Cassandra Lightman grew up making trinkets and toys. She was on her way to inventing a "flying machine" when she was committed to a sanatorium for hysteria. That's where Dr. Timothy Brown found Sandra and saw her promising intelligence. After Sandra shows Dr. Brown how to cure hysteria in women, she begins to work under him in his medical practice. Since Sandra cannot practice medicine and has no support from her family, she must carry on her position in secret. She goes into Dr. Brown’s office through the back door, speaking to no one, and always covering her face.
Sandra soon meets Bedelia Morten, one of her patients behind the red curtain. Bedelia Morten is an upper class wife with a banker husband and three children of her own. She suffers from insomnia and nightmares, which leads her to seek out Dr. Brown’s practice. Though Bedelia is initially skeptical of Sandra’s skill, she soon learns to appreciate Sandra’s talent and company.
When their relationship becomes too close, Sandra is encouraged by Dr. Brown to invent a "stand-in" for herself. Sandra goes back to her experimental roots and visits her idol-inventor Marlin Manchester. Sandra works many long nights in hopes of creating the first steam-powered vibrator. When Sandra’s invention takes off, she is forced to reconsider her role both in and out of the examination room, her future, and who she wants by her side.
“Together,” Bedelia said. “If we shared enough, we could understand one another. Even in pain.”
“Perhaps you’re right, Mrs. Morten.”
“Bedelia,” she corrected, still smiling. “I like it more when you call me Bedelia.”
“Bedelia, Bedelia, Bedelia,” Sandra said with a smile. “Okay, I will do my best.”
“Tell me more about your sisters,” she requested. “You’ve never talked about them before. You haven’t talked much about yourself before.”
“That may be true, but I’m here for another reason. How are you feeling?”
Sandra found herself tilting her head, examining Bedelia the way a doctor would. She looked into her green eyes, gauging the pupils and how well they responded. She looked at her flushed skin on her cheeks and the pale beneath her neck and chin. In her night clothing, Bedelia may have looked small, but she was still a beautiful treasure.
“I’m feeling better, yes,” Bedelia said. “Nightmares will pass. Insomnia too. I know I will not lose my children, even if I do not see them all the time.”
“I think children can prosper with time apart. They can become their own people. It is hard, but, still possible.”
“I suppose you’re right. And there is no shame in growing up, not anymore, because there is so much more to discover now. There is so much more to the world than when I was a child.”
“Yes,” Sandra said, her heart still panging as she thought about her inheritance. She shifted on the bed, and then felt the machine in her jacket. And she remembered again, her true calling, for the time being.
“Let me show you something else we can explore,” Sandra remarked, slowly unbuttoning her jacket.
“What have you got?” Bedelia asked, her eyes mischievous.
“A toy. Something new I’ve been working on. It will be fun, I promise.”
Bedelia’s eyes went wide as the vibrator was revealed from Sandra’s pocket. Bedelia reached her fingers out, unabashed, and touched the extended piece and then the small control panel by the engine where steam flowed in and out. The metal was still cold to the touch, but as soon as both of their hands were on it, the surface quickly warned. It even glowed.
“What’s that ... for?”
“How about I show you?”
Bedelia swallowed, more blush gracing her face. “What do you call it?”
“I have a few ideas, not that I will get to use any of them,” Sandra said with a slight roll of her eyes. “But let’s remain nameless for now. Let’s not speak for a while.”
Bedelia grinned again, even larger this time. She placed her fingers against her lips, twisted them to mimic a key in a lock, stifling a laugh as she mimed sealing her lips. She raised her eyes to Sandra again, who mimicked the same motion. Sandra did not know how long they could keep their mute promise, but she was excited to find out.
Sandra stood up first. As she moved, Bedelia went to lie down on top of the covers and pulled back rest of the sheets like the red sea. She lifted her nightgown over her legs, just at her knees, creating a small tent. Before Sandra could even sit down, she glimpsed Bedelia -- and knew she was no longer wearing under garments.
As Sandra prepared the machine, Bedelia’s eyes did not leave her. She examined Sandra, almost supernaturally, through her clothing. When she grew braver, Bedelia extended a hand across the bed, reaching for Sandra’s waist and thigh. Her eyes were soft then, glowing green and innocent. Alone, she seemed to say. I do not wish to be alone.
When Sandra started the machine, the buzzing made Bedelia jump. Just a small flinch, but it was enough for Sandra to move her body closer. She sat completely on the bed now, by Bedelia’s waist, her hand over one end of her nightgown. Bedelia nodded to Sandra, giving her silent consent to proceed.