Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Fiction - Part II

He leaned over the edge of the wash basin, the sickening knot in the pit of his belly tightening like a vice. At what point was it enough?  All these years he’d loved her and granted anything she might have wished for. When did the guilt go away? When would God stop punishing him?
June 5, 1917
It seemed almost every young male of age was gathered in town that day. President Wilson had approved a mandatory draft of all eligible young men. Funny, since he was barely elected with his slogan "he kept us out of war".  He supposed he should cut him some slack. What choice did the man have with the Mexicans and the Germans joining forces to attack every US merchant ship they came across?
 “Hey Bill, take a gander at that will ya?”
“Oh, c’mon Tommy, we ain’t got time to be lookin’ at girls. Let’s go.” Then, he looked up.
She must have been about seventeen. Normally, Bill wouldn’t have given her a second glance. After all, she was just a girl and he’d just turned twenty-one. But, she was breathtaking with fair skin and burnt red hair coiled into a top knot and little wisps of curl framing her face. Her eyes danced with all the joy and vitality of youth and tiny gold flecks that seemed to accentuate the hue of the green in her irises.
As if she could sense being watched she looked at him and smiled coyly. It was clear she was accustomed to being noticed. Suddenly, he felt inadequate standing there in his coveralls, his boots scuffed from working the farm. As if ashamed, he lowered his head and nervously toed at an imaginary rock in the dirt.
Without warning, a delicate pointy toed shoe pressed down on top of his boot, a lace edged skirt swaying just above. His heart seemed to stop in his chest. He didn’t even pause to bother with what kind of girl would be so forward with a stranger. He knew it was her.
“Well, ain’t you just somethin’,” she said. “Act like you ain’t never seen a pretty girl before.” She paused, waiting for a response and when none came she said, “Well? Cat got your tongue?”
He raised his head, looking in the mirror, and wished he could take back all the moments that transformed her from the sassy girl he saw in the town square that day to the broken shell of a woman who was downstairs cooking supper. The woman he broke…
Six weeks had passed since the day of the draft registration. Just a few short days after the meeting in the square, he had the opportunity to see Tressie again. She had informed him that he would be escorting her to the next Friday social at church.
Things continued to proceed just this way. She’d take his arm before church on Sunday morning and lead him to the pew to sit with her family and let him know what time he was to pick her up for socials.
Her candor and take charge approach kept him slightly off balance, but he continued to follow her like a trained pet. He kept thinking that he’d wake up one day soon and realize she was just a fantasy, that this beautiful creature hadn’t taken a shine to him, that he didn’t already love her.
He came in from the barn to wash away the day’s grime, the wood of the screen door making its familiar slap as it snapped shut, and found his mother, sitting at the kitchen table in silence.
“This came for you today,” she said.
He looked down at the crisp white envelope posted from the U.S. Department of Defense. He stood there for what seemed an eternity, and finally, hands shaking like they were afflicted, he removed the letter from the envelope.
Just days before the first draft lottery had been held and his number was up. He had one week to get his affairs in order and report for training.

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