Monday, January 06, 2014

Overheard in a bar - Chapter 5

Monahan let me go after a few more sea stories and another smoke.  He told me about fighting in Haiti where he took his head wound, and more about his experience in France.  It was far uglier than mine, even if he did have all his limbs intact.  That he'd held himself together after all that told me how tough he really was.  I told him what I could about our guys out in the Pacific, but it was hard and he knew it, so he didn't press me.  He wanted to make sure I was really sober, but he also wanted to be around a fellow Marine and talk the talk.  He never said so, but I think he was hoping they'd recall him to train recruits or something, just so he could be around it all again.

We shook hands and I promised to stay out of trouble and try to shape up, and stop by to say hello before shipping out again.  I was in his debt.  I was to see him again under very different circumstances, and get the chance to repay his kindness. 

Fred and Jenny were waiting in the outer room when I came through the door and they walked me out to the street.  For the first time I was able to see her with a clear head.  She was a pretty, brown haired girl with big blue eyes.  She stayed close to Fred.

We all stood together under the yellow late night glow of the streetlight.  She spoke first, her fingers interlocked in front of her, a sympathetic look on her slender face.  "Are you OK?  Fred told me all about what you said.  I'm so sorry this had to happen, but thank you." 

"For what?  Fouling up your night out?"

"No.  For talking to him.  For trying to, you know, talk him out of it."  Her voice was soft and full of concern. 

"Miss, I think all I did was cause a scene, and get my sport coat dirty.  Other than a bruised kidney, a goose egg on my noggin, and some sore shoulders, I'm OK."  She smiled a little but shook her head.

"I know you tried your best.  Don't worry about what came after."

Fred piped up at this.

"Bill, I will think about what you said.  I promised her."  He grinned a little and shyly nodded sideways towards her.  "Glad you are staying out of jail.  No need to get thrown in there on our account anyway."

"Woulda been on my account, Fred.  Nobody else's.  As for the other things I said, you should promise no one but yourself that you'll think about it.  It's a big decision.  I made it back in '34, but I needed to eat and we weren't at war yet.  There's a lot you can do to help out.  You don't need to go kill or get killed,  For those who wanna talk, let 'em talk.  They aren't doing anything either, or they wouldn't have time to stand around and talk about others."

I could talk that way to Fred, why not to myself?  He nodded, looking at Jenny in a way that spoke of things I had nothing to do with.  She smiled at him, then offered me a ride back to the hospital.  Bill seconded that, but I felt the need to be by myself.  I needed to go and think for awhile.  They needed to talk about things I didn't want or need to hear.

"Time for me to get moving.  Take care of yourselves, if I don't see you again.  I don't think I'll be welcome back at that bar."

"Bill, wait."  Fred pulled out his billfold and extracted a business card and handed it over.  It was his, from the Ford dealership up Broadway.  "If you need a hand with anything, in the next few weeks at least, you can find me there most days."

Jenny suddenly stepped forward and threw her arms around my neck and kissed my cheek.  I patted her on the back, held on for a hearbeat or two, then pulled away.  It felt heavenly to have a woman do that, for any reason.  I felt a lump in my throat and knew I couldn't say another word.  

I smiled and winked, touched the card to my hat brim, turned away and wandered down Broadway toward a train stop feeling about as tough as a chocolate malt.  There was still time to get up to the Claremont Hotel then maybe hitchhike back to the hospital.  I looked back after a block and could see them walking slowly in the other direction, his head bowed in conversation, her's turned toward him and her arms folded against the chill.  He made gestures with one hand, the other thrust into this pocket.  They faded into their night as I waited for the train.