Fiction · Travel · Writing

Cross Country

This is dedicated to a very wonderful woman whose life was, I am almost certain, infinitely more interesting than mine ever will be. And I’m ok with that.

 

“Heather and I have been friends a very long time,” Ann begins, stirring the milk into her tea. “We met in nursing college, just before the war broke out. We were even assigned to work together in the same hospital for a time once it did. She was far more ambitious than me, I’m afraid, but we both worked hard, I can assure you of that.” Ann paused. “After the war, Heather stayed on as a nurse in a hospital in London, and I decided to try my luck in Canada. I’d had other friends go over there, and back then it was practically the same passport, and everywhere needed nurses. So I headed over, and eventually convinced Heather to come over for a time to see what all the fuss was about.” She pauses. Sips her tea. “One day, after she’d been in Canada with me a while, we decided we wanted to be somewhere a bit more like our own wet, rainy London – or perhaps we were just itching for another adventure – so we bought ourselves a car and started a drive across Canada, starting in Toronto, and intending to end in Victoria, BC. Intending, mind.” She laughs. “Well, we’re half way across what we suspect is Saskatchewan, and back in those days, of course, the land was even emptier than it is now. We’re essentially out in the middle of nowhere farm country and what happens? Our car stops working. Mind you, there were no cellphones, and we’d not seen another car – or even a cow! – for miles. We tried everything we could think of until, wouldn’t you know it, we figure out that, for some reason, the reverse gear works. So what do you think we did?” She pauses again, not really looking for an answer. “We drove backwards down the highway.” Ann laughs, waving her hand through the air, her teacup barely shifting in her lap. “It was miles before we came across civilization, let me tell you. And even on an empty road, it was not easy. Heather’s what you’d call a statuesque woman – tall and fit and all that – so sitting backwards in a tiny car like that is a pain, so – lucky little me –  I got to do the navigating. Can you just picture it?” She looks wistfully towards her memory for a moment, and chuckles again. “Well, we got the car fixed – the look on the mechanic’s face when we pulled in backwards and told him what we’d done! – and continued on. The car made it to Vancouver, thankfully, and by that point we were tuckered out, right and fully, so we decided – like we would in England, and as we’d been doing on all those empty roads before – to camp out in a nice grassy area. So we put up our tents and then there we were in our nighties in our tent in the park and along comes a bobby tapping on the flap. I’m afraid this is a public park, he tells us. Is camping not allowed? we asked. ‘fraid not he replies. We didn’t know that wasn’t allowed in this country. How could we? No one tells you camping laws when you arrive in a new country. Terribly sorry; we’re nurses from London, you see, Heather says in her matron voice, and I just about break my ribs trying not to laugh.” Ann laughs then, though, a hearty laugh, and then she sighs, and then sips her tea again.

“We found a hotel, of course. We didn’t have much money, you see, but we made do. Decided to stay on for a time. Found ourselves positions in a local hospital – didn’t think the car could make it ‘cross the ferry, and we weren’t sure if we could afford the repairs it if it didn’t. The time was pleasant enough, though, and eventually I met my husband – a Doctor, of course, why else become a nurse? – and he and I moved back to Toronto so he could teach at the University, and so I could raise our children nearer our friends with kids their age. Heather went back to London just after I was married, and became a proper Matron. Ran the best hospital wards in London, I don’t doubt.

“Heather and I visit from time to time, now. I fly back home to England to visit her; she flies to Canada to visit me. My husband’s gone, and my children are all grown, so it isn’t as if I have much else to do.” She pauses, and looks straight at you. “Don’t you take it for granted,” she says. “Time flies when you’re having fun, but do try to make sure you’ve enjoyed it. The fun, I mean. Life goes on,” she continues, “and people move on, but memories like that? They stay just where they are for you to take out whenever you need them.”

 

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