Subjected to the cold wet pack treatment, Matilda hoped never to repeat the experience. Doris claimed it calmed her to be trussed in wet sheets like a swaddled baby but, bound so tightly her body could barely shiver, Matilda thought it more akin to an Egyptian mummy being prepared for burial. If Doris had not been lying on the bed beside hers, she would have lost her mind.
Fortunately, they could turn their heads to see each other. When the nurses left, they could talk, although Matilda felt as constrained by what she could say as by her shroud. Doubting that Doris would tell her how she had hidden that spike of glass, she asked about her wounds. “Does it hurt much?”
“Why did you do it?” Matilda could not complain. Doris had sacrificed more than she had. Although the bleeding had stopped, her face was scribbled with abrasions. Beneath her bindings, her arms and legs were in shreds.
“Cause it were criminal leaving that little lad in the dark. It were worth a couple of scratches to let him know you weren’t dead. What did you tell him?”
“About why you couldn’t come home.”
Matilda could have pretended the conversation was confidential, but Doris did not deserve to be brushed off. Nor should she share the burden of defeat. The failure was Matilda’s alone. “I said I was working for the war office.” Matilda lightened her tone. “Top-secret mission. Very hush-hush.”
“Brilliant. He’ll be proud but he’ll know not to brag about it. Careless talk costs lives.”
“I said I was safe in a bunker. So he wouldn’t worry about Hitler’s bombs.”
“This place feels more like a mausoleum.”
“Maybe not for much longer. Maybe the war will set us free.”
A girl at the nunnery had thought likewise, back when Matilda had hope. “If Eustace can get his discharge, why not us?” Matilda did not believe the war would save her, but she owed Doris her gratitude and words were all she had to give.
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