WE ARE THE MUSIC-MAKERS,
AND WE ARE THE DREAMERS OF DREAMS
—Arthur O’Shaughnessy, “Ode”
Corinne’s first day as a nurse at the Haversham Asylum for Afflictions of the Blood was a frosty Thursday. It had been a little over a week since the start of the New Year, and so far 1919 was not showing signs of promise—at least according to the head nurse. Corinne smoothed out her white starched uniform as the pale, hawkish woman clucked her tongue at the state of the world.
“Mark my words, this is the year when the Bolsheviks make themselves known,” said the head nurse. “America is under siege from within.”
“No doubt,” Corinne said vaguely. She wasn’t really paying attention. She couldn’t even remember the head nurse’s name, though she supposed it would come to her eventually. The corridors they walked were all the same hideous taupe, from floor to ceiling. It gave Corinne a headache, though that might have been due to the comically large ring of keys that clinked and clanked with the head nurse’s every step. Over the PA system, a dreary voice told Dr. Knox that he had a visitor, and to please report to the front desk.
The buckle of Corinne’s left shoe had loosened, and she hopped on one foot to fix it while the head nurse unlocked the door marked 205 in shiny black paint.
“You’ll start your rounds every morning at precisely seven a.m.,” she told Corinne. “Structure and punctuality are very important here. You’ll have a chart that explains which patients are confined to their rooms and which are permitted to take breakfast in the dining hall.”
The lock gave way with a groan, and the head nurse returned her key ring to her belt.
“Ada,” she said into the dark room. “Ada, I know you’re awake.”
“Morning, Molls,” came a voice from the corner opposite the bed. A small, barred window let in enough light for Corinne to make out the girl’s warm, sepia skin and high, jutting cheekbones. She was sitting on the floor, wedged into the corner with one knee clutched to her chest. Her eyes glinted in the dim daylight as she tilted her chin upward.
“You’ll address me as Nurse Heller,” said the head nurse. Then she turned to Corinne. “This is Ada Navarra. She arrived here only recently and is still adjusting. There was an . . . incident when she first came, so she’s confined to her room until Dr. Knox clears her.”
“What sort of incident?” Corinne asked, fiddling with a strand of yellow hair that had fallen from her neat braid.
“Some lunatic tried to jab metal into me, and I politely refused,” said Ada, eyeing Corinne. Her lips twitched slightly, and although her voice was weak, it held an edge. “You don’t look half old enough to be playing nurse, Goldilocks. Tell ’em you were eighteen, did you?”
“Dr. Knox was trying to perform a routine examination, and Miss Navarra flipped a table on top of him,” Nurse Heller said. “Ada, this is Nurse Salem. She will be assisting me on this ward.”
Ada chuckled and shook her head. Her scarf was coming loose, and tight ebony coils sprang free across her smooth skin.
“I fail to see what’s funny about that,” said Corinne.
“Salem? You gotta be pulling my leg,” Ada said, squinting at her.
“That’s enough, Ada,” said Nurse Heller. She rapped her knuckles against the doorframe. “You’ll show Nurse Salem respect or Dr. Knox will hear of it. And cover your hair—you’re indecent.”
Ada tugged at the gray scarf. Her lips were still twisted into a smirk, though the lines of weariness were unmistakable in her features.
“Say, Nurse Salem, you come from a family of witches?” she asked. “Because I have this awful pain in my rear and could sure use a touch of dark magic.”
“Salem is a Hellenization of the Hebrew shalom, which means peace,” said Corinne.
“Pardon me,” said Ada, retying the scarf with exaggerated gusto. “I did not know I was in the presence of a scholar. You can teach me some Latin while you scrub the latrine.”
“I don’t expect you’d be able to handle the declensions,” Corinne replied coolly.
Ada sat up a little straighter, her eyes suddenly bright.
“I can handle anything you care to throw at me, Goldilocks.”
Before Ada could retort, Nurse Heller slammed the door and locked it. Corinne saw that her taut jaw was trembling and her knuckles were white where she clutched her key ring.
“These are very troubled souls,” Nurse Heller said after a few seconds. She straightened and patted at her coifed gray hair. “As they are hemopaths, we must pity their affliction. But as those here are also criminals, we must keep ourselves apart. If you let them under your skin, then you will be hindered in your duties. Am I perfectly clear, Nurse Salem?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Corinne ducked her head obediently and followed Nurse Heller to the next door. Her shoe buckle had come undone again.