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No Men to Love

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Allison: London, mid October 1919.

Nearly late! Tucking my bag under my arm like a rugger ball, I dashed up the stairs to the Dupont Institute and barely had time to seat myself at a battered wooden table before M. Dupont himself strode into the classroom. As he surveyed our group, his eye lit upon me and his complexion, already florid, deepened into crimson.

“A woman?” he sneered, making the word an insult. “In my institute? Impossible! Get out.”

The men in the room turned to gape at me. A few grinned at this unexpected sport; others smiled broadly with anticipation of my humiliation. Shaking inside, I presented as calm a face as I could and opened my mouth to speak.

“Nonsense!” exclaimed a smooth contralto voice directly behind me. “You accepted me as a student and I have already paid my tuition. I shall not leave.”

I turned to see the speaker and found myself looking into a pair of hazel eyes bright with emotion. She shook her head so slightly only I could see it. Heartened, I turned back to M. Dupont.

“I shan’t leave either,” I said firmly.

“But …” he sputtered. “A woman. Two women! C’est incroyable!”

“Nonsense,” my counterpart repeated. “The war is over. Times have changed. We are here and we are not leaving until we have received the education you promised us and we paid for.”

The man in front of me turned to face us.

“The war is over,” he echoed. “And that means you ladies need to go back home and let us men work and care of you, as God intended.”

The other woman stiffened.

“Go home to what, exactly? My fiancé is dead. So are my brothers, and their classmates, and my father and … and my entire family, in fact. There is no one to take care of me. I must take care of myself.”

Another man turned to glare.

“Find yourself a husband, then, and leave the jobs to us.”

“Gentlemen,” I said, belatedly gathering my wits. “We are not here to compete for your jobs. My partner and I intend to open a clinic for women only. Given our prospective profession, many women may find themselves … reticent to place themselves in a man’s hands, so to speak. We intend to fill that void for women whose religious faith and morals — not to mention husbands — might prevent them from seeking treatment from men. There is room for us all, kind sirs.”

Several of the men glaring at us looked thoughtful at that, and even M. Dupont calmed down.

“C’est vrai. There is truth in what you say,” he admitted. “I am a good Catholic. I would not send my wife or mother to a masseur if I could send them to a skilled masseuse instead.”

A few other heads around the room nodded. M. Dupont took a deep breath.

“Mademoiselles, since there are two of you, you may stay,” he said. “But during practicum, you may work only with each other. I will tolerate no impropriety in my institute!”

I turned to the other woman. She winked at me and I bit my lip to hide my amusement.

“That sounds quite fair,” she told the instructor. “I agree to those terms.”

“I agree as well, on the condition that we remain with our fellow students for both lecture and practicum,” I said. “Watching others work will illuminate the way for us. And besides, we all shall use draping, as is customary, so nothing untoward will occur or be seen.”

He frowned, but eventually nodded, perhaps thinking of our tuition money in his bank account.

“D’accord,” he agreed, and returned his attention to the entire room. “I expect nothing less than excellence from each of you. If my institute’s diploma hangs in your office, your patients will know that they can expect the very best.”

I felt a warm breath on my neck and a tap on my shoulder.

“Well done, you! What’s your name? If we’re opening a practice together, I should know.”

“Miss Allison Bradford. And you?”

“Rosalind Evans, partner extraordinaire.”

We shared a mutual grin before focusing once more on M. Dupont, now lecturing on the history of therapeutic massage.

At the close of the morning session, I felt another tap on my shoulder.

“Tea and buns, partner?”

“Let’s! I noticed quite a nice tearoom a couple of blocks over. I’m famished.”

“Lead on, then, Miss Bradford!”

One of our fellow students turned his head at that.

“Miss Bradford? Rather formal for two old friends planning to run a clinic together.”

“One’s manners cannot be too exquisite,” my partner intoned haughtily, then grinned. “Besides, it’s a running joke, isn’t it, Allie?”

“Quite so, my dear Rosie,” I replied. “And what is your name, sir?”

He looked at us both uncertainly.

“Pearson. Edward Pearson.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Pearson,” Rosalind said. “Would you care to join us for tea and buns?”

He wavered for a moment before his face hardened.

“My wife wouldn’t like that.”

“A shame, but I can see her point of view. I doubt I would enjoy any husband of mine lunching with strange women, either.”

His expression bahis firmaları melted into a smile at my understanding.

“She’s a good girl, but she’s about to have our first. I daren’t upset her just now.”

“Congratulations, Mr. Pearson,” Rosalind said. “Mrs. Pearson is lucky have such a caring husband.”

“Do let us know when the child comes,” I added. “As for now, Rosie and I have a few things to discuss over our luncheon, so please excuse us. See you in the afternoon session, Mr. Pearson.”

He nodded vaguely, and I was not sure whether we could count him as friend or foe. I decided I would settle for neutral for now.

The tea was strong, my hot buttered toast looked beautiful, and Rosie radiated fun as we tucked in to our food with good appetite.

“That was a beautiful speech you gave,” she said through a bite of warm bread. “How ever did you think of it?”

I swallowed my mouthful of tea. “Brothers. I had five of them — I was the only girl — and I learned early how to get my way without them perceiving me as a threat.”

She looked at me with admiration. “Then why are you here taking massage classes instead of running your own Institute of Female Subversion?”

I laughed. “You can’t teach women’s intuition. Once you codify it, it’s no good! Everything must be done on a case-by-case basis.”

“I suppose.” She gave me a thoughtful look. “Dare I ask about your brothers?”

I sighed. “The same as became of too many other young men. Archie, Tommy and Dickie signed up together as soon as war was declared — they were all of age and wanted to serve together. And they did. They served together, and they died together, in Belgium. It nearly killed our mum, getting the telegram. But that didn’t stop the twins from signing up the minute they turned 17. They were both strapping boys and by then, the army wasn’t too particular about age. They also served in the same unit, and died about a week apart in the trenches in France.”

“What were their names?”

“Andrew and Paul. My parents didn’t care for rhyming names.”

I fiddled with my spoon for a moment, but Rosie remained quiet.

“My fiancé too. His name was Edmund. Eddie. Eddie Carter. I’d known him since I was five. No one ever made me laugh like Eddie could with just a look. We always planned to marry as soon as I was 18. But the war came before my birthday, and he signed up for the Royal Flying Corps. Terribly dangerous, but that was Eddie, always wanting to be in the thick of things.” I paused, feeling tears behind my eyes. “His mother told me after it happened. I didn’t get a telegram because I was just a fiancée.”

“So there we are: the six young men I loved best in this world, all gone, and for what?”

I stared at my teacup, lost in the past, seeing them all together as they had been for my fifteenth birthday. So alive, the future limitless, all of us laughing, joking, enjoying our youth and freedom, never realizing how it would all end.

When her hand brushed mine, I nearly jumped off my chair.

“I’m so sorry, Allie. So very sorry.”

The warmth of her touch brought me back to the present. I looked up into her eyes, so clear and compassionate.

“Thank you.” I shook myself, rather like a terrier shaking off a few drops of water. “So here I am, making my way in the world without the people I loved best. I worked in a dispensary during the war, but that job went right back to the man who’d had it before the war, so Allison was out! I totted up my options and settled on this as a possible vocation.” I paused. “I can’t imagine getting married now. I adored Eddie, and frankly, the situations seemed hopeless anyway. All my male schoolmates are gone, and it’s that way over the whole of England.”

Rosalind nodded, swallowing the last of her bun.

“I was a nurse, but got demobbed as quickly as they could stamp my papers! I lost my fiancé, Charles, and my brothers, too, and my sister lost her husband just a month before the armistice. And then my parents. So much loss. So much grief. I thought I couldn’t bear it. I still think that sometimes.”

A child at the next table overturned a cup and commenced wailing. We both jumped — the sound was eerily like the sirens I remembered all too well — and I covered my agitation by looking at my watch.

“I’m afraid we’re due back in just a few minutes. Let’s settle up.”

Out on the sidewalk, she said into my ear, “You’re frightfully brave, Allison.”

I looked at her. “No braver than any other woman, Rosalind, especially you.”

We smiled shyly, as children do when making friends, then hurried back to the institute, enjoying the pale sunshine and crisp air of autumn.

In the classroom, Rosalind sat beside me. Several of the students frowned at our entrance, but a few looked curious and Edward Pearson actually smiled.

At the front of the room, M. Dupont clapped. Our heads jerked up as he buttonholed a student in the front row and led him to a raised chair facing the room. He asked the student kaçak iddaa to take off his shoes and stockings so M. Dupont could demonstrate foot massage techniques.

“But … but. I can’t. I was in the war. I lost two toes on my left foot.” The student sounded panicked, and I leaned forward, intent.

M. Dupont looked sympathetic, but remained adamant.

“You must,” he demanded. “In just a few months, perhaps, you will be in your own office when a veteran comes to you for help. He will feel as you do now: exposed. Vulnerable. Perhaps even ashamed. To give him the treatment he needs, you must not be shocked at his body and you must know how he feels.”

“Of course, I know how he feels,” the student cried. “Why should I have to be the one who exposes his deformity in front of…” and he caught my eye and gestured at Rosalind and me, “them?”

“Because they — and possibly other members of the class — have not seen this very common injury.”

“Well, I don’t want them looking at me, and pitying me, and laughing at me.” He sounded desperate, almost angry.

“Miss Bradford lost five brothers and her fiancé in the war,” Rosalind said suddenly. “I lost two brothers and my fiancé in France, and nursed my only other brother when he came home from Belgium without his left foot and most of his right leg. He died three months later. I was holding his hand and singing to him when his spirit left his body.”

The entire room turned to look at us. I lifted my chin slightly even as the urge to hide nearly overwhelmed me.

“We would never laugh at you, or pity you,” she continued, staring at the distressed student. “Never.”

He stared back for a long moment, then sat in the chair to unlace his shoes. He thrust his bare feet onto the padded ottoman in front of him. M. Dupont gestured us all forward.

In truth, the injury didn’t look as bad as I might have thought. The absence of the toes gave his foot an unusual shape, and the still-red scarring made me wince a bit, but after the first few seconds, one didn’t really think about it, other than the challenge it might present. In any case, M. Dupont started with the man’s intact right foot, explaining the bones and nerves of the foot and how to relieve the tensions and knotted muscles. Moving to the left foot, he touched it in several places to determine how the missing toes had affected the rest of the foot, talking to us all the while about what we might expect from our own injured patients. My respect for the man rose considerably. He obviously knew the human body.

After about half an hour of demonstration, M. Dupont directed us to pair up and find a table on which to work. He watched without comment as Rosalind and I chose a table and stool by the wall, then turned his attention to the others.

“Do you want to go first, or shall I?” she asked.

“I’ve always wanted a good foot massage,” I joked. “I’ll be the first victim.”

Rolling my stockings down my leg inspired a whistle and stares, so Rosalind kindly held up a sheet as a makeshift modesty wall. “I shall have to dress differently tomorrow,” I muttered.

“We both will,” she replied, and we shared a smile for our predicament. My stockings and shoes off at last, I sat on the padded table, away from the others, as Rosalind sat on the stool.

“Ready?”

“Quite!” I winked at her and she quirked an eyebrow at me.

She rubbed some oil on her hands and enfolded my left foot. The warmth of her slick hands on my cool foot felt like coming home. I sighed, then jumped as M. Dupont’s voice boomed directly behind me.

“Remember: start with the ankle and work your way toward the toes,” he admonished Rosalind, whose fingers were buried in the arch of my foot. She drooped with embarrassment. “It is your first day, little one, so take heart. I won’t shout at you until tomorrow.”

He winked at me and moved on. She redirected her hands to my ankle and heel, doing her best to replicate what M. Dupont had demonstrated.

“That feels heavenly,” I sighed. “Eddie used to rub my feet sometimes, but never like this!”

“Charles — my fiancé — wouldn’t touch my feet. He was planning to be a clergyman and didn’t want to set a bad example, even in private.”

“What a shame! A good foot rub feels marvelous!” I reveled in the sensation. It had been so long since Eddie. I hadn’t realized how much I missed just a simple touch. “Even Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, and you can’t tell me he didn’t add a little massage. They would have needed it with all that walking about.”

She regarded at my happy face curiously. “I would not have imagined you to be such a … a creature of sensation.”

“You don’t know me very well,” I whispered, grinning.

She shot me a mischievous look. “Oh, but I will!”

I smiled at her and closed my eyes, imagining Eddie rubbing my feet, his dark head bent down, earnestly peering at my feet as he worked his fingers into the arches and bumps. Summoning the memory of a special night together, I felt his hands on my ankles, kaçak bahis making their way up my calves and thighs, so warm, so tender, so eager. I sighed deeply, recalling his first tentative touch on my knickers, one finger curling inside the fabric, finding me so wet and excited, using his other hand to place my palm on his crotch so I could feel his arousal…

“Time!” M. Dupont barked. “Change positions, s’il vous plait!”

I rose with regret, my fantasy of Eddie dissipating as soon as my bare feet hit the chilly floor. I shoved my feet into my shoes and groped for the sheet to shield Rosalind from the stares of the other students.

“Where were you just then?” she asked, doffing her shoes and stockings. “You looked quite dreamy and peaceful.”

“Lost in the past. Thinking of Eddie.”

“You loved him.”

“Yes. I still miss him. I shall always miss him. I shall always love him, too, no matter what happens.”

Rosalind settled herself on the table and, rubbing some oil in my palms, I took her left foot in my hands.

“Oooh,” she gasped. “How lovely!”

Beneath my fingertips, I could feel the metatarsals and tarsals as I rubbed oil onto her foot. God was really a superb engineer, I thought, smiling. Archie had planned to study medicine after the war. Over the objections of our mother, he had often shown me his anatomy books, filled with the most fascinating plates of the human body: its muscles and nerves, its bones and organs. We both loved to pore over those illustrations, marveling at the intricacies of the body.

Had I been a man, I would have studied medicine myself — assuming I survived the war, of course. As a woman, however, I simply finished school and cared for my parents and our home. Many girls just a few years older than I had left school to get married and start families. But all the girls in my class had graduated: we had no eligible young men left in our village to love and marry.

So as I ran my thumb under Rosalind’s arch, I could picture the bones and tendons moving underneath. I fancied Archie was kneeling beside me, enjoying the practicum as much as I did.

“What are you smiling at?” she asked, peering down at me.

“Just picturing the bones of the foot.”

“And what would their names be?” demanded M. Dupont, popping out of nowhere.

“The tarsals, which include the three cuneiforms, the navicular, and the cuboid. The calcaneus and talus. And of course, the metatarsals and phalanges.” I spoke in a low voice, not wanting to draw the class’s attention, but M. Dupont was having none of that.

“Gentlemen!” he boomed. “Mademoiselle Bradford has correctly named all the bones of the foot. Who can match her?”

No one answered. Unfortunately for me, I could see every resentful expression in the now-silent room. Taking it all in, and perhaps realizing what he had just done, M. Dupont glanced down at me.

“I appreciate your excellence, mademoiselle,” he said softly and moved on.

Smoldering, I worked in silence for a few minutes before Rosalind spoke up.

“You are very good at this,” she said. “I never imagined a foot rub could feel so nice. I especially liked it when you rubbed between my toes. I’ve never been touched there by anyone. Do my other one now?”

I switched to her right foot and worked mostly without speaking, trying my best to picture the bones and soft tissues I was manipulating. Rosalind had delicate, smooth skin; it was as pleasurable to touch and massage her as it had been to be touched by her. I smiled, thinking her soft feet in no way reminded me of Eddie!

“Time!”

As the day’s work concluded and we trotted down the front stairs to the sidewalk, I buttoned my coat against the autumn breeze and asked Rosalind whether she lived nearby. She snorted.

“Of course not. I’ve two bus rides and a 12-block walk to get home! And you? Are you close by?”

“One short ride on the Tube and then a 10-block walk.”

“So practically next door, then.”

I grinned at her, the cares of the day melting away.

“You’ll have to join me for tea sometime.”

“I’d like that,” she replied.

“Have you a gentleman friend who would accompany you?”

Rosalind shook her head.

“No — as you said at luncheon, the war took so many men of our age. It seems every young man I meet is married or maimed or otherwise uninterested.”

“I know. Even in the middle of London, I sometimes fancy there are no men to love anymore, even if I wanted to.”

She looked up and exclaimed. “My bus stop. See you tomorrow, Miss Bradford.”

“Call me Allie. Might as well keep up the deception, right, Rosie?”

She dimpled.

“I have always hated the nickname Rosie. But I shall tolerate it for the sake of our future clinic.”

We laughed as the bus pulled up.

“Good-bye, Allie. I’m glad you’re in my class!”

I waved. “Me too! Until tomorrow.”

With that, I headed to the Tube station, looking forward to my peaceful little room. I had a lot to think about: my new course and my fellow students, one in particular. As I walked down the stairs, I thought of her warmth and smiled, hoping she and I would become real friends.

Rosalind: London, late November 1919.

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