Back with Part IV! I've decided to start "illustrating" the parts of the story with pictures/images from the 1940's--all illustrations via Pinterest or Google. :)
Helen sighed as enormous buildings and city streets began to give way to those green pastures and hills that she was so unaccustomed to. She had resolved not to say a single word on the car ride to the train station, but to simply cry out her feelings. She had soon realized that her little sister must have made the same resolve in her mind, because Katherine hadn't said a single word, either. Neither had Sergeant Milo, curiously enough, though; she had simply stared at the road ahead.
Now, however, they were on the train. Helen stared out the window on one side, and Katherine watched out of the other, with Sergeant Milo between them on the seat. Should I speak now? Helen was unsure. Her tears were dry. She could cry no more, she was sure of that, but she still felt so painfully alone. She glanced over at Katherine, who was engrossed in the scenery, something like a smile on her face as they passed a man on a horse, a collie dog trotting along behind him. Kids bounce back so quickly, she thought. Finally, she decided to speak.
"How long will the train ride take?" she asked in a meek voice, still shaky from her good cry.
Sergeant Milo and Katherine looked up, but Katherine soon returned to her window watch.
Sergeant Milo looked around and said, "In all, about a day and a half. But this train will drop us off at the next station in about five hours."
Helen nodded and tried to manage a smile, then looked down and began fiddling with the handle on her suitcase. Sergeant Milo said nothing more, and the next few hours passed silently.
Silently, that is, except for one moment. Helen looked out the window when they were passing through a little city and began to see something in the distance.
A brown, sloping, snake-like line...coming down the middle of the street. She suddenly realized that the line was a long, long line of people...men...soldiers! Women were walking beside them, some holding babies, some holding the hands of older children, all of them crying and blowing their noses. The train was coming closer, closer now. Helen knew she would soon lose sight altogether of the scene. She threw a quick glance back at Sergeant Milo and Katherine. Katherine was fiddling with the hem of her dress and paying no attention to either one of her traveling companions, but Sergeant Milo's eyes were fastened on Helen's window. Helen quickly turned back and got a last glance of the little scene. A sturdy, sandy-haired little boy who was no more than five or six years old tugged his hand from out of his mother's, and, with a cry of, "Wait for me, Daddy!" ran toward one of the soldiers, who held out his hands for him. Soldiers around the two smiled, and the woman who had been holding the boy's hand seemed to sob a little harder. In a flash, the train moved past the scene, and Helen sat back in her seat, choking up. She quickly wiped her eyes and glanced over at Sergeant Milo. She was staring fixedly in front of her, at nothing.
When they were dropped off at the next little station, Sergeant Milo didn't use any more words than were needed and merely led the girls to the next train and got on with them. Helen noticed that Katherine looked tired, and as dusk came, so came sleep for Helen's eight-year-old little sister. But not for Helen; she was still too shaken to do any sleeping; all she could do was think. Sergeant Milo also seemed immune to sleep.
Helen felt awkward sitting there in her company, saying nothing, especially when a group of soldiers boarded the train at a little rural station. Helen and Sergeant Milo both watched the soldiers like hawks. Helen watched them because she knew they were connected to the war--the strange, strange war that was crumbling her life into tiny grains of sand. Sergeant Milo watched the soldiers because--well, why did she watch them? Helen supposed that Sergeant Milo was searching to see if she knew any of the soldiers--perhaps she had trained them? Finally, after the soldiers had hopped off the train and almost no one else was in sight, Helen mustered up enough courage to try to start up a conversation with this collected military woman.
"I can't seem to sleep," she said with a fake smile. How could she truly smile, even now?
Sergeant Milo looked up and nodded. "Me neither."
Helen waited for more words to follow, but Sergeant Milo was silent, so she ventured on herself. "What do all those badges on your jacket mean?"
"Just a bunch of official stuff that the army uses to prove I can do things." Sergeant Milo scoffed a little. "Deeds themselves don't seem to matter much."
Helen tilted her head curiously. "How did you get into the army...being a woman and all?"
At this, Sergeant Milo turned to look at Helen. "It was tough. Most people didn't believe I could do it, or that any woman could do it, but I proved them wrong. I want to pave the way for more women to do the same," she said, turning to look out the window, with a faraway look in her dark brown eyes.
"You may call me Audrey."
"What were you going to say?"
"Um...where are you from?
"I'm from Tennessee."
"Really? So you're going home?"
"In a way, yes."
"But then you have to leave again?"
"Well...no. The army wants me to stay on for a little while on some...military business."
"Are we going close to the town where you lived?"
Audrey nodded, looked down and cleared her throat.
The two talked off and on into the night. As Helen spent more time with Audrey, she sensed a past that had molded her into a cool army woman, leaving only bits and pieces of the warm, friendly person she must have been in the beginning. Nonetheless, though, there was something about Audrey that intrigued Helen, and she wanted to spend more time with her.