Bridie and Sheila begin their final interview with Rick by telling him about the final days in the prison camp. In April of 1945, they tell him, the guards started “raiding” the prisoners’ huts and looking for diaries, since they didn’t want anyone to know what these woman had been through. And though it was risky, the prisoners continued to keep journals, since this sort of emotional release was their “only hope,” since if they were all murdered, at least their families could someday find out what happened to them. Unfortunately, when the war was over the British “borrow[ed]” the prisoners’ diaries to “fumigate them,” but they actually destroyed them because they too didn’t want anyone to know about what really went on in the prison camps. After all, they would “have lost prestige if people found out how the women of their Empire had lived in the war.”
Although it isn’t one of the play’s prominent themes, one of Misto’s motivations for writing The Shoe-Horn Sonata is to tell the little-known stories of people like Bridie and Sheila, since the Australian and British governments—in the years after the war—actively avoided acknowledging the travesty that so many women were forced to endure, as evidenced by the fact that the British underhandedly burned the prisoners’ diaries. This terrible act of silencing brings to mind Bridie’s desire to keep Sheila from telling the story of her rape on television. Like the government, Bridie wants to repress the worst elements of the war, hoping that burying her trauma will make it disappear altogether.
Bridie and Sheila explain that, although the war was drawing to a close, the Japanese decided to keep their prisoners, wanting the camp to remain “a secret” “in case they were charged with war crimes.” As such, the Japanese didn’t tell the prisoners about the end of the war, publicly claiming that people like Bridie and Sheila had drowned in 1942. One day, though, the guards forced the prisoners to hike up to the top of a hill, and Bridie and Sheila were sure they were about to be killed. However, when they reached the top, they saw a band of soldiers, who began to play a waltz for them. “We’re going to live,” Bridie said to Sheila, promising that when the war ended, they would go dancing. When the music finished, Captain Siki said, “The Geneva Convention says: All prisoners must have culture. You womens have just had yours.”
It’s significant that Bridie and Sheila’s first sign of the end of the war comes in the form of music. After all, music is one of the things they turn to in the prison camps, looking to it for solace and hope in an otherwise bleak, hopeless time. Once again, then, Misto suggests that even small, fleeting moments of joy are capable of sustaining people through difficult experiences, since this moment clearly gives Bridie and Sheila the strength to continue waiting for their freedom.
Rick asks Bridie and Sheila how they were found, and they tell him an Australian journalist came looking for them because he’d heard “rumours” about “a secret camp in the depths of the jungles.” Shortly thereafter, the Japanese forces retreated, leaving “the gates of [the] camp” “wide open.” At first, Sheila was hesitant to leave, finding it too difficult, but Bridie helped her along, saying, “We’ll just take a few steps. If we don’t like it out there, we can always come back.” Still, though, Sheila was nervous the Japanese might reappear and chase them down, but Bridie said, “And what if they do? Since when have we ever been scared of the Japs?” As they tell this story, Bridie takes Sheila’s hand and holds it.
It’s important to note the intimacy that arises between Bridie and Sheila as they recall the moment of their release from Belalau. Although there are deep tensions between these two friends, they can’t help but feel connected to one another when they tell the story of their last moments as prisoners. Indeed, Bridie’s decision to hold Sheila’s hand signals her newfound eagerness to make peace.
Rick tells Bridie and Sheila that they can take a break, but just as Sheila is about to get up, Bridie says, “I want to go on.” She then turns to the camera and says. “We’ve left out something. Something important.” Going on, she tells the story of how Sheila sacrificed herself in order to save her life, saying, “She wasn’t just my friend—she was—she is—the other half of my life. And she gave herself to [Lipstick Larry]… so that I… could have quinine… And she never told me till two nights ago. For fifty years she never told anyone… They don’t give medals for things like that. But they should.” Hearing this, Sheila speaks up, saying that she too has something to say. She then tells the story of Bridie’s arrest and adds that she would sacrifice herself again for her friend if she had to.
Apparently, telling Rick the story of their release from Belalau is so cathartic for Bridie that she suddenly understands why Sheila wants to—or needs to—speak openly about her traumatic past. By venturing on and helping her friend unburden herself of her harmful secret, then, Bridie finally does what she should have done long ago: let go of her resentment and support Sheila, ultimately helping her to stop hiding from her emotional pain.