1940s, books, historical fiction, World War II, writing

WW2 Chapter 5, part 1: Barbara

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.” 

“You look–”

“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.”

Silence. 

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?” 

“No, nothing.” 

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,

Cindy

1940s, historical fiction, The Lost Sisters of Bataan, World War II, writing

WW2 Chapter 4, Zorka

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.

Chapter 4

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–”

“Strange?”

“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.”

“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?”

“Zorka Kiss.”

“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?”

“Minneapolis.”

“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?”

“Yes!”

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.” 

“Come on.” 

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?” 

“Yes, miss.” 

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.

1940s, books, historical fiction, history, World War II, writing

WW2: Chapter 2, Zorka Kiss

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.

Chapter 2 

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 —”

“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?” 

“Sure!”

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–”

“Panna.” 

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?”

“Nothing.” 

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?” 

“The Philippines.” 

“Okay. Let me see what I can find out. Can you volunteer this Wednesday or Thursday? We’re packing comfort kits.”   

“Sure.” 

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