month ago, Barbara sat in the back corner of the mess area, drinking a cup of tea, when Oscar sat down at the table. She read with a deep pitch, her timbre edgy, as one who is about to share a secret confession. He listened to her with his cheek resting on a fist:
I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me an insult. For his gold, I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture –a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees – very gradually –I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.
Oscar commented, “Yeah, I like that part. I can see it. That eye. It would drive me crazy, too.”
Barbara chuckled. “Enough to kill him?”
“I’ve been told to kill for less.” Oscar looked at his wristwatch and stood. “Time to make some soup. Today is my lucky day. Matibag’s daughter brought me a bag of carrots and onions. His mother brought me mangos, garlic cloves, and a few coconuts. Someone donated a chicken. That pilot Weese brought me a five-gallon bag of salt.”
“Aren’t you popular, Oscar?”
“I make sure the husbands are fed. It’s easier for the civilians to eat here than march miles back to their villages for a meal. You are going to like what I do with the ingredients.”
“Of course, with half rations in place, this will taste better than the most lavish spread at Rosh Hashanah.”
Since then, during that three o’clock hour when all was prepared but too soon to cook and serve chow when Oscar saw her sit down with a book, he moseyed over and prodded her to read aloud. Sometimes patients who could walk on their own sat down to hear her read.
She freed Zorka’s gift from the damaged packaging and smiled. She’s sending my collection one book at a time. It was a copy from her senior year of English. Dante’s Inferno. “How appropriate,” she muttered.
She flipped through the pages and stopped at Canto IX. She admired the illustrations created by Gustave Doré. Her pointer finger touched Virgil and Dante in robes standing at the entrance door of the city of Dite, looking up at the three furies: Alecto, Tisiphone, and Megaera, and wondered, What unavenged crimes are within? She turned the pages to the next illustration. A hurried wind deposited an angel who opened the city gates so Virgil and Dante could pass. Barbara said a prayer of thanks to her sister. Barbara acknowledged that she would much rather read about the chaos imagined by Alighieri than participate in the real chaos outside the lines of a book.
A small mutt sniffed under the picnic tables looking for a scrap. He sat on his haunches and stared at Barbara. She told him, “There’s nothing here but rice, pooch. They ate all the spam.” Oscar hit his metal spoon on the side of a pot, and the dog whined and trotted away. It nearly tripped Laura Wolfe who waved and made her way to Barbara with letters in her hand. Barbara envisioned Laura as a fancy Maltese. She envied her fair hair which fell straight and smooth. The mutt’s apparent owner was the civilian laborer Matibag who reached down and called for him in Tagalog. The mutt barked at Patty Parr on the other side of the mess area. She swore and said, “Get away from me, Toto.” It barked back and tried to bite her ankles. Patty’s close-set eyes and long face reminded Barbara of a Welsh terrier. Patty conversed with Cleopatra Dulay who was forever holding a clipboard and ruffling through sheets of paper.
Laura sat beside Barbara. “What are you thinking about?”
“What kind of dog would we all be based on our appearances?” Barbara tipped her head in the direction of Sgt. Dulay. “For example, Cleopatra looks like a long-haired Dachshund.”
“Ha! Okay. Let me try.” Laura adjusted her ponytail and then talked behind her hand. “Josie Nesbit would be an Irish Wolfhound.”
Nurse Carol Fitzgerald joined them at the table. Laura studied her and said aloud, “Irish Setter.”
Barbara nodded in agreement. Captains Garcia and Roland sat down at a neighboring table discussing a patient. She told Laura, “Garcia is a brown lab and Roland is a border collie.”
Carol the Irish Setter said, “What nonsense are you two going on about?”
Laura showed off her straight teeth. “If people were dogs, which one would Oscar Wozniak be?”
Carol stared at the cook. “Hmm. German Shepherd. That bark of his scares me.” Carol concentrated on Barbara. “What breed would you be, hmm?”
Barbara laughed. “Oh, I don’t know. A Shar-Pei?”
Carol rolled her eyes and her freckles seemed to wiggle on her cheeks. “You’re prettier than that! You’re more like a Japanese Akita.”
Barbara grimaced. “I can’t say I want to be associated with anything Japanese. I’d rather be a Shar-Pei.”
Laura gave Barbara’s shoulder a squeeze. “When I was a girl, our family used to have an Akita. They are smart, friendly, and don’t bark. Just like you.”
Patty and Cleopatra approached and stood by their table. Patty interjected, “Look at her. Another book in the mail. What’d you get this time, Kiss?” She stretched forward to claim it, but Barbara slid Inferno out of reach into her lap.
“It’s about a trip through the circles of Hell. A clever way of looking at society by Dante Alighieri. The first part of The Divine Comedy.”
Patty rolled her eyes. “Circles around Hell? You’ll have to explain it to us. Maybe we can keep up.”
“Some would get it.”
Patty looked at her dully and turned away. She announced to no one, “I got a letter from my boyfriend back in Boston. He says he wants to get hitched. That’s what I call a circle of hell.” When no one reacted, she shrugged and wandered away. Cleopatra Dulay did not follow her. She stood at the table with an opened box. She reached in and unfurled an Army poster entitled, “The Yellow Glow on Malaria Moe”. The nurses chuckled at the illustration of sinister mosquitoes with stingers of horrifying proportions. Poor soldier Moe was hanged by a rope while waiting for the attack of the bayonet stingers. At the footer was the warning, “Don’t forget to take your Atabrine.”
Cleopatra lifted an Army manual out of the box with two hands like a priest holding up the Bible to the congregation. “Lt. Nesbit wants you all to read this material on Malaria by the end of the week. The spike in cases in camp is alarming. Everyone is sloppy about taking their Atabrine tablets except Barbara.”
Carol said, “Babs looks like a butternut squash because of it.”
Barbara pushed up her sleeves and looked at her yellow forearms. “I feel like I’m glowing in the dark, but it’s better than experiencing the symptoms of Malaria.”
Lt. Dulay’s bun was relaxed today which allowed her eyes to look round. Two long strands escaped and framed her face like dog ears. “Ever since the Nazis confiscated most all of the quinine, we’re stuck with Atabrine.”
Laura commented, “It makes me feel nauseous when I take it. You, Babs. I hear you moaning with stomach cramps at night. It’s the Atabrine, you know.”
Barbara was earnest. “The incoming wounded and the pain of watching patients die–how can I lay around with a high fever from Malaria when there’s always so much work to do?”
Sgt. Dulay clapped. “I couldn’t have said it better myself, Kiss. I’ll be passing out more tablets at chow.”
Lt. Nesbit drew near their table and addressed Barbara. “Nurse Kiss. Pilot Weese needs to head back to her plane. Would you volunteer and escort her back? I told the villagers I’d send a nurse as compensation for risking a plane to land in their backyard. One of the Filipino scouts will join you for protection.”
Barbara raised her eyebrows. “I thought Nurse Parr liked doing it?”
“I have something else for her to do. Yes or no, please. I want you back before dark.”
“Yes. Yes, of course, ma’am.”
Barbara elected to drive. She turned over the engine and shifted to first gear. Kay sat in the passenger seat holding on to the sides of the jeep as it bounced around ruts in the road. The Filipino scout carried a Springfield rifle and holstered an M1911 pistol. When the road evened out, Barbara glanced at his yellow shoulder patch with the red carabao.
She asked his name, and he replied. “Corporal Ramos.”
He was frowning up at the branches above their heads. “Just drive. I’ll let you know when to turn.”
Kay looked back over her shoulder at him. Then to Barbara, “Don’t worry, I remember how to get there. It’s not far–maybe eight kilometers away.”
Barbara was nervous. Thirty feet above them, a screeching family of long-tailed macaques shadowed the jeep from gnarly Balete trees to papaya trees to moss-covered vines. A green papaya the size of a softball fell on the narrow road in front of them. Barbara had the creepy sensation that the drop was intentional. Soon a brown hairy ball missed the hood of the jeep by inches. Barbara swerved.
She asked Ramos, “Was that a coconut?”
“No. The pod is filled with Brazil nuts. Speed up. They’re angry.”
Barbara tried to steady her nerves. Distract yourself. She observed Kay Weese’s calm demeanor. Maybe if she chatted with Kay, Barbara could convince herself that she was not scared. “Kay, how’d you wind up here?”
Kay ignored the ruckus above her. “I’ve been a civilian pilot for years. When the war broke out, I volunteered to transport troops and supplies.” The back wheel fell into a pothole and Ramos barely held on. He swore at Barbara.
Barbara felt sweat drip down her cleavage. She ignored his glare. “How did you end up in Manila, Kay?”
Kay picked at her fingernails. “By accident, really. I was on a passenger run when a doctor told me the Japanese attacked Manila and were bombing the shit out of the city. As the weeks passed, I heard about the hospital evacuations into the jungle. Then I heard some scuttlebutt about Lt. Nesbit. She was looking for a pilot who would smuggle in the wishlist of the nurses at Hospital 2. I volunteered.”
A furry pod dropped out of the sky and hit Barbara above her eyebrow. She skidded into the ditch. Ramos leaped out of the jeep. Kay leaned to the right and rolled out. Barbara sat up and swallowed. The vertigo was intense. There was no mistake–the macaques laughed at her. Barbara thought They are bullies! No wonder the Japs are caricatured as monkeys. Kay and Ramos helped her into a standing position while the branches flapped above them. As the monkeys screeched, Barbara was overcome with anger. She was not one for profanity but having heard a steady dose of it since her enlistment, it felt good to expel her fear and frustration through a tirade. She did not want to cry, but her eyes filled, and she found herself gasping to control her emotions. Her head was bleeding. She probably had a concussion.
Kay said, “Come on, I better drive.”
Ramos aimed his rifle and shot into the leaves. A large male beast fell to the ground gulping, its wild eyes bulging. The tail writhed and slapped the packed dirt of the road. Barbara turned away and heaved.
Kay frowned at Ramos. “Don’t piss them off any more than they already are. Come on, let’s get out of here.”
The gash on Barbara’s frontal lobe streamed into her eye creating a veil. She blinked rapidly and thought of the veiled eye of the old man in “The Tell-Tale Heart”. Don’t lose it. Focus on Kay. Kay and Ramos pushed while Barbara did her best to steer the wheel. They rocked and maneuvered the jeep back onto the road. Barbara felt inane for asking, but she did anyway. “Why do this, Kay?”
Kay turned left down an indiscernible trail. She drove slow enough, but the road was uneven and palms smacked them as she drove through the jungle path. Barbara felt suffocated. She closed her eyes and breathed in small puffs. Finally, the road cleared and widened. Ramos and Barbara exhaled in unison. They escaped the troop of simians. Overcome with the impulse, Barbara vomited over the side of the jeep while Ramos held on to her collared shirt to keep her from falling out. When Barbara sat up, Kay chatted as though they sat in a tea shop next to a park. Ramos gave Barbara his canteen, and she sipped the warm water gratefully. He tossed the first aid bag into her lap. “Fix yourself.” She put a cotton square on the goose egg and tied gauze wrap around her head. Then she did her best to wipe the blood off her face and remain still while Kay chatted about horrifying events as she drove.
“Did you hear about that attack on Bangka Island in Australia last week? The Nips raped and gunned down 22 Australian nurses? A news correspondent told me about it when I flew him to Henderson Field at Midway Island.”
Barbara grimaced and focused on the road ahead. Kay drew up behind a colony of tall bamboo and parked. “I hear about the way the Japanese treat the females they encounter when they’re on the move. Take 1939, for instance. Nanjing. After they raped them, they killed them.” Kay spit. “Barbaric!”
Barbara wondered to whom Kay was talking because her eyes darted around. She looked in the rearview mirror until they settled upon her duffle bags of contraband. “That’s what the Japs are like. They are sadists. You want to live in a world where they run the show?” She shook her head with resolve. “Forget that! I’m here to help whether the Red Cross wants me to or not.”
Barbara’s head throbbed. Kay silenced the engine. They exited the jeep and gathered up Kay’s canvas bags. Barbara tried to carry one, but it was too heavy. Ramos pointed to her medical satchel. “Take that.” Barbara tried to make eye contact with Kay, but her injured eye would not focus, and her good eye squinted from the brightness of the day. Focus on Kay’s voice. “You mean the Red Cross doesn’t know you do this type of smuggling?”
“No, of course not. I prefer to call it redistributing the merchandise. I get donations from the passengers I carry. You see, I have access to a lot of damaged boxes and ripped bags whose destination has become ineligible. I give those lost supplies to people who can really use them. Like you nurses at Hospital #2.” Kay repositioned two tote bags to bear the weight equally on each shoulder. Barbara admired her strength while Kay gestured to the palm trees surrounding them, her voice agitated. “Where do you suppose the Japs are going to relocate the soldiers they’ve captured? You think they will be decent about it?”
Barbara managed a smile. “You sound like a marauding crusader. I can tell you from the bottom of our hearts, Hospital No. 2 is happy to have you on our side, Kay.” They walked out of the jungle onto the road and looked up at the sky. It was a relief to be out of the confines of the jungle. Ramos signaled they should proceed, and he took the lead. Kay expressed her thoughts as though she needed to validate her personal mission. “I’ve redistributed the merchandise to Corregidor Hospital. On the peninsula, there’s a band of U.S. soldiers hiding in the hills outside of Manila. Guerrillas. I help them, too. Radio parts. Ammo. Bottles of liquor. Whatever I can scrounge up.”
They walked the main road with caution, listening for Japanese soldiers. Around the bend, they came to a small village. A Filipino mestizo pulled a bony caribou down the street in front of several shanties. A woman ran up to them and pointed to a bamboo hut down the road with an alarmed expression. Barbara quickened her step and followed. Inside the hut was a female in labor. Barbara opened her medical bag and grabbed a pair of gloves. She asked for hot water and towels. Barbara kneeled next to the crying girl and cooed to her. “It will be okay. I am here to help.” She repeated the Tagalog phrase used often at Hospital No. 2 to calm Filipino patients. “Para tumulong. Para Tumulong.”
Kay peeked inside the hut oblivious to the laboring cries. “I’ll be seeing you, Kiss. Anything special you want?”
Kay never took her eyes off her patient. She can’t be more than fifteen. She modeled small puffing breaths to her and held her gaze. To Kay’s shadow, she responded, “A book written by anyone other than a Kraut or Jap.”
“Consider it done.” She left.
Barbara heard an engine catch and the roar of propellers behind the hut. She winced at the sound. Barbara checked the patient again. The cervix was fully dilated. She mimicked pushing. Into the room came a younger girl with hot water and a ragged cotton shirt. Barbara’s head pounded. She bit her lip to keep from swooning. The black-haired crown emerged. When the sound of Kay’s plane lifted, it blended with the screams of the laboring mother. Then came the wail of a baby boy entering the world, becoming louder than the rumbling plane departing the area. The transference of sounds, the entering, and exiting of lives felt like a divine dance. Barbara cut the cord, cleaned him, and wrapped him in the ragged shirt. I should have asked Kay for blankets or clothes for the villagers instead of a book for myself.
When Barbara handed the baby to his mother, Barbara recalled a section of Jewish prayer and whispered, “May God watch over you in love and bless you with health. You have sent us a perfect blessing. Thank You, bless You, source of all life. Amen.”
Silence replaced the racket of planes and birth. As she sat on the floor in the semi-darkness packing her medical bag, Barbara felt a pang of sadness. Home was so far away. What was Zorka doing this instant? Barbara missed her capricious moods. She admired her sister’s gift for expressing emotions by manipulating the strings on her viola. Barbara conjured a familial scene. Her parents sat in the parlor. Father crinkled his newspaper. Mother turned a shiny page from the latest edition of Life magazine. What was her brother Kade up to? Working in Chicago, doing what precisely? He was an odd duck. So private and unwilling to share his thoughts and feelings. Barbara stood up and the hut twirled in big circles.
Ramos used his rifle to open the curtain door. “Time to go.” Ramos held her elbow and led Barbara back to their hidden jeep, and they returned to Hospital No. 2. She eyed his pistol attached to his hip. If those monkeys start throwing things, I swear I’ll shoot. That’s when Lt. Josephine Nesbit’s voice entered her head. “No time to be scared, girls. Deal with it as it comes.”
* * * * * * * *
When Barbara and Ramos returned, the hospital was cloaked in the heavy shadows of dusk. She thanked Ramos for his assistance. Sgt. Dulay gasped upon seeing Barbara’s blood-soaked bandages and her bloodshot eye. Barbara signed back into camp and filled out an incident report. “Kiss, go see Lt. Col. Schwartz. He’s on call and in the surgery tent. What the hell happened?”
“A macaque pitched a line drive and I forgot to duck.”
Dulay raised her eyebrows. “Better get your head seen to and get some shuteye. You’ll be assisting Capt. Roland tomorrow at 0600 hours. Can you make it?”
“Ask me in the morning. Thanks, Sgt.”
Sergeant Dulay scanned her report. “Night, Kiss. Hey, congratulations on delivering a baby.”
“He was my first.” Barbara approached Lt. Colonel Schwartz who wrote notes on his clipboard in the surgery tent. His face was somber. Three soldiers under sedation demanded the company commander’s full attention. He murmured to them, “Come on, boys. Fight it.”
Barbara approached and suppressed the urge to wrap her arms around him. Her good eye hungrily surveyed his black, wavy hair and strong profile. She knew her crush was ridiculous, but she argued with herself that Jack possessed more than good looks. As the head surgeon, Barbara believed he led the hospital with quiet authority and compassion. He did a double-take when he saw her. His side smile made her heart jump.
“Ah, I was just going to take a break,” he teased and patted a stool. “You better sit down, Nurse Kiss.”
Gently he removed the bandages to reveal her angry bump. He shined his pen flashlight into her eye. “Pupils are dilated. Are you dizzy? Nauseous? Tired?”
“Guilty as charged, Doctor.”
He gave her a topical shot, and she squinted. “Ouch.”
“The red-eye looks worse than it is. Your head needs an ice pack, but of course, we don’t have ice. I wish I could give you bed rest tomorrow, but you know in the morning the Japanese will start their bombing runs and our lives return to hell.” He wrapped her head with clean bandages. She breathed in his scent.
“Aren’t you the one who somehow finds time to read Dante’s Inferno? I’ve heard you talking about the circles of hell. What circle do you think Mr. Alighieri would call this place?” He gave her aspirin and a cup of water. She looked into blue eyes lined with black. “A Husky.”
She blushed and answered his question. “Seventh Circle, for sure.” She swallowed his aspirin. “It is a place of blood, flames, and violence. To oneself. To others. Against God.”
He leaned in and asked her, “Did Dante ever make it out of Hell?”
Barbara felt the grime around her neck and wished she were clean. “He and Virgil bypass Satan at the center of Earth and come out on the other side.”
His three patients stirred. Barbara felt Schwartz’s attention drift away from her. He muttered, “I pray every night we bypass Satan and get to the other side in one piece. Good night, Nurse Kiss.”
“Yes, Lt. Col. Schwartz.”
He was tired, and he let it show. He turned his attention back to Barbara and studied her face. His eyes softened. “Since we are in the seventh circle of Hell and relatively alone, why not call me Jack?”
Her insides fluttered, but it wasn’t from taking the Atabrine. “Only if you call me Barbara.”
The bombing resumed with gusto during the month of March. The Japanese pushed forward with new soldiers and warfare. On the eleventh, Patty Parr’s radio announced the evacuation of General Douglas McArthur and his promise, “I shall return.” The Bataan front inched closer. Fifteen miles away. Ten. A bulldozer arrived and cleared a patch for more wards and another bamboo pavilion for surgery. Lt. Josie Nesbit’s request for more nurses was granted. Twenty-eight additional nurses and four new doctors from Corregidor Island came to help as the wounded arrived daily. Laura and Barbara worked through the trails from one ward to another. Laura carried a flat rock with her for sharpening the needles. Barbara used the strategically placed fires for boiling water. She put a morphine tablet in the glass syringe and dissolved the morphine with the water that boiled the needle. The chaplain followed them around squatting down to the edge of the bamboo cots and administering last rites. Patients begged nurses to relay messages and asked the same questions day after day. “Will I make it? What happens if the Japanese reach us?” Nesbit told them to avoid giving direct answers to which Barbara thought As if we had any. All lived hour by hour. No one had the luxury of time to consider options or come up with a solution.
By mid-March, the Quartermaster had the unfortunate task of informing the camp hospital that there was little food and fewer supplies. More civilian details went on hunts to bring SSG Wozniak something to cook. He boiled a caribou for two days, and it still was too tough to consume without plenty of chewing. But eat it they did. His daily meal was a stew of whatever was brought to him. Monkeys. Iguanas. Snakes. Despite the trickling of fruit harvested from the jungle, there was not enough to feed the overcrowded hospital.
When the nurses gathered for a morning roll call, Nesbit informed them that engineers reported there were nineteen wards extending two and a half miles long along the Read River. “We’ll be cutting our rations to one meal every other day. Put aside your fears. Don’t give up.”
Patty Parr said a little too loudly in formation, “Or Wozniak will make us the special ingredient in his stew.” This produced chitter from the nurses.
Nesbit sighed and said, “Dismissed.”
Bombings and exhaustion had a way of slipping the formality of military protocol. Rank and titles became superfluous when Japanese fighters whizzed overhead and the sounds of bomb concussions blended in with the cries of the injured. The nurses began calling Capt. Roland, Paul. Lt. Commander Schwarz became Jack to them all. Filipino nurses called Lt. Nesbit “Mama Josie.” Barbara observed that the medical team showed signs of malnutrition. It seemed inevitable that everyone working at Hospital No. 2 suffered from the effects of Malaria, dysentery, or Dengue fever. Barbara observed the XO, Major Fox, with a scalpel in hand, shaking from the chills of Malaria. Ethel Thor begged him to lay down for an hour. “Bernie, you’ve been on your feet for two days. Look at the waiting line–minor surgeries. I can fill in. Carol and Patty will assist me. Go take a break.”
Laura limply followed Barbara around the wards filling out the dog tag chart or helping at the debridement station under the bamboo pavilion. Barbara watched the doctors and nurses burn off the dead skin of dead tissue caused by burns and shrapnel wounds. Nurse Thor took it in stride but shook her head in dismay when by the end of March, they ran out of anesthesia and improvised by putting their patients under with Ether. She grumbled to Barbara who assisted her, “This is nuts. How much longer can we do this?”
On April 3, the Japanese bombed the hospital. The beams fell on the patients and the pandamonium was unlike anything Barbara had yet experienced. Directed toward nine, she rushed as fast as her aching muscles allowed on the interconnecting paths. Passing ward eight, she passed the chaplain who stood on top of a trunk and read the last rites to the entire ward. She passed civilians who carried the dead away. The children scrambled in and out of the wards, collecting dog tags for Cleopatra to document. Matibag stumbled past Barbara while he slapped the air with his flyswatter. Covered with pasty white silt mixed with his blood, the effect made his face look pink. Patty Parr followed Barbara to ward nine and shouted over the screams, “Why read about your circles of hell when you are living it?” Barbara conceded she had a point. The association between reality and fiction would be forever off-putting. Dante, you can keep your inferno. I’ll be spending the rest of my life forgetting this hell.
Nesbit charged into ward nine and shouted, “Time to go. We’ve got the order to retreat. We’ve been ordered to Corregidor. All the nurses.”
A Filipino nurse asked Nesbit, “We, too, Mama Josie?”
“Yes. Everyone. I got the clearance. All nurses out. Get to a transport. The Japanese are close.”
It was hard for Barbara to stay calm. Back at their sleeping area, she rushed to pack a pair of socks and a bar of soap. Laura sat on the edge of her cot weeping. Patty swung a knapsack over her shoulder and leaped to the exit door. “Stop your wailing, Laura. It doesn’t help a thing.”
Barbara said, “Patty, leave her alone.”
“She needs to toughen up. You’re too soft with her.”
“I’m her friend. If she needs to cry, she should let it out.”
“No, it’s pathetic. She makes all the other nurses cringe.” To Laura, she advised, “Swallow it down and shut up.” She pointed a finger at Barbara and said, “You, keep quiet.”
“Go to Hell, Patty.”
“Already there, remember?”
Barbara threw a book at her. It hit her in the back as she left. Laura stood and held her trembling hands. She sniffled. “What happens to the patients? What will the Japanese do to them all?”
Nesbit entered their area fiercely. Her eyes were on fire. “Go! Get on a jeep.”
A squeal of a bomb triggered the nurses to take cover. The mess tent was hit. Barbara ran to it and found Oscar emerging from a stack of fallen bamboo. He yelled at the civilians to put as much food in the back of a transport truck. She hugged him. “You okay?”
He moved the bamboo roof off of him. His wounds were superficial. “Kiss, I’m fine. See you at Corregidor Island. Let’s get out of this shithole.”
“Nesbit told us we are evacuating to a tunnel. I don’t fancy becoming a mole.”
Wozniak could see she was afraid. “Do what you do best. Think of a poem and recite it. It’ll distract you from the obvious. You’re tough enough, Kiss. Now get outta here.”
She took a deep breath and nodded. Laura waved to her to hurry. Barbara leaped on a departing jeep, and they left Hospital No. 2. As they retreated, the nurses watched the patients pointing to them, mouths agape. Barbara saw Jack Schwartz and the other doctors stay behind. Extreme remorse made the nurses cry out. Barbara lowered her head. She thought of Stephen Crane and whispered:
Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky
And the affrighted steed ran on alone,
Do not weep.
War is kind.
Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment
Little souls who thirst for fight,
These men were born to drill and die
The unexplained glory flies above them
Great is the battle-god, great, and his kingdom–
A field where a thousand corpses lie.
There were more stanzas, but Barbara could think no longer. She held her ears and did her best to keep her balance in the fleeing jeep on the uneven road. She looked up at the ripped roof of vines. No simians. Just the Japanese.
Thank you for reading! Your criticisms and comments are welcome.
Warm, sunny days plus a couple rain showers activated the desert. The cacti are blooming! An exotic annual treat for everyone.
This is the first draft of The Lost Sisters of Bataan, my dedication to the women and men who fought in the Philippines during World War Two. Your comments and criticisms are welcome.
April 1, 1942
Zorka Kiss hated her name. How flamboyant the sound when she heard someone pronounce it. Her classmates had teased her by accentuating the Z sound. Add to it the awkward last name with the final drag of the S as though she were a tempestuous snake–suddenly Zorka Kiss sounded obscene. If not a snake trying to seduce, then a secret body part with the capability of kissing. Her mother’s friends were just as bad as her peers. “Give me a Zorka Kiss! Where’s my Zorka Kiss?” When her brother Kade came to visit, he got in the habit of saying to her, “I need a kiss from the Zorka.” Her parents told her she was named after her paternal grandmother. The family name Kiss was a common Hungarian name, but Zorka knew of no other families in Minneapolis with it. Once she looked up her name in the city phone book. There were two Kiss families, a few Kissingers, and a handful of Kitzinger’s. It produced little comfort, but she understood it was not important in light of the times. It was April 1942. She was twenty, and the world had gone mad.
She finished her morning classes at the University of Minnesota, and the bus dropped her off at Penn Avenue North. She carried her viola case and walked to her rehearsal. Her heart was heavy. The war raged, and here she was, far removed from the attacks and imprisonments, pretending all was normal in her daily routine while the apprehensive eyes of her family constantly reminded her all was not well. When they attended the Sabbath, the 400 member community gathered under a shroud of anxiety. The northside neighborhood exhaled hand-wringing energy that made her insides flip.
As she walked down 14th Avenue inhaling the crisp air, Zorka pulled back dense curls the color of burnt toast. She wrapped a scarf around the mass that made her head large compared to her slender frame. Her hazel eyes looked to the sky at the globe veiled behind wispy clouds and concentrated on the tips of the trees that sprouted leaves. Zorka counted the yellow and red tulips lining a sidewalk and acknowledged the annual perfection of color and egg shape symmetry with an impulse to wack off their heads. In an ugly world, such beauty seemed rude.
Zorka picked up a branch and poked at the brick sidewalk like the hoyden from her youth. She turned the poking into a rhythm, and her feet marched to the beat. Dot dot dot dash. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Due to its morse code equivalency of the letter V, the allies adopted the opening of the symphony as their anthem. The “V is for Victory” movement began. To Zorka, there was no victory to celebrate. Discussions and discarded newspapers informed Zorka of alarming incidents as the war continued into 1942. German Luftwaffe night raids pulverized the United Kingdom. News leaked of the deportation of Austrian Jews to ghettos in Poland. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the papers reported one Japanese assault after another upon the islands of Southeast Asia. Scared of a Japanese invasion on the west coast, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 forcing Japanese Americans from their homes to detainment camps. Zorka worried for her sister Barbara stationed at Manila Bay. Barbara’s recent letter notified the family of her retreat to a jungle hospital with an indifference that belied the situation. Zorka did not trust her words. Her penmanship was too slanted like the strokes bore an inexorable weight. Zorka participated in various causes to help the war effort, but recycling rubber and using a ration book felt piddling. She visualized the woes of all who suffered, and her frustration multiplied like cysts growing on her organs, filling her, leaving little room to breathe.
Her pressing worry was the whereabouts of Aunt Lottie. At times, when Zorka’s mother volunteered at Beth El Synagogue, she snuck into her mother’s desk and read their correspondence. Tied with ribbons, in the bundle labeled “1938”, Zorka’s mother begged her sister Lottie to immigrate to Minnesota. Lottie replied it was too far away to move their bedridden mother. She would not leave Budapest. “Be patient, Margit. Hungary is allied with the Nazis. The restrictions will pass if we are patient.” In the “1939” stack, there was a tone of aggravation in Aunt Lottie’s letters as though she responded to demands made by her sister. “The war will end soon, Margit. My life is here. I did not find a good husband like you. Who will take care of Anja if I leave?”
Zorka dropped the stick and picked up her pace. Her thoughts went elsewhere, and her heart sank once more. She was embarrassed with the knowledge that she was not cut out to be a nurse. Zorka was woozy at the sight of blood. Body fluids made her gag. She did not like learning the parts of the anatomy, and she fumbled when wrapping a wound of a stranger. This was her second semester, and she hated the idea of becoming a nurse. She thought, How does Barbara stand it?
Zorka arrived at 14th and Penn Avenue. She climbed the steps and entered the grand semi-circle arch of Beth El Synagogue. She met the other musicians of the quartet in the social hall and sat next to her friend, Panna. They rehearsed Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14. During the fifth movement, Leib, the first violinist, let the tempo drag which caused the second violinist to stray. Zorka wanted to hit Leib’s pimply face over the head with her bow. Finally, the rehearsal was over. By holding her hand and pulling, she rushed Panna out of the building. Panna adjusted her glasses and almost lost a loafer as they raced down the front steps.
“Where’s the fire, Z?”
Zorka puffed out her indignance. “I’m too old to be playing with kids.”
“Don’t let Leib get to you. He’s trying.”
“How many times have we gone over movement five? Twenty? Forty times? He still
can’t get it right.”
“It’s his first time as the lead.”
They had practiced for almost a year. Zorka memorized her part of the viola months ago and longed for next week’s Minneapolis Spring Festival concert to hurry up and be over. She had outgrown adolescent rehearsals and parent-audience recitals. There had to be something more–adult–to do with her instrument. She did not have a plan, however, and quitting was not an option. Her bow was an extension of her arm, and the viola was her second heart. The viola selected the girl at a young age. Her natural ability delighted her parents and Rabbi David Aronson made a point of praising her abilities. Such reinforcement helped her motivation. Throughout her young life, she aspired to master difficult pieces until she became one of the best musicians in the twin cities.
The two friends walked down St. Paul Street together. The sun disappeared behind treetops, and their shadows grew long. Zorka sniffed the perfume of Lily of the Valley. It meant she reached the corner flower bed at her home. Panna accepted the invitation to dine with the Kiss family; she followed Zorka up the front steps past the porch swing, and they entered the two-story craftsman, careful not to slam the door. The runner absorbed their steps past the dining room to the kitchen at the back of the house. The light was on. Zorka’s mother had bread baking in the oven. It was a large room with tall cupboards and in the center was a metal dinette set. The meal plan was Rakott Krumpli, a potato-egg casserole. Zorka guessed her mother was upstairs freshening up before her father returned from working at his dentist practice. Panna was petite, and the apron she wrapped around her hips overlapped. She giggled at herself. She helped Zorka by peeling and slicing the potatoes. Zorka heated the water to boil eggs and then chopped and sauteed onions in butter.
Zorka blurted, “I’m thinking I ought to enlist as a WAC and serve like Barbara. Or go to Budapest and find Aunt Lottie.”
Panna grabbed the casserole dish from a cupboard and handed it to Zorka. “Don’t be ridiculous. They’d arrest you, and you’d be a goner like your Aunt.” Panna smacked her tiny palm to her forehead. “Slica, Zorka! That came out terribly.” Her dark eyes watered. “Please, forgive me.”
Zorka was quiet. She ran cold water over the boiled eggs and peeled them on the front page of the Star Tribune. She responded, “I know something bad has happened. My mother won’t accept it. We haven’t heard from Aunt Lottie for months.” Zorka sliced up the boiled eggs. She grabbed sour cream and a block of cheddar from the icebox. “You know what I heard the other day? The Germans have built several hundred ghettos throughout Eastern Europe. What if they make a ghetto in Budapest?”
Panna’s expression hardened. She sprinkled pepper and salt on top of the layers. “My cousins are from Erd. That’s only ten miles outside of Budapest. I didn’t know them, but it is sad to think they are in the path of that megalomaniac. My mother hasn’t heard from our cousins in ages.”
Zorka looked out the window to the backyard where a few chickens picked at the grass. She needed to put them in their hutch for the night. Zorka tried to think of different news. New news. “The Star Tribune reported that there is a new Japanese military language school starting up at Camp Savage.”
Panna followed Zorka out back and helped her chase the chickens into their coop. “Why on earth in Minnesota?”
“Since Roosevelt issued the order to gather up Japanese Americans in detention centers out west, no state wants to house a spy school for the Nisei —”
Zorka smoothed her skirt and reentered the house. “Their parents are Japanese who immigrated to the states and had children. The Nisei are U.S. citizens.” Zorka stopped at the herb garden on the enclosed porch. She pinched off some parsley and reentered the kitchen. “Since the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese aren’t much liked.”
Panna joined Zorka at the sink to wash her hands. “But they are Japs, right? I mean, their parents live here, but in their hearts, are they Japanese?”
Zorka thought about it. “Well, what are we? Are we Hungarians, or Americans? Or worse–Bohunks?”
Panna looked into a mirror in the hallway and smoothed her straight hair. “Tsuris. I’m American! Our parents speak Yiddish, but I rarely do unless at home. I’ve been told my whole life to act American and to fit in at the public school. I speak English. Buy Christmas presents for friends. Go to baseball games. Just like you, behind closed doors, we are Hungarian Jews honoring the traditions.”
Panna returned to the kitchen to help clean up. She lifted the newspaper holding the potato peels. “Do you suppose the grown children of the Japanese–Nisei–think of themselves as American?”
Zorka shrugged. “How would I know?”
Panna blinked away the topic. “Let’s go downtown tomorrow night.”
“To do what?”
Panna inhaled sharply. “Let’s go dancing.”
“How can you think of dancing? There’s a war on, you know. Besides, the pickings are thin.”
Panna held the entertainment section. She bent her head sideways to decipher the page and said, “I’m tired of thinking about the war. Let’s go to the World to see a movie, then.”
“Fine by me. I’m tired of studying the Endocrine system. Big test on Monday.”
“Bambi is playing.”
A cartoon for children. Zorka rolled her eyes. “Bambi. Oi vey.”
* * * * *
At The World Theater, Zorka and Panna sat at the back of the lower level. From there, they admired the pretty hats and slicked-back hair of the couples in front of them. The theater filled quickly. A female usher wearing a blue suit and a pillbox hat walked down the aisle. She carried a tray of candies, popcorn, and cigarettes. They paid for a bag of popcorn. When the film began, Zorka felt exasperated. It’s Thursday night. I’m twenty. The best I can think to do is to watch a movie for children? When the scene came to when Bambi’s mother was shot, Panna started to cry. Zorka suggested they step outside. The lights from window displays and the steady line of cars passing by suggested possibilities; it was not long before Panna recomposed. They walked in silence at a loss of anything important to say.
Zorka and Panna turned down a side street to where a diner’s neon lights pulsated at them. They entered, slid into a booth, and ordered french fries and a Coke to share. A Johnny Mercer tune played on the jukebox. In a booth next to them were two Japanese men in Army uniforms each drinking a cup of coffee. Zorka tried not to look, but she kept stealing glances at their mannerisms. When Zorka heard them speaking English, she leaned toward them and asked if they were associated with the new intelligence base. Panna’s eyebrows raised in shock.
The soldier nearest to Zorka surveyed her face and smiled. She said a silent prayer of thanks that tonight she remembered to apply fuschia lipstick.
The soldier’s eyes were the color of roasted almonds. “I’m Joe and this is Sam.”
Zorka rolled her eyes. “Stop it. I’m not stupid.”
He laughed at her. “Sorry, pretty girl. Really, it’s Ken. This is Frank.” His companion had narrow shoulders and bony facial features. He looked as though he had eaten bad oysters.
Zorka wasn’t sure if she should believe they had American names, but she let it go. “Are you two stationed at Camp Savage?”
“Yes, we sure are. We have R&R tonight. Want to join us?”
Panna frowned. Zorka ignored her and moved across the aisle to sit next to Ken. Panna had no choice but to join them in the booth and distanced herself from Frank.
Zorka asked, “Tell us about the intelligence base. What do you do there?”
The skinny man called Frank leered at her and over-enunciated, “It’s top-secret.”
Zorka tried again, softening her voice. “What can you share that won’t compromise your position?”
Frank lit a cigarette. Ken took Zorka’s hand and examined it. “Come on, Frank, ease up. Do these look like the hands of a spy?”
Frank was smug. “That’s what we are, ladies, spies for the U.S.A.”
Panna turned in her seat to face them, her curiosity getting the better of her. “You enlisted, then, to come here? What about those new Jap camps in California?”
Ken winced. “Please, that’s harsh, eh? They are Japanese Internment Camps. The Army asked me to recruit at Manzanar. I convinced Frank to enlist.”
Zorka blurted, “Why would you join the Army when the government put your people in camps?”
“Wow, you sure get to the point.” Ken wiped his face pretending she had thrown a glass of water at him.
Zorka blushed. “I’m sorry–not very lady-like, I get it.”
Panna added, “We don’t see many Japanese in Minneapolis. You are an anomaly.”
Ken shrugged off his irritation and laughed. “That’s a new one. I like it. Hey, Frank, we’re anomalies.”
Panna scooted out of the booth. “This was a bad idea.”
Ken tried to stop her by placing his hand on her forearm. Panna raised her eyebrows, and he removed his hand. He returned his gaze to Zorka and admired her dainty nose and lips like a Japanese flower in bloom. “We don’t get out much. It’s very nice to sit across the table with pretty girls. There’s only a few at the school.”
“What do you do there?”
Ken took a drag from his cigarette considering the question. He exhaled above their heads. Zorka appreciated the courtesy and liked how his expressive mouth made his words more lively. “We’re linguists. We’re learning how to read and decipher Japanese. We will be assigned as interpreters and shipped somewhere where there’s a need.”
Zorka concentrated on his lips, but Ken’s friend interpreted something different. Frank’s scowl reappeared as he studied Zorka’s mystified expression. “We’re Americans, dammit. I grew up in Seattle. He’s from Kansas City. Our parents wanted us to enlist to demonstrate our loyalty because they were upset by how many white people think we aren’t American.” He inhaled his cigarette deeply and exhaled. “We went to American schools. We watch American movies.” He leaned back in the booth and closed his eyes until they were slits on his face.
The waitress set the plate of fries and a glass of Coke with two straws at their table. She plopped down the red ketchup dispenser. Frank’s eyes opened and stared hard at Zorka. He reached over and grabbed a crinkled french fry and blew on it. “We went to college before the war broke out. I studied accounting, and Ken is an architect.”
Panna looked at Zorka with impatience. Annoyed eyes behind her glasses said, Are you satisfied? Can we go?
Zorka looked at Ken. She wished he’d pick up her hand again. Instead, he looked at her fingers, noticing the depressions in the digits of her index finger, and the way the tips of her fingers curled gracefully on the table. “Ah, you are a musician. Violin?”
Zorka smiled brightly. “Viola.”
Resigned, Panna added after a moment, “I play the cello.”
Frank ate their fries one by one without apology. Ken volunteered, “I like to play the piano.” He wrote down the name Ken Suzuki with his phone number on a napkin and passed it to Zorka. His eyes shone as if they had been dipped in chocolate. “Your name?”
She thought of saying, Sue or Jane. Something American. “Zorka. Zorka Kiss.”
Ken’s grin revealed a perfect line of white teeth. “You are a killer-diller.” He rubbed the back of Zorka’s hand with his index finger. “Next time we have the day off, Zorka and–”
Ken’s voice was energetic. “There’s a jazz bar a few blocks away. The place will be empty, and we could play together? Have our own jam session? Are you free on Friday or Saturday?”
Zorka said, “Better make it a different day. We observe the Sabbath.”
“Oh, Jews.” He said it like he had found a unique shell on a beach. “I’ve never met Jewish girls before. What do you do during Sabbath? Wait! Nevermind. Tell me all about it next time we see each other.” He smacked the table with confirmation. “Alright, I’ll put in a request chit for a Monday or Tuesday off. The bus ride isn’t long from MISLS.”
Panna took a polite sip of the Coke. “What’s that stand for?”
“Military Intelligence Service Language School.”
Zorka tried to be friendly to Frank. “What do you play?”
Panna’s round eyes pleaded to Ken. “Maybe you have another friend who plays an instrument?”
“Sure, sure. I got friends. Don’t mind Frank. He doesn’t like anything.” Ken twisted his torso to look for the waitress. She stood at the cash register skimming through a magazine. He set two quarters on the table to cover the tab. “Nice to meet you, Zorka and Panna. Call that number soon. Ask for me. We’ll set it up.”
Later that night in bed, Zorka recreated Ken’s face in the dark. She liked his friendly demeanor. She liked his muscled arms. His big hands. She imagined him touching the keys on the piano. She imagined his hands touching her body with the same sensitivity. It would be a long few weeks, but she was glad there was something to think about other than the war.
* * * * *
Zorka skipped her classes on Monday. Instead, she reported to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Red Cross center and volunteered to fill care packages for the Europe Production Corps. Second Lieutenant Mary Stone was a silver-haired, WWI veteran in charge of the local chapter. Every time Zorka volunteered, Stone’s sales pitch was only a matter of time. “There are eleven branches of the Red Cross, Zorka. Why don’t you pick one and sign up to be a leader? You can make a big difference in the war effort. How about working for the USO?
“Can you get me a job and send me to the Pacific?”
“Wouldn’t you rather work in Europe at an allied base for the USO?”
“I’m not interested in serving coffee and donuts, Lt. Stone.”
“How about the administrative corp?”
“I can’t type.”
“Nurses assistant? Blood donor program? Aren’t you studying to be a nurse?”
“Turns out I’m squeamish about blood.”
“What about the Motor Corp? You’d be transporting the sick and wounded and delivering supplies. It’s a crucial part of the war. Much more interesting than passing out donuts.”
Zorka bit her lips in consideration. The pause was enough for Lt. Stone to proceed. “Of course, as a part of the Motor Corp, you’d receive training in auto mechanics as it would be expected you’d fix your vehicle if it broke down. We could send you on a troopship to the Pacific. Where did you say you wanted to go?”
“Okay. Let me see what I can find out. Can you volunteer this Wednesday or Thursday? We’re packing comfort kits.”
Zorka stopped going to classes. She avoided Panna. On Thursday, Zorka arrived at the Red Cross station and packed various items in goodwill boxes heading to Europe. This week the station packed raisins, coffee, corned beef, sugar, dried milk, biscuits, orange concentrate, chocolate bars, and cigarettes. Other packages contained medical supplies, clothing, toilet articles, seeds, and gardening materials. At the end of her shift, Lt. Stone requested Zorka to come to her office. “There’s a spot needed in the Motor Corp in the Philippines. The steamer Orinoco is leaving San Francisco in a week. After an introductory session of what to expect, the Red Cross will send you to the Philippines. We will pay for your tickets to get to San Francisco.”
Lt. Stone’s expression clouded over. “Zorka, I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you that what you’re requesting is a danger zone. The Japanese have taken control of Manila. I can’t guarantee your safety. We’ve heard of evacuations and quite honestly, there’s been reports of the Japanese not allowing Red Cross packages through to U.S. soldiers.”
Zorka thought of Barbara. Backed into a corner in the jungle of Bataan. Was she even alive?
* * * * *
Zorka and Panna took a cab to the address of the jazz club Ken suggested. It was three in the afternoon, and they entered the club carrying their instruments. Panna whispered to Zorka, “I don’t know how to play jazz. Are there jazz cellists?” Zorka sighed. “Who cares? We’ll improvise.” On the small stage, Ken played the piano while another Japanese American soldier improvised playing the drums. The owner was away from the bar, so Zorka helped herself to a rum and Coke. Panna had a Coke minus the alcohol. The music was soothing as they positioned themselves on the bar stools. When Ken turned his head and recognized them, he waved them over with that boyish enthusiasm that appealed to Zorka. Zorka took out her viola and jumped on stage, the white horse hairs of her bow finding the pure notes on the strings. Panna joined in, too. After a bit, she grew awkward and the notes stumbled. She could not break free from structure or maybe she did not want to be a part of the loose, improvisational experience. She retreated from the stage and hid in the shadows to watch.
Zorka let Ken kiss her cheek. After two stiff drinks, she relaxed and wanted to dance. They started dancing. Zorka told Panna to stop pouting and play something on her cello. Ken pulled her close and put his cheek on hers. How wonderful to smell his aftershave. How wonderful to have a handsome man have his hand on her back. She was sitting on a cloud of delight and decided to ruin it.
“I’m leaving next week.”
Ken pulled back and then closed his eyes and swung her around. “Oh, yeah? Where you going?”
“I signed up with the Red Cross. I volunteered to go to Manila. My sister is there.”
“Umm. Not a good idea, you know. The Japanese Imperial Army took over the city.”
“How do you feel about that? Ach, sorry. How strange to be you!”
Ken chuckled. “I don’t want to think about how strange I am.” He dipped her and looked into her eyes. “I keep telling you, I consider myself American. I think the Japanese Imperial Army is evil and God Bless America.” He twirled her some more and brought his hand over her tailbone. Ken whispered, “I think you’re perfect. For a Bohunk.” He winked at her.
Zorka acted offended and excused herself. After more music and alcohol, Zorka was jubilant. Even Panna had one Coke with rum and talked to Ken’s buddy. Zorka felt an emotional tug about saying goodbye. Ken gave her a salute. “Long live the brave Zorka who is leaving us to fly to the Philippines. Who knows what will happen. May she return to Minneapolis older and wiser. What do you say? Let’s agree after the war we meet back here and have a reunion party. We have to keep in touch, okay?”
Panna sat down. Zorka was tipsy and felt her face flush.
Panna said loudly, “Brave? You coward! I’m your best friend! How could you not tell me?” She put her violin in its case and marched out of the club sniffling. Chagrined, Zorka did not go after her. She looked at Ken and put her arms around his neck and asked, “Don’t you have some Japanese girl at home?”
He pushed aside a section of hair that fell in front of her nose. “Nope.” Ken kissed her lips, then whispered, “Wanna be my pen pal?”
Zorka smiled. “You bet.” She wrote down her address on a cocktail napkin. “In case, after the war, you want to look me up.”
Ken grabbed another napkin and scribbled down an address. “I can do one better. Write to me at the intelligence school. They will forward any letter you write to my future assignment.”
“Oh, what if we never see each other? Ouch!”
He kissed her hard. “Bye, pretty girl.”
Zorka put away her viola and waved goodbye. As she left, she hoped the smile she placed on her face covered the conflicted emotions of sadness, regret, and happiness.
Thank you for taking the time to read Chapter 2.
In case you would like to peruse a past post about the research, I invite you to check out the following link. https://wordpress.com/post/cindybruchman.com/18646
I drove to Flagstaff and took the scenic route. This picture is at the top of the canyon facing back to Sedona. Such a lovely area. During the week, there are few tourists, and a driver can escape into nature and enjoy the ride.
This is my dedication novel to the women and men of World War II in the Pacific theater. Your questions and comments are welcome!
Hospital No. 2 sprawled outward in size as patients arrived each day. On the third morning, the bombing intensified, and the nurses braced themselves for a grueling wave of incoming casualties. Barbara overheard Lt. Nesbit’s sorrowful tone of resignation. To Sgt. Dulay, Nesbit said, “No more distant bombing. No rear areas. We are backed into a corner.”
Donning an apron and face mask, XO Fox motioned Lt. Nesbit to bring the incoming patients to the surgical tent from the staging area. Pointing to Barbara and Laura, Nesbit ordered, “Kiss and Wolfe. You’re with me.” Barbara gathered the surgical equipment to be sanitized. She put them in a steel drum pressure cooker over a Bunsen burner. Barbara organized the clean gowns, linen, gauze, towels, and swabs. Lt. Nesbit ordered Laura to get the morphine shots ready. Wolfe gently sharpened the needle tips on a smooth, round stone. She boiled the water and sanitized the needles. Into the glass syringe, she dropped a morphine tablet and watched it dissolve. She repeated the process until her movements were swift and efficient. All the while, the Japanese planes buzzed above while the angry dialogue in the trees above reminded Barbara of Beth El Synagogue elders disapproving of changes suggested by the young Rabbi, David Aronson.
Medics worked around the surgical tables, delivering patients and carting them away to convalesce. A truck arrived at the triage station. Nurses filled out the Emergency Medical Tag for each patient they registered. The bedlam of noise distressed Barbara. She recoiled when wheels screeched or patients yawped. The bombing grew louder. More trucks arrived filled with the wounded. Sgt. Cleopatra Dulay orchestrated events by directing the ambulances to triage. Assisting Dulay was Patty Parr. Cleopatra pointed to her clipboard and Patty blasted directions at the incoming traffic. Barbara’s teeth clenched at the sound of Patty’s shrill tone.
At one of the surgical tables, Barbara provided cotton supplies to Captain Fox, Captain Roland, and Sgt. Ethel Thor. Barbara noticed Laura moving around the surgical tables delivering trays of morphine shots with petrified eyes. She passed by Captain Roland who bellowed at Nurse Thor to compress both hands on a chest wound spouting with blood. As Laura absorbed the scene, she looked faint. Barbara touched her elbow and suggested delivering the morphine to the neighboring surgical tent. Laura staggered away, muttering, “Pretty soon, I’m gonna need some for myself.”
A Filipino doctor, Captain Garcia, asked Barbara to assist him. He had slicked black hair and a somber slit for lips. He directed the medics to carry eight new patients on stretchers and situate them into ward three. Barbara kept close to him, trying to hear over the nightmarish orchestra of whining humans and machines. Captain Garcia rapidly examined each soldier assessing their needs. Barbara filled out the tags when he announced his verdict. “Shattered Pelvis.”
He renamed the patient by the title of their injury. Her job was to match the injury to the name on the dog tag and fill out the form.
One was quiet. “Superficial head and neck.”
One groaned. “Internal bleeding.”
Another screamed. “Bullet hole to the femur.”
One whimpered. “Burn wound on the right arm and hand.”
Captain Garcia veered to a patient at the end of the line. The soldier breathed with a dry, hacking cough. He panicked and started to shake. Captain Garcia told Barbara to get a syringe and hose, ASAP. When she returned seconds later, the patient stared at Barbara with alarm. She held his hand. “It’s going to be okay. Breathe with me, now. Inhale, exhale. Again. Inhale, exhale. Good.” She looked at his dog tag. Frances Talbot.
“Come on, Frances. She puffed in quick shallow breaths, and they breathed together. Captain Garcia poked a hole through his skin. The air pressurized and caused his lung to collapse. His body thrashed and his eyes rolled back into his head. “Hold him down, nurse. He’s going into Anaphylactic shock.” Barbara grabbed his shoulders while the doctor administered a shot of morphine and inserted the hose into his lung. Soon his breathing stabilized. Captain Garcia exhaled and smiled at Barbara. “Good work, Nurse Kiss.” He looked around him and motioned medics to take the wounded to surgery. “Until the next round arrives, help out where needed.”
Barbara crossed her arms and shoved her trembling hands under her armpits.
The sky transitioned from day to night until someone’s alarm clock chimed it was five o’clock in the morning. They had all worked through the night, and Barbara could not recall when the previous day began. A few of the nurses staggered into the sleeping room and collapsed. Barbara lay on her cot and ignored the pounding of her feet and the stench of herself. She looked at her pruney fingers from being in surgical gloves for too long. Barbara stared into the trees above her. A family of macaques chattered at her like a judge and jury, and she was found guilty. Her dulled senses kept her immobile. Twenty-four hours ago, she flinched at their agitated calls. Now, Barbara would not budge if they shat on her.
The nurses whispered to one another in the cool morning air. Who knew how long they would be allowed to rest? The sheet dividing the makeshift barracks from the hospital grounds flapped rhythmically in the breeze. Barbara was hypnotized while watching Carol Fitzgerald wash plastic surgical gloves and hang them to dry on a bamboo clothesline. When she finished her duty, Carol entered the room hunched over. She took her time stretching and contorting her body back to an erect standing position. She offered a loud yawn and sagged to her cot, eyes closed, fast asleep. Barbara returned her gaze outside their sleeping quarters and noticed Patty Parr gesticulating in front of Lt. Nesbit. Barbara overheard Parr volunteering to ride with the last transport truck back to the coast at Mariveles to make contact with the new pilot who agreed to satisfy their wish lists.
Lt. Nesbit said, “You two will return by jeep later today. It is a dangerous proposition, Nurse Parr. Are you sure you are up for it?”
Patty scoffed. She pushed back her shoulders and lifted up her chin. “Let the other nurses sleep. I can handle a drive in the jungle.”
Barbara wondered why Patty’s need to be the hero annoyed her. She watched Patty sprint, leap and twist her boyish frame like a track and field star onto the back of the truck. She sat at the edge dangling her feet with one hand on her cap waving goodbye to no one in particular. Go. Bring us the mail, Barbara thought. Bring us our precious delights. Be our Santa Claus. Barbara’s mysterious contempt for Patty grew. Is it because she acts like a twenty-four-hour shift is nothing? Perhaps she wanted a break from the blood and the guts and the flies. Can you blame her? The gears winced, and the truck carrying Patty Parr disappeared into the jungle foliage.
At the main compound, Barbara watched Laura staring at a pile of laundry. The duty roster listed Laura to wash the soiled sheets and surgical gowns. A large canvas hamper on wheels overflowed with the gory results of the war. Lt. Nesbit told Laura to drag it down to the river and rinse them out as best as she could. “When you return, the civilians will boil and hang them.” When Barbara thought about the mosquitoes and biting flies that would descend on the imbrued pile, her fear of malaria prompted her into action. Barbara knew she should pretend to be asleep, let Laura do her own chore, but she made the mistake of observing Laura’s devastated expression. Her friend’s eyes pooled with tears, and she stood there helpless as a lost puppy. Barbara could feel her body rise, and she hobbled over to Laura, feeling eighty instead of thirty. She tried to tease her friend. “Laura Wolfe, stop looking so pathetic.”
“I don’t think I’m cut out for nursing, Babs. I’m a wreck inside.”
“Push it back down. Remember what Lt. Nesbit said? This is all temporary.”
Laura and Barbara scooted and lifted the hamper into a wheel barrel. It did not fit, but it was easier to move the heavy hamper over the uneven ground. They aimed for a sandy inlet of the Real River. A medic passed by them and smirked, “Watch out for the vipers down by the rocks.”
Laura’s face blanched and Barbara swore at him. They clumsily rolled away from Hospital No. 2. The sun shone on the shallow river, and the sparkles guided them to the waterside.
“Babs, recite a poem. It’s such a good trick, that.”
“I’m too tired.”
“Did you hear the bushes rustling? What if it’s a panther smelling the blood in this hamper?”
“I don’t think panthers live in the Philippine jungle,” Barbara replied, although she had
no clue whether or not they did. Better to avoid thinking about predators hiding behind the thickets and vines of the jungle.
Laura stumbled, and the wheelbarrow scraped against the rocks. She dropped the wooden handle, and Barbara’s sore shoulder stiffened under the weight. Barbara could not suppress her anger and snapped, “Come on, Laura, lift! Oh, nevermind. Forget the wheelbarrow, and let’s drag this damned hamper the rest of the way to the water.”
At the clearing, other medical staff rinsed soiled garments in the river. Two sentries with guns stood nearby overseeing the area. Barbara remembered Lt. Nesbit’s voice buzzing in her head. The Philippine Scouts are militia and agreed to protect the hospital. You will recognize them by the yellow shoulder patch with a red caribou as its marking. Barbara gestured to Laura. “See, we’re safe. They’re keeping watch.” Laura nodded and faked a smile.
The cool temperature at the river’s edge made Barbara’s skin turn to gooseflesh. They dragged the hamper to the sandy inlet and pushed it over on its side. She took off her headband and wrapped it around her nose and mouth. They bent over and pulled the aprons and bedsheets into the water to soak. Fleshy pieces and blood floated downstream. Laura said, “What a meal for the fish and scavengers, eh?” Laura was too busy gagging to reply.
To divert her attention from the disgusting job, Barbara considered her friend Laura. They both arrived at Sternberg General Hospital at Manila Bay last October 1941. They shared the same shifts and drank beer at the base canteen during their off time. Barbara responded to the naivete in Laura. She reminded Barbara of her little sister Zorka. There was an invisible pull to safeguard the younger, pretty girl in a place so foreign. While their work solidified a working friendship, she did not know much about Laura other than she was from a family of Swedes who owned a dairy farm in Wisconsin. One evening after a shift, they sipped beer, and Laura confided to Barbara, “When I turned sixteen, my parents gave me two choices. Pick a service career or stay on the farm and help with the milkers.” Her blue eyes blinked and crinkled. “I hate milking cows. So I went to Madison and became a nurse. When the war began, I never thought Uncle Sam would send me to Manila.”
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese turned to the Philippines and invaded. The war became real for Barbara when she watched the plumes of black smoke billowing out of buildings at Manila Bay. Their unit was forced to evacuate Sternberg and retreat to the jungle, and Hospital No. 1 was created. News and communication in the jungle were sporadic. Not knowing if the next whistle from the air would hit its mark affected everyone in different ways. When the Japanese detonated their bombs near the first jungle hospital, Barbara watched the panic permanently set in Laura’s baby blues. Barbara knew caring for her young friend was another way to escape from fully feeling the terrifying situation.
Now they wrung the aprons and sheets before them. They rolled them up in balls and put them back in the canvas hamper. Carrying it back up to the trail was much harder. Laura waved to two medics up the path who helped them lift it into the wheelbarrow and push it up to camp to a designated area of the hospital where boiling stockpots of water waited to sanitize the balls of rinsed cloth. Filipino women spoke to them in Tagalog. Barbara smiled and nodded her thanks. Finally, they were done. The pair of nurses tiptoed into their partitioned barracks and joined their sleeping sisters.
Next week, Chapter two. Thanks for reading!
Driving up to Jerome, AZ, there’s a lady who likes to dress up her four pink flamingos. I get a kick out of her creativity and look to see what the flamingos are wearing every time I go through the quirky town.
This is my dedication novel to the women and men of World War II in the Pacific theater. While this is historical fiction, I’ve done a lot of research and will present the bibliography soon. My goal is to recreate the historical climate in Manila and the surrounding area. Many of the characters are real, like nurse commander, Lt. Josephine Nesbit of Hospital No. 2, the spy Claire Phillips known as High Pockets, and Lt. Colonel Jack Schwartz whose perils represent many soldiers’ experiences during the Japanese occupation. Sharing in installments for easier reading, I welcome your thoughts and comments.
Two Jewish sisters from Minneapolis become intertwined in love, racism, and survival in the war-torn Philippines…
January 17, 1942
Barbara Kiss sat on a boulder at the edge of the Real River in the Bataan jungle. It was the first time the nurses had a moment to rest since they vacated Hospital No. 1. and retreated to the interior of the peninsula for the purpose of establishing a convalescent hospital. She used rocks and sand to scrub out the hardened oatmeal that clung to the bottom of a kitchen pot that had not been washed due to the rush. The air was balmy, and the water moving over her toes calmed her. She surveyed her surroundings and focused on the giant fronds of the Anahaw tree. On the opposite bank, she absorbed the contrast of the dark Mahogany trunk next to the bright bamboo leaves flickering in the breeze. She thought that under different circumstances, the Philippines would be an exotic oasis. While Barbara waited for the order to move on, her thoughts drifted home to Minnesota. She strained to remember her life before arriving in Manila, avoiding the bombardment of an enemy trying to take over the world.
Barbara Kiss loved her name. It was the only pretty thing about herself. With a pudgy nose and thick eyebrows, she believed she looked too manly. Friends told her she had expressive eyes and nicely-shaped lips, but when she caught sight of her reflection, she saw frizzy hair the color of a mud puddle. She was built like a poyer and looked like her grandmother in Budapest who suffered from leg ulcers that would not heal. No man had ever kissed Barbara, and the irony took hold. She hoped when men heard her last name, the association would be a subliminal suggestion, but Barbara was thirty and becoming exactly what her mother feared, a spinster.
Barbara was proud of her intellect. What she lacked in looks she compensated with brainpower. She adapted to public school with top grades. Hebrew school on Sundays with the girls in her synagogue was not difficult. She possessed a passion for literature. She savored the images created in Dante’s Inferno. She contemplated the themes in Shakespeare’s tragedies, memorized Victorian poetry, and wept for Jane Eyre. She admired Ben Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Edith Wharton. For the last decade, her mother whined that Barbara wasted too much time reading British poetry when she should focus on obtaining a husband.
Barbara rationalized that if men would not come to her, then she would go to them. To quieten her mother and increase the odds, nursing became a logical career choice. Barbara graduated first in her class at the University of Minnesota in 1939. She joined the Women’s Army Corps to her mother’s disapproval. She begged Barbara to join the local Red Cross or assist her father with his dental practice. She told Barbara to encourage the affections of David Goldfarb, a widower on 14th Avenue, and stay in the neighborhood. Barbara grasped the second irony about herself. She did not want a man who was old and ugly. Getting assigned to the Philippines at Manila felt like a blessing, initially.
As a nurse, she was surrounded by hundreds of men, and they all wanted her. Eyes followed as she made her way from ward to ward, bed to bed. It was immaterial to soldiers that she looked nothing like Hedy Lamarr or Carol Lombard. She felt their gratitude when she held their hand or listened to them talk about their lives. Many of her patients looked like petrified boys. She gave them what they wanted, which was a shot of morphine and an embrace with maternal eyes. Her brand of intimacy with men was unusual, albeit it was a real connection. Was this how mothers felt for their suffering sons? She thought. Was this the affinity married couples shared? Barbara felt a kinship with the soldiers in an unquestioning, safe way. They assumed she was Christian. She felt like a Jewish nun. Am I an irony or a walking contradiction?
The quiet moment at the stream ended when Barbara heard the whistle of a plane dropping a land bomb. The ground grumbled. From the dark recess of the trail from where they had come, the head nurse, Lt. Josephine Nesbit, appeared and performed a headcount of nurses. “Come on, girls. We need to move. Now.”
Barbara rushed to dry her feet and tie her shoes. She lifted the stretcher with her friend Laura on the other end. They were part of a detail assigned to transport mess supplies. Moving quickly, Barbara and Laura stuffed towels around the metal pots to keep them quiet. In the flurry, someone chucked a Red Cross parcel filled with cans of spam onto the stretcher. Her shoulder muscles pulled, but Barbara did her best to ignore the pain. Lt. Nesbit said they had a few kilometers to go, and they would be far enough away from Hospital No. 1 and from immediate danger. Army bulldozers preceded them and cleared a space in the jungle to set up a makeshift hospital for the overflow of casualties. Barbara flinched when an explosion behind her sounded near. Her arms felt rubbery. There was nothing to do but to keep calm and march.
Her mind wandered back to Minnesota to her family. As the oldest child, Barbara Kiss understood her mother more than her brother and her little sister, Zorka. The move in 1910 to Minneapolis had been too much for Margit Kiss. Barbara grew up listening to Anja complain about her new life in Minnesota. After thirty years in her “new” life, Margit still longed for the old one back in Budapest. She wrote weekly letters to her sister Lotti or to her bedridden mother. Margit Kiss felt two emotions. Guilt for leaving her mother and sister behind and resentment toward her husband for dragging her to Minneapolis while pregnant with Barbara. The Depression had not helped. The Kiss savings dwindled as patients had no money to pay to fix their teeth. During the 1930s, Barbara grew up alert and tall while her mother turned querulous and shrank. Margit puffed when she breathed and fretted like a hen trying to keep her chicks in line of sight. She developed the habit of grabbing Barbara’s arm as if she were in a perpetual state of unbalance. Her dependence on Barbara was nerve-wracking, so reading books and reciting poetry had been a way to escape. Barbara shook her head and muttered to herself, “Always trying to escape. First Anja and now the Japanese.”
Laura and Barbara were in the middle of the line surrounded by nurses and enlisted men from the medical core. Filipino civilians were a part of the team, and they all hiked near the Real River on a path barely able to squeeze a jeep through. Everyone carried something to the new hospital which was unceremoniously named Hospital No. 2. The bulldozers shoveled the underbrush away to clear a 30×50 feet area. The single-file team emerged to the cleared space, and the canopy of enormous Acacia trees served as an umbrella to hide them from enemy planes.
The bombs were audible but distant. Lt. Nesbit ordered two civilians to dig holes in a deep trench by the hospital grounds. She supervised the burying of wooden crates. Quinine. Sulfa. Morphine. Vitamins. Carpenters chopped bamboo and made tables and cots for the patients. Civilian women stuffed rice straw into mattress covers. As the task force made beds and benches, Barbara and Laura delivered their supplies to the mess area and introduced themselves to the cook, Staff Sergeant Oscar Wozniak.
Sweat pooled in droplets on his forehead and made his olive skin glisten. As he carried a stockpot to his propane stove and lit a flame to boil water for rice for evening chow, he yelled, “Move out of my way, you two. Go fix someone and leave the kitchen to me. In Polish he swore, “Zostaw mnie w spokoju!”
Laura stuck out her tongue at him behind his back. Wisps of platinum hair framed her face. Barbara had an aversion to cooking. She did not mind finding something else to do. She saw movement behind a wall of tangled vines. Someone tied sheets to create a privacy screen. “Come on, Laura, let’s go over there to help.”
Barbara was impressed by how fast the hospital evolved after a few hours of their arrival. Workers created paths with their machetes and chopped through the brush to make another room. They hacked through the jungle growth until Hospital No. 2 looked like a sprawling ant farm. The creatures of the jungle angrily protested the intrusion. Added to their bleats and mewls, the flies and mosquitoes buzzed. It never occurred to Barbara how loud the jungle would be. A Filipino carpenter named Matibag created fly swatters out of a pile of bamboo reeds and passed them out to the nurses. Matibag skipped around swatting flies with enthusiasm, but Barbara worried about Malaria, and she could barely shape her lips into a smile when he gave her one.
“No worry, nurse. My fly swatters magic. They keep sickness away.” She nodded her thanks and holstered it to the hemp belt around her waist.
The afternoon air was warm. Lt. Nesbit ordered the nurses together in formation and stood before them. Barbara found the sound of Nesbit’s high voice unusual but arresting. She churned the words in the back of her throat with humming sounds before she expelled a thought. “Nurses, I just filled out the daily report and there are 178 of us here at Hospital No. 2. Civilians, medics, doctors–the nurses make up an important part of that number. There are 43 regular Army nurses and 22 Filipino nurses among us.” Then she paused, took a deep breath, and charged forth with another statement.
“Ladies, I’m in charge of 65 nurses. I’ll do my best to keep you safe and help you keep our patients alive. Although this jungle is an unusual place to build a hospital, we will act like we are indoors with a proper floor and walls and a roof.”
The Lieutenant had a diamond-shaped face. She looked up at the cracks between the branches to the blue sky that dotted above her. “Do not compare our jungle hospital to the conveniences of Sternberg Hospital because you will always be disappointed, and the last thing we have time for is self-pity.”
After readjusting her glasses, her voice overflowed with resolve. “We will carry water from upstream to our patients for bathing. We will bat the flies and stay sanitized. There’s a spot downstream reserved for when you need the latrine.”
She put her knuckles on her hips as though her hands needed a rest. “I have set up sanitation stations in each of the wards. It’s all our duty to see that our medicine and supplies are carefully organized and administered.”
Lt. Nesbit paused to think. She tapped her clipboard with her pencil. “In addition to 65 nurses, many civilians are helping us. The Philippine Scouts are a militia and agreed to protect the hospital. You will recognize them by the yellow shoulder patch with a red caribou as its marking.”
She glanced at her report. “In total, at Hospital No. 2, we have become an instant family of 178. Major Bernard Fox is our Executive Officer. The assisting surgeon is Captain Paul Roland. Our Chief Surgeon and CO is Lt. Colonel Jack Schwartz. Add the other civilian doctors and nurses, well, you can understand Lt. Colonel Schwartz has a lot to worry about.”
She pointed away from the main area of the hospital from where the mess and surgical tent were located to a section cleared for personnel. “The men will sleep on the north side of the hospital. We nurses will bunk on the south side.”
Barbara felt the sweat at the small of her back staining her Army fatigues. She could see her hair frizzing in her peripheral vision and wished she could tuck it back under her headband. Why didn’t you cut it when you had the chance last month? Her hair was heavy, and her neck felt like a pin balancing a bowling ball. Her mind went numb. Her eyelids drooped. Laura nudged her elbow and whispered, “Babs, wake up! How can you sleep standing up?”
Lt. Nesbit paced in front of the nurses while the last of the day’s sun reached through the leaves and struck their faces with slivers of light. Barbara sighed when she realized Nesbit had more to say. She pointed to a nurse in front of the formation. “My job is in the capacity of Chief Surgical Nurse. Sgt. Ethel Thor will take over for me if I become incapacitated.”
Nurse Thor stepped forward crisply, turned about-face, and saluted the nurses. Her salt and pepper hair was cropped short, and her uniform looked baggy on her. She grinned, which was nice to see, but Barbara wondered if the nurse mocked her position with her enthusiasm, or was Nurse Thor really this excited to be at the jungle hospital surrounded by bugs and humidity? She returned to her spot at the end of the first row. Barbara hoped Sgt. Thor closed her mouth before a fly flew in.
Lt. Josephine Nesbit’s speech was drawing to a close. “Girls, your job is to make sure our soldiers are as comfortable as possible. Your work assignments will be posted daily. There’s no need to complain because I will rotate the responsibilities. The key to enduring this assignment is to remember this is all temporary.”
Barbara read between the lines and whispered to Laura, “Don’t complain when it’s our turn to take the soiled sheets to the river to clean.” Laura rolled her eyes.
Lt. Nesbit allowed herself a small smile. She swung her head to the left and right looking for someone. “I’d like to introduce to you my new right hand if you will. She is from the Philippine Army. Ladies, Sergeant Cleopatra Dulay. See her for requisition forms and obtaining supplies. By God, where’d she go?”
Sgt. Dulay backed out of a pup tent which kept the medical records safe. When she turned and saw the platoon staring at her, she nearly dropped a stack of manila files. She stood at attention. Her smooth hair was pulled back into a bun so severe, it made her eyes bulge. She rushed over to Lt. Nesbit and stood next to her. It was a comical sight. Josephine Nesbit was close to six feet tall while Cleopatra Dulay barely stood five feet. Her eyes were alert and shiny like coals in the rain. The toe of her boot tapped the ground as she attempted to hide her nervousness. Barbara thought She can’t be more than eighteen. How is she a sergeant already?
“Thank you, ladies. Dismissed.”
They treated dozens of patients. By dusk, the wounded lay on cots low to the ground and covered under a mosquito net. SSG Wozniak hung a cowbell on a tree branch next to his mess station and clambered it. Crude picnic tables set under large canvas tarps. The nurses accepted a tin plate of fried spam and an ice cream scoop of rice. Barbara gave her slice of spam to Laura.
“This is when I am glad you’re a Jew, Babs,” she said and devoured the slice in one bite. In exchange, Laura rolled her ball of rice to Barbara’s plate. Lt. Nesbit carried over a bamboo stool and sat down at the head of the long table. “Finish eating, girls, and then we’ll chat.”
Barbara took out her teabag wrapped in her chambray shirt pocket and stood. She walked over to the SSG’s kitchen to request water for a cup of tea. Oscar Wozniak appeared calmer now that he cooked and served chow. He filled up her tin cup with boiling water. “How long have you had that teabag?”
“Hmmm. It arrived last October. A package from my folks back in Minneapolis.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Does it have any flavor left?”
“I pretend it does.”
“I got a whole box of teabags. Want a new one?”
Barbara thought about her mother’s care package and how this wimpy bag was somehow a piece of her. “Maybe next week, Staff Sergeant.”
He was a beefy man with thick limbs and a massive chest. He squinted at her while he read her stenciled name over her breast pocket. “Nurse Kiss, right?”
She liked his countenance, complete with kind eyes and voluminous mouth. She motioned “yes” with a nod.
“Okay, Kiss, you can call me Oscar.”
“Thanks, Oscar. Where are you from?”
He began scraping a griddle. Sweat dripped from the fleshy skin around his neck. “Philly. Port Richmond. Salmon Street.” He wiped his forehead with his arm and set down the metal spatula. He looked at Barbara and informed, “The men in my family are butchers and stuffers.”
“I learned how to stuff sausages from my grandfather and make perogies from my babka.”
Barbara sipped from the tin cup. The hot water nourished her parched throat.
“The Wozniak Meat Shop. Ever hear of it? ”
“Can’t say that I have.” She thought of the Jewish women back home who spent their lives cooking delicacies for their families and neighbors. While Barbara did not share their devotion to the kitchen, she happily devoured their tokens of love. “I like potato and onion knishes.”
She reached for the Star of David hanging around her neck and waved it.
Oscar smiled. “If I ever see potatoes again, I’ll make you a batch.”
Barbara raised her mug to him in salute and returned to the nurses’ table. Her place disappeared, so she sat next to Patty Parr who swore at her transistor radio to work. Her curly black hair was short. Her eyes were fierce like the pinpoint of a gun barrel. She twisted the frequency knob until she found a signal broadcasting from San Francisco. She turned up the volume knob. It was the voice of President Roosevelt reassuring the Pacific fleet. “Have no fear, the skies will be black with planes over your heads.” The table listened to a commercial jingle for Milk of Magnesia. An announcer in a clipped voice returned. “And now for the week in review.”
Laura rubbed her neck and yawned. “What day is it?’
Patty shouted, “January 17.”
Announcer: “Today, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9024 thus creating the War Production Board. Gather your bronze, brass, and copper for our men at war, folks. It’s a full-scale civilian effort issued by the president.”
President Roosevelt’s melodious voice addressed the nation in between static interruptions. “. . . time to revamp our industries to produce items for the war effort. We need planes. Tanks. Munitions. Furthermore, I’m asking all women and children to participate in the fight for freedom on the homefront. Sew parachutes. Recycle precious materials by orchestrating drives. Use your ration cards wisely.”
The announcer interrupted Roosevelt. “Important commodities needed are plastics, gasoline, heating oil, rubber, and paper. Let’s do our part, America!” The sound of canned clapping and whistles crackled over the airwaves.
Barbara could imagine him with slicked-back hair hugging the microphone in a closet of a radio house. “After the following announcements from the good friends at General Foods, stay with us at KGMZ for another episode of the newly married couple, “Claudia and David.”
Lt. Nesbit took out her notepad. She signaled Parr to silence the radio. The head nurse pushed her glasses up onto the bridge of her nose. “I found a pilot who is willing to smuggle in necessities.” Her voice was high and clear. “I’m making a list, so shout out your requests. No promises.”
The nurses drummed the table. They went around the table taking turns.
“Lt., I need socks.”
“Yes, and tampons.”
Patty Parr chided, “What’ da ya need mascara for Carol? You’re gonna sweet talk a monkey?”
The other nurses giggled. Unperturbed, Carol Fitzgerald smoothed her russet waves. “I just met Larry last week at the No. 1. He says he’s gonna hitch a ride over here as soon as he can get away.”
Laura Wolf touched her blonde ponytail. “I left my hairbrush back at Hospital No. 1.”
“My toothbrush has gone AWOL.”
Barbara said, “Books. Let the pilot surprise me.”
Lt. Nesbit told them, “Our mail will be delivered soon. My goal is to establish communication and get supplies and . . .”
“Cards! A new deck of cards,” Patty Parr blurted. “And shampoo. I hate washing my hair with bar soap.”
Cleopatra Dulay said, “A pair of size four shoes.”
Lt. Nesbit lifted her hands up in defeat. She raised her voice over their cries. “The pilot I heard from. She’s a civilian who flies for the Red Cross. She’s agreed to deliver the mail and meet our supply requests within reason. Next time she flies into Manila Air Field, she’ll see what she can do for us.”
Barbara looked around at the jubilant faces. It was easy to ignore stiffness and fatigue when someone promised to deliver toiletries and a letter from home. Nesbit stood up. “Ok, time to turn in. Your barracks are ready.”
With a long stride, she crossed the compound, and the nurses followed her. Along the way, a patient reached out and waved to Barbara. He pointed to his poorly wrapped arm. “This arm is slashed. Can you look at it? It seems juicy to me.”
Barbara grabbed a medical bag and squatted down next to him to change his bloody bandage. He reminded Barbara of the neighborhood newspaper boy who had celebrated his Bar Mitzvah before she enlisted. Such smooth skin. “How are you feeling? Where are you from?”
“Ah, in that case,” Barbara gently removed the wrapping from his deltoid and blinked at the infected laceration. She closed her eyes and recited:
The air is chill, and the day grows late,
And the clouds come in through the Golden Gate:
Phantom fleets they seem to me,
From a shoreless and unsounded sea;
Their shadowy spars and misty sails,
Unshattered, have weathered a thousand gales:
Slow wheeling, lo! in squadrons gray,
They part, and hasten along the bay . . .
Barbara chuckled. “There’s more, but, you get the idea.” It was a lifetime ago since she won first place reciting Edward Pollock’s poem in school.
He wiggled in his cot. “Wow. That was nice. I’ve heard of it, I think.”
Barbara sprinkled sulfa powder over the slash as she chatted. “It’s called, “Golden Gate.” She swatted away the flies that instantly appeared. “What happened?”
“I got in between a radiator and a palm tree. I was waiting for the convoy, minding my own business, when a supply truck turned a corner too fast. It bumped me into a palm tree. Sliced me up like butter.”
Barbara finished wrapping the wound with gauze strips. She stood and hailed the civilian doctor walking nearby to ask if she could administer a penicillin shot. He nodded.
“Roll to your side, San Francisco.” She poked his rump with the needle.
Laura waved to Barbara. “Babs, hurry up.”
San Francisco closed his eyes, and she covered him with a sheet.
Barbara rubbed her aching shoulders and walked to the partitioned section where Laura disappeared. Inside the room hung hammocks attached to Acadia trunks and thick vines. Young palm trees provided natural privacy for a row of crammed bamboo cots. Barbara was the last of the nurses to claim her cot. She was in the middle of the room with little privacy, close to the flap that functioned as a door, and her bed was next to Patty Parr. Barbara frowned but said nothing. Eight Army and four Filipino nurses shared the room. Many were already asleep.
Barbara collapsed on her cot and covered herself with a mosquito net. It made her feel like she was a corpse. Into her head entered the vision of Emily Dickinson. Barbara mumbled a few lines as she nodded off:
Because I could not stop for Death–
He kindly stopped for me–
The Carriage held but just Ourselves–
Patty rolled away from her. “Damn it, Kiss. Either recite a happy poem or forget about it altogether. It’s creepy you saying poetry all the time.” Barbara only heard mumbling. With closed eyes, she stretched out her arm and brushed the net with her fingernails, and murmured:
He passed Us–
The Dews drew quivering and Chill–
For only gossamer, my Gown–
My Tippet–only Tulle–.
Lt. Nesbit entered the sleeping area for a final look. Carol Fitzgerald was bold enough to break rank, her hair loose around her neck. “Thanks, Josie, for the privacy.”
Patty Parr yawned loudly, “Where’ ya sleeping, Lt.?”
“I’m right next to you. See, just over there, by the pup tent? Within hollering range. Night, ladies.”
Part 2 in a week or so. Thank you for taking the time to read.
I have fallen into the habit of watching television series after dinner. I’m partial to historical plots.
Many are too long and too much like a soap opera, but occasionally I get sucked into the narrative and cannot wait for the next episode like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel or The Queen’s Gambit. If I learned something new, and the writing was decent, I forgave cheesiness and improbability. Have you seen these?
I recommend reading Kristin Hunt‘s article featuring the fact and fiction behind Ryan Murphy’s Netflix original series, Hollywood. She says, “Although Hollywood features several real-life celebrities, directors, and agents, their biographies are intentionally pumped full of lies to suit the limited series’s alternative history, which imagines how life might’ve been different for queer, black, and brown entertainers if racism and homophobia were not barriers to their success.” I thought the series was a bolt of pizazz. I am a sucker for old Hollywood, and I liked the alternate history. Read Hunt’s article here:
Never have I witnessed the perspective of women who journeyed to Jamestown, Virginia in the 1600s explored before. That unique perspective was highly entertaining. It was another historical series showcasing the clash of cultures. The Powhatan culture. The British class system. The beginning of slavery–it’s all there.
Have you seen any of these?
I can breathe now. I secured a job teaching AP Literature at a Lynchburg, Virginia high school. We found a house in the nearby town of Bedford and will close on March 21. Three obstacles face me now.
Shoulder replacement on March 29. I have avoided thinking about this for months. Last year’s surgery repairing torn tendons consumed my summer with physical therapy. Alas, during Thanksgiving, I fell and dislocated my shoulder. Ouch. Remember Inspector Kemp in Young Frankenstein? That has been me, using my good hand to move the bad arm. (My students find it comical to see me writing on the board with my good hand holding up my elbow.)
When the topic of my shoulder is under discussion, I am surprised how colleagues and acquaintances jump in with a horror story of their own. “Abe’s body rejected the replacement. It was a foreign object and after three more surgeries, he’s still in pain.” Or, “Amy got an infection and it nearly killed her.” I haven’t heard of anyone dying from a shoulder replacement, so that is what I’m focusing on.
Should we sell Dorothy or take her with us? Jim found a discarded wooden sign down the hill from our motor home. Dorothy became the name of our “ship”. To me, Dorothy is a vessel that rocks and rolls during windy gusts. She requires preventative maintenance and diligent care. We bought her six months ago. She is thirty-eight feet long and cost $165,000 in 2002. Twenty years later, her value is nowhere near that amount, but she is priceless to Jim. He tinkers and attends to her with daily devotion. Since we are boondocking at the edge of an RV park, we get the benefits of a water filling/discarding service, internet, and the laundry room. It also means we rely on the generator and solar panels for energy. The instrument panel is checked throughout the day and night to ensure we do not run out of heat and electricity. Jim has itched to drive her across the country when we move in late May. He promises me the Cummings engine can do it.
I, on the other hand, have become rather timid with adventures. I voted to sell her before we leave Arizona. I am afraid something will break during the 2,000-mile drive. I worry we will not recoup our money the longer we live in it. Last night, Jim and I drank wine and listened to Charles Lloyd play the sax while Lucinda Williams, whose voice could make a dog howl, sing “Dust.”
We talked about adventures and why I was becoming a scaredy-cat. “Why waste so much of your time thinking of our future home than appreciating our home today? In Dorothy?”
Jim refreshed my wine glass. We looked at the hills and watched the night set in. “We are about to cross the country, and that’s the adventure! Let’s stop in Nashville and see Graceland. Let’s eat ribs and listen to music in Memphis,” my wise husband suggested.
Sorry, Dorothy. It is never too late for an attitude adjustment.
Time to share novel three and blog again. The third hurdle has been the World War II novel I put5555 on hold along with blogging. I’m vowing not to wish for the fut5ure. After all, who knows how March 29 will turn out? And the third manuscript? I’m going to share “The Lost Sisters of Bataan” now. Chapter by chtapter. Be my guest and be a critic. I’ll hire a professional editor with the hope that Dartfrog Publishing will agree to its publication.
Love & Friendship,
Traveling from Prescott, Arizona to the Verde Valley, one can either go around Mingus Mountain or over it. I chose the switchback curves. Right before Jerome, there is a scenic pull-off. This is where I took the shot of the valley. The Sedona Red Rocks are in the background.
At our plateau, the wind picked up and pushed the setting clouds. They stretched like tentacles above our heads.
An afternoon shower presented a regal rainbow for our viewing outside the motor home. I see the pot of gold behind the bush, don’t you?
Today is my birthday. I’m 59. It’s 2:15 in the morning, and I can’t sleep. This post is a year in review, of sorts. Quickly, though–I still have to get up in the morning and teach. And celebrate being 59.
Blogging: In years past, on the 13th day of the month I’d host a “Cindy’s Lucky 13 Film Club” post. I miss that, talking to friends about the film industry. Many times the post generated over 100 comments. As it stands, I have lost the thrill of watching movies on a regular basis. A favorite hobby run dry. Why? Covid broke the habit of going to the movies, for one reason. Streaming changed the way I find entertainment. I seem to watch TV series more. I loved watching: Timeless, Jamestown, Poldark, Astrid, and the Tudor trio series The Spanish Princess, The White Princess, and The White Queen. As far as films go, I will report that The Power of the Dog, The Courier, The Green Knight, Belfast, Dune were winners for me.
Health: I am sick and tired of being sick and tired. Do you want the list of issues and surgeries and hospitalizations and relapses? Don’t worry, I won’t waste your time. I confess I hate it when I’m in another doctor’s office, and they want to review my health conditions. In the end, I feel like a walking timebomb. What happened to the athlete from twenty years ago? How can living an active life of hard work and activity cause one’s body to break down? When I start to feel sorry for myself, I only have to consider all the people who are suffering from diseases I don’t have or are completely immobile. I believe “a body in motion, stays in motion” so I move. I will share when I was 17 riding my bicycle, I was hit in the back by a truck at an intersection. That began a lifetime of pain. Add a bad gene pool combined with too many hours at the computer–that recipe will ruin anyone’s body. But I’m not giving up. I am back at the gym, moving, stretching, building muscles. It feels good to do the right thing. I must.
Grief: Mom’s been gone for a year and a half. Blunt force trauma for me. A turning point. Juncture. Crossroads. Pick your synonym. Watching her die of cancer was too painful. People die every day. It was her turn. I get it. Anyway, time is softening the blow. The result of her loss caused me to return to the Catholic church. My mind took a break from religion a few years back because I was mad. Now I don’t care about my thoughts on religion. I just need to go to mass. I don’t care if you think that’s silly.
Grief is the ambivalence of pain and numbness. Grieving is the absence of rational thought. It’s thrashing about in a pool of overwhelming feelings. These days, I just talk to her. We are all on journeys with beginnings and ends. It’s all okay.
Writing: So that book. I have been too numb to be creative. I am normally a goal-oriented, follow-through kind of gal, so I suspect I will finish it. I’ve only the final chapter to write before the editing begins. Since it’s about WW2, my new goal is to complete it before the 80th anniversary. My self-pity shrinks when I think about the destruction and the lost souls during the war. I feel a personal debt is owed to the men and women who served. I love what my flag symbolizes. I don’t care if you think that’s silly.
The Move: Sometimes you just gotta change it up. Stir the pot. Clean the slate. The changes in my head, heart, and soul instigated the crazy move from Arizona to Virginia. It’s happening in stages. Stage one — sell the house. Stage two — get a job in Virginia and finish out the current contract. We wait. Jim and I are happy in our motor home with our big sky and beautiful view. We listen to music, get buzzed, and sleep heavily.
I have an interview for a job today! What a nice birthday present if I got the job, yes? It is to teach German to eighth-graders. I am not fluent, but I have a fun time getting them to love learning Deutsch. In my current position, I have four preps and report to three departments. My Master’s degrees are in history and English. German was a minor because I had the lofty goal of earning a Ph.D. That did not happen. However, for seventeen years now, I teach English Composition courses as an online adjunct for a community college in Virginia. I rationalize I achieved the lofty goal. At 59, I’m too young to retire. I will continue to teach because I can. And, I like to earn money and spend it on trips. I don’t care if you think that’s silly.
Love: I’m feeling it a lot lately. My list of what I’m grateful for keeps growing like my love for my husband, my children, and my grandchildren. My dog. I want to live. I want to see and celebrate my 60th birthday in style doing something crazy cool around all those I love. I love my blogging friends, too. Who knew you would all be more real to me than the people I pass on the street?
I don’t care. And I care greatly. I am a work in progress. I thought being 59 meant I would have it all figured out. I know nothing. There’s bliss in that.
A recent snowstorm last Friday fell in Flagstaff. Accumulations reached a record-breaking 14 feet (4.3 meters). 60 miles away, up in the elevated mining town of Jerome, I took a picture of the San Francisco Peaks. I have never seen them completely covered.
I wanted to thank you for adapting Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel and directing The Power of the Dog (2021). Your films feel like good books that beg to be analyzed. Take The Piano (1993), for instance, your signature film for the past thirty years.
I taught it in English Composition class as a visual text twenty years ago. We discussed how the piano was a character in the film. Was it not the voice of the mute protagonist Ada? Was it not a metaphor for the treatment of women in a patriarchal world in 19th century New Zealand? That is, the piano was a burden to men. It was carried, abandoned, tattooed, mutilated, and drowned at the bottom of the sea.
We compared and contrasted the spiritual connection of Ada and George Baines while the clueless colonizer Alisdair Stewart (one of Sam Neill’s best roles) attempted to control his environment, the Maori people, and his wife with disastrous results. The best character was the eight-year-old daughter, Ada. Flora was a precocious, mischievous “angel” who becomes a little demon, manipulating Christianity to punish her mother for choosing to distance their bond for another man.
You embraced the wild scenery with a passion. It was necessary for the piano to have a complex voice. Michael Nyman‘s score is still breathtaking.
Today, I’m awestruck with my favorite film of 2021. I feel compelled to write you and extend my gratitude for your adapted screenplay and direction of The Power of the Dog (2021). The emotional wrestling between the characters makes it worth many discussions. Set in Montana in the 1920s, you embraced the topography and shared to the audience the beauty and harsh realities of the cowboy culture and the ambitions of a ranching family.
Jane, your characters are never one-dimensional. Their motivations are hidden. Their feelings are hidden. Their narrative arcs are complete. Through the camera’s lens via close-ups, staging, and the stark lines of the setting, you flush out their feelings. To some, the characters may seem too hidden, but I’ve always been a fan of inference and subtlety. That disturbing score heightens psychological warfare. You have created a beautiful film and given me hope that the art of filmmaking has returned.
Your Favorite Fan
P.S. What did Phil Burbank see in the hills? What was he staring at? Ah, the lines of the hills are hips, torsos, legs of a lover’s embrace. Perfect.
Sitting on a bluff in our motor home, the winter clouds fill up the big sky with the depth and breadth of unique cloud formations. This is my kind of drama. We sit in the late afternoons and watch the day transform into the night. Which shot do you like best?