Welcome to 2023’s seventh edition, Making History. We left it for our contributors to interpret it as they wished to. And we have a mix of non-fiction and fiction. And a bit of poetry, reflecting that we’re all making our own histories every day.
The A Muse Bouche Review Team
Feature: Don’t Tell Me the Moon is Shining (Louise Sorensen) Non-Fiction
Stone Outlasts All (Marian L Thorpe) Fiction
How Can Characters Make History? (Renee Gendron) Non-Fiction
Making History (J Dalton) Fiction
11 Days, 25 Minutes (David M. Simon) Fiction
A Nurse (Joseph P. Garland) Fiction
Keepsake (Heather Wickers) Poetry
Louise Sorensen (@louise3anne)
When I was in school, for me, the subject of History was always boring. We weren’t told stories. We were told facts. Never detailed. Never intimate. Being Canadian, we took mostly Canadian history, which seemed to me even more boring than what we’d heard about the rest of the world.
If you want me to understand or remember the past, I need to know about the people of the time. That’s what catches my attention.
Who cared about the feudal system in Europe? Or the seigneurial system in Quebec?
What did it matter to a young person? What would have made this interesting and engaged me was, what did the serfs eat? What did they wear? How old were they, how long did they live? What kinds of lives did their children have? That, I would have related to. How long did the Seigneur live? What was their lifestyle? I still don’t know the exact answers to those questions.
All I remember of history classes is battles and dates.
- 1066 Battle of Hastings.
- 1492 Columbus discovers America.
Magellan, Cartier, Champlain. Explorers. Trade routes as broken lines on a map.
Henry the VIII. There may have been a sketchy mention of his wives, and the political reasons he had so many and had killed some of them, but it was a dry account. He needed a male heir, and most of his wives couldn’t provide one.
I learned more about history after I left school and saw movies or read books based on historical events, or even Ggoogled historical events because I wanted to know more, than I ever learned or that was even hinted at in school.
We never heard about slavery, except possibly in passing, as the Slave Trade. We never heard about the atrocities of the Inquisition, except that it was a religious war. As a lifelong horse lover, I remember the Knights Templar because they rode horses
World Wars I and II were taught with less passion than one would give to chess moves. Battles and dates. No mention of the people who fought and lost their lives. Or the terrible toll of horses and other animals in WWI. Hundreds of thousands of horses died in WWI from artillery fire, disease, and starvation. Getting feed to them was a major problem. If this had been mentioned, I would have sat up and paid attention. As it was, I could barely stay awake in class.
Reading assignments were chapters long. Nothing but battles and dates.
I remember that the story of Stanley and Livingstone in my history book began with the words, “Footsore and weary . . .” And that they were explorers of Africa. And the famous quote, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” I had to Google them recently to find out the details. The year was 1871. Livingstone was a missionary in Africa, and Stanley was an American journalist and adventurer who was sent by his editor to find Livingstone, who had been missing for six years. The famous quote was not mentioned in Stanley’s journal and may have been embellished.
- The Diet of Worms, 1521. Something political, but I only remember it because of the ick factor.
In order for me to learn and remember something, as well as the human element, I have to know how it is useful. I could see the value of Mathematics. Numbers add up. You can see how much your groceries, car payments, or mortgage will cost. How many miles it is to the moon and the sun.
I could see the use of Biology. Birds are everywhere, and bees pollinate the fruit and vegetables we eat. In the 1670s, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek discovered microbes and bacteria by grinding his own magnifying glasses. He was the first microbiologist. That turned out to be very useful.
Archeology and Anthropology have always interested me, because they involve ancient creatures, and the prehistoric life of humans. Creatures and people I can imagine and relate to. When I was in Atlanta, Georgia recently, we took a tour of one of the Civil War battlefields. We saw rusted cannons, but they were silent. Told no stories. What affected me were the stories in the museum. The photos of men and boys who died in the battle. Tales of soldiers risking their lives to get a man out of the line of fire. Boys calling out for their mothers as they died. Even now, it brings tears to my eyes.
I’ve often wondered what ignited the passion of people who were excited by history even in school. The people who became historians, historical writers, history teachers. I had a phone call into the local high school to talk to a history teacher, to ask them why they decided to teach history. What was it that made them pursue that interest? So far, they have not responded.
So, I asked some friends.
One historical writer grew up in a household where history was one of their parent’s interests. They had lots of books, watched lots of shows, and talked about not just royalty, but the history of the common people. Relatable.
Another was interested in family and ancestors’ history and their interest branched out from there.
One was fascinated by the artifacts of history.
Yet another studies history to learn from the mistakes of the past, and apply them to solutions today.
These revelations reminded me that though my dad was in the war, he never talked about it, and we never had discussions about any of our relatives who came before us. My personal history was a blank page.
So, what is it that makes lessons, or stories, interesting? Memorable? I believe it’s not only the human element, but also the way they are presented.
When I was taking history in school, it was all telling. Telling a fact, a date, a war, an explorer’s route.
Seems to me, the human connection is what makes history, or stories of any kind, memorable. This is where show versus tell comes in, in writing, as well as history.
Don’t tell me the dates of battles, when I have always been interested in people. Why do they do the things they do? Why are things the way they are?
Show me the faces of the soldiers. Show me their mothers and fathers, wives, husbands, children, and I’ll be interested in the various socioeconomic impacts their loss had on their families, countries, the world.
Don’t tell me the dates of the Slave Trade. Show me the faces of people chained side by side in the bowels of a slave ship. Youths. Parents. Philosophers. Warriors. Sing me their stories, howl their names. And I will remember. Better yet, I will empathize, and better understand what is happening today.
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Anton Chekhov
Marian L Thorpe (@marianlthorpe)
…on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Percy Bysse Shelley, Ozymandius
“You built all this?” I asked. “The town, and the roads, and the fort?”
The man before me had the cropped hair of a soldier, white now, but tinged with a faded rust, the colour of the plain’s dust. He smiled. “Not with my own hands. I supervised the work, and designed some of it. And of course the fort was simply rebuilt. But you know that. You saw it, thirty years ago.”
I sipped my wine. “I recognized it for what it was immediately. It was almost identical to a fort in my country.”
“The plans have never changed. We just adjust them to fit the terrain and the number of troops they are intended to house. But I did not realise there were any traces of Casil’s prior occupancy left in Ésparias.” He sat forward. “Was it just the fort?”
“No.” I told him of the mosaic floor at another fort, and the two roads. “And there is more: our only town was called Casilla. But we had forgotten who the builders were, although the faint memory of an eastern empire remained in some parts of the military.” The elected emperor, the rituals of the soldiers’ god.
“Those buildings remained in use, and the roads? Your military maintained them?”
“Yes. Although not as skillfully as the Casilani regiments who have come in the last decades.”
“And are now withdrawing.” He spoke matter-of-factly. Wood crackled in the brazier.
“Leaving us with more roads and bridges and forts and towns,” I said. “Whatever happens to Casil, I doubt we will forget its empire again.” If we did, I explained to my host, then it would not just be the buildings that had crumbled, but all else we had done in the last thirty years. Once only the northern schools had kept the language and thought of the eastern empire alive. Now their southern offshoots did the same.
“I hope you can keep the knowledge alive,” he replied. “But even Casil, for all its written records, forgets its past. When as a young officer I expressed a wish to look for the ruins I thought should be present in these lands, my superiors laughed at me.” Did his voice hold a trace of bitterness? If so, it was replaced by triumph. “However, I was right.”
“Do you wonder how long your works will stand?” A presumption, perhaps, but it was on my mind. “All that you have built?”
“If Casil falls?” he asked. “If there is no one with the skill to repair and maintain our work? I have seen what will happen. The dust of the plain will cover the roads and fill in the ditches. Mortar will crumble and walls fall. People will take stones away to use elsewhere.”
A life’s work, gone. “Doesn’t that bother you?”
A smile again, and again I could only call it triumphant. “Not in the least. One temple I restored was still a sacred site, after all. Perhaps the people had forgotten to whom it was raised; they had certainly forgotten who built it, beyond uncertain legends. But it still evoked awe and wonder.”
As it had in me three decades past, seeing it standing alone on the plain, its remaining pillars gleaming white. Ancient and sacred, a monument from a people forgotten, a people of skill and artistry. “Do you know who built it originally?” I had wondered since first I saw the ruined temple.
“I know who commanded here, and oversaw its construction. A man named Sabinus; the librarians in Casil found me the records. But who shaped the pillars, carved the words, laid the stones? No. Those names are lost, like those of the soldiers who fought to take this land and made it possible for Sabinus to build a temple to honour their god. History speaks only of the few.”
“It will speak of you,” I said. “Surely.”
“Perhaps. Or perhaps it will speak only of the generals who conquered these lands, or of none of us, if—when—Casil falls. Memory and the written word are as fragile as this glass” He held up his wine cup, his hand nearly steady, regarding me thoughtfully. “But stone will outlast all. You are returning home?”
“I plan to.”
“Then may I entrust you with records? Copies of some of what I have written in my years here. Take them back to your scholars. They may be safer there.” This time the smile held an ironic edge. “I am vain enough, it appears, to wish for a better chance to be remembered.”
“I can take them.” The brazier held only coals now against the cold of the desert night. I hid a yawn. “Forgive me.”
“Not at all. You must be tired after your travels. My steward will show you to your room.” He pushed himself out of his chair to extend a hand. “I am glad to have met you. I doubt I will see you before you leave. I am an old man, and mornings are not easy for me, but the records will be waiting for you.”
I rose, stepping closer to the desk to take his hand. The drawing on the desktop caught my attention. A memorial stone, the words clear. Beside it lay the belt knife he would have carried all his life.
His hand in mine was cold. “Thank you,” I said.
Stone outlasts all. I had no doubt, wishing him good night, of what news would await me in the morning.
Image: djedj from Pixabay
Renee Gendron (@ReneeGendron)
A great book has a main character (MC) that is active, learning, and often failing but trying again to create a desired situation, even if they might not yet know what the outcome is. They are learning skills, meeting new people, addressing past hurts and wrongs, and they are exploring new areas of their world.
But what does it mean for a character to ‘make’ history? It can mean they make personal history by doing something for the first time. It can mean they have learned and mastered a skill. Think of an eight-year-old who has practised playing the piano for years but has terrible stage fright and has never performed at a recital. Then, after coaching and support and personal development, they walk on stage and play a song. The child will remember walking on stage for a long time, and the experience may give give them the confidence to try other things. The emotional impact on the child will stick with them for a long time. That’s personal history. That’s a first for them and likely something they will remember for the rest of their lives.
There’s making local history. Perhaps your MC is the captain of her rugby team, and her team has never won against a rival rugby team from another town. Through improved strategy, technique, and sheer emotional grit–and the leadership of your MC–your MC successfully leads her team to victory. The local press was there and covered the story, a ceremonial plaque was mounted in the MC’s team locker room, and the dozens of spectators who watched will always remember that triumphant day.
There’s making national or international history. Your MC may have trained and become the best in their sport and competed nationally or internationally. They may have studied hard and made a significant technological breakthrough with which they founded a company or won international awards.
Let’s not forget that your MC can make history for being notorious. Again, they can make personal history for being the family’s black sheep and being shunned by them. They can make local, national, or international history for crime, poor behaviour, and other activities that make one notorious. Sometimes the MC intentionally seeks this acclaim, and other times, circumstances beyond their control impose the title. They might be a scapegoat for a terrible industrial accident or other significant event.
When looking at your character’s development arc, examine their actions and decisions, and play around with intentional and unintentional consequences. For example, your MC intervened to stand up for a coworker who the boss bullied, but then, in turn, became the bully boss’s target. As a result of the bullying, your MC’s stress levels increased, and they lost a significant account or messed up an important presentation. Rumours spread through the company, making company history about the poor presentation. Despite best efforts at addressing the bullying, the MC had to quit their job and could only find a lesser-paying job, putting strain on their marriage. One good action can create a downward spiral for your MC and create new, unforeseen consequences.
Making history causes ripples in personal growth (or regression), family and coworker relationships, and the broader community. Make sure that each ripple has a consequence on your MC.
J Dalton (@JDaltonAuthor)
There was no way Commander Diaz could stop smiling. He was personally piloting the shuttle that would capture the Tesla and Starman.
Starman! Not only was Elon Musk, the man behind the Tesla corporation, a visionary, he had a sense of humor. Placing a mannequin in the driver’s seat of his sports car and sending it out into space was brilliant. Naming him Starman as a tribute to David Bowie’s song was something no government agency would ever do.
Then later, when his Space-X prototype of a manned spaceship made a practice run, he placed a dummy, loaded with sensors, inside the ship and named the dummy Ripley as a nod to the Alien movie franchise. Nod after nod to entertainment icons.
Throughout the history of the company there had been similar tributes along the way. Even today, the AI program that ran the Space-X ships in the fleet was called Hal after the computer in 2001, a Space Odyssey.
He was approaching the Tesla carefully, first making a pass completely around the car, just to get a close-up vid and scan for the historians.
The car was tumbling slowly, rotating on several axes. Coming in closer from the rear, he could see some of the damage. The windshield was a collection of spiderweb cracks, and its frame was twisted just above the passenger seat.
Allejandro could see several small holes in the body, most likely caused by meteorite strikes. Without shielding, the car had been a sitting duck for anything in its way, much the same as so many of the early space faring vessels, before the invention of shield projecting technology. He still couldn’t believe that the early astronauts took such huge chances like that. Not only did they risk annihilation from a meteorite, but also radiation sickness without that protection!
He fired the maneuvering thrusters in short, practiced bursts, pulling the shuttle alongside the car. He matched its pace and inched forward until he was about twenty meters ahead and just off to starboard. He and the copilot had already suited up, anticipating the loss of atmosphere inside the shuttle when they opened the loading ramp. They had their helmets on but were traveling with the faceplates up.
“Show time!” said the Commander, while standing, and flipping the faceplate down. “You have the Conn. Make sure you get this capture on the vid. We’re going to be famous.”
“Roger that,” came the reply as his copilot slid his faceplate down, locking it in place. He thought to himself, “You’ll be famous, but I’ll just be a trivia question like Command Module Pilot Michael Collins of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission. Neil Armstrong, and Ed ‘Buzz’ Aldrin got the press for landing on the moon, while Collins continued to orbit above. Oh well, such was the plight of so many of us unsung. He flipped the switch and depressurized the shuttle and then opened the loading ramp.
“Shuttle depressurized and loading ramp locked in place Commander.”
“That’s clear. You know, at first, I wanted to use the magnet ‘cause I didn’t want to spoil the car. Then, I thought, with all those holes, I might as well take the easy route and use the harpoon. It’s gonna need lots of body work anyway. But now, after watching it float out here in the emptiness of space, and seeing the damage, I just can’t bring myself to harm it any more. I’m going to use the flycatcher attachment.”
The ‘flycatcher’ was a suction cup style attachment to the harpoon. It was coated with a substance that would adhere to almost any surface without doing damage. The only drawback to it was, you had to be a good shot in order for it to make a solid connection.
Allejandro lay down on the floor of the shuttle bay and took aim at the Tesla. He wanted to target the body of the car, preferably the passenger side door so he could get a good connection, without hurting Starman. He watched the tumbling car make three complete revolutions, setting up the timing of his shot.
“Cue the music,” he said.
David Bowie’s 20th century song, Starman, began playing in the background as the XO smiled.
“Here she comes, and…now!” He squeezed the trigger and the harpoon shot out, looking like a giant-sized child’s arrow. It traveled through the void, trailing the cable, and connected dead center in the passenger side door.
The cable continued deploying, wrapping the car in a steel cocoon, as the car continued to tumble in space. Commander Diaz applied the brake gently, just like when he went deep sea fishing back on real Earth. The goal was to catch the car, not rip the door right off.
Finally, the spinning vehicle came to a stop. Meter by meter, Commander Diaz reeled in his catch until it was just outside the shuttle’s loading ramp. He stopped the winch and turned to the copilot.
A huge grin was shining through the Commander’s faceplate as he gave the copilot a thumbs-down. The copilot hit the top thruster jets and lowered the rear of the shuttle almost a full meter. That gave Commander Diaz some maneuvering room while he pulled the Tesla the rest of the way inside as the copilot closed the loading ramp.
Commandeer Diaz gently pushed the car down onto the deck and the copilot re-engaged the artificial gravity. Then, the Commander finished securing the car to the deck.
Retaking his seat, Commander Diaz clicked his mike. “Shuttle Alpha to Gibraltar Actual.”
“Shuttle Alpha, this is Gibraltar Actual.”
“Gibraltar Actual, the Eagle has landed!” Then he burst out laughing. Tears of joy were running down his face. “Man, what a find! The Starman is no longer waiting in the sky.”
Commander Diaz couldn’t seem to wipe the shit-eating grin from his face, all the way back to the Gibraltar.
Image: public domain, courtesy of SpaceX
David M. Simon (@writesdraws)
DAY ONE, 9:30am EDT
417 viewers watching the live stream.
Hey, everyone! Thanks for joining me as I attempt to make history. So, here’s the deal. Back in 1963, a seventeen-year-old kid in San Diego stayed awake for 11 days, 25 minutes. That’s just over 264 hours if you do the math. He did it under controlled conditions, for a science fair. That world record has stood unchallenged for 60 years. You know what I have to say about that?
Fuck him. I’m going to crush that record. I’m shooting for 13 days, and all of you fine people get to watch every second of it.
It’s going to work like this. I’m talking to you on a laptop, and behind me is the back half of my bedroom, with my TV and gaming setup. To my right, your left, is a bathroom. You won’t be able to see inside, ‘cause that would be gross, but I’ll keep the door open so you can hear that I’m awake. Otherwise I’ll be visible at all times—gaming, watching TV, reading, posting on my socials, and of course chatting with all of you. This stream will keep running 24 hours a day.
This dorm fridge here next to me is stocked with water and Monster. Gotta stay hydrated, and I gotta stay awake. I’ve got bags full of snack essentials—Combos, Cool Ranch Doritos, Snickers, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, Double Stuff Oreos, and Peanut M&Ms—plus, my mom has agreed to make me three meals a day. She’s not the greatest cook in the world, so with any luck she’ll Door Dash me some Chipotle a couple of times.
Otherwise it’s you and me for the next 13 days. Let’s synchronize watches, or smartphones. It’s exactly 9:30am Eastern Daylight Time on July 6th, 2023. I got a solid ten hours of sleep last night, and I’m ready to go. Let’s get this party started!
DAY THREE, 10:05am EDT
1,823 viewers watching the live stream.
Friends, it’s 10:05am on July 9th. I’ve been awake for a little over three full days, and according to the experts I should be a mess. Confused, paranoid, unable to concentrate, maybe even experiencing delusions.
Well, jokes on them, because I feel fantastic, never better. My senses are sharper than they’ve ever been. Everything is so bright, I swear I’m seeing colors I’ve never seen before. You may have heard me listening to Nirvana’s In Utero in the middle of the night, and sure, it’s a classic album, but last night I heard details and layers of sound in the music that were total revelations. It’s like Kurt was talking to me from the grave, sharing secrets.
If you were watching an hour ago, you saw me beat Narwa the Allmother on Monster Hunters for the first time ever. I’ve failed that challenge so many times, but holy shit, my eyes and my hands were communicating telepathically. I could sense every action the moment before it happened, and feel the movement of the characters in my fingertips. If this is what it’s like to go without sleep, I may never sleep again!
DAY FOUR, 7:17pm EDT
3,657 viewers watching the live stream.
I don’t really have anything to say right now. I’m fucking tired. If you need me I’ll be sitting over there watching the new season of Black Mirror.
DAY FIVE, 6:57am EDT
2,022 viewers watching the live stream.
Sorry about yesterday. I hit a wall, I was in a bad place, but I’ve busted through and I feel much better. Except, people, there’s something weird and scary going on. When I checked my socials this morning I had hundreds of DMs from pornbots and investmentbots, in the usual mix of Russian and Chinese and grammatically poor English, and I started to block them all, but then the face of this one young Asian girl changed while I was watching. It, it melted, dissolved, until there were just eyes and a mouth in a pool of bubbling fat.
Then she talked to me, her voice all wet and phlemmy, and it was in Chinese I think, but I could understand her, and believe me, I do not speak Chinese, but I understood her. She knew my name, she knew everything about me. She told me horrible things, things she was going to do to me, do to my mom, to my friends. She knew their names, knew where they lived. She told me secrets about them that I didn’t believe, that can’t be true, but now I’m wondering…
I clicked to delete her, but it wouldn’t delete, she just kept talking, and the same thing happened to the other faces in my DMs, they all melted, they all screamed and whispered and talked over each other, telling me insane things. I finally exited out of everything because it was so overwhelming.
Some of you think that it might be time to give up my quest, that this isn’t good for me, but fuck that. I’m not a quitter. The rest of you, thanks for your support. There’s truth in the voices, if you listen.
DAY EIGHT, 6:33pm EDT
7,941 viewers watching the live stream.
[Loud, prolonged retching sounds from the bathroom.]
Sorry you had to hear that, but there’s something all of you need to know. My mother is poisoning me. I know that sounds crazy, but once the DM voices suggested it, laid out all the facts, I could see it clear as glass. I haven’t felt great for a couple of days. My stomach’s in knots, I’m feverish, I just puked my guts up.
The unavoidable conclusion is that my mother is poisoning me. I know I said you’d always be able to see me except when I was in the bathroom, but this can’t be helped. I have to confront her. I’ll be right back.
[Sounds of a struggle, followed by screams.]
DAY NINE, 12:01am EDT
5,116 viewers watching the live stream.
DAY TEN, 12:01am EDT
2,728 viewers watching the live stream.
DAY ELEVEN, 12:01am EDT
945 viewers watching the live stream.
DAY TWELVE, 8:41pm EDT
439 viewers watching the live stream.
Hey detective, take a look at this. Maybe one of these voyeuristic assholes saw or heard something.
Alright, bag up that laptop for forensics. And let me know when the medical examiner gets here. She has a long night ahead of her.
Joseph P. Garland (@JPGarlandAuthor)
Tall. Shy. Plain. These were the words most likely to be used by someone asked to describe Miss Abigail Adams Livingston. And rich, of course. But everyone knew about that.
When our story begins, she’d only recently returned from a six-month stint in Europe, accompanied by two similarly wealthy friends from her family’s circle (and a spinster chaperone). She was out in the highest level of society but for whatever reason she’d already been passed over by eligible bachelors (and their mothers) in her first season, which explains why she could visit Paris and Venice, London and Berlin. Miss Livingston was a blueblood, with lineage extending nearly to the Dutch days, and her money was secure and untainted, both factors that put the Livingstons in the uppermost tier of New York society in the decade following the end of the Civil War.
The problem, if indeed that is what it was, was a fifth word to describe our heroine. Smart. For while a secure man could tolerate a taller woman and would surely relish a richer one, few could consign himself to a cleverer one. Not that this particularly bothered her. She had ambitions, though at her young age of nineteen she did not know how to go about realizing them.
She was set, therefore, to enroll at Vassar College in the fall of 1872. This concept, a woman’s college, was a relatively recent phenomenon in America and some demeaned it as a sort of older, unmarried girls’ finishing school. Here, too, Abigail did not care and of course Abigail Adams Livingston had the luxury of not caring. Had she been of a literary bent, she might have leaned towards writing poems or prose or the like. She wasn’t, at least not yet.
It happened, as changes in one’s life can often simply ‘happen,’ that Michael Melman was among the guests at a small ball held at the Livingstons’ mansion on lower Madison Avenue near the Square in June. The weather season had not yet hit the horrid stage of heat and humidity and bugs that hastened the arrival of the social season and its move to Newport and Lenox and Saratoga. But that flight from the city was not long off. The Livingstons’ fête would be one of the last.
Michael Melman was some fifteen years older than Abigail. God gave him two arms but Johnny Reb took one at a skirmish during the Vicksburg Campaign. Melman, a West Point grad, was a brevet colonel in Grant’s army and an engineer by trade and temperament.
With the left arm cleanly cut off, he remained with the army and with Grant for the balance of the war, rising to the rank of brevet Brigadier General. He decided against continuing in the army after Appomattox and undertook a career as an engineer in New York City and Brooklyn. It was as such that he came to the attention of certain members of the Eldoran Club and though he was not rich, he was sufficiently credentialed to be granted membership. Which explains why he was invited to the aforementioned ball.
He was not a dancer anymore and while the floor was cleared and an octet played music for those who were, he kept off to the side, near one of the pair of tall windows that opened out to the Avenue, and it was there that Abigail found him. They’d met two or three times at other families’ houses and they had a liking for one another, though never with any hint of romance.
“What are you to do now?” he asked her as they watched the couples twirling in a complicated clockwise pattern before them.
“It’s to Vassar for me, which will allow me to contemplate the more intriguing question of my future.”
“Might I make a suggestion, Miss Livingston?”
This was a strangely intimate question from a man she barely knew. Politeness dictated that she respond. She looked from the couples to the engineer and nodded. He took out a small cigar from an inside pocket and with his single hand dexterously lit it with a struck match.
“As you know,” he said, delaying his sentence with a pull on his cigar and a turn of his head from her to exhale the smoke, “I have had first hand knowledge of the medical practices in our country.” He looked at his cigar and in some embarrassment said, “I pray this doesn’t bother you.”
“It is fine, General Melman. I think most of the smoke is leaving the room.”
He smiled but brought the cigar to a small tray on a table and snuffed it out before returning it to his pocket.
“Thank you, Sir. But what is this to do with me?”
“I became painfully aware of the…inadequacies of the care for wounded soldiers.”
“But that was in the war, General.”
“Yes, it was, Miss Livingston. Yet the care on a battlefield is not much different from the care in, say, New York City and especially in its…harsher neighborhoods. It is that the conditions are marginally better and the utensils are somewhat cleaner and the time can be devoted as appropriate because there are not lines of screaming men on…Pardon me, Miss, I did not intend to become so…graphic.”
“I am not a hothouse flower, General. You need not apologize.”
He nodded. “Thank you for that.”
“But still, what has this to do with me?”
“It is all of a piece, you see.”
The music for the next dance began and the revelers’ bodies were flailing about. Off somewhat away from the chaos was a small table with wooden chairs on either side. The seats were vacant, although used and half-used glasses were scattered atop the table itself. The pair took the seats, with a view through another pair of windows out to Madison Avenue, and were interrupted as a waiter filled a tray with the glasses and left them with a slight bow after they declined his offer to get something for them.
He leaned slightly, but acceptably, towards her. “It is just this. Miss Nightingale, of whom I’m sure you’ve heard.”
“She had quite an experience with the British in Crimea. Since that war, she has gone throughout Europe finding disciples for the training of women as nurses.”
“I believe I have heard of that. But that is Europe.”
“That is Europe, yes. It is coming to New York. Have you not heard?”
“The idea is simple and in some ways revolutionary. A training school will be opened in some months, once the temperature cools, for teaching the skills essential to providing nursing.”
“Nurses? Sir, that is hardly an appropriate calling for a…lady.”
“Miss Livingston, I do not for a moment wish to besmirch your status. Quite the opposite. If nursing can be viewed as a, as a profession for an upper class woman, it will go very far in creating acceptance of nurses in the treatment of diseases, and surely you know how deficient such treatment now is, especially in the doubts people have of ever leaving a hospital should they have the misfortune of entering one for treatment.”
“I am sure this is all very good and very useful, but I am completely without any skills that could possibly be of service to anyone in such a situation.”
The General leaned back in his chair and clapped his hand against his right thigh before leaning even closer to her than before.
“Miss Livingston, good God, do you think that one in ten, one in a hundred women in your situation has the least idea of possessing any skills that could be of service? Of course not. This is something new. Revolutionary in this country. I have spoken to gentlemen who are amazed at the progress being made in Europe, of taking clever, uncommitted women with a fine level of breeding and molding them into nurses who understand how to properly care for patients. They’re using the latest teachings from the Crimean War and from our own Civil War, teachings gotten harshly and painfully on the battlefield.” He waved his empty left sleeve in her direction, but she barely noticed, having kept her eyes on his.
“You cannot say we will be sent into battle.”
He shook her head. “Of course not. I’m sure there will be many who will go with the army, as they have done in every war in all of history.
“But this is to be something more methodical. Of more general application. In society and in the tenements. Women like you, your learnings will be applied to the more genteel aspects of life. Miss Livingston, think of the lives you could help save. Think of the suffering you could help ease. What I wouldn’t have given for the presence of a knowledgeable nurse, a woman to tend to me in my darkest hours.”
He reached into his jacket pocket for his cigar but paused and restored it. The music of the dance was ending and the participants were bowing to each other and clapping for the small orchestra.
He smiled. “Miss Livingston, I fear our little tête-à-tête will soon set tongues wagging through society, probably already speculating on the church in which our wedding will be held and who will be invited.”
The General smiled broadly and was quite satisfied with how his planned conversation with her evolved. She was a clever girl…woman indeed. He stood and held his hand out for her, though she remained seated. She took it lightly.
“Miss Livingston, I ask only that you consider my proposal.” He pulled his hand back and reached again into the inside of his jacket but this time pulled out a card. He handed it to her. She glanced at it and placed it in her purse and now she offered her hand to him, which he held briefly.
“The first class will be limited in size. Each student will live at Bellevue Hospital for the duration. I have been asked by an associate of William Osborn, one of the spirits behind the venture, to think of women who might be appropriate for the first, indeed the historic, class. You cannot make a decision now, and none is expected of you. But I ask that before you go to where you are going for the season—”
“We go to Lenox in three weeks’ time.”
“Aye, before you go to Lenox, that you contact me and I will arrange for you to meet with him and also with Helen Bowdin. She is to be in charge of the school and has been recruited from London for the task. Indeed, it is a task being taken very, very seriously, Miss Livingston, and I hope you give it due consideration.”
He lifted her hand—it was encased in a white linen glove—and kissed her knuckle and with a “Good evening, Miss Livingston,” which was returned with a “Good evening, General,” he gave her a slight bow and fought his way through the crowd so he could leave. And when he was on the sidewalk, he looked up at the ballroom. And she was there, standing at the window where they’d begun their intimate tête-à-tête, having decided that indeed she would contact him and she would meet with whomever she needed to meet with so she could become, she hoped, an agent of care and perhaps mercy.
Image: The Englishman at Moulin Rouge (1892) by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Heather Wickers (@HWickersWriter)
Heather Wickers’s first poetry collection, Tiny Little Wishes, has just been published on Amazon. Her novel Just One Night (under the name Heather Melo) was published last year. She tweets her poems regularly on Twitter,
Renée Gendron‘s A Gift of Stars: Book 1 The Nearer Realm Tales is available for pre-order on Amazon. Her Golden Hearts: Book 2 of Frontier Hearts and Two Hearts on the Backspin, Novella 2 of her Heartened series, are also available there. The second book in her Outdoorsmen series, The Officer’s Gamble, was published on October 18. Book 1 of the Outdoorsman Series is available as is her Ninth Star, Jaded Hearts, and Seven Points of Contact, Heads and Tales, a supernatural/mythological anthology. to which Renée contributed a historical, supernatural, romance. Shopkeeper & Spoon, Beneath The Twin Suns: An Anthology, Heartened by Crime, and In The Red Room: A crime anthology with heart, all edited by Renée Gendron, are also available now.
Marian L Thorpe‘s newest installment in her wonderful Empire series, Empress & Soldier, has been released. (Empire’s Daughter is the first part.) She has numerous titles available; they can be found at her aptly-named website, MarianLThorpe.com. Her books are listed at Books2Read.
David M. Simon has published The Wild Hunt: Novella 2 of The Wild Hearts and Hunts Duology (Part 1 is Renée Gedron’s Ninth Star) as well as Trapped in Lunch Lady Land, a middle-grade fantasy adventure.
Becoming Catherine Bennet, Joseph P. Garland‘s Pride and Prejudice sequel, has been published. The ebook is exclusively on Amazon, and on Kindle Unlimited. An excerpt was in the April issue. The first chapters can be sampled here. It is available in paperback and hardcover on Amazon and elsewhere. He has a blog and information on his books and those bits of classic literature that he has republished at DermodyHouse.com.