Disclaimer Apologies to Ian McEwan, who wrote a wonderful book, to Christopher Hampton, who wrote the script. Thank you to Joe Wright for his vision, and to Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Romola Garai and the rest of the cast for bringing Joe's vision to life.
All rights to those who own them. I claim nothing.
A "What if...?" Story from HazieRox's "What If?" Challenge. . "What if Robbie made it home?
Love Never Dies
June 1940 St Thomas Hospital, day
Sister Marjorie Drummond sat in her office enjoying the few moments she had away from the ward floor. The war was already taking its toll on her staff of young nurses and probationers. She was relieved when she received word that her requests for help had not fallen on deaf ears and that she was not only getting more nurses but the Ward Sister she had requested. With St Thomas being designated as the processing center for the soldiers returning from Dunkirk they were beyond their capacity.
* * * *
Cecilia Tallis was not too happy about returning to the hospital where she had done her nurses training. It had nothing to do with her experiences or the Ward Sister in charge. In fact she was flattered that Sister Drummond had specifically asked for her. Her reluctance had more to do with one of the probationers, her sister Briony. But she was a nurse and she went where she was needed so she took a deep breath and put her personal feelings aside.
Upon entering the hospital she could immediately see why Sister Drummond was so desperate for more personnel. The ward was overflowing with soldiers and the hospital staff was having trouble keeping up. She had seen an increase of activity at the EMS as well as the more severely injured had been filtered there but the sheer number of soldiers at St Thomas seemed more than the staff could handle.
From her days as a probationer she knew her way around. After identifying herself at the reception desk she was told that the ward sister was in her office. She told the receptionist that she knew the way and headed for the office. She knocked firmly on the door.
"Come in," a familiar voice from the other side of the door responded.
Cecilia entered. Sister Drummond sat at her desk and looked up heaving a sigh of relief. She hadn't changed a bit.
"Ward Sister Cecilia Tallis." the ward sister replied. "Thank you for accepting my request. I've just been reviewing your record. I knew you would not disappoint me."
"Thank you." Cecilia responded. "I was rather surprised that you recommended me so highly."
Sister Drummond gave her a slight smile. "You shouldn't have been. You are a fine nurse, Cecilia. In my ward you never hesitated upon making sometimes life saving decisions. You are very intuitive. I never once had to call you into my office for disciplinary matters." she complimented. "When they said that they would transfer another ward sister along with a few nurses, I immediately thought of you and requested you be transferred back here. As you can see, things are rather chaotic. But you are probably used to chaos at the EMS, are you not? Another reason I wanted you here."
"The ward does seem to be over run. I've never seen it so full of patients." Cecilia replied.
"Not all of them need medical care." Sister Drummond responded. "Most merely need cleaning up and a quick check up before we sign an all clear and they are sent back into the field. Those injured on the battlefields are still sent to the EMS. Those soldiers out there are from the evacuation. They just never seem to stop coming and it's taking its toll on my young inexperienced staff. I have a few stand outs, but I can't rely on them too much. Even they are not prepared for this."
"I don't think any of us are." Cecilia replied.
For the next few hours, Sister Drummond went over the policies and procedures in her ward that Cecilia was now privy to as Ward Sister. Gave her the keys to access areas of the ward she now had access to, and insisted that she call her Marjorie when they were talking in the office away from the ward floor.
Next came the disciplinary reports. She showed Cecilia how she like to do them and where she filed them. Cecilia was free to write them up as she saw fit. Marjorie showed her new ward sister her latest stack of disciplinary reports. Cecilia saw the name atop the first report and groaned.
"I am quite certain that Nurse Tallis no longer hears me and my words no longer register." Marjorie replied. "Would you be so kind and take care of this matter?"
"I'd rather not," Cecilia answered knowing full well it was more of a request rather than a question.
"I beg your pardon?" Marjorie asked taken aback by Cecilia's response.
"I said that I'd rather not." Cecilia repeated. "I also know that you were requesting rather than asking but if you don't mind, I would like to avoid Nurse Tallis as much as possible."
"Tallis? I should have realized. Is she related to you, Cecilia?"
"Unfortunately, yes. She's my kid sister, and I'm not very fond of her at present."
"I see. I'm sorry. I'll take care of this matter." Marjorie replied. "She's nothing like you. Did you know she was here?"
Cecilia nodded. "Yes. She found my address and wrote me a letter. But I can't let my personal feelings interfere of the job I have to do. I can handle myself. I cannot say the same for her."
Marjorie laughed. "I understand."
* * * *
Word that a new Ward Sister had arrived spread quickly through the ward. Everyone wondered what she was like? They each had their own hopes as to what show she would run things but all could agree they wanted to be less strict than Sister Drummond. Someone had heard that she did her nurses training at St Thomas so her returning could be a good thing. Surely she had a soft spot for them and the pressures they faced. Another heard that she was transferring from the EMS near Morden.
Everyone went about their duties in a frenzied pace as though to present a good impression on the new Ward Sister.
It was Briony's duty at present to run the clean bed pans up to the ward to be used. She hated everything that had to do with bedpans, whether it was using them, taking the dirty ones to be cleaned or the very worst, cleaning them. Today, she was growing tired of the monotony of the back and forth her current duty required. The constant leers and cattle calls from the soldiers especially today was getting on her nerves.
As she crossed the ward with cleaned bedpans in her hands, she tripped over her own feet in disbelief upon seeing the new Ward Sister walking the ward with Sister Drummond. The bedpans she had been carrying fell to the floor with a loud clang resonating throughout the ward like out of tune church bells. She quickly scrambled to pick them up and resume her duty before the Ward Sisters would be able to confront her on her clumsiness.
Two sets of feet appeared in her vision. Too late. The Ward Sisters had reached her. She did not dare look up.
"Nurse Tallis." It was the voice of the new Ward Sister. It was a voice familiar to her but had not heard in nearly five years. It was not the comforting voice of her older sister but the new Ward Sister. "This is a hospital. These soldiers have been through a lot on the battlefields and do not need you startling them by dropping bedpans. Please take care."
"Y-yes, Ce-Ward Sister." Briony replied catching herself before she addressed the Ward Sister by her given name. "I'll be more careful. I'm sorry."
"Pick these up and get back to work."
"Yes, Ward Sister." Briony still did not look up. She saw the feet move out of her field of view and heaved a big sigh. Then she realized that the Ward Sisters might still be able to see her and picked up her pace.
For the rest of her shift, Briony trekked back and forth without any more incidents. The new Ward Sister jumped right in after her tour of the ward was finished and tending to patients. She paid as little attention to Nurse Tallis as possible, however Briony was sure that Sister Tallis was watching her like a hawk.
* * * *
Fiona lay back in her bed, exhausted. Briony who usually sat up until 'lights out' writing lay on her bed as well. She too was exhausted from the day's shift.
"That new Ward Sister is something else!", Fiona quipped. "I am not sure I like her. Who does she think she is? I didn't think anyone could be worse than Sister Drummond. And to think I was actually looking forward to working with her when I first saw her. The way she treated you! She practically went out of her way to scold you when you dropped those bedpans, and then went out of her way to ignore you the rest of the day. She and Sister Drummond seemed awfully close though. Maybe she and Sister Drummond are having an affair!"
Briony sighed. Joking or not, she did not like that last remark. "Cecilia has always been rather cold and unemotional to those she does not know and rather serious when she has her mind set. She obviously takes her job seriously. But she has a tender, nurturing side as well. When I was a little girl she would come to my room and comfort me when I had a nightmare," she replied. "And she is not having an affair. She has a lover. He's a private in the Army."
"Cecilia?" Fiona asked. "Is that her name? How do you know her? She's related to you, isn't she?"
"Cecilia Emily Tallis." Briony answered. "She's my older sister. I always thought her full given name was so beautiful."
"Your sister?" Fiona exclaimed not believing a sister could be so harsh on the other. "How can she treat you like she does? She doesn't seem to be very happy to see you."
"That's because she isn't." Briony replied dryly. "And I imagine it's not only because of our past. She's a Ward Sister, and I'm sure Sister Drummond shared my record with her. Cecilia hates me and wants nothing to do with me. I wrote to her but never received a reply. I would not be surprised if she threw the letter in the trash without opening it."
Fiona was furious. "I just don't understand," she replied. "If I had a sister I could never hate her."
Briony sighed. Her friend had no idea. She really didn't feel like going into her history with Fiona at the moment, but she had to be told something more. She didn't want her friend to hate Cecilia. Hating the 'Ward Sister' was one thing, her sister was another. She was sure that Sister Drummond was probably a nice lady outside of the ward. She knew her sister was. "I did something horrible five years ago, Fiona..." her voice trailed off. "Something that tore our family apart. Something that she's never been able to forgive me for. Just leave it at that. We should get to sleep."
Closing her eyes, Fiona agreed with the sleep suggestion. She would pick up the conversation at another time when she could keep her eyes open.