On The Fence

This pow­er­ful short story by Ali­son Carter is set dur­ing World War I.

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Other Amer­i­cans were un­de­cided about the war, but Katie knew her duty . . .

ALL right, Miss Phelps, I agree. You can drive.” Mr Mur­doch’s back was pressed against the pas­sen­ger seat of the Ford. “That was quite a trip! A . . . roller­coaster.”

“So what about it, Mr Mur­doch?”

He turned to face her. “I’ve re­ceived many ap­pli­ca­tions for my new pri­vate am­bu­lance units, and I can only ap­point six women to three lo­ca­tions at the Front.

“But since you seem fear­less be­hind the wheel, you should be among them. You will re­ceive in­struc­tions about the cross­ing in a few days.”

Katie could have kissed him, but that would have been im­proper, and she had done enough im­proper things al­ready that year.

It was the au­tumn of 1916, and Katie Phelps was in East­bourne,

Eng­land. She was amazed that she’d taken the plunge of com­ing to Europe, and more amazed that (af­ter the driving demon­stra­tion) she would be cross­ing the Chan­nel to war.

It seemed for ever since she had left home in up­state New York, but in fact it had been barely three weeks of boats and trains and ex­cite­ment.

The United States was of­fi­cially and (to Katie) stub­bornly neu­tral in the war. Her mother and fa­ther ap­proved of this, but Katie was un­able to ac­cept it.

When she heard of the new in­de­pen­dent am­bu­lance units, the idea of join­ing one stuck with her. She knew that her par­ents wouldn’t hear of it.

“A for­eign war is none of our busi­ness,” her fa­ther said. “The US is ob­serv­ing.”

“It’s sit­ting on the fence. That’s cow­ardly!”

Her fa­ther threw his nap­kin on the ta­ble.

“Kather­ine, that is enough!”

She felt as if she were a child again, though she had just cel­e­brated her twen­tythird birthday.

Katie’s mother tried to in­clude her in the char­i­ta­ble ac­tiv­i­ties of New York ladies, rais­ing funds for troops “across the Pond” with needle­work and knit­ting. But in Katie’s view it al­lowed women like her mother to dodge the is­sue.

How could they ig­nore other women’s sons and broth­ers bleed­ing in the trenches?

Then her school friend Ruby Wil­sher wrote to her. Ruby was the daugh­ter of a diplo­mat, and her par­ents

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