It was cold and raining for the first time in many months. A blanket of thick heat hung in the air collecting atop pooling puddles all along the muddy drive in Silver-Bell Kansas, near Lake Serenity—though nothing about this beautiful place felt serene. Betsy Scott hadn’t even thought about lakes, or rain or clouds, not even a single blade of grass. In fact, she hadn’t looked up at the sky in ages; she’d been stuck in her head—worrying about what the weather was like where her husband William was and if he was cold or tired or hungry. It wasn’t easy being a military-farmer’s wife.
The sun’s rays hadn’t kissed her cheeks or radiated a warm glow on her skin and if it had, her brain didn’t register. The war had been raging for months, for weeks, for two-whole-years now and all this time she hadn’t even seen her husband’s handsome face. Only the faint outline of his broken penmanship kept her company as she traced the faded cursive under the lights of low burning candles trying to remember what he looked like—how his curly hair defied his military-grade crew-cut, and the smattering of freckles peppered his cheeks, or how his full lips always smiled and his bright-green eyes faded into a hint of yellow. Betsy Scott wore the ink down with her fingertips staring off into the empty darkness at the mounting pile of work she’d been neglecting as she tried to hold onto his memory. It was far easier to let the pile manifest to an overwhelming state than to chip at it bit by bit.
That was the way things were at that point in life as Betsy prayed for a miracle that would never come. Instead, she did her best to maintain the outside work. The yard, the animals, the things that a man would tend to. Keeping up with outwardly appearances should that day happen where he would come home. She surely didn’t want any word to get around their small farming town that she didn’t have any help, but tonight, as it were, Betsy’s stomach flipped itself into worried little knots. There’d been no letter for several days. Maybe the post had gotten lost, a box left adrift at sea. Certainly, she wasn’t the only love left missing a letter. More than half the town had someone they were waiting for to write home. Some had gotten letters, others worse. She retraced his writing for any sign—the looping letters of the pet name he gave her—only he called her “Bette Jayne”.
But no word was good word as she saw it. The last letter she received had been sometime in March of Nineteen Forty-Five. It was now late-August. He’d been somewhere overseas, just a few days shy of being home—or so she’d been told. He should have been home by now. Maybe she’d get lucky and he would appear in the letter’s place walking up the soggy path in his tattered scruffs with one of those smiles she couldn’t resist—waiting to tell her what happened—but she knew that wouldn’t be the case. A nagging, sinking sense of dread overtook her, the usual feeling right before a storm kicks the dust up in the fields and sends the cows and the birds packing.
William James Corwin Scott the Third was the only one that never came home that August.
Her dad had warned her, her mom had begged her. Marrying a gunnery-supply pilot was nothing to joke about. It was nothing romantic or dreamy. In fact, it would lead to nothing but loss and heartache, loneliness and despair; Betsy Scott was feeling all those things right about now as she bore a hole into those beautifully penned words and wondered where her long-lost love was.
She woke to a heavy rapping at the front door of their farmhouse and in an instance her whole world shattered, flipping upside down as she got all the answers she’d been asking herself late at night. Betsy Scott—as she knew would be no more. Something inside of her broke off, a piece of her irreparably and irretrievably left to drift around her body without a home; aimlessly floating from her heart forevermore.
The next few years were a blur. They never recovered his body.
“How do you know it’s him. How do you know, are you sure it’s him?” Betsy cried.
“Well yes, we are quite sure it is him. There would be no other explanation for what we found. Had his tags and credentials. His flight log, all those sorts of things were in his place.”
A long line of words came after that sentence but Betsy Scott still tumbled that laundry-list of words around in her head trying to make sense of what happened, what had gone so horribly wrong. It had to be a mistake.
They had made a terrible mistake. Yes…that had to be it.
If they’d never found a body how could they be sure he had in fact died. She toyed with this notion, it kept her up at night as she read over the report she received from the military investigators. Three pages, one of which was blank with a line through it and a signature. Brief, succinct, unideal, unimaginable. That’s what she was left with. No ashes, no body, no closure.
But as things always go we find ways to be resilient—be it time or memories or self-pity and loathing, we go on, we always do and Betsy Scott or Bette Jayne reinvented herself—she had to. She couldn’t go on feeling sorry for herself, and rightly so. She became what she’d always envisioned herself to be, happy. Or at least, a version of what she thought happy was—for without her husband she carried on as best she could—doing all the things they’d dreamed about so long ago.
Still the time ticked by as though William James Corwin Scott the Third had never left, and if she was being completely honest with herself, he had been gone more than half their marriage before even being declared dead. What sort of life had she been living anyway? Maybe she had long since grieved for the man she’d lost, the American dream-life she’d fought so hard to keep together; and now, after all these years she still held the reverence close to her heart, and with her simple gold band on a chain around her neck, she stepped onto a plane, nothing simple or ramshackle about it. A plane that was nothing like the one her husband had flown. In fact, nothing about her new life mirrored the one she’d left behind, the Scott farm had sustained itself long enough, and she left that behind too. She was a new woman, her own woman and before today she had not thought much about who the old Betsy Scott was or where she was going.
The year was now Nineteen-Fifty on the dot and Betsy Scott had traded waders and flannels for fitted pencil skirts and kitten heels. She had signed up for a higher calling, a job more important than anything she had ever known and had been a flight attendant for going on three years when the most recent war broke out overseas. The death toll was hard to tolerate, rising to insurmountable numbers unlike any previous war and she did the best she could to comfort the men she saw day in and day out but this would be the first return flight she would have. She was unsure of what she might encounter.
“Marty put the drink up will you. At least toss it back…and quick. We have a lot of things still to do and you know how I feel about drinking on the job. At least wait until the passengers are belted in…” Betsy griped, a coy smile on her face as the two tapped their shots down on the back bar, the glasses clinking before they slammed a fizzy purple liquid down with a convulsing shudder. Betsy kissed the gold ring around her neck for good luck as she always did—a pre-flight ritual of hers.
“Get the coffee ready, today we are heading overseas to do a quick drop-off and a pick-up…” Betsy paused. This would be her first all passenger crew of soldiers and she hadn’t quite gotten accustomed to the idea of seeing so many uniforms at one time. She wasn’t sure how she would react.
Would she break down and run away or burst into tears? At least on a plane she couldn’t leave…at least not the normal way. She laughed at the idea of jumping out of the emergency exit. She was terribly frightful of heights, absolutely terrified.
“Betsy, it will be alright.” Marty began, primping her own dusty red curls in the planes hallway mirror, applying her fourth coat of bright red lipstick as she puckered her pouty lips— “you will be fine. Put a smile on that stunning face of yours and get out there. Doors are about to open…first call is going up…in ten…nine…eight…seven…”
The side doors opened as Betsy and a handful of other eager young flight-attendants—young men and women—watched the sharply dressed soldiers walk towards the plane as though journeying to another planet. Some had a look of awe, others desperation, and still as always, there was a pair that shared bored expressions. She wondered what look her husband must have held. Some men had to be freshly graduated; it brought a tear to her eyes as she did her best to stay composed.
“Betsy, Betsy Scott. Betsy you need to see this” fellow-flight attendant supervisor James McNeil called from down the front of the plane as he rushed towards the stewardess quarters. “Betsy, hurry, come quick, this photograph made it all the way to the front lines…have you seen this…it’s on a calendar, a soldier had it in his bill-fold and somehow it managed to circulate much, much farther…there are hundreds of copies. You must have a twin, good-lord…the resemblance is uncanny.”
Betsy gasped, snatching the calendar print from James hand as she stared back at herself. It was a photo she’d sent her husband almost five-years before in one of the last letters she’d ever sent William Scott. One he’d never responded to. Someone must have intercepted the letter instead, or found the photograph and distributed it. That was quite a common practice.
The calendar was printed for the month of August and she was its main feature, a regular pin-up extraordinaire. Could have been a movie-star in the making if she didn't know better herself.
“How fitting…” Betsy whispered, dropping the print down onto the bar as she pulled a chair up.
“I can’t believe this, how embarrassing. I can’t go out there now, no wonder the men were staring at me…”
“Well…you are beautiful…” Marty added, pulling her own bar-stool up to the back bar to join Betsy in her wallowing.
“…If you must know, I sent this picture to my husband in early March of Nineteen-Forty-Five…” Betsy began, surprised with how the words flowed so nonchalantly. She’d never told any of her new friends the haunting details though she was sure they’d known— “…he was declared dead later that same year. Of course, back then I worked on a farm, years of sun lightened my hair…”
Betsy shrugged, unable to know how to feel in that exact moment.
“My lord…it is you…” James and Marty both squealed with delight. James reached curiously towards Betsy’s shoulder-length locks, tucking a ravenous dark curl around his finger— “do you know what this means?”
“She’s famous!” Marty exclaimed, a look of glee on her face.
“She’s Miss August. One of the most well-known Pin-ups that's come out of the war. I can’t believe I never put two-and-two together. This photo’s been around for years. Though no one ever knew who the woman was, there’s quite a finder’s fee…you’d never have to work again…modeling contracts…that sort of thing…please promise me you will look into it when we get back home Betsy...”
Betsy turned the idea of where this new world could take her. She’d never explored the idea of modeling and by happenstance she’d been thrust into it by way of her dead husband—what a crock of luck—she mused—as though there ever was such a thing. She shook her head. It just wasn’t her, she felt it in her bones. Maybe she would feel differently once she landed and the familiar call of the layover rush hit her. The idea of not having to work sounded foreign.
She tucked the calendar neatly into her overnight bag with the stack of letters—there were over twenty of them—almost one for every month her dear husband had been away at war. They were of her most prized possessions, the ink still faded. Now they sat, tightly wrapped in twine and lace ribbons. She couldn’t risk losing them in the mail so she kept them, lugging them with her everywhere. A piece of her former love, and life; a piece of her husband with her always.
“We switch flights at the layover Betsy. Me, you, and James have to run over to B-deck.”
Marty’s high-pitch voice cut over the chaos of the soldiers de-boarding.
The mad dash began as James and the two women rushed down the galley and headed off through the airport terminal, towards a second plane.
“We have twenty-minutes,” Marty yelped. They rounded the corner just in time for the crew to board. They’d gone through all the boring and mundane preparations, Betsy still had August on her mind. She’d even forgot to kiss the ring around her neck. It was proving to be a fateful start to this flight home.
The Captain cracked over the loudspeaker— “tonight we will be making a roundtrip flight from France to Atlanta so settle in and buckle up, it’s going to be a long flight.”
Betsy was in such a haze that she skimmed through the flight manifest and failed to see what was right in front of her. But why would she, there were one-hundred and fifty passengers including crew on board, and she was tasked with handing out coffee, water and an assortment of mixed drinks. It was quite the night. The men had been ravaged by war, they were tired, hungry and ready to be home. She hadn't made it to the fifth row when something unusual happened.
“You seem familiar,” a man whispered, his tired voice settled like a tempered bell to Betsy’s soul as she looked down, his bright-green eyes faded into a hint of yellow—just as William’s had.
The words “Bette…Bette Jayne” had barely left his parched lips by the time Betsy’s head hit the floor, and just like that, the world as she knew it was no more. White hot venom seared through her veins, coursing into her body, rendering her useless as she felt her life once again turn on its head that very instant as she began to question—was it upside down or right side up?
I guess it’s all dependent upon how you view things and as things were, Betsy wondered if her husband had ever been missing or even dead in the first place. She’d known death was but a great mystery, an endless divide. She knew his death was her undoing. But to see him in person, in the flesh, she began to wonder if he’d ever existed at all or what would happen next.
(A STORY FT: War, National Identity, skepticism, lost love, romantic inklings, stubborn will and grit.
About the Creator
Writing my escape, my future…if you like what you read—leave a comment, an encouraging tip, or a heart—I’m always looking to improve, let me know if there is anything I can do better.
& above all—thank you for your time