(Author's note. It's entirely up to you, but you will probably get more out of both if you read Shipwreck before this one.
At the outset I should probably warn you that it's perhaps not for everyone. Whilst there certainly is sex, it's not exactly a sex story as such and I did not write it with Literotica in mind. However, as Shipwreck has turned out to be quite popular, it might be of interest to anyone who would like to know a bit more about Kat.
It's also not a nice straightforward linear narrative. The main action is set -- as the old films say -- somewhere in England, in September of 1948. A section break of '***' denotes an act change in that present; whereas '
*****' signals a flashback to the past. I had a go at heading them 'London, 1944' and suchlike, but it didn't really work out.
As ever my thanks go to Lisa Jones for advice and support, but even more so this time round for lending me the Liverpool scene. If I've not scared you off yet, enjoy the story. Feel free to imagine it all happening in black and white, I do.)
Kat needed the air, and if she was entirely honest with herself she was nervous enough that she welcomed the opportunity to put the whole thing off for another hour. So when she stopped in the village for cigarettes, she had asked the postmistress if there was a way to Lodge Farm by footpath. She left her car on the green by the church to set out on the circuitous three-mile journey that would approach it from the back. The walk through early autumn woods was pleasant enough, even if it did not relax her the way it would have in her youth
She hadn't been to the country much since her return. She had spent Christmases at the place she could no longer think of as 'home'. Her mother had been frostier than the weather outside and her father still insisted on calling her Sylvia. She had embarrassed herself at the Boxing Day shoot the first year, standing there with the gun a dead weight in her hand, as she stubbornly choked the tears down in front of people she had known as long as she could remember yet felt entirely cut off from. The next year she had stayed in by the fire with the Gregson's middle son: a nervous young man who, it seemed, had lost his passion for field sports somewhere in Burma. They both drank rather more than they should. He was a perfect gentlemen, or perhaps his eye was just drawn elsewhere, and she smiled politely through all the gentle chaffing from the returning shooters about how well the two of them had got on alone in the house. That had been different to this, with the snow on the ground and homely memories around her. This, now, was so much closer to the other thing.
She emerged from the woods and paused at the footbridge across a small stream. Time for a Craven, and time to gather her emotions. It wasn't all that similar really: the buildings were quite different, and the shape of the land; not to mention that it was five weeks later in the season and the leaves were beginning to turn now. But it was close enough.
She hadn't set foot in a farmyard for four years. The prospect petrified her, it bought memories from where she had forced them and into the forefront of her mind. That, after all, was why she was here. She had memoirs to write, and a very bad case of writer's block. How absurd that word sounded. Memoirs! As if she was middle-aged with noteworthy achievements behind her. How extraordinary it seemed to be twenty-seven, and know the great adventure of her life was already fading into the past.
For Christ's sake, Kat, no self pity now! Save any tears for the thousands who never got out of Ravensbrück.
Marcel was already in the car when the lorry arrived, coming to a halt across the farmyard gate and with men piling out the back. Kat ducked back into the house. Her radio was upstairs, if she wasted any time with that she would never get out, so she just grabbed the Winchester that was lying ready on the kitchen table and darted out the back door. The farmer's wife stood stock-still watching her run; somewhere beyond the panic and survival instincts Kat knew that she had just killed the woman.
Sounds of the car engine from beyond the house; shots; shouts. Marcel must have got it moving and then lost control, she heard the soft crash as it ran into the barn wall. Across the kitchen garden, heading for the gap through the hedge. Boots on cobbles and a shout behind her. She turned at the corner of the milking parlour, bought the Winchester to her shoulder and fired a couple of snap shots that sent a uniformed figure diving for cover. Then she was running again.
Panting upslope on springy summer pasture, cows scattering. Shouting and violence the other side of the hedge: a door smashed in; another shot. Marcel? Oh Christ, no. Her own couple of wild shots did seem to have bought her a minute or two, but still she could feel her back shrinking from the impact she expected any second.
Ridiculous fucking silly skirt tangling her legs as she ran, she was going to go into the bag for wearing something her mother might approve of, for Christ's sake. Light as it was, even the carbine felt impossibly clumsy in her hands. She should drop it and free her hands to pull her skirt higher, but she could imagine the ferocious little corporal at Wanborough rolling his eyes and remaining scathingly calm: 'Now, now, Miss; it's no fucking good to you on the ground, is it?' She already felt entirely helpless, to be unarmed was unthinkably worse.
She topped the crest, and there they were, moving slowly towards her in a widespread line. No bloody where to run to. Rifles were already being aimed at her. She stopped. Her mind went back to the airfield: to looking down at that small cellophane-wrapped pill nestling in her palm before she shook her head and handed it back. Not that she needed it; all that she needed was to raise the Winchester to her shoulder again, then she and all her secrets would be safely dead in the summer grass. That was all it could accomplish though, they would shoot long before she had a chance. She realised she had already fired the only two shots in anger of her war.
They must be shouting, screaming at her in their ugly vile German accents to surrender, but she didn't hear anything at all. She barely even saw them approaching. Very slowly she held it out to her side before tossing it away.
She closed her eyes and waited, pulling the last few seconds of freedom inside herself to hold onto during what would come next. Shutting herself into a safe little room of her own, far away from harm. The first one to reach her punched the butt of his rifle into her solar plexus. The walls of her room collapsed as they started kicking her on the ground.
Pamela was tinkering with a temperamental fourteen-year-old Fordson in the yard. Kat had walked quietly down the path, and it seemed Pamela didn't even have a dog about the place to alert her to company.
Kat leant for a moment on the gate and watched. Pamela had been the only girl Kat had ever known who seemed more out of sorts in a dress than she herself did. She was wearing overalls and wellingtons, and an old surplus battledress blouse that appeared to be unbuttoned. She bent down to pick up a spanner, and Kat felt guilty at the liberty she was taking. She coughed. Pamela looked over her shoulder, seeming curious but not shocked.
"Good morn- ..."
Kat stopped and checked her watch. In some things, she was very precise.
"Where's your motor?"
"Up at the church. I felt like a walk."
Pamela stood up and walked over to the gate, hands in the pockets of her overalls. A scarf kept her fair hair under control. She had the same open smile Kat remembered from school. She probably should not wear battledress hanging loose in that casually masculine way. No woman should, it was simply distracting.
"I imagine you've had enough of one to use some tea."
"Come on in then."
Pamela showed her into the kitchen and fussed around with the teapot as Kat concentrated on her surroundings. It was a snug little place, she suspected Pamela's family were still indulging her where money was concerned.
"I do appreciate ..."
"Please let me say it. I'm grateful you'll have me, I can't clear my head in town."
"I'm grateful you're here. It's Dun- ... Sunday would have been Duncan's birthday. I'd rather not be alone for it. You're doing the favour for me."
"It's not a favour, you're my best friend."
Pamela stirred her tea and looked at the floor. All of a sudden almost ten years dropped away and they were girls again, the hurt the same as it had always been.
"I thought that was Emily."
"You had ..."
Kat stopped herself in time. It wasn't something they had ever said to each other. Pamela knew, she was sure of that, but how could they find the words to bring it into the open? I only ever looked at Emily because you broke my heart when Duncan came along.
"... Emily was never special. Not the way you were."
She sat there, in her oldest and best friend's kitchen, and tried not to remember how she had insulted all three of them. That taste in her mouth at long last, and closing her eyes to pretend. Trying to ignore the soft moans from Emily's voice because she wanted to hear Pamela instead. Closing her eyes and imagining that the hard little bud under her tongue was not Emily at all.
"Have another biscuit, and then we should go and fetch your car."
They had been silly little rich girls, but at least their silliness was their own. They stood out among the giggly debutantes and trainee ladies of the manor at school. Pamela's passion was The Spanish People, her spirits slowly declined over more than two years in time to the dwindling number of red pins stuck through the map on her wall. Kat's passion was Pamela, of course, and never discussed. It had been Kat who suggested they go to the meeting. It was funereal; with the Fascists triumphant on the Ebro and the Internationals being withdrawn it was difficult to muster enthusiasm. The tone was beginning to change, from winning the war to helping the refugees. As they were about to go home, a young man came over and introduced himself to them both. Kat had watched Pamela fall in love before her eyes.
It would be easier to hate the man who stole away the girl who means everything. To her distress, Kat found Duncan likeable and even admirable. She had no difficulty in understanding what Pamela must see in him. He was both a little older than they were and a little too young to have fought himself, so he neglected his studies to write articles and campaign instead. After their marriage, Duncan and Pamela rented their small farm and tried as best they could to sustain themselves on their own produce. Duncan's antifascism was sincere and total, the Nazi-Soviet Pact caused him to leave the Party and lose most of his friends. When the larger war came he joined the army, refused a commission, and left Pamela a widow at twenty-three.
Another five years had passed since then, and neither Kat nor Pamela had much in common with the intense but foolish young things who had gone one evening to a meeting of friends of the Spanish Republic.
They walked the far shorter direct way into the village together, Kat taking simple pleasure in the company. Pamela pointed out a few curious features about the church, and then Kat drove them both back to the farm. Pamela helped her unpack her things in the spare room. They had supper together, listened to the wireless and talked over old times and whatever had happened to that freckly plump girl whose name neither could remember. And at length it was time for bed.
Kat woke, yet again, with a start. As always she had left her window open rather than feel enclosed, but on this stifling night there was no breeze outside for it to catch. It was far too hot to sleep in anything at all. She struggled out of the sheet that had become wrapped round her legs and lay naked in the true darkness of a country night as she waited for her breathing to calm down.
Soft, muffled call in the darkness. A moment's pause and then a gentle knock on her door.
"... Kat? Are you alright?"
"I'm fine. Just a dream. Sorry."
"I'm sure. Thank you."
It was always the same dream, and it was never the one people expected. They tried to understand when she admitted she did not sleep well now. 'Of course not, my dear, not after everything you went through, you poor thing'. True enough: Fresnes and Ravensbrück might be why she had nightmares, but they weren't what she dreamed about. It was before them, the thing that set her on the road that led to them.
She was sitting on the running board of the Austin, dragging on a cadged Woodbine to clear the taste from her throat. It was everywhere, brick dust and oil smoke and death: in her nose and ears, gritty in her scalp. A chubby little old boy offered her a mug of sickly-sweet tea from the Sally Army van on the corner. She sat and drank it, and stared at the chunk of steel sitting in the ruins of someone's living room, looking for all the world like an immense screwed up ball of paper. It was, she was fairly certain, some sort of plate from a ship. She had no idea where the docks were. Christ, she could have lived in this city all her life and still be lost today. She was sure it must have flown several hundred yards before dropping quite at random to swipe away the front of a family's home so casually.
She stared at it, not because it particularly fascinated her, but because she couldn't bear to look to the left anymore and see them digging bodies out of that house; and even less to the right at what was left of the dairy. They had taken the human bodies away, all that was left was the wreckage and the dead dray horse. Kat had been there last night, had been making her way through the chaos at the end of this street when the bomb had hit. Neither of her passengers were in a bad enough way to stop her pulling over and seeing if she was needed. She had found a frantic young woman and an ARP man digging at a collapsed Anderson shelter with their hands. She joined in, along with a couple of others, but she doubted they even noticed she was there. The couple in the shelter were past help, and Kat needed to be going. The girl had stumbled away from them and was standing over the horse, until the ARP man put a hand on her shoulder and tried to lead her away. It was obvious -- more than obvious -- to Kat that the girl was a girl, but for some reason the kindly old fool kept calling her 'sonny' and that wasn't helping at all. She considered stepping in, taking the girl gently by the hand and giving her a lift to the relatives she was mumbling about. But she said something about Harrington Street, and even Kat's rudimentary knowledge realised that was in entirely the wrong direction. She had already wasted more than enough time.
Now it was a dozen sleepless hours later and she was here once again, waiting in case there was anyone still alive on the other side of the road. The girl wouldn't leave her mind, she felt she had not done enough the night before. There were times when it felt sufficient to try in some feeble way to fit the pieces back together again. Somehow the girl had made her realise how very few of them would ever fit back. Better, surely, to do something to stop them being broken in the first place.
Kat had been very fortunate, she had not been in London; the last few nights had been her first true blitz. It changed her -- the girl with the horse changed her -- into someone different. She found she could no longer simply hate the idea of those bombers and all they stood for. The war ceased to be an intellectual thing to her, she realised she truly hated the men flying them as well.
It was still in her mind a few months later when the officer she had never seen before called her into the CO's office for a chat. He had talked about her school holidays in France, and how she spoke the language, and was it really true she had always been such a good shot? 'Tell me, Miss Maitland-Warner, do you really feel you're doing enough for the war effort?'
She could appreciate the irony, lying breathless and sticky in the lonely bed. Of all the things she had seen and done, to have bad dreams over a shocked girl and a dead horse. It had been in her mind again when they asked her the second time. It's not an order, Kat, it's your choice but it would be a tremendous help if you could go back. It's vital that we coordinate attacks on Boche communications: cut phone lines; blow up railway bridges; that sort of thing. Help us to drop bombs on horses.
Morning came. She got up and dressed and pretended to Pamela that she had been able to get back to sleep. She tried to help around the place, but Pamela told her firmly that she was a guest who had come there to do work of her own. So she unpacked her typewriter, set it up on the table in the garden, and let the memories come back to her.
Life in wartime: passing women, with even more chance of heartbreak and less of love than in peace. After she left Wanborough she found herself in London, with the bombing almost over and the city full of uniforms from every Allied country. There were places she could go, girls she could meet there. She didn't particularly like either, but there was hardly a great deal of choice.
For five months she conducted an 'affair' with a Rhodesian Squadron-Leader. He was comforting company and handsome, she supposed most women would find him extremely attractive. They went out to restaurants and danced and let themselves be seen. She liked him immensely, they were far more than convenient covers for each other's natures. She found it difficult to think of what they had as 'love', not when there was no sex on either side, but nor was it anything so small as friendship.
She knew very well what he did, yet she could never quite imagine him as having anything in common with those German pilots over Liverpool. Even though it was after she came back from France the first time, after she had found herself under British bombs. The thought of him burning to death three miles above the ground sickened her.
And then, in the spring of '44, there had been Pearl.
Sometimes she was aware of the dreams in every detail, down to that tightness the dusty air put on her skin, the sound of each separate brick being pulled from the rubble. Sometimes she did not consciously feel them at all. She simply jerked out of deep sleep into thrashing wakefulness with her chest feeling it would burst and the pillow soaked under her neck.
She staggered out of bed and stumbled in the darkness to the dressing table, banging her knee on who knew what as she did so. There was a bowl and pitcher there -- despite the bathroom next door, Pamela seemed to be one of those communists who was very traditionally domestic in her own life. Kat bent her head over the bowl and poured tepid water down the back of her neck. It ran into her hair, coursed down her shoulders and over her breasts.
For fuck's sake, Kat, you've poured it everywhere except into the bowl! What will Pamela think?
"Are you al- ..."
Frozen moment. Still life. Pamela standing concerned in the doorway; light from the hall falling across Kat leaning one-handed on the dressing table, naked and dripping onto the carpet.
"... Oh God, Kat. I'm so sorry."
But the door was already closed again.
Kat did her best to clean up the spilled water. She sat in bed and tried to sleep, tried not to think of what had just happened and what had not. In the end she gave up, turned on the light and scribbled a few notes for later. She found it almost impossible to actually write longhand, and waking the house with her nightmares was quite bad enough without typing by moonlight. The night passed very slowly, as they always do when you are desperate for the relief that sex would bring and yet for some reason feel too guilty to do it for yourself.