This story is by Angel M. Kwok and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Laughing, Kate rolled up her grease stained sleeves while chatting with the other women, all clad in overalls. Can you image? Women in overalls.
Seven months had passed since William’s enlistment and the remainder of his scent had faded from the sheets. As a result, Kate found herself aimlessly waiting until, on a routine journey to the post office, she crossed a new ad that piqued her interest. More, the poster’s words, “We Can Do It!” empowered her. The country needed women to fill the workforce and Kate leapt at the opportunity.
Now, one month into the job, Kate studied the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress that occupied the main floor. The bomber was shaded olive green with a patriotic star punched in its side and sat in its potential while the paint dried. This was Kate’s first B-17 and she brimmed with pride, felt accomplished that she, the average housewife, helped fight the war.
As dusk neared and women tidied their workbenches, Kate glanced at the time. Ten minutes remained before the end of the shift, though she was indifferent about clocking out. She removed the damp handkerchief binding her blonde hair, folded it neatly, and deposited it alongside her leather work gloves. She looked forward to tomorrow.
“Nice job today, Kate.”
Agatha was the first woman Kate had met at the factory, assigned to Kate for orientation. Inspired by Agatha’s work ethic, Kate admired her and was especially fond of Agatha’s unique carefree spunk.
“Here,” Agatha offered a shiny rivet. “To serve as a keepsake. It’s your first B-17, right?”
Nodding, Kate’s glance shifted to meet Agatha’s eyes, a brilliant shade of blue she envied and proceeded to recall her own, dull and brown. How lucky Agatha’s husband must be.
“We all take one,” whispered Agatha with a guilty wink.
Agatha’s wink generated a bashful feeling within Kate.
“Go on,” Agatha urged, “take it.”
Reservedly, Kate pocketed the memento. “Thank you.”
After returning home, Kate stripped her work articles, washed her dirtied hands and changed into a dress, attire much more appropriate for a lady. She had another letter for William and stepped onto the cobblestone road.
Kate turned seconds after dropping off the kiss sealed envelope.
“Agatha,” Kate responded.
Kate noticed that Agatha had also changed, except, Agatha sported trousers. Men’s styled with suspenders atop a buttoned blouse complete with a newsboy cap. The sight was odd for Kate to comprehend. She took a moment, staring.
“A few of us are at the tavern,” Agatha nodded down the street. “Would you care to join?”
Too distracted to respond, Kate speculated that Agatha was in costume for a play or an act. The outfit afforded a young, boyish look, and Agatha appeared innocent- adorable even. Her face lacked the five o’clock shadow men displayed this time of day, instead, soft and delicate.
“Kate?” Agatha dipped.
Betrayed by her eyes, Kate’s gaze wandered down Agatha’s bare neckline and Kate had to blink away the reverie. “I’m sorry?”
“Some of us from the factory are at the tavern. Care to join us?” Agatha repeated.
Slowly, Kate gave an agreeing nod with curiosity provoked on a couple of fronts. One, Agatha’s peculiar getup, which Kate was cautious to admit, alluring. And two, Kate had never been without William. She hadn’t returned since the town’s send-off gathering full of unseasoned boys with testosterone high on war, William included.
Relative to her memory, the smell of the establishment remained unchanged. Minus the men and stench of their sweat, it harbored the same reek of spilled ale intertwined with cigarette smoke.
“Kate!” the women greeted.
Kate gave a brief wave and recognized the group of women, Sarah, Lucy, Teresa, and Angela, all in dresses, which gave Kate a small sense of ease; her physical appearance matching the others, but turned to land her eyes upon Agatha again.
Over the hours, Kate learned that all but Agatha were married. Naturally, they discussed children upon their husbands’ return.
“Agatha, do you have someone in mind for a husband?” Kate asked.
Agatha’s eyes glinted with amusement.
“No,” she said with smirk behind her drink, a whiskey straight. “I don’t have any interest in a husband.”
Kate furrowed her brow, perplexed, “I don’t understand.”
Discreetly, Agatha extended her reach and stroked the back of Kate’s hand. It caused Kate to stifle a light gasp. She felt an added palpation in her chest, redness flood her cheeks, and sweat slick her palm. And in that moment, Kate understood.
At first, Kate lied to herself and reasoned the basic comforts of a warm body, but that was no longer the case. She lived the past five months in bliss with Agatha. From glances at work to sharing a bed a night, Kate didn’t know happiness existed like this, the most unconventional of ways.
Dawn was approaching and Kate regarded the soft morning glow on Agatha’s body; Agatha content on her stomach with legs twisted in the sheets.
“You’re so beautiful, Aggie,” she whispered and brushed an errant strand of wavy brown hair from Agatha’s face.
Agatha smiled in response.
Casually, Kate rose, wrapped a robe around her bare body, and sat down at the cornered desk. She lifted the rivet, repurposed as a paperweight, and began to write.
Writing had become routine for Kate, though the ink was no longer diluted with plops of tears. Kate wondered if William noticed. She still loved him. She also loved her.
Kate questioned the amount of time war would continue to grant. Ironically, the announcement of Germany’s surrender echoed the streets the following day, May 7, 1945. She was unprepared for the sudden halt in production and reduced to her domestic duties. And upon William’s return, reverted to him.
Torn, Kate juggled Agatha and William for months. Though the balancing act became difficult to maintain and by midwinter, reached its precipice.
“Come with me,” Agatha pleaded in the bitter freeze of the night. “I heard there’s opportunity out West for… people like us. We can start anew,” and looked down a Kate’s delicate protruding stomach. “I can take care of all of us.”
Hotness welled in Kate’s eyes as she stood in Agatha’s embrace.
“Just pack your things, Kate. Heck, leave them. We can go, right now.”
“I- I can’t,” Kate stammered.
“We can be happy,” Agatha pressed. “You don’t even love him anymore.”
“But I still care for him!” Kate blurted. “You think it so easy? He needs me,” she defended. “He’s… broken, traumatized by war and sobs on my chest every night. I can fix him. After fighting for our country, he deserves a family… I could never live with myself if I abandoned him.”
She clung tighter to Agatha though her words roared the opposite.
“But you should go-” Kate choked, “without me,” and pried herself from Agatha. “I have to go… before he wakes.”
Kate interrupted Agatha with a crushing kiss, a desperate and messy kiss that provided no room for rebuttal.
“Promise me,” Kate bumbled, “you’ll go?”
“Kate…” Agatha begged.
“Just go, Aggie!” Kate fisted Agatha’s jacket collar, “go and don’t look back,” and pushed her away, “at least one of us has a chance at happiness,” Kate reasoned. “Promise me?”
Agatha flexed her jaw, then nodded, “I promise.”
Reluctantly, Kate pivoted and in silent disbelief, departed on her decision.
Upon returning home, Kate discovered William battling another nightmare.
“Will! It’s okay!” she leaned over her husband. “You’re home!”
She switched on the light.
“You’re dreaming again!” she hugged him, “I’m right here and I’m not going anywhere.”
Suddenly, he shifted, grabbed and rolled Kate onto her back.
“Get off me you Nazi scum!” William shouted.
Kate’s eyes grew wide at the unfamiliar feeling of her husband’s hands around her neck.
“Will!” she gasped, “Will stop! It’s me!” she clenched his wrists and looked into his eyes. They were crazed with delusion.
“Die you mother fucker!” he shouted with an added press of his knee on her stomach.
On instinct, she kicked and flailed for oxygen.
“This is for Teddy, Henry, and John! Everyone!”
She was cut off when he gripped harder.
Will stop! Please! Wake up!
Desperate, Kate clawed at him but her reach only grazed his stubble.
No, this cannot be.
Her chest burned.
Forgive me, Aggie.
I don’t mean to leave you.
Not like this.
And vision blacked.
I’ll always love you.
“Sir, you sure you don’t want to keep any of this furniture?” the gangly moving boy asked.
“No thanks kiddo,” the new owner replied. “Heard the husband strangled his pregnant wife in the middle of night while havin’ some night terror. Musta realize what he’d done, ‘cause then he went and put one in his own temple. I don’t want any of it.”
The desk nicked the doorframe on its way out, jarring a drawer open and out popped the rivet.