After the cruel coastal carnage, the thousands of deaths and the blood soaked sea ran clear, an uneasy calm descended. It was the job of a few brave ambulance drivers to collect and identify body parts and deliver their dog tags back home. Amongst this committed but largely overlooked body of relentlessly hardworking people there were two females.
They had joined up from very different places in England, expecting to serve where they were needed but even they were shocked they’d ended up in Normandy.
“Caps”, a nickname given, for the Capstan full strength cigarettes she chain smoked, came from Newcastle, a miner’s daughter, incredibly strong and even in the day before equality was more than a match for any man, no matter what his rank.
“Tonic”, really should’ve been called ‘no tonic’ for the times she said it, ordering gin. Her lovely nature and able administrations with the dying also suited this this apt nickname.
Dark skies and dark moods, these women strange to each other discovered deep friendship in their shared experience of the cesspit of foulness they found themselves in. Even the bravest fell in tears or never got up again. At quiet moments comfort was found, men would reach out to other men in the desperate fear of dying alone, bodies acting in strange ways under such duress.
Caps had often found herself attracted to women and had a new focus for her attention. This was an unknown pleasure for Tonic, strangely drawn to Caps and captivated by her pretty androgyny and strength.
They found a private place, high along the cliffs that had witnessed such slaughter. They would place two fallen boots upon the tired fence. The boots could be seen in moonlight announcing that the other would be waiting.
This illicit tryst was thrilling amongst the devastation, within the hard and cruel landscape a surprising softness waited.
Tonic had only known the awkward harshness of her boyfriend, self-absorbed and greedy, who paid little attention to her needs.
From the very first moment, surprised at the softness of her comrade’s lips, gently responding, she belonged to Caps. It felt so natural and a Sapphic joy pulsed through her veins. The awareness of her growing love came unexpectedly, on discovering herself humming whilst carrying a dismembered leg.
Orders came, and the two were parted, on different ships with destinations unknown. All they knew of each other were their nicknames. They knew so much more but that knowledge wouldn’t help them find each other.
They asked around but nicknames changed and there was no social media in those days. They got on with their lives, their secret became a lifetime of thinking “what if?”
Dorothy Bentley looked out over the same cliffs that had been an important place for her once. Attending Normandy for the Memorial, she’d wandered up the path. Despite the horrific things she’d seen, she had some very pleasant memories. A thought, a look, she was the only one around. She’d amuse herself and relive a little fantasy she had. She slipped her red shoes off her feet and placed them on the fence. Sitting back down she saw different footwear and the old feelings washed over her. She remembered the laughter, the touch of someone so beautiful her heart ached still now. She was lost in her thoughts, picturing uniforms spread out on the ground.
“Caps” a voice shouted.
Dorothy squinted to focus. An elderly lady, well dressed with a stick was shouting a name she hadn’t heard for years.
“Tonic” It couldn’t be, it couldn’t possibly be. It was! The two women ran to each other as fast as their aging bodies would allow. In their minds, however, they were in their twenties once again and joined together in a long awaited embrace. Fitting together perfectly, they held each other, never to let go again.
“This is definitely the place Auntie Dot wanted us to sprinkle her ashes. It’s hard to tell from the photo but she left very specific instructions and wanted her shoes just placed right…I think Auntie Toni will be pleased… Make sure it’s on record. We’ll take it to the home and show her when we get back. Though God knows what the story was? …We’ll never know now. Alzheimer’s is so cruel…
Tonic was sat in her chair, rocking gently, oblivious to her surroundings or what was being played on the video. Her mind was in (another place another time). In her mind it was 1944 and she’s just noticed the boots on the fence.