ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

ATA Girl
By Aimée


Chapter 1

Sept 18th, 1941, Shidben Hall

Worked on the land again today, from 8 this morning to dark. I'd promised Aunt Anne I wouldn't be out after the blackout, but those saplings aren't going to plant themselves. The girls are no great workers – agreeable enough, but most of them have never see a spade or a plough in their lives. And it seems when they chose the Land Girls, they did not spare a thought to the idea that "land" actually meant not being in the middle of a town & not going dancing every night. The 2 news ones are afraid of cows! I wish I could have done like Marian & left & joined the WVS, but who would have taken care of Shibden & my aunt & uncle. This bloody war has put paid to any thoughts of travels & I hate the idea of staying here for the foreseeable future. My aunt says we are lucky not to be in London or in any other bombed areas & I do love Shibden, but I wish – oh, I wish I could do something more useful! Lucky M- ! If my father had been able to afford those lessons… If only I had more than 123 hours of flying…

Anne Lister laid down her pen and put her head in her hand. She knew she had been luckier than most – thanks to her brilliant mind, she had been able to win a scholarship for St Hilda's, Oxford, to study the classics & had been in her last year there when the war had started. She had enjoyed her life there – at boarding school, she had been the "odd one out", her school being more specialised in turning out young ladies than scholars. Her bosom friend, Eliza, had helped her survive her time there, and if she had discovered her powers of seduction, she had not had the opportunity to stretch her intelligence to the full. Oxford had given her the chance to meet other young women more interested in sciences and classics than in courting, and she had made the most of her scholarship. A triple blue in fencing, tennis and lacrosse, she had also had a number of love interests and had even managed to realise a long-held dream of hers – to fly. As a child, she had tried to launch herself from various places – low roofs, tree branches – so often that she had sustained a number of injuries, of which she still bore the scars. She had reduced her nannies to tears with her tomboyish behaviour, and those nannies had never understood why she was always escaping their watch. Even if she had been quite precocious, she wouldn't have been able to put it into words then, but now, she knew – flying represented the ultimate freedom, a freedom she desperately craved. Not that she didn't like her life with her aunt and uncle – they had been good to her, taken her from her sterile home to their own, and paying for a good school. They were also responsible for her interest in flying, her uncle having taken her to see Tom Campbell Black's Air Display – she had found out then that miracle of miracles, even women were allowed to fly those great machines…Now, she repaid her aunt, and her uncle's memory, by taking care of Shibden. But she longed to be useful… As well as helping out on the land and trying to teach the Land Girls how to take care of the crops and the few animals they had, she had replaced the classics master at one of Halifax's boys school. She liked it well enough, but… It wasn't the same as directly helping the war effort. Especially since her best friend and lover, Marianna, had joined the ATA a year ago. Marianna's brother Steph had belonged to an aviation club at university, and he had taught her sister to fly – actually, he had taught Anne, too – a little, but she had been away at Oxford, and she hadn't logged in as many hours as Marianna. At Oxford, she had had little spare time, and even less money, but by scrimping and saving and giving private lessons to some of the dons' children, she had managed to afford flying lessons at a nearby flying school, but when the war had started and her aunt had asked her to come back to Shibden, she had only managed about one hundred hours – not enough to get her into the ATA like Marianna. ATA – "Anything to Anywhere" or more prosaically – Air Transport Auxiliaries. If only…

From: Marianna Belcombe, Hatfield

To: Anne Lister, Shibden Hall

Dearest Fred

Filthy weather today, so we're all grounded for the day – at least. Let's hope it clears – our pilots need their planes. Met a nice chap last week, actually – wounded during the last one, so he can't be RAF anymore, and joined our good old ATA – Charles – Charles Lawton. But don't worry, darling – I am still yours, forever and always. And – guess what! I have news – I've heard – one hears loads of things during a night out, especially at the Savoy – that Commander Gower finally had the go-ahead for recruiting…England needs us, darling Fred – do try and come and join us – apparently it doesn't matter that much if you haven't done enough hours – they're desperate. Looking forward to seeing you "in the flesh", dearest…

Your Mary

Oct 1st, Shibden Hall

Got a letter from M- this morning. Cannot quite believe what she said – if this is true – I can finally do my bit for the war effort. Told my aunt about it at lunch & although she looked a little sad, she encouraged me to write & enquire about it. Today, went to Halifax to the library & borrowed Burge & Pritchard's Handbook of Aeronautics & Batten's Solo flight. Tonight, prayed I can pass the test if ever I am authorised to take it. Haven't been in the airs for what seems like the longest time.


Chapter 2

Oct 20th, Shibden Hall

Got an answer to my letter to the ATA this morning. The post arrived while we were having breakfast & suddenly I couldn't eat a bite more. I would have torn it open immediately but Aunt Anne frowns upon reading during meal. She saw my agonised expression & allowed me to open it. Screamed! Even though I am just an "A" pilot, I have been invited to do a flight test. Immediately telegraphed M- & asked if I can share her digs for a few nights. Spent the rest of the day instructing the Land Girls & cramming as much as I could in Burge & Pritchard's.

October 24th

Writing this in the train to Hatfield. My aunt tried not to cry when I left & I did my best too but shed a few tears once at the station. If I pass, I shall probably not see her for several weeks or months. Not enough petrol to go gallivanting around England & trains journeys should be reserved for emergencies. Took my clothes with me, fully hopeful that I'll soon wear the ATA uniform.

M- met me at the station – she said she had managed to swap her chit with another girl. She took me to her lodgings to drop my bag – her landlady has agreed to put up a camp bed in her room but told her it was only for those three nights & we have to take care not to be too noisy. Quite a dragon, said M-, but a good cook. After I dropped my bags, we went for a walk & she showed me the sights – the de Havilland Factory, the aerodrome & a tea room where we had tea & rock buns – well-named! She left me to my own devices for the rest of the day since she had to go back to the base & I had diner on my own at her lodgings – she had to fly a Tiger Moth to RAF Hawkinge & will not be back until tomorrow. I decided to take her bed instead of the cot, which looked very uncomfortable. Once in bed in the freezing room, I wished she was there with me. We had had no privacy & I had missed her terribly.

Oct 25th , Hatfield

Had hoped M- would be back before my test but she was not. Only managed a cup of tea before I went out to the ATA unit, Ferry Pool n°5. When I introduced myself, I was led with two other new girls to a Tiger Moth. Prayed a little before take-off. Luckily, remembered my pre-flight checks – the instructor seated in the seat in front of me never said a word! The aircraft had no starter, no nose wheel, no stall-warners, no flaps, no brakes and no roof. And no radio! M- had mentioned that little detail, but I had somehow forgotten it. It was like a toy aeroplane – wooden, only four dials, a big compass, a stick. I actually managed to take off & fly the pattern they had asked me to fly. The sheer delight of being in the airs again was almost too much to endure but I knew I had to concentrate not to make any mistakes & I kept my emotions in check. Afterwards, the instructor finally told me to 'do a tight turn then a practice forced landing, and go back to the airfield and land'. Then, after landing, she said I hadn't forgotten too much & they would take me for a probationary month. Wanted to scream with joy but maintained my dignity & shook her hand, thanking her for giving me this chance.

When I got back to the main building, I found M- waiting for me. I flew into her arms & we hugged for England! No one raised an eyebrow, although they might have thought me a tad excitable.

I was wrong. During dinner, I saw M- was uncomfortable & asked her what the matter was. She did not want to tell me but I insisted & she finally told me I had embarrassed her. I asked her how & she said I had behaved like a schoolgirl, jumping on her like that. Also, she said I could have paid more attention to the way I looked, because one would have mistaken me for a chimney sweep or a street urchin. It's true I had taken off the flying suit loaned to me & put my own clothes back on without so much as a glance to a mirror, but I had been so excited it had not even come to my mind she – or anyone else would mind me being a little dishevelled. I now felt ashamed of myself, as I had also met Commander Gower for the first time in that state of disarray. The Commander had said nothing to me about that, of course & I had found her very gracious, if very imposing & grand. Although she wasn't much older than I, Commander Pauline Gower cut an impressive figure & although I had been looking forward to meeting her, I had also been a little in awe of her. To know that she may have agreed with M- on my appearance was a dreadful thought. We did not even try to share the bed & though we kissed each other goodnight on the lips, there were no other displays of affection from me or from M- & I suddenly felt terribly alone in the narrow, hard cot. I did not want M- to see me cry so I managed not to – just a few tears in the bathroom – but she had effectively spoilt much of my earlier elation.


Chapter 3

Oct 28th, Hatfield

Second day of training. Sky very overcast & showery, so probably a day of lectures. Am so excited- they have all sorts of aircrafts here – Tiger Moths, of course, but also Hurricanes, Andaxes, "Maggies", "Lizzies"… I cannot wait to fly them all. For now, am billeted in a big house at Brookmans park with six other girls. The owners, Mr & Mrs Edwards are nice enough, but I share a room with two other girls, one of them a snorer. Food is barely edible, but we do get fresh eggs every morning since they keep hens. Mrs Edwards told us her cook had left to work in a factory so she now makes do with a girl from the village, who's no great cook either.

The training is exhausting. Lectures, more lectures, tests & flying practice – all frightfully interesting, though. Not all of us cadets think like that, though, & one girl has already left, declaring she'd rather be a nurse – imagine that! Anyway – we are learning about the instruments, Morse code – knew that already – navigation & how to plot courses on maps that are four miles to an inch & very detailed, roads, woods, lakes, golf courses, mansions & castles, churches & railways. Seems that the instructor has taken a dislike to me, though – I haven't done anything wrong, but I asked a question or two & he nearly bit my head off.

Nov 20th, Hatfield

First day off since I arrived. After a leisurely breakfast – made the toast myself so as to get it to my liking – I took a train to London with two of the other girls. We're taking a gamble & going to Austin Reed to order our uniforms… Training is going quite well, except for the lectures with Mr Rawson, one of the instructor. He really doesn't like me very much – I don't think he likes women flying at all, actually. He really agrees with that ridiculous editor who wrote that "The menace is the woman who thinks that she ought to be flying in a high-speed bomber when she really has not the intelligence to scrub the floor of a hospital properly."

Was measured for the uniform – the poor men hardly knew where to look & if they could have taken our measurements without touching us they would have done so! We had tea in a café & we almost missed the train back! The siren started while we were on our way to Paddington & we had to find a shelter. Luckily the raid was a short one but one of the girls, Sibella, was terrified! She is from Scotland, a village in the Highlands & it was her first raid. It was actually also mine but I did not say anything & kept my head. She sat against me in the shelter & I put my arms around her & held her tight to reassure her. When the All clear sounded, we made our way to the ground & then to the station. So many rubble all around – I am thankful Shibden should be quite safe from bombs.

Nov 23rd, Hatfield

Flew solo today in a Tiger Moth – not my first time flying solo but my first time in one of these. It was exhilarating. I opened the throttle & the plane lifted into the air – climbed at 65; Wings level. I landed smoothly enough. I do hope I pass the final exam.

The day ended rather badly. Mr Rawson so openly made fun of me that I forgot everything & just could not keep my mouth shut. Very afraid I said quite unforgivable things to him – notably about his manhood – but I was provoked. He will probably fail me now.

Nov 29th, Hatfield

I passed !!! Won't have to go back to Shibden with my tail between my legs. Tomorrow I can go & collect my uniform & move into my new digs. Luckily, my aunt sent me some money, for the uniform has to come out of our own pockets & it is quite expensive.

Dec 1st, Hatfield

Couldn't resist & wore my new uniform on the train back to Hatfield. With the skirt, although I can't wait to wear the trousers like most women on the base do. Navy blue & very smart – also bought boots lined with sheepskin & am wearing my great coat on top. Wore it to my new lodgings too. The house is called Cliff Hill & it belongs to a Miss Walker. An elderly servant opened the door when I rang – the housekeeper, I guess & she took me to the parlour to meet Miss Walker. She is rather old too – probably about my aunt's age. Apparently she has a niece who live with her but is quite invalid & I have not met her yet. The housekeeper took me to my room – a little too chintzy & flowery for my taste but with a large hearth & the fire very warm & welcoming. I expected the niece would come down for dinner but she did not & the aunt apologised for her & said it was one of her bad days. I wonder what she suffers from.

Dec 2nd, Hatfield

First day as Third Officer – I'm officially a Ferry Pilot. Took pain to look as smart as possible when putting on my uniform this morning – I don't want M- to be ashamed of me. I delivered two Tiger Moths today. I wish we could fly more exciting aircrafts – like the Spits! This evening, went with M- & some of the others to the pub. The girls – although some of them are married women with children – seem like a jolly lot. First Officer Frances Pickford smokes like a chimney & is rather mannish, but many of them are very cute – Sibella & another one called Brownie – I don't know her real name – being the cutest. And M- - of course, she is very pretty, but I wonder if she loves me as much as I love her. Tonight she talked again about "her" chap, Charles Lawton. He is apparently quite smitten with her. Took her to the Dorchester to dance & everything – he seems to have money & a lot of it. I couldn't do anything in public & was seething inside. I wanted to put my arm around her waist & kiss her but I could not & it made me both sad & angry. Did not even want dinner tonight although Miss Walker's housekeeper brought me milk & biscuits & I ate those gladly enough. Still no sight of the mysterious Miss Walker Junior – I don't even know her first name.


Chapter 4

Ann Walker was bored – in fact, ever since she had come back from her finishing school in Switzerland at the beginning of the war – a decision her aunt had since regretted dearly – she had felt both listless and useless. She had quite enjoyed her time there, learning to be a "lady" and sketching the mountains around them. Moreover, the Alpine air had suited her lungs, delicate since a bad bout of pneumonia when she was a child. Hatfield air wasn't as bad as the London smog, but it wasn't the best for her, and since she had gone back, she had suffered from numerous and various ailments that had had her confined to her room or to bed. At the grand age of nineteen, Miss Ann Walker Junior felt like she ought to be doing something else with her life – helping in the war effort, for example, but her aunt wouldn't hear of it, giving her delicate health as an excuse to keep her wrapped in cotton wool. She couldn't blame the poor old dear – since Ann's parents death and the appointment of her aunt as guardian – Ann Walker senior had done her best to take care of the little girl she had been then, under the watchful eye of the rest of the family. But Ann couldn't help thinking there was something missing in her life – something like …Fun. No wonder she always felt so depressed – nothing ever happened to her. She rarely saw anyone other than her aunt's friends, all well over sixty, and even the drawing lessons she was giving to the vicar's daughters had to be interrupted by her last episode of bronchitis.

Her aunt had told her she had rented a room to a young woman who was working at the nearby aerodrome. She hadn't said much more, and although Ann had heard a new voice in the house, the walls were too thick for her to hear much more than mumbles and footsteps. She didn't even know the name of their new lodger – although the woman was more a guest, really. The Walkers didn't need money. Her aunt had told her that she would be giving the rent money to the Women's Institute she belonged to to help with the war effort. Ann wondered what a woman could do at the air field. Was she a cook? A cleaner maybe? No – they employed local women for that. Probably a secretary of some sort – she was probably the bookish, mousy type. Not a very exciting prospect at all, really, but anything – anyone – would be good to brighten her humdrum life.

Dec 8th, 1941

Terrible news – the world is at war! Is this the beginning of the end? Pearl Harbour was bombed yesterday & we & the US have declared war on Japan. It all seems so far away & yet so near. Our prime minister says we have four-fifths of the globe on our side – I pray it is enough to let us win. Here, life goes on "as usual" – or what has become usual. Had toast & bramble jam for tea – had it alone in the kitchen, neither of the Misses Walker down yet. Then left for the airfield – I managed to find an old bicycle for sale & now I don't have to depend on a lift or the bus anymore, thank goodness. My days are busy as ever. Today, flew Moth to Kemble & a Hind from Kemble back here. Rather like doing a return – the train journeys back are such a waste of time! It was perishing up there in the Moth – my ears were frozen under my leather helmet & they buzzed for almost one hour after landing. My eyes watered despite the goggles & I felt frozen to my bowels! Some of the girls like the cold, but I don't really care for it at all. Sibella had flow to Kemble with me & I sat very near her in the mess, using body heat as an excuse – I think she quite liked it. Had dinner alone too since I came back quite late.


Chapter 5

Dec 12th

I hate her – I despise her – I loathe her – I… If only that were true! Oh, my dearest Mary, why? Just why – and how could you do such a thing to me? Do you care so little for me that you had to announce your engagement to that Charles Lawton in the mess, in front of all the other girls? Does my love for you mean nothing, nothing at all? All those promises made – that we were as good as married – that we would find a way to live together after the war – that you loved me and trusted me. I certainly trusted you, and you swept all that away in those three little words… "I'm engaged"… You showed us all your ring & at first I could not believe it – surely it was a joke, a cruel prank you were playing on me. But when I managed to catch your eyes & they were full of useless apologies – I knew it wasn't a joke. And I snapped- how could I not…

A few hours earlier, Hatfield mess

"Girls! Listen up- I've got some news!"

Everyone present in the mess lifted their eyes and turned towards Mariana, stopping what they were doing. The bad weather had grounded most of them that day, and a dozen pilots had found refuge in the mess, trying to idle time away as best as possible. Four of them were playing bridge, Frances – "Frank" was exercising, doing stretches and gymnastic moves as best as she could in the cramped spaces, some were darning stockings and others, like Anne, were reading – novels, but also their "bibles", the Ferry Pilots Notes every ATA member was given when they joined, and the only way for them to know about all the aircrafts. It wasn't unusual for them to have to fly in a kind of plane they'd never seen before and the Notes provided the necessary details - landing and take-off speeds, engine type, details about flaps, gills and tanks, stalling and gliding speeds, rpm, gills, climbing boost, ATA cruise and revs, slow flying, stalling speeds, effect of flaps being put down, landing checklists and checklists for after landing and ATA-specific cruising speeds which were different to the RAF, who flew a lot higher and faster. There were also pages of notes about what to do in case of an emergency or forced landing. Anne lifted her head with the others at the announcement – she frowned, wondering why Mariana hadn't told her anything beforehand, but concluded that since the latter had just come into the room, the Commander must have told her something about the weather or maybe new planes. She couldn't help feeling a sense of foreboding, though; and shivered as she turned towards Mariana who had perched on one side of the big table in the middle of the room.

"Go on, then – don't keep us waiting!" said First Officer Ellen Alexander, who was one of the old-timers like Mariana. Both women were good friends. Anne would have been jealous if Ellen hadn't been happily married with a little daughter.

"All right – keep your hair on! Well…" Mariana lifted her hand and Anne saw something glittering on her fourth finger. "I'm engaged!"

"Well done you!" "Congrats, old thing!" "Congratulations" Everyone seemed sincerely delighted for her. With one exception. Anne remained mute, dumbstruck by the announcement. She couldn't quite believe her ears. Just a few days ago, she and Mariana had been murmuring sweet nothings to each other. Just a few days ago, they had kissed in a secluded place they had managed to find. Just a few days ago, she had believed they could be happy together. And then, slowly, deliberately, Anne stood up, put her book on the armchair she'd been sitting on, went up to Mariana and slapped her, twice, on both cheeks, so hard that her fingers left scarlet prints on Mariana milky skin. Not waiting for a reaction, she stalked out and bumped into Commander Gower, who was standing in the doorway and had witnessed the whole scene. Anne stumbled and would have fallen if the smaller woman hadn't caught her arm.

"Officer Lister!" Commander Pauline Gower's voice rang of reproach and disappointment and Anne, feeling all the eyes on her, suddenly felt like crawling into a mousehole and never coming out again. She very rarely lost her temper but when she did, it erupted wildly and she always regretted it afterwards.

"Go and calm yourself down, and you can explain yourself in my office in ten minutes."

Anne fled to the relative safety of the loo, where she splashed water over her face and tried to dry the tears that were now flowing. She felt a deep pain in her chest and for a wild moment wondered if one could really die of a broken heart. She tried to take deep breaths without much success as she dabbed at her eyes and attempted to straighten her uniforms. Two horrible thoughts came to her mind – what if she lost her job over this? She had heard several tales about the Ice Queen and none of them had been particularly reassuring. The second thought was even more awful – what if she was asked to explain? What would she say? How could she possibly justify slapping a fellow pilot? A friend?

She made her way slowly to the Commander's office, trying to think of a plausible lie – she hated lying but she really had no choice.

Commander Gower did not ask me to explain – thank the Lord for that. Maybe she guessed – at least I did not have to lie & spin a spurious tale about my brother being engaged to Mariana too – not sure I would have been able to. She did, however, read me the riot act for twenty minutes, chastising me about "unladylike behaviour" and "lack of self-control", warning me that she would not tolerate such outbursts in her pilots and making me feel like I was about three inches high. Towards the end, she softened a little and acknowledged that we were all under tremendous stress, but that it was no excuse. We all had to do our duty. She grounded me – without pay – for three days. I meekly apologised & assured her it would never happen again. And why would it? No one but M- has my heart & now that she has torn it in a thousand pieces, I cannot see who would provoke me into such an extreme reaction. I left the base immediately after Commander Gower dismissed me & have not spoken to M- since, but I cannot see what she could possibly say to make things right. She is marrying another, she betrayed me & did not even have the honesty to tell me in person. I am done with her… But oh! I wish one could turn off love the way you can turn an engine off, for she still has my heart & I don't know how to get it back.


Chapter 6

To: Miss Catherine Rawson,

From: Miss Ann Walker

My dear cousin,

How are you? Are you living the glamorous life you thought you would by joining the WAAF? Whatever your answer is, I envy you. I am so bored that I would gladly scrub floors if it would get me out of here. Or perhaps not – but you know what I mean. Last time I wrote to you, I was getting better after a bad bout of flu, but now I have a touch of bronchitis and Dr. Kenny does not want me to go outside. Actually, he would like me to stay in bed but I shall defy his orders shortly. Books and drawing pads are all very well, but I am starved for real life. Did I tell you we have a new lodger? My aunt thought that if we left too many empty rooms, we would have to take in some evacuees and she wanted none of that. Pity – children would have brighten the days, although Cook said some had arrived in the village and they were in an awful state. Dirty, ragged, with no table manners at all and lice! So perhaps my aunt's idea is better. So – our lodger is a lady who works at the air field. My aunt says she is "young", but to her that can mean anything from twenty-five to forty-five. I haven't seen her yet – I don't stay downstairs for long. But last night – last night I heard crying! Her room is only two doors from mine and I'm sure she was weeping. I almost went to her door to knock and ask if she was all right, but… You know me – I did not. But even if I don't know her, I felt so sad on her behalf. I hope she hasn't lost a member of her family – or maybe a husband. This morning everything was quiet and she did not appear, even though I went downstairs for breakfast. Keep safe, my dear Catherine, and I will write soon

Your Ann

Dec 14th, 1941

Decided to banish M- from my mind forever. If only I hadn't lost my temper, I wouldn't feel so useless, being grounded. Thank God I can go back tomorrow. Not feeling like company, I went out very early this morning & walked for miles, before coming back to the village & holing up in the small library for the rest of the afternoon. Bought two buns at the bakery for lunch – tasted a little like sawdust, but eatable. The woman at the counter wanted to know all about me, since I haven't been before – I didn't stay much but when I said I was staying at Lightcliffe, she asked me about Miss Walker's health. I told her she was on the mend, but I still have no idea if that is true. Still haven't met her – she's quite the "wife in the attic", hopefully not as mad as Bertha.

Dec 16th, 1941

Flew a Tiger this morning to Cambridge & then on to Luton for a Puss before coming back home. Just before take-off, I muttered the cockpit drill under my breath – this wasn't the time for a cock-up – I had to prove to Commander Gower I wasn't just a hothead but a serious and reliable pilot as well. Hot Tempered MP Fancies Girls - Hydraulics, Trim, Tension, Mixture, Pitch, Petrol, Flaps, Gills, Gauges. Then there was my checklist – Gyro, Fuel boosters, Un-lock controls, Supercharger, Tailwheel unlock. My take-off was clean & I exhaled in relief. I could now enjoy myself. I came back around tea-time, tired but happy to be back in the swing of things. I had been afraid the other girls would mention the incident with M- but they did not & I didn't see M-. I got back to Lightcliffe at 6.15, gasping for a cup of tea & made straight for the kitchen.

"Good Lord ! You might want to take a look at the AGA – I think there's…"

Startled by the deep unfamiliar voice, Ann Walker dropped the bowl she was holding and it immediately shattered on the floor, scattering shards of china and its contents. Anne leapt to the stove but was too late to rescue the overflowing saucepan and to keep the milk from spilling over the hob, what did not reach the floor sizzling on the hot surface. Swinging the lid down with one hand and smothering a small cry of pain as the burning handle made contact with her palm, Anne deposited the saucepan in the sink and turned towards the would-be cook: "I'm so sorry – I didn't mean to startle you. I'm Miss Lister – Anne Lister – your new lodger. And you must be Miss Walker."

Still standing in the middle of the wreckage, Ann looked at the tall dark-haired woman who had come into the kitchen. "Yes – I am – Miss Walker – Ann Walker," she stammered.

"Well – that's a coincidence", replied Anne, sounding amused. "Here – why don't you sit down and let me clean up this mess? I don't want you to hurt yourself."

"I'm perfectly capable of mopping a…" Ann's slippered foot skid on the mixture on the floor and she would have fallen if Anne hadn't caught her in time.

"I'm sure you're capable, Miss Walker, but I'd prefer you stay in one piece. Now sit here like a good girl and let me get out of my uniform. Won't take a mo!"

On that, Anne disappeared upstairs, leaving Ann split between curiosity and anger. How dare the other woman treat her like a child? Good girl, indeed! She bit her lips and looked at the kitchen, which looked a little like it had been hit by a bomb. Their domestic science classroom at school had never looked quite so messy. What a way to finally meet the newcomer! She sat meekly at the table and wondered what kind of uniform it was – it didn't look like Catherine's uniform, of which she had seen a picture of. So not the WAAF then. Whatever it was, the woman – Miss Lister – looked extremely handsome in it. A black ringlet had escaped from the tight bun and peaked beneath the cap, giving the brunette a roguish look. Most of all, the uniform gave Miss Lister an appearance of supreme confidence. Or maybe that just came naturally to her.

When the woman came back in the kitchen a few minutes later, wearing a grey woollen skirt and a green turtleneck jumper and carrying a broom and a dustpan, Ann realised she had been wearing uniform trousers before, and that somehow the brunette looked more natural in them than in a skirt. She also realised she had been staring, and to hide her embarrassment, she bent down to pick up a piece of the bowl and immediately sliced her thumb open with it. She uttered a cry to which Anne responded by an exasperated! "There! What did I tell you? Now we need the first aid box – do you have one?"

"Cupboard – there – under the sink."

Anne took Ann's hand in hers and pressed down on the flesh of her thumb with her own: "Just do that while I get it- it will stop the bleeding."

Seconds later, she was back with a roll of bandages and a small vial of iodine. She directed Ann to the sink, guiding her to make sure she didn't step in anything and made sure the younger woman rinsed her thumb thoroughly. Then, she ordered her back in her chair and proceeded to dress and bandage the cut which was still bleeding quite heavily. Ann wanted to protest – she was a grown-up woman and quite able to take care of herself, after all, but there was something so – well, comfortable – about being taken in hand like that that she stayed quiet. After tending to Ann's wound, Anne got back to the broom and made short work of the mess. Putting the kettle on for that long-overdue cuppa, she went to sit next to Ann: "So – where were we, Miss Walker? I did introduce myself, didn't I? It's lovely to meet you – I do hope you're feeling better."

"Much – much better, thank you," replied Ann.

"That is good news. And now – would you like to tell me what you were doing here? Where's your cook?"

"That's just it, Miss Lister – Cook rang to say she had sprained her ankle and wouldn't be able to come for a week, so – I thought I'd make dinner."

"I – I see… What were you going to make?"

Wordlessly, Ann Walker pushed a ministry- issued leaflet towards her and pointed to two recipes. Anne made a face: "Hmm – mock fish and – eggless, fatless walnut cake – that sounds…A bit -…dire, if I may say so."

However, seeing that the younger woman looked close to tears, she relented: "But it's very brave of you to attempt it at all. Do you cook often?"

Trying to keep her now wobbly lower lip in control, Ann Walker answered defiantly: "No – but we had lessons at schools, and I made jolly good scones then. I'm sure it's not that complicated."

Anne Lister was staring at the recipes like she was trying to etch them in her mind: "All right – well – what about if we try together? I'm a bit peckish now, and I'm sure you and your aunt are the same. Let's have a cup of tea, and we can start on that mock fish thing."

With Anne Lister taking the lead and Ann trying her best to calm the strange sensations her body produced in the presence of the other woman, they soon had a meal ready and by the time Ann rang the bell to call her aunt to the kitchen – they had both decided to set the table there instead of in the dining room, the room being nice and warm thanks to the AGA, the kitchen was almost tidy and the mock fish, with potatoes and carrots, looked almost appetising. As they waited for Miss Walker Senior, Ann found the courage to ask: "By the way – what exactly do you do at the air field, Miss Lister?"

"Please call me Anne – Miss Lister makes me feel so very old – my aunt is Miss Lister. Or – if you really don't want to call me by my Christian name, you could say Officer Lister. I'm in the Air Transport Auxiliary – I'm a pilot."

"A – a pilot?"

"Yes – I fly the planes to where the RAF needs them, mostly."

Ann looked at her dumbstruck and finally murmured: "Goodness – I – I had no idea women did that!"

"They do – so – what will it be? Anne or Officer?"

"I think I'll call you Anne – and of course, you must call me Ann."

"I'll be delighted, Miss Walker," answered Anne with a wink. They could hear Ann's aunt's footsteps in the corridor. Anne quickly captured Ann's wrist and brushed it with her lips, before becoming the very model of decorum again as Miss Walker senior stepped into the kitchen.


Chapter 7

Dec 16th, 1941

Finally met Miss Walker. Was expecting a languid invalid & found a schoolgirl. But a very pretty schoolgirl, who may well be a little minx to boot. She seemed impressed by me being a pilot. Can she help me forget M- ? Not that I can ever, but maybe Miss W- can help soothe the hurt.

Dec 21th, 1941

M- is gone. She applied for leave & left me a letter.

Dearest Fred

I wanted to tell you face to face but was too much a coward. And even now, I could not see you again before I left – it would have been too painful. I know you think I betrayed you – I broke the promise we made to each other. I'm sure you do not understand how I can possibly marry Charles – which will happen just after Christmas, at my parents'. In many ways, we are still strangers to one another, but I hope he will suit me. He will never take your place in my heart, but I have to marry if I want to go on flying when this war is over and you know it's a long-held ambition of mine. My parents cannot afford to help me and Charles has sworn he would support me and my dream. He wants a wife and children, and I guess I shall have to fulfil his needs, which will be bearable only if you forgive me, my dearest. Imagine me on my knees, begging for your forgiveness.

You are my heart,

Your Mariana

Anne had waited to be back in her lodgings before opening the letter, and once she'd scanned it, she crumpled it angrily and would have thrown it into the fire if a knock at the door hadn't disturbed her.

"Yes!" she barked, still enraged by Mariana's words.

The door creaked open and Ann peeked in: "Oh – I didn't want to disturb you – I'm sorry. I just wanted to tell you that I made tea and well – since it's quite cold upstairs, maybe you'd want to join me in the drawing room."

A bright smile appeared on Anne's lips: "I would be delighted to." In truth, all she wanted was to bury herself in bed and wallow in misery – Mariana's letter cut deep. It would have been better if her – now former – lover had said she didn't love her anymore. But she hadn't. She shivered as she went down the stairs and relaxed once she had sat down in the drawing room, where a generous fire had been lit. A few minutes later, she even took off the second jumper she had put on in her room. As she accepted a cup of tea and a biscuit, she turned towards Ann Walker, who'd curled up on the window seat: "Isn't it cold near the window?"

"It is – a bit. But – I like to look at the stars when the sky is clear, and it's wonderfully so tonight."

"You, Miss Walker, are a romantic…"

"I suppose I am – aren't you, Anne?"

Anne's face darkened: "Maybe when I was younger. Not anymore." Aware that she had just put a damper on the conversation, she forced herself to make small talk – something she actually hated, but she couldn't very well do anything else with a young woman she didn't know.

"So – have you been living here long?" , Anne asked.

Ann Walker's face clouded in turn: "Since my parents died and my aunt took me in – she's my great-aunt, actually. I was eight. They died in an automobile accident – my father was very proud of his new car, so proud that he insisted on driving it himself. He was driving them both home from a party late at night and – well, I'm not sure exactly what happened, but he drove into a ditch and my parents were both killed instantly. We – we had already buried one of my sister's that year – pleurisis – so it was… Quite a shock. Aunt Ann has been very good to me, but… She has very Victorian views on what a girl should or should not do."

"I'm so, so sorry", replied Anne, coming to sit opposite Ann on the window seat and taking her hands in hers. "That must have been terribly hard for you." She stared into the younger woman's eyes, where tears were threatening and produced a handkerchief from her pocket: "Here- have this – I certainly didn't want to bring up bad memories. What can I do to make you forgive me?"

Ann turned shiny eyes towards her dark-haired companion: "Tell me stories about flying! That must be so wonderful!"

Anne obliged and they spent a companionable hour together before going to prepare dinner, since Cook was still laid up.

A- is a nice little thing. Wonder if I should get her something for Christmas. If I can find something in the village – something I don't need coupons to buy. Maybe a book – or a brooch, or… I should probably send something to Aunt Ann and Uncle James too – might have left it too late – they'll never get it in time. Should at least write to them. I have neglected them dreadfully since I've been here.

Dec 25th, 1941

One of the most dismal Christmas days ever. Was supposed to be back at Hatfield by now, but as one of the new girls, it fell to me to take a Tiger Moth to Prestwick yesterday. With a two-degrees Fahrenheit average in temperature, the flight was thoroughly miserable. Was frozen to the bone & only wished that damn plane could go faster than its 60 mph. The fog was so dense one could hardly see & it is a miracle I managed to land here in one piece. No trains in this weather, so stuck here until the frost & the fog improve. Thank God they give us 1£ per night for a hotel – yesterday, I got the last room at the White Hart, a small & rather seedy hotel not far from the airfield. They told me the kitchen had closed an hour before my arrival, but they could make me sandwiches if I wanted. I did want – I was famished. But sandwiches made a poor Christmas dinner – especially since I wasn't quite sure what was in them – fish or maybe chicken or it could have been corned beef. The hotel owner had managed to warm up a little soup, too, & at least that warmed me up. For dessert, I had a mince pie that was erring on the stale side & the bar of chocolate all ATA pilots had with them on their missions for such emergencies. Not for the first time, I wished my aunt & uncle had not been so averse to having a phone installed at Shibden. I would have loved to talk to them, even for a minute or two. I had a brief moment of hope when I remembered the phone at Lightcliffe – maybe I could phone A- , wish her & her aunt a merry Christmas & enquire about their well-being – after all, the weather was probably even worse now. Then my glimmer of hope flickered & died out as I remembered they had a phone, but I did not know their number, and I wouldn't want to bother the operator anyway. Went to bed cold & miserable & fell asleep from exhaustion, wishing with all my heart I was back either at Lightcliffe or at Shibden.


Chapter 8

Dec 27th, 1941, Prestwick

Two days virtually stuck inside my room – I did go down for breakfast & to borrow some books from the hotelier's wife – he does not read & she is a bookworm, apparently. Her tastes are very dissimilar to mine – she likes sappy romances – but between that & The Gardener's Almanac – well, actually I borrowed it too, so desperate was I for reading material…I shrugged my great coat on, donned my leather gloves & prepared to face the icy wind raging outside – I had to go to the air field to see if the planes were flying & to the station otherwise. Crossing the village, I spotted a crooked little shop at a corner, which sign was lying outside, propped against the wall – it was designed for hanging & must have been thrown off by the wind. The Old Curiosity Shop appeared to be very much open despite its missing sign & I decided to pop inside – old books & objects always cheered me up. Bells chimed when I pushed the door & an old man emerged from the shadows. "Just have a look round, dear and shout if there's something you want", he said cheerfully. I lost no time in doing exactly that & found a repository of old dusty volumes. After spending some time with those, I regretfully left them behind – we did get paid, not as much as the men, but we got £230 a year, plus £8 a month for flight pay. It still wasn't a fortune & since I'd asked my aunt & uncle not to send me any more money, figuring they needed it more than I did, I could not justify buying more books. Moreover, I still didn't know how I was going back to Hatfield & did not want to burden myself with unnecessary baggage. I turned my interest towards an array of old brooches, necklaces & earring – I had mixed feelings about antique jewellery. On one hand, when I held a piece in my hand, all sorts of delightful stories came to mind about possible previous owners. On the other, I found it sad to think that people may have had to part with heirlooms for money. I fingered a brooch with a lock of hair in it. "A very interesting piece, Miss, the one you've got – Victorian, you know." She looked closer – a fair lock of hair under glass, in a locket. "And it's not just hair", added the old man mysteriously.

"Really? What is it then?"

"Well…" He suddenly looked a little uncomfortable, but I figured he did not get that many customers in this sleepy little town & he would soon go on.

"You see, Miss – in the 19th century, lovers would send… The other kind of hair – to their lovers."

"The other kind of hair?" I repeated before feeling myself blush despite myself. "Oh – oh… That's …quite fascinating!"

Looking at me to check I wouldn't have a fainting fit in his shop & seeing that I had composed myself, he smiled: "Indeed, Miss – indeed."

I put the brooch back & selected another one – a tiny silver-plated gondola. I'd never been to Venice, but it had been a dream of mine for a long time. I suddenly knew what I would get for A- as a Christmas present & asked the man for the price of the trinket. As I thought, it was cheap enough & when I exited the shop with it in my pocket, I could imagine the smile on Miss Walker's face when I gave it to her.

Dec 31st, 1941

Have been back for three days & despite the foul weather, have already delivered 9 aircrafts. Free tonight – some of the girls are going to London for a dance. Decided to stay at Lightcliffe since I don't feel much like socialising. Still missing M-. When shall I be free?

Gave A- the brooch tonight. She seemed very pleased with my choice & blushed & thanked me profusely. She gave me a hankie embroidered with my initials – I told her I would keep it with me, always – a pilot needs her mascot. We had a sherry in the drawing room & she told me about her Christmas & I about mine, trying for a maximum of pathos to make her laugh. I succeeded. At midnight, kissed her very properly on the cheek & wished her a happy new year.

Jan 20th, 1942

Finally qualified for Class 2 aircrafts! Hurricanes & Spits, here I come! Still perishingly cold here – yesterday, sawed some logs for the fires, since coal is in short supply.

Jan 23rd, 1942

Flew my first Spit today – just as I expected – so powerful, & responsive! It almost flies itself. Just a little nose heavy & had to moderate my braking but… Oh, it was almost like incurring a cross right there in the sky!

Jan 24th, 1942

No Spit for me today – instead, I'm flying a Fairchild taxi, taking two of the girls to Norwich & coming back with two others. Weather still terrible – about 32F & very windy & showery. Some of the girls have refused to fly but the choice is ours, so I'm going.

It was on the return trip that things started to go wrong – Anne had two passengers with her in the Fairchild – one of them was Sibella McLean, her young colleague and the other one was an ATA pilot named Sam, who was catching a lift to Hatfield to then take the train to his own base. At least the rain had stopped, but the weather conditions remained precarious. About three quarters of the way in, she had a strange sensation of silence – something that rarely happened in the air. At first she thought the wind had abated and its having stopped wheezing in her ears was what she was mistaken for silence, but it took her no more than a minute to realise the problem was much more serious – the engine had stopped. Stunned, she prepared for a crash landing and told her passengers quite calmly what she was going to do. She scanned the ground, trying through the mist to find a field where she could land safely. She finally found one, not far from what she thought was Stevenage and braced herself for impact, telling her passengers to do the same. She said a quick prayer and started the landing procedure. The plane somersaulted on landing, the wheels having dug into the grass and ended up upside down. Then everything went black.


Chapter 9

Jan 26th, 1942

Everything white & everything hurt. Asked the nurse for a piece of paper & pen. Almost can't hold it. Feel so weak & my head throbs. Like tons of brick have fallen on it. Like I crashed. Memory still haven't fully returned – it's all a blur. Remember getting into the plane with Sibella & another pilot – Tom ? Jack? Dan ? One of those short names – I remember the engine – the silence – and then a huge noise & nothing. I'm probably lucky to still be alive. I've asked about Sib & the guy – the nurse told me they are all right. Thank God for that. I've got a concussion, a black eye – gashes, burns, a broken arm & a sprained ankle. Never been so terrified in my life – never so calm, either – like everything happened in slow motion.

When I woke up again, it was dark outside. I contemplated my situation. I hoped the base had not contacted my aunt & uncle – they would worry needlessly – I would be all right – I am always all right. I had been very lucky & could not wait to fly again. The ATA needed me. I asked if I could get up but the nurse frowned & scolded me. I asked if I could see Sibella & Sam – I remembered his name now – but she told me they weren't here. I smiled – hopefully, I had been the worst off & they were already back to work.

Feb 4th, 1942

Finally got released today. I had one of the nurses ask the base to phone Lightcliffe & explain I had been in an accident. I didn't want A- or her aunt to worry, since I was never usually absent that long without warning. They'd sent a driver for me & I asked to be taken to the base first – obviously, we have a procedure to follow in case of a crash landing & since I'd been unconscious, I hadn't been able to do anything. I had no idea what had happened to the plane after the crash. In those circumstances, we were responsible for unloading guns if there were any in the aircraft & phone Mayfair 120. I was too late for that, but not for the "written and signed report" we had to do. I wondered whether I could be held responsible for the crash. Probably not, but there would be an enquiry.

By the time I arrived at the ATA base at Hatfield, the sun was already fading. I felt more tired than I'd hoped & would have given a lot just to go directly to my lodgings & to bed, but I had a duty to the ATA. I checked out my appearance in the mirror – my uniform had not survived the crash but the ATA had sent a new one for me, so at least I was presentable when I knocked on Commander Gower's office door. I felt so queasy & light-headed I wondered whether I was going to faint but I chastised myself internally – just have a little courage! You crashed a plane, you have to face the consequences. I took a deep breath & looked the commander in the eyes: "Second Officer Lister reporting for duty, Ma'am."

I stood more or less at attention – the ATA was a civilian operation, but we were all in awe of Pauline Gower - & was extremely surprised when she jumped up & came to hug me. She was usually very prim & proper & I realised she was relieved to see me alive. She then asked me to sit down & tell her what I remembered. I tried to gather my wits & make a coherent report of what had happened.

Then, hesitantly, I asked: "What – what happened after I passed out, Commander? What did Officer McLean and Sam told you?"

I saw her eyes widen a little but thought I had been too forward in asking. She sat up straighter and replied: "Officer Samuel Washington corroborated your story perfectly. After the crash, he was lucky enough to avoid any broken limbs, and he managed to drag you away from the fuselage, fearing the plane would explode."

I felt a growing sense of dread, heightened by the fact that Commander Gower once again stood up and came to stand by my side. She went on: "He would have done the same for Officer McLean, but she had broken her neck and was already dead. I'm so sorry, Officer."

I reeled and wondered if I was going to be sick on the commander's carpet. This must be a nightmare. To my great shame, I passed out.

When I came to, I retched and was violently sick. The commander handed me a clean handkerchief and I wiped my mouth. "Tell me that's not true," I finally murmured. "The nurse – at the hospital – they said they were all right."

"You weren't in a fit state to be told, Anne – I'm sorry", replied Commander Gower. Her eyes were full of sympathy and pity. "And you shouldn't be here, either. I'll call someone to drive you to your billet."

I wanted to protest, to say I was completely fine, that I could walk, but she was right – I was exhausted and the pain of knowing that Sibella had died into the crash crushed me. She made a phone call and a few minutes later, one of the drivers from the base knocked at the door. I made a feeble attempt at speaking: "What about the accident report, Ma'am?"

Her voice sounded very gentle: "You can do it later – from everything I've heard, there is no possible way you were at fault, Officer – the engine failed. It was a terrible accident, but you couldn't have done anything – two of you survived, and I'm most grateful for that."

I searched her eyes for blame and found none – she really believed what she was saying. I did not.


Chapter 10

Ann heard the front door open and unsteady footsteps in the hall. She had her hands full of flour, otherwise she would have run to greet her lodger. Thinking the latter would probably come looking for a cup of tea, she finished mixing her dough, washed her hands and put the kettle on. She looked at the mixture doubtfully – the recipe for the rolls had looked simple enough and she hoped they would come out all right. She waited about ten minutes, straining her ears to see if she could hear the water running in the bathroom, which would explain the non-reappearance of the officer, but she couldn't hear anything. Ann had felt very disappointed when the base had phoned and said Officer Lister wouldn't come back for a fortnight. She had missed the other woman – their talks, their talking together, their games of cards, and the banter that accompanied their times together. Anne Lister had brought a breath of fresh air into the house and a gaiety in her heart that she hadn't felt for a very long time. There was something else, too – something she didn't quite understand – each time she was in the presence of the other woman she felt more… More alive than she had in ages.

Not seeing Anne come back downstairs, she resigned herself to waiting until dinner time to see her. A little peevishly, she thought the woman could at least have come to say hello – after all, she had been away for several days, and they had developed a relationship which had gone beyond that of a lodger and her landlady. She almost stormed upstairs but restrained herself – after all, Anne often teased her by saying she was still a child – it wouldn't do to prove her right by showing she was incapable of patience.

An hour later, Ann took off her apron and took up a dinner tray to her aunt, who had caught a cold and had to rest as much as possible. She made a quick detour by the bathroom to tidy her hair and looked at herself in the mirror. She sighed – she looked wan and tired. She wished she could use make-up – a little rouge would do wonders. However, her aunt had always insisted that only harlots painted their faces, and Ann had never dared disobey her. Once back in the kitchen, she rang the bell and waited for Anne to come down. She surveyed the table with a critical gaze – she couldn't wait for Cook to come back. Five minutes elapsed and still no Anne. She took the rolls out of the Aga, not wanting them to burn and went upstairs again. She knocked at Anne's door – no answer. Now worried, she tried the handle and since the door was unlocked, she went in. She found Anne still in her uniform, sitting in front of dressing table, her face in her hands.

"Anne?" said Ann softly. Getting no reply, she repeated it a little louder and was rewarded when Anne pivoted slowly and lifted her face toward her. Ann gasped: "Good Lord! What – what happened to you?" She then noticed that the older woman had her left arm in a sling, in addition to angry red scars on her face and hands and several bruises turning purple.

"I crashed" replied Anne in a toneless voice.

"You – you mean – your plane crashed?"

"I mean I crashed the plane!" said Anne angrily. "I crashed it and now – now she's dead!"

"Who is dead?"

"Officer McLean – Sibella – she – she didn't make it." The words came in a murmur and Ann could see Anne was trying hard not to cry. She came closer and enveloped the stricken woman in her arms. "I'm sure you did your very best," said Ann soothingly. "And – you're alive – do you realise how lucky you are?"

Anne didn't answer but she buried her head in Ann's jumper and finally let the tears flow. After a few minutes, she straightened up. "I'm so sorry – you shouldn't have to see me like that – I – I'm sorry."

"Oh my God, Anne! Please stop apologising! I'm not made of sugar – I won't melt because of a few tears. I think you should have something to eat – it will make you feel better. Are you – do you feel up to coming down with me?"

"I'll be all right," replied Anne, dabbing at her eyes. "I'm always all right." She didn't feel at all like eating, but she knew full well the younger woman would worry if she didn't at least have a bite or two. She went to the bathroom to splash cold water on her face and followed Ann downstairs. She tried – she really tried – she forced herself to swallow a small portion of stew and a small potato but almost choked on it. She listened to Ann telling her the village gossip but didn't utter more than a word or two. Finally, after offering her help for the washing up and being shooed off, she went back upstairs.

Ann's heart broke for the brunette. She guessed Anne Lister wasn't used to showing weakness in front of other people and regretted having insisted on her coming downstairs. She had seen how much it had cost the older woman. She wished there wasn't a war on – both of them could have done with cocoa and biscuits. Sighing, she made tea and added as much sugar and milk into the mugs as possible. Then she made her way upstairs and knocked once more on Anne's door, balancing the mugs in one hand.

Fev 5th , 1942

I kissed her. She tasted of sugar and tea. I couldn't help it - when she came in, I was so exhausted and so desperate I lost all sense. I could blame grief, I could blame my own damn nature which has made me do stupid things so many times, but in the end, it's all on me. Like the plane, I crashed and burnt. She was surprised - she was appalled – at least surely she must have been. She did not say a word – when I drew her nearer, put my arms around her waist and took her lips with mine, she said nothing. She did not pull back, either, but I cannot delude myself she leant into the kiss – she must have been too startled to protest. And when our lips parted, she gazed at me with an indescribable emotion in her eyes. Not hatred, because to hate, you must feel strongly & I cannot delude myself & think she thinks of me enough to feel hate. Now what? Uninvited, other memories came into my mind & I shuddered – another kiss, another night – not tea, but a faint tinge of alcohol – Sibella had asked me for a kiss after one of the rare evenings I & some of the other girls had spent in the pub together & I had been a more than willing participant. And now… Now she was dead. This was something I'd never be able to mend, but I had to do something about the situation with A-. What should I do? Grovel? Maybe, but would it be enough? Had she already asked her aunt to throw me out? Would she tell her I was – abnormal? Did she even have the words? It's after all entirely possible that she has never thought about women loving other women that way. She did go to finishing school, but she seem so very innocent… There was nothing I could do tonight anyway. Running after her could only make things worse.


Chapter 11

Fev 6th, 1942

Didn't think I'd sleep, but the pain meds got the better of me & I finally nodded off in the early morning hours. When I woke up, the images of last night immediately came back & I groaned. How could I apologise without embarrassing us both even further? Should I just say nothing? I almost decided to hole up up here all day when my stomach protested. I needed food – the few bites I had taken the night before were now a far-off memory. It was time to eat humble pie.

As – bad- luck would have it, I found A- reading in the kitchen, near the Aga. I hesitated & almost turned tail but I took a deep breath & stood up straighter – time to stop being a coward. I cleared my throat & she turned towards me.

" Morning."


I went to the Aga & put the kettle on. Unable to bear the silence, I asked: "Have you slept well?"

"Quite, well, thank you, Anne."

At least she wasn't running out of the kitchen. I helped myself to a slice of bread & began to spread jam on it, then got up to pour the boiling water in the teapot. I sat back down at the table, took another deep breath & began: "So – about last night – I – I'm – I didn't – I'm sorry. I – I didn't want to – I mean I did but I shouldn't – oh! Good Lord! What I'm trying to say is that I'm sorry I kissed you and it won't happen again."

"It won't?"

I looked up & tried to read Ann's face. She was smiling – did she also look a little disappointed?

"It won't – I – I took advantage of you and it wasn't fair."

"Oh – oh – I see."

I was right – she did look disappointed. I decided I should tread carefully: "It's not that I don't want it to happen again – it's just that – I thought you might think it very – forward of me."

"I thought it was rather – pleasant" replied Ann thoughtfully.

I had to laugh at that – Lord knows I had little to laugh about, but… "Pleasant! Well – I'm glad you thought it - pleasant. I was afraid you would be shocked."

"I'm not a complete nincompoop, you know – I've – I've … Lived!"

Her affirmation made me laugh again: "Of course you have, dear – but…"

"But nothing. In fact, I think you should kiss me again."

I stuttered: "What? N-now? H-here?"

"My aunt is still in bed, there's no one else in this house, so yes, here and now. Please?"

She made puppy dog eyes at me & I chose to hush all the voices in my heads telling me it would be madness. I obeyed. I got up & put my good arm round her waist. I caressed her hair & dropped a butterfly kiss on her brow. Then another one of the tip of her nose, before my lips settled firmly on hers & I kissed her fully. This time, there was no mistake – she was no passive victim – her lips melted in mine. When we parted, she kissed me again, a trifle hesitantly, but there was no mistaking her intention.

"Well, Miss Walker – you're certainly full of surprises," I murmured. For a minute or two, I wondered if after all I'd never woken up after the accident, or if I had hit my head harder than I thought & this was a figment of my imagination. Then I banged my elbow on the table, unused to the sling & stifled an oath – that had hurt! I was definitely awake. Still not quite sure what to do, though. I still didn't think the younger woman had fully thought this out. But after all, do any of us ever do? Especially since we could all be killed by a German bomb…

A bell rang, disturbing us. "That's my aunt", said Ann, "I need to take her her breakfast. You should drink your tea before it gets cold."

"Yes Ma'am," I replied cheekily. I watched her grill some toast, spread some butter on it & put everything on a tray. I let myself imagine us living together & sharing those small acts of domesticity. It was disturbingly easy.

Feb 16th, 1942

Started flying again – my arm still not 100% but the doc allowed me to go back – after all, we have one-armed pilots in the ATA! The accident was recorded as 'pilot not responsible'. It will not bring back Sibella. Sam Washington came to thank me – thank me! He said I had done all I could & he did not regret flying with me that day. It helped assuage my guilt a little.

A- loves seeing me in uniform again. This morning I discover an embroidered hankie in my pocket…

Feb 18th, 1942

The cold was just an excuse…She climbed into my bed & we grubbled & kissed for nearly an hour. We went to Italy together. If we can stay alive…We might make a live together. We shall be happy.


The End

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