Warnings: Trigger warning for abuse (let me know if I should add any more).
Notes: Missing scenes set between the end of Jumping Tracks and the beginning of Armistice. Can be read as a continuation of To Be Brave, although it is not necessary to read one story in order to understand the other.
Disclaimer: All characters belong to Michael Maclennan and Adrienne Mitchell/Shaw Media.
Kate has spent much of her time on this earth pretending to be blind. Just a week ago, in her old life, she couldn't seem to look at anyone without incurring some dire consequences.
If she eyed a handsome man in the street – if, God forbid, their eyes met hers – her father would appear at her side to crush her hand, squeeze her forearm, drag her home and deliver a thundering lecture about how all women are base and lustful creatures. The lectures were usually in front of her mother and brothers. Thank God that Mother didn't seem to believe that her daughter could be capable of such thoughts, although sadly, Kate's brothers did. Towards the end, Walter and Richard could barely look at her any more. Kate couldn't look at them either.
If her gaze fell on a pretty young woman, Kate's breath would catch, and her heart would start to beat faster. She would long to be that woman, any other woman, anyone apart from herself. Kate always feels a towering sense of inferiority around pretty women.
See, Kate's father is an itinerant preacher. When she was little, they moved two or three times a year. By the time she was a young teenager, Kate's family didn't stay in one place for longer than a month. It didn't do much for her ability to make friends. She doesn't have any sisters, and although she's always been close to her mother, somehow she's lacking a certain female influence in her life.
This is a new week and a new life. It's not very often that someone can say that, and yet Kate has found it necessary to pretend to be blind more than once this week. She's started working at Victory Munitions, a bomb factory in Toronto, and sometimes going blind is the only way she can get by.
It's all about not looking, about pretending very hard that she's blind until she can hide again. She's had a lifetime's practice at pretending not to see, but it's harder to do around other people. Her family let her get on with it, whereas other people are peer at her and ask what she's thinking about. Kate wishes they would let her alone. She doesn't want anyone to look at her too long, or too closely. She doesn't want them to see the things she keeps hidden.
Most of Kate's worst scars are on her back. She knows that what she imagines is probably far worse than how they really appear, but she can't help but feel self-conscious. Kate can't think of a single person in the world she would willingly show them to. She even used to hate showing them to Mother.
Kate can't stop thinking about Betty, the woman who lives across the hallway. She's the very best worker on Blue Shift, if not in the whole factory. She's well liked by the other workers, and thoroughly approved of by Mrs Corbett, the floor matron, who is notoriously difficult to please. She wears pants and boots. She's never at a loss for words. She doesn't believe in God. Betty is everything that Kate isn't.
And yet, it seems like Betty is a few of the things that Kate is, as well. The other night, at the Sandy Shore Pavilion, Kate stood at the edge of the room for hours, unable to think how she might find a dance partner, unsure whether stolen moments of dancing alone would ever translate to real life. Betty stayed by Kate's side, always smoking just one more cigarette or finishing the dregs of one more glass of punch. It made Kate nervous. Certainly, she wanted Betty to be there, but she worried that perhaps Betty was just being kind. Why on earth would Betty stay beside Kate, instead of whirling away in some handsome soldier's arms?
It was only when the band started playing a slow number and Kate saw two other women dancing together that it clicked. Betty wasn't staying around out of charity. She was afraid to get onto the dance floor as well! Kate had asked Betty to dance then and there. She even led the dance. Betty, the toughest broad at Vic Mu, had let Kate take the lead! She had looked surprised, impressed that Kate had seen a solution to their shared problem. Suddenly, Kate wasn't afraid of doing the wrong thing any more. Neither of them was particularly great at dancing, but Betty's hand was warm in hers, and their feet made more or less the pattern Kate envisioned. For the first time in a long time, it felt like Kate was doing something right.
From the moment Kate first saw her, she knew that she wanted to be Betty's friend. It feels more obvious with every passing moment. She thought she had a good chance of it, only – only it seems like Betty was just being kind, after all. A couple of hours ago, Betty told Kate that she had seen her scars.
Kate doesn't know how to feel about it. She felt afraid and ashamed when Betty first told her, followed by a good feeling when Betty promised to look out for her. She's never been as skilled at identifying her good feelings. Perhaps that's why they tend to get eclipsed by her bad ones so easily. As soon as she was away from Betty, her nameless good feelings were buried under all-too-familiar worries and doubts.
This is why she didn't want anyone to know. Kate wants so much to be something other than her past. It's all ruined now. When Betty looks at Kate, does she see Kate any more, or does she only see all the most terrible moments of Kate's life?
She thought Betty was being kind to her for her. It turns out that Betty felt sorry for her. That wonderful moment when they were dancing together, when Kate was able to take control and surprise someone else … it just feels like it's been erased, replaced with Betty shaking her head pityingly at Kate's poor scarred body in the showers at work. Kate cringes, thinking about how she must have looked: knock-kneed, round-shouldered, shaking like a leaf, trying desperately to cover her nakedness, showing her wounded back to the whole of Blue Shift. Betty saw it all.
Wounded. It's such an ugly word. The ugly words keep on coming. Maimed. Disfigured. She thinks them all without emotion. It's only when she pictures her back and thinks, Like a road map that Kate winces bodily as if she's actually taking a blow.
She shakes her head twice, trying to clear it, and begins to sing softly, to try and banish the thoughts. "Just a closer walk with Thee. Grant it, Jesus, is my plea. Daily walking close to Thee. Let it be, dear Lord, let it be…" She trails off, unable to bring herself to sing the next verse. She wants so badly to get rid of these desolate feelings.
Kate fumbles in her bedside drawer for her mother's locket. For a moment, her hand closes around empty air, and Kate panics. Eventually, though, her fingers graze over the cool, familiar metal. Kate snatches it up and reads the inscription hungrily. To Marion with Love. She holds it tightly in her hand until her hopelessness has ebbed somewhat.
When she is breathing normally again, she opens the drawer to replace the locket, and finds herself staring straight at the silk stockings Gladys Witham gave her last night, in the powder room at the Sandy Shore Pavilion. Gladys is one of the new secretaries at Victory Munitions. She started the same day as Kate. When Kate saw Gladys dropped off by a chauffeur at the gates on that first morning, looking for all the world like a movie star doing a goodwill tour of the factories, she had been devastatingly impressed - until she had seen just how many people were snickering and whispering behind Gladys' back.
Kate thanks God for Gladys. If Gladys hadn't started on the same day as Kate, all that scrutiny could have been directed Kate's way. Kate might have been quiet and a tad jumpy. She might have frozen up when Archie Arnott and the other men muttered lewd comments. Kate might even have nearly blown up the factory, but at least she didn't show up in a cloud of French perfume, making a to-do about her engagement ring before she'd even gotten in the front door. Kate falls in line, does her work and doesn't complain. The other girls accept her. Kate is, more or less, an us. Poor Gladys is most definitely a them.
Their separate statuses were cemented in the ladies' room at the dance last night. Overcome with curiosity, Kate asked to touch Gladys' stocking. Betty told Gladys where to go in short, sharp words, and Gladys threw the stockings at Kate before she stalked out. So, really, one might say that they belong to Kate now.
Kate has never worn silk stockings before. There's no particular shame in that. She would wager most of the women here haven't worn them either, at least not in the past few years. But she has also never drawn a line up the backs of her legs with an eyebrow pencil, to look like a seam. Her father wouldn't have approved of such artifice.
Kate wants that feeling again, the one she had dancing with Betty. She wants to surprise someone, even if it's just herself. Before she knows it, she is sitting back on the bed and rolling the stockings up, first one and then the other. It takes a moment to get the seams nice and straight, but she just about manages.
Kate can't help but shiver a little as she runs the palm of her hand up her own calf. There it is again, that feeling she had in the ladies' room at the Sandy Shore Pavilion. A curious feeling, in every sense of the word. This must be what it would like to be a man touching a woman's leg, or to be a woman having her leg stroked. How strange and special, to experience it from both sides. This, she supposes, is one of the few advantages afforded to women in this life, this ability to feel a touch in more than one way.
There is a knock at the door, and a voice calls, "You in there, Kate? It's me, Betty."
Torn out of her reverie, Kate realises with a rush of embarrassment how ridiculous she must look, sitting on her bed and stroking her own leg with a silly grin on her face. This is why she'll never have the door open and the curtain hanging, like the other women here do. People would be bound to barge in during all her most private moments.
"Just a minute, just a minute," she babbles, pulling her nightgown over her head and thrusting her arms into the sleeves. She places the locket reverently back in the drawer (covering it with a couple of her cheap cotton handkerchiefs, for safety's sake) before going to the door and opening it. "What can I do for you, Betty?"
"I thought maybe you-" Betty looks at her shoes, almost shyly. It's rather endearing. It makes Kate remember the way she was when they danced. Then, she frowns, and Kate realises what Betty has noticed. Oh, no. "Are you wearing Gladys Witham's stockings?"
"I-" Kate finds herself putting one foot behind the other, as if she's trying to hide the evidence. "I was just trying them on. There's nothing wrong with that. You should try them. They really do feel very soft."
Betty's eyebrows lift. "I'm not really up for wearing anybody's hand-me-down lingerie. 'Specially not that poor little rich girl Gladys."
"Is there something I can do for you, Betty?" Kate repeats, trying to look polite and welcoming when all she wants to do is slam the door, tear off the stockings and never touch her own skin again if she can possibly help it.
"Aggie and Dolores are starting up a euchre game. Want to come join us?" Kate's lack of recognition must be showing on her face, because Betty adds, "It's a card game; you play in teams of two."
"So, I'd be on your team?"
"I don't think I'd be very good. I've never played cards in my life."
Betty leans against the door frame, burying her hands in the pockets of her coat. If Kate did that, it would just look like she was tired and fidgety, but Betty makes it a smooth, careless gesture.
"I can teach you," she says simply. "And if you're shy, it's the best way to get in with all the other women here."
Kate bites her lip. "I'm already in my nightgown."
"Ain't no rule that says you can't wear your nightgown … or your silk stockings," says Betty, grinning. "Come on, be a sport."
It is a very persuasive grin. Kate finds herself saying, "Oh, why not? Half a minute." She goes to grab the key from her bedside table, so she can lock her door.
"You don't need to do that. I told you, nobody steals here." Betty's tone is so deliberately casual. She thinks she's being subtle. It makes Kate want to shake her. Can't you understand, I'm not worried about thieves?
"I don't like people being in my room," she says stiffly.
"I don't much like people being in mine either." Betty folds her arms and leans in closer to Kate. "But Aggie's set up the chairs five feet away. Nobody'll be able to get in your room without breezing straight past us, and they'd have to be pretty brazen for that."
Kate hesitates. "You'll - you'll back me up, if anybody tries to get in?"
"Not only will we tell 'em where to go, I will personally help you heft them through the door like potato sacks," Betty promises.
Slowly, Kate puts down the key. "I'll just take these off, then." She starts to double over, to peel off the stockings.
"Oh, leave 'em on. You'll have them choking with envy, and it'll put them off their game." Betty looks over her shoulder at the sound of scraping chair legs and chatter. "Maybe they're your lucky charm."
So Kate ventures out into the hallway, oddly clad in her winter nightgown and Gladys' silk stockings, to be introduced to two more of her neighbours and learn the rules of euchre. Nobody says anything about her attire, possibly because Aggie is wearing a threadbare kimono and Dolores has her hair curled up in rags.
They are rough and ready women, but quite friendly and welcoming to Kate. They speak kindly to her. Their voices get higher at the ends of sentences, like she's someone's kid sister here on a visit – until Kate manages to play a trump card. They curse in surprise, and for a moment Kate is afraid that they're angry with her. She's brought out of herself by Betty applauding loudly.
Their eyes meet across the table. "Good game," says Betty, nodding and smiling. "You're a natural."
"Helps to have a good partner," Kate replies graciously, as Dolores and Aggie grumble.
"Beginner's luck. We'll cream you in the next round," says Aggie.
"Well, we'll see." Kate smoothes out the skirts of her nightgown. "Who's dealing?"
They don't win every round, but Kate still has fun. She listens more than she talks, and she's the only one who isn't smoking, but somehow, she doesn't feel awkward. Every so often, when Dolores and Aggie are preoccupied with their next move and Betty is lighting up another cigarette, Kate rubs her heels around each other in slow circles, as if she's scratching an itch. Really, she's glorying in the feeling itself. She's never known anything so soft before.