Elaine Gendron and Arthur Doyle were one of those couples who moved up the date of their marriage soon after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Until then, their marriage plans had been delayed because Elaine’s parents felt the couple—Elaine was nineteen, Arthur a year older—were too young to get married. But once the war began, and once it became obvious that men Arthur’s age would soon be drafted, Elaine’s parents realized that they could no longer stand in the way of their daughter marrying a young man who was old enough to fight, and possibly die, for his country.
This turn of events was particularly gratifying to Arthur because he had been insisting all along—more to Elaine than to her parents—that he was mature enough and hard working enough to support a wife. Elaine not only agreed with him, but thought her parents were being unfair to Arthur since he had shown the character and grit to fend for himself despite the hardships imposed on him and his family by the Depression.
Arthur left high school when he turned sixteen because he had found two part-time jobs, one delivering groceries, and the other washing dishes at a diner, that helped to support his family. A few months later, his mother, a sickly woman, passed away, and within a matter of weeks, his father, who barely made a living cutting wood, left for Connecticut, claiming that he was bound to find a better paying job there than if he had remained in Sherburne, a town in that part of New Hampshire aptly referred to as the North Country.
In truth, Arthur’s father used his wife’s death as an excuse to abandon the family he had never been able to support. Arthur’s one sister, two years older than him, was already married, but she was in no position to take in Arthur and his three younger brothers, and Arthur wasn’t old enough, nor did he earn enough, to maintain a house for himself and his brothers. That left no alternative but for Arthur and his three brothers to move in with relatives, none of whom were pleased at the prospect of having more mouths to feed. An aunt and uncle who owed a small farm in southern New Hampshire agreed to take in Arthur and two of his brothers; the brother who was a year younger than Arthur became an apprentice to an uncle in Vermont, who was a cobbler.
It became obvious right away that Arthur’s uncle considered the three nephews who came to live with him as little more then cheap labor. The pay Arthur and his brothers received consisted largely of their board and room, plus a weekly allowance, that split three ways, was no more than what Arthur earned from his part-time job delivering groceries. Work days on the farm were long, living conditions were primitive, and both Arthur’s uncle, who was surly and ill tempered, and his wife, a closet drinker, made no attempt to hide their distaste at what it was costing them to feed three young men with hearty appetites. Not once did Arthur and his brothers take a second serving of mashed potatoes or an extra bowl of watery soup, without a frown and some grumbling from either the uncle or his wife.
Arthur, once he turned l7, was able to escape his uncle’s farm by joining the Civilian Conservation Corps, the New Deal program that sent unemployed young men into places like the White Mountain National Forest to build hiking trails and camping areas. Arthur regretted leaving his brothers behind, but he promised them that he would send them money once he was able to find a full-time job.
Arthur was back in Sherburne for a weekend visit from the CCC camp in Franconia Notch, staying with his sister and her husband, when he dropped into Nora’s, a pastry shop and ice cream parlor, where Elaine was a waitress. It was a busy Friday night at Nora’s, but Arthur, who ordered an ice cream sundae, managed a brief conversation with Elaine, who was working behind the lunch counter. Even though Elaine was waiting on other customers, she soon learned that Arthur was with the CCC, helping to build new hiking trails, and Arthur found out that she was still in high school and where she lived.
Arthur had yet to finish his sundae when he asked Elaine if he could walk her home after Nora’s closed. He also stretched the truth slightly when he said he would be walking in that direction anyway since it was near his sister’s house. Elaine responded with a smile that made it hard for Arthur to determine whether she was open to the idea or if she thought his request so preposterous that it wasn’t worthy of an answer, so the next time she passed by he told her that he intended to stay right there and wait for her until Nora’s closed.
Hearing that, Elaine stopped for a second, and with the same sly smile on her face, she informed Arthur that Nora didn’t like customers taking up a stool at the counter once they had finished with what they had been served. In that case, Arthur said, he would order another sundae if he had to, and maybe another one after that if necessary. Elaine had to rush off to clear some dishes away, but when she returned, with her voice lowered, she told him, "Order a coffee instead." Then, in one quick motion, she turned, drew a cup of coffee from the large urn behind the counter and placed it in front of Arthur.
"Don’t drink it too fast," she said. "Just having it in front of you is enough to keep her from saying anything."
Twice before Nora’s closed, business had slowed enough so that Elaine, while taking dishes away and wiping down the counter, was able to exchange a few more words with Arthur. By the time she had finished work, she knew more about the circumstances that forced Arthur to quit school, and later, on the walk home, she was moved at hearing in greater detail what it felt like for Arthur, at age l6, to find himself without a mother and beholden to an aunt and uncle who treated him as an indentured servant. By the time, they had reached Elaine’s house, she had already began to think of Arthur as brave and strong and resolute, someone who was more like her father and her uncles than the silly boys in her high school class. Thus, her readiness to grant him a decorous good night kiss, a kiss, simple and unadorned and without discernible passion, but one that was treated by both Elaine and Arthur as a vow to forsake all others.
After a year with the CCC, Arthur was able to move back to Sherburne because Elaine’s Uncle Pete, a millwright at the Black Diamond Paper Company, helped Arthur to be hired as a millwright’s helper. Arthur, just a few weeks short of his nineteenth birthday, moved into a room on Main Street above Young’s Laundry, and while he wasn’t earning enough to take on the support of his younger brothers, he sent them spending money and made sure they had clothes for school and jackets and boots for winter.
Elaine was now in her last year of high school, and though her parents generally approved of Arthur, they still didn’t allow her to date on school nights. Since Elaine worked at Nora’s on Friday nights, the courtship of Elaine and Arthur consisted mostly of his waiting for her at Nora’s on Friday night to walk her home and then a date on Saturday night, when she finished her daytime shift at Nora’s. Their Saturday night date began with dinner at Terry’s Clam Shack and then a movie at the Strand, where they sat in the farthest corner of the back row of the balcony because only there, under cover of darkness, could they find the privacy to make their way from hand holding and chaste kisses to longer, more fervent embraces. Within a few months after they met, they became quite adept at draping Arthur’s top coat over themselves so they could fumble their way past buttons and zippers and undergarments to arrive at each other’s bare flesh.
Once she finished high school, Elaine became a sales clerk and worked at the soda fountain at Claude Hutchinson’s drug store on Mason Street, only a few blocks away from where she lived. Arthur’s courtship of Elaine continued as before only there were occasional nights, if Arthur could afford it, when they went bowling, but more often than not, Arthur and Elaine sat in the living room with Elaine’s parents, listening to the radio or now and then playing a game of monopoly with Elaine’s younger brother, Henry. Arthur would have preferred to spend more time with Elaine alone, but he enjoyed those evenings in which Elaine’s mother worked at her knitting and the only drama revolved around whether Elaine’s father, an electrician, would tinker with the radio just enough so that he could pull in a clear signal from New York City, and sometimes, depending on weather conditions, from places as far away as Albany or Buffalo or Pittsburgh.
Arthur often mentioned to Elaine the contrast between those quiet evenings in her clean, well-ordered household and the noise and chaos that had been commonplace on any given night in the various apartments his family had lived in. If his mother, with her head thrown back and her arms flung out wide, wasn’t imploring various saints to provide the money needed to forestall the ever present threat of eviction, Arthur’s father, with his booming voice, offered up his own laments, complaints really, about all those forces, everything from heartless bosses and inclement weather to uncertain business conditions, that kept him from earning enough money to support his family.
As persistent in Arthur’s memory was the constant commotion that came from the squabbling among his younger brothers as well as the ever present odor of overcooked stews that were heavy on potatoes and cabbage and only now and then contained a few hunks of meat larded with fat and gristle. There was also the smell, in winter months, of laundry never quite dry draped over radiators that were never quite warm. Arthur used to tell Elaine that he wanted the evenings in their house to be as tranquil as those he experienced for the first time when he visited with her and her parents. He also stipulated, in a voice almost as loud as his father’s, that Elaine should never, under any circumstances, stink up their house with the smell of boiled cabbage.
Three months after World War II began, Elaine and Arthur were married. The wedding was a small one, mostly because Arthur didn’t see any need to invite anyone but his three brothers and his sister and her husband from his side of the family. Elaine, therefore, limited the guests from her side of the family to her mother’s two sisters, her father’s three brothers and their respective families. She also decided against buying a wedding gown since it struck her as much too extravagant to spend a large sum of money on a piece of clothing that was going to be worn only one time.
Later, at the wedding reception, which consisted of a buffet lunch at the home of Elaine’s parents, Elaine’s father toasted the new couple by saying that he welcomed Arthur into the family not as a son-in-law but as a second son. That seemed to catch Arthur by surprise, and standing there, with one arm around Elaine’s waist, he was unable to conceal the tears that came to his eyes. He tried first to blink the tears away, but when that didn’t work, he tried to rid himself of his tears by giving his head a quick shake, and finally, when his two youngest brothers began giggling, Arthur openly wiped the tears away and at the same time took a playful slap at the brother who was standing closest to him. That caused all the other guests to let out a laugh, and then, when Elaine threw her arms around Arthur and gave him a long passionate kiss, everyone cheered and Elaine’s three uncles put fingers on either side of their mouths and let out a series of loud, piercing celebratory whistles.
After a two-day visit to Montreal, Arthur and Elaine returned to the first-floor apartment in a three-story tenement on Grafton Street, not far from Elaine’s parents. Few homes in Sherburne received as much care and attention as that small apartment. Arthur and Elaine began by painstakingly removing thick layers of wallpaper from the kitchen, bathroom, living room and one of the two bedrooms. They then patched every hole and crack in the walls and ceilings before hanging new wallpaper and painting the ceilings and woodwork, all at their own expense and with little more than a thank you from their landlord.
Since they could afford furniture for only the kitchen, bedroom and living room, the second bedroom was set aside as a storage space for the paint and wallpaper and materials they used to refurbish the rest of the apartment. Between themselves they referred to the second bedroom room as the kids’ room because they assumed it would be used by their first born, and maybe even a second child. And after that, oh after that, Arthur liked to say, they would be moving to a larger house, an enormous house, with God knows how many bedrooms they would need to take care of all the children they were going to have. Elaine usually reacted to that by pretending, somewhat clown-like, to be staggered at the prospect of bearing and caring for a house full of children or she might throw a playful punch at Arthur, knowing that would cause him to wrap his arms around her and—if time and circumstance allowed—carry her off to the bedroom to make love.
That Elaine didn’t get pregnant in those early months of their marriage was surprising since Arthur, with Elaine’s concurrence, felt they should fit in as much sex as possible before Arthur was drafted. It took Elaine a week or two to become accustomed to the full intimacy of the marriage bed—the first week, in fact, she went into the bathroom to change into her night gown—but soon she and Arthur were having sex in the kitchen, sex in the living room, sex before falling asleep, sex when they woke up and sex even when they had paint spattered all over themselves or were in the middle of hanging wallpaper.
Afterwards, Arthur would playfully accuse Elaine of being so eager to make love that he hadn’t had time to put on a condom. Elaine, in the same light hearted vein, blamed Arthur for turning her into the wanton, lustful woman she had become. She couldn’t even keep a straight face when she promised that she was going to make sure that they refrained from having sex on those days when she was most likely to become pregnant. Neither, of course, took that announcement very seriously since they knew the possibility of Elaine becoming pregnant wasn’t going to deter either of them from feasting on each other.
In those few months before Arthur was drafted, friends and relatives would often remark on how Elaine and Arthur still looked like a couple of teen-agers who were having a wonderful time for themselves playing house. Elaine was barely five feet tall and so slim that Arthur could almost fit his hands around her waist. She had dark curly hair, the faintest trace of freckles across her tiny, well-shaped nose and her smile, which never seemed to go away, was like that of someone who had just run into a long lost, long sought after friend. There was the same buoyant spirit in her every move, whether she was behind the lunch counter at Hutchinson’s Drug quickly and deftly blending a cherry coke or scurrying through the aisles of the store to find the exact type of corn plaster that was sure to help a customer with sore feet.
Arthur was seven, maybe eight inches, taller than Elaine, but he was one of those people whose skin was stretched so tightly across his prominent cheek bones and pointed chin and somewhat beaky nose that he looked as if he was undernourished. He was sensitive, perhaps too much so, about how skinny (a word he hated) he was. He devoted himself, therefore, to a daily regimen of exercise that helped him to develop a rather impressive physique, one he was more than willing to display by wearing his shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbow, all the better to reveal his muscular forearms. The same impulse may have accounted for his walk, a rolling, swaying gait that translated into an outright swagger and the way he wore his cap cocked to one side of his head, almost draped over his ear.
After he had begun working at Black Diamond Paper, he would go directly from his job to the local Y three nights a week for an hour long session of weight lifting and boxing. At the Y, he was considered a bit of a show off (but grudgingly admired) for the quickness and timing with which he worked the speed bag, along with the punching power he unleashed in occasional sparring sessions. Arthur’s claim that he weighed 150 pounds was a running joke among his gym mates.
Elaine, once they were married, made Arthur give up boxing, but he wasn’t afraid to use his fists if provoked. Notably, there was a day when one of the millwrights, Joe Duguay, was harassing some other millwrights who, like Arthur, were union supporters. When Duguay’s insults became too personal, Arthur demanded that he apologize for what he had said. Duguay responded by telling Arthur to go fuck himself, and Arthur’s reply to that was to challenge Duguay to settle their dispute, right after work, in the far corner of the mill’s parking lot.
Duguay outweighed Arthur by at least ten pounds, but Arthur, having been taught to stand on his toes and move from side to side, had no trouble eluding the flat-footed Duguay’s round house punches, ducking them so adroitly that he slipped inside and landed a flurry of punches that left Duguay stunned and bleeding from his nose and a cut lip. Duguay then began swinging even more wildly, and Arthur, after slapping the punches aside, got Duguay in a cinch and told him he should give up before he suffered any more damage. That coincided with another millwright pulling Duguay aside before Arthur could land any more punches. When word went through the mill (and around Sherburne generally) about the little guy who gave Joe Duguay a beating, Arthur gained a reputation as someone you wouldn’t want to push around. Elaine’s father liked to tell everyone that his daughter was lucky to have married a man who had some spunk in him.
The period before he was drafted also gave Arthur the chance to show Elaine (and her parents) what an excellent wage earner he was. With many men leaving the paper mill to earn higher pay at the shipyards in Boston and Portsmouth, Arthur had all the overtime work he wanted. While he put in his sixteen hour days, Elaine worked her day time shift at Hutchinson’s Drug and put as much effort into her incessant cleaning of their apartment, her cooking, her laundry (with only a scrub board) and her ironing. Arthur used to joke about being the only laborer in the Black Diamond mill complex who had a crease in his work pants.
Arthur thought about going off to work in the shipyards in Portsmouth or Portland, which might have given him a deferment from the draft, but he felt that it would be cowardly to avoid military service. He had also heard that housing was hard to find in areas around defense plants and to Arthur that meant he might have to go back to living in a rooming house again. That possibility, and his memory of having to wait in line to take a bath when he lived over Young’s Laundry, was as repulsive to him as the idea of physically fit young men refusing to fight for their country.
When Arthur was drafted near the end of 1942, Elaine’s parents expected that she might move back in with them. A number of women without children, whose spouses went off to war, had done just that because it enabled them to save money they could put towards buying a house once the war was over. Elaine wanted no part of such an arrangement. She knew how much it would mean to Arthur if she kept up the home they had created together. She even continued the practice that she and Arthur had established of inviting her parents and her brother and Arthur’s sister and her husband to dinner every Sunday noon. It had always been a tight squeeze fitting everyone around the table in Elaine and Arthur’s small kitchen, but Elaine could never forget the look on Arthur’s face, the pride that was plain for everyone to see, when he took his place at the head of the table in his own apartment, however modest it might be.
Elaine wrote to Arthur every day during the time he was away. His letters home, more sporadic, hinted at heavy fighting and casualties, but she never doubted that Arthur was going to survive. Nevertheless, every morning, on her way to open Hutchinson’s Drug, she attended mass at St. Aidan’s, and after mass lit a candle for Arthur’s safe return, and each night, before getting into bed, she would kneel before the Crucifix that hung on the wall of their bedroom to recite the rosary.
Elaine was able to judge from news reports that Arthur’s outfit was involved in the Battle of the Bulge, but after American forces had regained the offensive against the German army—and reports began to surface in early 1945 about the possible end of the war in Europe—she believed more firmly than ever that Arthur was going to make it through the war unharmed. Then, one morning in the middle of March, just as she was leaving for work, a Western Union messenger knocked on her door and handed her a telegram from the War Department. Arthur had been wounded in action, but there was no information yet on his condition. While waiting further word, Elaine stopped by St. Aidan’s both morning and night, lighting a candle each time and saying a rosary before leaving the church. Elaine also enlisted her parents, her aunts and uncles and cousins, even Claude Hutchinson and regular customers at Hutchinson Drug, to join her, formally and informally, in praying for Arthur to recover from his wound.
Elaine felt everyone’s prayers were answered when she received word three days later that Arthur was recuperating from his wounds at a hospital in France. Two days later, she learned that Arthur’s right leg had been amputated just above the knee, but that news, however troubling, was offset by her relief that he was alive and would probably be home soon, maybe even in a matter of weeks. She was also encouraged when Claude Hutchinson’s brother, who was a surgeon at the medical center in Portland, assured her that there had been tremendous advances in the care of amputees. Men coming home from the war, he told her, were going to be fitted with artificial legs made of plastic and new, lighter metals, and that would make it possible for them to live very active lives. She was not as interested (and thought it a bit tasteless) when Claude Hutchinson’s brother noted that Arthur and other amputees were eligible to receive disability payments from the government for the rest of their lives.
Judging from the few cryptic notes Elaine received from Arthur, he didn’t sound as if he was at all thankful for having survived the war or for his eligibility to receive a disability pension. In her letters to him, Elaine tried to sound sympathetic, but she so looked forward to seeing Arthur again that she downplayed what he was saying when he referred to himself as being half the man he once was and how he was probably going to end up on a street corner with a tin cup in his hand, waiting for people to throw a few coins his way.
The same day Elaine received the letter in which Arthur talked of how he might become nothing more than a beggar, she wrote to tell him the good news—her words—she had just received from the personnel director of the Black Diamond Paper Company. In a hand written note, the personnel director, James Gilmartin, assured Elaine that Arthur would always have a job with the company, no ifs, ands or buts, as he pointedly added, even underlining that very phrase. In his reply to Elaine, Arthur told her she should inform the people at Black Diamond that he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to go back to work again, at Black Diamond or anywhere else. He signed it, Your Cripple.
Elaine was too busy preparing for Arthur’s return to take seriously what he had said about not caring whether there was a job waiting for him. She knew by then that Arthur would be getting back to Sherburne in early June, and in anticipation of that, she painted their bedroom and living room and hung new curtains in both rooms, as well as in the kitchen and bought a new carpet for the living room. She was also planning the welcome home party she would throw the night Arthur arrived. The party, alas, seemed as if it might not happen because Arthur, once she told him about it, wrote and asked her to cancel any such gathering. He also informed Elaine that he wanted no one besides her to meet him at the train station.
In her reply, Elaine came up with a compromise. Fine, she wrote back, about the train station. She would be there by herself, but she wanted him to know that his sister and her husband were waiting anxiously to see him and that two of his brothers, one of whom was about to go into the Navy, were planning to come to Sherburne to welcome him home. And if she had his family over to see him, she said, wouldn’t it be an insult not to invite her parents and her brother, who now had a fiancee, and her Uncle Pete, who had been so helpful to him, and his wife and his two sons and their spouses? Arthur gave in to Elaine’s request with a one-line note in which he wrote, "You win." By the time the party was over Elaine realized that it would have been better for everyone if she had put off the event for a few days, maybe even a few weeks.
The first hint of that came at the train station. Elaine kept telling herself, that she was prepared for the sight of Arthur on crutches, but when the train pulled into the station, tears began to flow from her eyes, tears so copious that her vision was clouded and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t wipe them away. Worse still, everyone on the train had disembarked, but there was no sign of Arthur. Finally, when she was wondering if Arthur was on the train, Arthur and the conductor appeared at the doorway of a railway car. The gasping sound Elaine made—it was, in fact, a scream—was loud enough so that the conductor, who had his back to her, snapped his head around. She then clamped her hand across her mouth, but she kept shaking her head at the sight of Arthur’s pant leg pinned up just above right knee and his sunken cheeks, as well as the deeply etched lines on either side of his mouth that became even more pronounced when he tried to smile.
Arthur was still awkward on his crutches and he seemed more preoccupied than he should have been with making sure that the conductor helped him to get his overseas cap adjusted so that it was practically resting against his right ear. Then, handing the conductor one of his crutches, Arthur made his way down the stairs of the train, by supporting himself with one crutch under his right arm while gripping firmly with his other hand the hand rail of the passenger car. He fidgeted for a moment, too, at the bottom of the stairs while waiting for the conductor to hand him the other crutch and to retrieve his suitcase. That delayed Arthur from embracing Elaine, who was still wiping tears from her eyes, and then, the embrace itself, when it occurred, turned out be less fervent than Elaine expected because Arthur’s crutches got in the way. She also couldn’t help but notice, as she was attempting to plant kisses on Arthur’s face, the strong smell of liquor on his breath.
There was another mixup when Arthur and Elaine and the cab driver all seemed to get in each other’s way while trying to get Arthur into the cab, but when Arthur and Elaine were finally settled into the back seat—she gripping his hands tightly in hers—he asked her if she could please try to stop crying now that he was home. She did so, frantically wiping with both hands all traces of tears from her face and promising him that from now on she would only smile. Arthur’s thank you to her was without a trace of feeling.
"You see now why I didn’t want people at the station?" Arthur told her, as the cab pulled away. "Imagine if I had tripped when I was coming down those stairs. Wouldn’t that be something? The war hero returns and the first thing he does is fall flat on his kisser."
Elaine responded by burying her head in Arthur’s chest and making soothing noises and telling him he shouldn’t have to worry because he was home now.
"Yeah, home," he said. "Now, let’s see if I can make it up those six steps from the sidewalk to the front porch."
When they arrived at Elaine and Arthur’s apartment house, the cab driver, jumping from his cab, offered to help Arthur, but Arthur shooed him away.
"Your job is to take the suitcase," Arthur told the cab driver. "And this, too." With that, he handed the cab driver one of his crutches, and then, with his other crutch under his left arm, and grabbing onto the stair rail with his right hand, he ascended the stairs leading from the sidewalk to the porch by hopping, literally, from one step to the next. At the top of the stairs, Arthur hung on to the stair rail while waiting for the cab driver to bring him his suitcase and other crutch. A moment later, after Elaine paid the cab driver, she and Arthur headed towards the front door of their apartment.
On the way, Arthur said to Elaine, "One small favor. This is going to be easier for me if you make sure you get me a drink once we’re inside, something with a little kick in it."
Elaine was relieved that Arthur smiled and waved when the two dozen people crowded into the kitchen yelled out a loud, "Welcome home, Arthur," the moment he came through the door. Elaine, standing by Arthur’s side, helped clear a path for him so he could reach a spot near the kitchen sink. There, he was able to prop himself up against the counter and balance himself with one crutch under his left arm so that his right hand was free to hold the drink Elaine thrust into it the moment he had settled himself. That set the stage for Elaine’s Uncle Pete to deliver a welcome home toast that went on too long because he felt the need to say many times over how grateful he and everyone else was for all the sacrifices Arthur and everyone else had made in helping to teach Adolf Hitler a lesson.
Arthur didn’t respond right away, but a moment later, raising his glass to acknowledge Uncle Pete’s gracious words, he said that with the war now over for him, he wanted to do one thing, sit in his easy chair in his own living room and relax. The young people there greeted Arthur’s remark with a loud cheer while everyone immediately moved out of Arthur’s way so that he could get from the kitchen to the big upholstered chair in the far corner of the living room.
Arthur, seated in his chair, made appropriate remarks to each person who filed pass him while he also shook hands and returned kisses and became acquainted with the girl friends who accompanied his two brothers and Elaine’s younger brother. Until then, the gathering was cordial enough, but Uncle Pete, not satisfied with his salute to Arthur and everyone else who had fought in the war, asked Arthur to tell them something about the battles he had been through.
"No," Arthur said, "not tonight. What’s over is over and no amount of talking about it is going to change anything. Let’s just hope those Jap bastards realize they can’t win this thing so we’ll get it over with soon."
Arthur’s comment was greeted with murmur of approval from the assembled guests, followed by an uneasy silence, but that lasted only a few seconds because Elaine, as impresario of the event, stepped right in and began herding everyone into the semblance of a line that led towards the food she had laid out on the kitchen table. While everyone else ate, Arthur, who said he wasn’t hungry, continued to sip at his drink. Twice he asked for a refill and not much time passed between his putting out one cigarette and lighting another.
There was small talk, and an attempt to bring Arthur up to date about friends and relatives who were away at war, but Arthur, without saying so, made everyone feel that he was too tired just then to care very much about what people were telling him. Once everyone had finished eating, the women began helping Elaine put the remaining food away and wash dishes while Uncle Pete and his two sons took a few minutes to tell Arthur about recent events at Black Diamond Paper. Arthur didn’t show much interest in that, either, and when Elaine returned to the living room, everyone seemed to take that as a signal for the gathering to break up, but not before another procession passed by Arthur, with more hurried kisses and handshakes exchanged between him and the guests.
After everyone had left, Elaine sat with Arthur, or rather she perched on the hassock in front of his chair. His left foot rested on one side of the hassock and she occupied the space that would have accommodated his right foot. She began immediately to bring him up to date on friends who were still in the service and who, among the young couples they knew, were likely to get married once the war ended, but she didn’t get very far before Arthur told her he didn’t really care just now to hear whatever news she had saved up for him.
"You want to make me feel that I’ve made it home safe and sound?" he said. "See that fifth of Canadian Club on the coffee table. Why don’t you put it right here, right by my chair?"
Elaine immediately brought him the bottle. She also took his ash tray away and returned with a clean one.
"The best pain medicine in the world," Arthur said, holding up the bottle of liquor. After taking a swallow, and wincing slightly as the liquor went down his throat, he adjusted himself so that now he was slouched down in the lower half of his chair. Elaine, who remained on the hassock, said that she hadn’t known he was in pain, but if she had, she wouldn’t have put him through the party.
Arthur, raising his voice, said, "No, oh no, no, not a bit of pain. They cut the leg off, you see, and then they stitch you up so that you’re as good as new. The next day you wake up and you feel like going out to a dance." With that, he reached down, and grunting, he lifted his stump with both hands and moved it slightly to the right.
Elaine said she was sorry for forcing too much on him in one night. She should have known better, she added.
"You have a lot more to learn," Arthur said, as he lit another cigarette.
There was a pause while Arthur took an initial puff on the cigarette and let out a plume of smoke. Then, ready to continue, he said. "All right, you wanna hear what happened?"
Elaine shook her head. "Please, some other time," she said.
"Well, I want to get it out of the way right off. Then if anyone asks, you’ll be able to tell them."
Elaine didn’t reply, but by leaning forward and resting her head on Arthur’s chest, she seemed as though she was trying to discourage him from telling his story. That didn’t work very well because when Arthur reached over for the bottle of liquor, Elaine had to pull herself back up. Then, after Arthur took a quick swallow from the bottle, he immediately began to tell her about the battle in which he had been wounded.
"The guy in front of me got it full force," he said. "The only reason I’m here is that he shielded me from the worst of it."
Elaine pressed the palms of her hands into her eyes to stop, momentarily, the flow of tears.
"The poor bastard. Phillips was his name. He was from some small town in Tennessee. He went flying into the air, I mean, flying. It was like he was doing a cartwheel in mid air. Just before he was drafted Phillips’s wife had a little girl. That’s all he ever talked about, getting home to see his baby. I’m not sure there was enough left to Phillips so they could ship a coffin home to his wife. Some of the stuff I saw I might someday forget, but I’m never going to forget as long as I live the sight of Phillips flying through the air. As for me, I don’t know how long it took before I came to, but when I did, there was a ringing in my head, almost like I had an alarm clock going off inside my brain."
Arthur lit another cigarette, using the cigarette he had just finished. Now Elaine’s shoulders were heaving as she tried to hold back the moans rising from her chest, while Arthur resumed the methodical telling of his tale.
"When I was lying there, half covered with dirt, I looked down and saw that my leg was twisted over to one side. I remember thinking how I looked like a base runner who was trying to slide into third base. I just kept staring at it, wondering what to do, whether I was supposed to pick it up and straighten it out or just let it lie there. Just then the medic came. He didn’t touch the leg, not that I can remember anyway. He just gave me morphine, lots of it. The next thing I knew I was in a field hospital and they were wheeling me into an operating room. When I woke up, there was a nurse sitting by my bed, waiting to tell me what had happened. How would you like that for a job? You sit by somebody’s bed so that when he wakes up you’re the one who tells him, ‘Sorry buddy, but while you were asleep, we cut half your leg off.’"
The tears rolling down Elaine’s cheeks were falling onto her dress. That’s when Arthur paused, and lifting himself slightly, he reached into his rear pocket for a handkerchief, which he handed to her. Slowly she wiped the tears away and breathed in deeply until she stopped crying, except for the gasps that now and then made her body shake.
"You should realize that tears aren’t going to change anything," he said. "I found that out the day I looked down and saw that half of my leg was gone. That’s when you begin to understand that once certain things happen, they’re over and done with. There’s no changing things back to what they were before, not in this life."
"I didn’t have to know," she said. "I wasn’t the one who asked."
"I want you to know," he said.
Again she leaned her head against his chest, but this time the smoke from Arthur’s cigarette got into her eyes so she had to pull away from him. That’s when she said she was going to bed. Did he want her to help him, she asked.
"I’ll be along," he said. "I just want to relax for a little while." Then he took another drink from the bottle of whisky.
Elaine lay in bed for half an hour, weeping silently, before she finally fell off to sleep. Having waited almost three years for Arthur to return to her bed, she ended up spending yet another night alone.
In the morning, when Elaine found Arthur sleeping in his chair, she nudged his shoulder. He awoke with a start and Elaine, after wishing him a cheerful good morning, leaned over to give him a kiss.
"I bet you’d feel a lot better if you had come to bed," she said. "You’d smell better, too."
"I need coffee," he said, "right away. Black, no sugar."
In the time it took Elaine to bring him his coffee, Arthur had lit his first cigarette of the day. She took it as good news of a sort that there was some liquor left in the bottle of Canadian Club next to his chair, but she saw that Arthur’s hand shook when he lifted the cup of coffee to his lips. Moments later, when she was back in the kitchen, Arthur, on his crutches, passed by on his way into the bathroom. Through the bathroom door, she asked what he wanted for breakfast, but he didn’t answer. Only when he came out of the bathroom and was heading towards the bedroom did he mumble something about how tired he was. When he reached the bedroom, he threw his crutches with some force against the wall on the other side of the room and then fell face forward on the bed.
Hearing the noise from the bedroom, Elaine went into the living room, and peeking around the corner of the door, she saw that Arthur was lying on the bed but that his crutches were on the other side of the room. She wanted to put the crutches closer to the bed, within Arthur’s reach, but not wanting to disturb him, she returned to the kitchen to eat her breakfast. Before leaving for work, however, she tiptoed back into the bedroom, where she picked up Arthur’s crutches and placed them next to the bed. She also bent over to give him a kiss, but he was sleeping too soundly to respond.
Elaine put off calling Arthur during the day because she felt he needed to rest, but throughout the day she was uneasy about what condition he would be in by the time she returned home. Thus, her relief when she walked through the door and found Arthur, looking rested and refreshed and clean shaven, sitting at the kitchen table reading a newspaper. He looked up when she entered and for the first time since he had emerged from the train, Arthur greeted her with a genuine smile. He had shed his uniform and was wearing a pair of tan trousers (his right leg pinned up below the knee), a white shirt with an open collar and the dark blue cardigan sweater that Elaine had given him for Christmas just before they were married.
"You look surprised," he said.
Before she could stop herself, Elaine said, "But how did you—
"Get cleaned up and dressed? One thing they did for us at the hospital in France was teach us how to tend to what the nurses called our personal needs."
With that, Arthur used his crutches to get to his feet and shuffled over to that spot where he could prop himself up against the counter next to the kitchen sink. That allowed him to set his crutches aside and open his arms to Elaine. She then hurried across the kitchen to receive the kiss from Arthur that she expected when he had alighted from the train.
For a moment it seemed as if Elaine might begin weeping again, but Arthur, pulling away from her, reached up and with his two thumbs brushed the tears away from each of her eyes.
"This is so crazy," Elaine said, with a catch in her throat. "I end up crying as much when I’m happy as when I’m upset."
After pulling Elaine close again, Arthur mumbled an apology for having drunk too much the night before.
"No," she said, "it was my fault. I should have realized that we needed some time to ourselves. And that damned Uncle Pete. I love him, but sometimes he talks too much."
"I don’t mind telling people what I went through," Arthur said, "but I’ll do it when I want to, and in my own way. One thing I want people to know—war isn’t like the movies or any of the stuff you saw in the newsreels either. That’s just bullshit put out by the Army so people will think everyone who went off to war is some kind of hero. Believe me, most of the heroes aren’t coming home."
Moments later Elaine pulled herself away from Arthur and began preparing dinner, pork chops smothered in onions, which was Arthur’s favorite meal. Arthur went back to his chair at the kitchen table, where there was a pack of cigarettes, an ash tray filled with cigarette butts and a half-filled glass of liquor. Elaine saw that while she was getting ready for dinner, Arthur refilled his glass and then refilled it again, but any concern she had about Arthur’s drinking faded away once they began eating and he began, at last, asking questions about mutual friends and relatives and what plans these people were making now that there were signs the war might be ending.
Later, when Elaine was clearing the table and washing the dishes, Arthur returned to his easy chair in the living room. Next to the chair was a newly opened bottle of Canadian Club, which Arthur sipped from both before and while he was on the phone with his sister. Arthur was at the tail end of that conversation, telling his sister how uncomfortable he felt with his crutches, when Elaine, having finished washing the dishes, entered the living room. She heard him, when he explained to his sister—as he had earlier explained to her—how anxious he was to hear from the VA hospital in Boston about getting his artificial leg.
"Until that happens," he told his sister, "until I get rid of these crutches, I don’t feel like going out much or seeing people. It’s funny, you know. I’m home. The war is over for me, but I don’t feel that I can leave that goddamned war behind as long as I’m on these crutches. And to tell you the truth, I feel shitty that I’m home while other guys are still fighting and dying. Maybe, when this thing is over with, and everyone gets home, I’ll begin to feel better."
He had just hung up from talking with his sister when Elaine said, "You really mean that, what you just told her about not feeling as if you’re really back home?"
"Of course I mean that," he said. "You think I say things I don’t mean? Yeah, it’s great being here, but this leg, that’s unfinished business. I’m still waiting for them to put me back together again. Maybe once that happens I’ll began to feel like the guy I used to be."
When Arthur saw that Elaine was reaching up to wipe a tear from her eye, he said. "No, please, not again. All I’m saying is that this isn’t something you can wish away. That’s why I’m not ready yet to get out and see people. The minute they look at me all they really see are these goddamned crutches. That and the empty pant leg. Plus, the crutches make it hard to get around. So if people ask about me, say I’m feeling okay, but tell them that I need time to rest and get my strength back. In case you didn’t notice, I lost ten pounds or so, mostly because that hospital food was so lousy it left me yearning for k-rations."
This time, Elaine, taking two deep breaths, was able to hold back tears while listening to Arthur complain about how long it might take before he heard from the VA and how much longer after that before he would be fitted for an artificial leg and learn to walk with it. That process, he told her, might mean he had to spend at least a couple of weeks at the VA Hospital in Boston, maybe even a month. He also intended to put up quite a squawk, he said, if the VA didn’t keep its promise to give him a car that was specially equipped for him to drive. The artificial leg, the car, and maybe a few months to rest and relax, when all that was out of the way, he told her, he might begin to think—emphasizing the word, think—about going back to work.
Elaine, saying she was tired, announced that she was going to bed, and Arthur, who had just taken a long pull from his bottle of Canadian Club, announced that he would join her, or rather, he said, correcting himself, he would like her to join him.
"In other words, I’d like to undress and get into bed before you," he said. "The leg, it isn’t anything I want you to see, not yet anyway."
Elaine first, and then Arthur, couldn’t help but let out a tiny laugh at that since this was the reverse of the first week of their marriage, when Elaine, because of her innate modesty, still wasn’t comfortable with taking her clothes off in front of Arthur.
Indeed, on this night of "reversals," it was Elaine who took the initiative in their lovemaking, and Arthur, usually the aggressor, who was uncharacteristically subdued, and in the end, unable to perform.
"Booze," he said, when he gave up, twisting away, so that Elaine, who was on top of him, slid away to her side of the bed.
"No, just tired," she said. "We have to learn not to rush things."
The next day Arthur was surprised to receive a call from the VA Hospital. Two amputees had decided they were not yet ready to begin the therapy they would need to go through before they received their artificial limbs, and the woman calling Arthur said that she knew he had just returned home, but would he be willing to come to Boston the day after tomorrow? When he answered yes, he also asked the caller—her name was Betty Moran—if she could tell him how long he would have to stay in Boston.
She replied by asking him about the condition of his leg and his state of health. After hearing him, she said, "I don’t like to get too specific before I’ve seen you myself, but as a rule, we want you to be here for as long as it takes to fit you with a prosthesis. Then we’ll teach you how to walk with it and make sure you’re comfortable with it. I’ll guarantee you this one thing: However long it takes, when you walk out of here—and you will walk out of here, don’t you worry about that—you’ll be in top-notch condition."
"You make it sound like I’m going to be training for a title bout," he said.
"If you’ve got a title bout scheduled, this is the place you want to be. As for anything else you want or need, we take care of that also."
Arthur surprised himself when he said. "How about jitterbugging? That’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but I never could get the hang of it. This should be a test for you—teaching a guy with one leg how to jitterbug."
Arthur’s experience with Army nurses made him think that this nurse, like others, would either be flustered by what he had said or treat his remark as something to be dismissed so that she could get on with the serious business of arranging for his stay at the VA hospital.
Betty Moran, however, was quite adept at matching the tone of Arthur’s remark with one of her own. "You are a lucky man, Mr. Doyle. Not only are you talking to your therapist, but I’m the person around here who teaches our advanced jitterbugging class so be sure to bring your dancing shoes with you when you come to the hospital. You’re going to need them."
Arthur was so pleased that he wouldn’t have to wait any longer to get his artificial leg—and so cheered by his brief exchange with Betty Moran—that he restricted himself that night to two drinks before dinner, and so later, when Elaine joined him in bed, he was able to reclaim his conjugal rights in a quick, almost savage coupling.
"Ah, so here’s the guy who’s going to make me prove that I’m half the dancer I claim to be."
It was Arthur’s first morning in the VA hospital and he was sitting on the edge of his bed, with his back to the door, but before he turned his head around to see who had entered his room, Betty Moran, carrying a clipboard, was approaching his bed. Just a few steps away, she stopped and swayed her hips, looking for a moment as if she was about to break into a dance.
"Betty Moran," she said, with a girlish giggle, when she then reached out to shake Arthur’s hand. "Your nurse, therapist and dance instructor, all wrapped into one."
She then told Arthur how sorry she was that he had to come all the way from northern New Hampshire, adding that if she had anything to do with it—if she was the President, for instance—she would make sure there were enough VA hospitals so that no veteran would have to go very far to find medical care.
No, Arthur said, it didn’t matter to him that he had to travel a couple hundred miles to get a new leg. All he cared about was getting back on his feet so he could return to normal living. That led Betty to ask him about Sherburne and what kind of work he had done before going off to war. Arthur first told her about his job at the Black Diamond Paper Company, and then, when Betty asked how long he had been married, he gave a brief account of how he fell in love with Elaine the moment he met her.
"Lucky for me, she felt the same way," he said. "On our second date—I barely knew her, she barely knew me—but I told her, right then and there, that I was going to marry her. She thought I was joking because she was still in high school. But not long after that, when she finished school, she was as anxious as I was to get married. Only her parents thought we were too young. Then, whaddya know, Pearl Harbor came along. A lot of people like us got married not long after that happened."
"Well," Betty said, "we’re going to make sure you don’t have to spend a day longer away from Elaine than is necessary. Of course, she can visit you while you’re here, but I’d suggest that she hold off on that until we’ve got your routine going. Now, let’s take a look at that leg."
When Betty pulled aside the sheet Arthur had draped across his right leg, she was pleased at what she saw. She noted that Dr. Appleton, her supervisor, who happened to be on vacation that week, was particularly pleased with patients who had the good sense to wait until they got back to the states to be fitted for their artificial limbs.
"Unfortunately, we see guys here all the time who tried to rush things," she said. "They insisted on getting a prosthesis before the stump has fully healed and that ends up backfiring on them because they develop skin irritation and a lot of other problems. Then, they have an even longer wait before they can tolerate a prosthesis. But let’s not get into that. Let’s see first what we’ve got here."
Then, deftly and quickly and with a touch so light Arthur barely felt her, she ran her fingers over his stump and judged his muscles to be a bit "knotted up," in her words, but not as badly as some amputees she had treated.
Betty was matter of fact, but pleasant, when she began outlining the regimen of therapy Arthur would have to undergo. The exercises she was going to put him through were quite demanding, she said, and she wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up cursing her and whoever gave her the right to inflict such torture on him.
"You’re also going to wonder what in God’s name I’m up to," she said, "but before you get your prosthesis we want to improve your strength overall. Believe it or not, we’ll be doing a lot of work on your shoulders and arms and mid section because upper body strength helps with your balance and prevents falls. We’re also going to be building up your cardiovascular capacity. That’s important because walking with a prosthesis requires a great deal of energy. And while we’re at it, I’d say from looking at you that it wouldn’t hurt if you put on a few pounds. Don’t be afraid to snack between meals. Milk shakes, desserts, second helpings, you’re going to need plenty of calories to make up for what you’ll burn off during our exercise sessions. Now, stop me if I’m repeating advice you’ve already been given, but I want to stress the need for stretching the muscles in both your legs, but particularly the leg that’s been amputated."
Arthur indicated that she should continue and when she did, she extracted from the material in her clipboard a drawing that showed the major muscles of the leg. She then pointed to illustrations which showed how those muscles, unless stretched, were likely to contract and thus impede his range of motion. Daily stretching exercises, she said, should become as much a part of his day as brushing his teeth.
Arthur, somewhat apologetically, then said that he had been told about the stretching exercises at the Army hospital in New Jersey, but hadn’t been particularly diligent about doing them.
"Well, I guess I didn’t waste my time by repeating what you’ve already been told. Only this time, I’m asking you, no, ordering you, not to ignore doing what’s best for you. I hope you also noticed that I used the word, daily. That means every day, no exceptions, no time off for good behavior, none of this, well, I stretched three days in a row, so I’m entitled to a day off."
"Yes m’am," Arthur said, snapping off a salute, but, in truth, he had only been half listening to what Betty had said because he was so taken with her friendly manner, the casual yet serious way she had of conveying the regimen he would have to follow, and even more than that, her physical beauty.
Arthur had never seen a young woman who looked so wholesome and healthy, so well nourished and strong. Her broad shoulders, the underlying muscle structure of her forearms, her shapely but sturdy legs, all of these told Arthur that Betty possessed the strength needed to support, or carry if necessary, patients who were missing a limb. But what Arthur found most intriguing, in addition to Betty’s unstinting smile (which revealed remarkably straight white teeth), were her eyes, which were deep blue, almost violet. The eyes alone lent her a touch of glamor, as did her rich, auburn colored hair and the way she had shaped it into two thick braids that she had doubled up and folded into a stylish bun. Later, she would tell Arthur that she had borrowed her hair style from ballet dancers because, like them, she explained, she couldn’t have her hair "flopping all over the place," not when she was working with her patients.
"Okay, chop, chop, let’s get started," Betty said, clapping her hands together, almost as if she sensed that Arthur’s thoughts were not entirely focused on what she had been saying. "And one more item, maybe this morning you didn’t feel like getting dressed before I arrived, but from now on, when I get here, I expect to find you dressed and ready to go."
That was the last time Betty needed to remind Arthur that he should be prepared to begin his therapy the moment she walked through the door. Typically, Betty began the day by helping Arthur stretch out the muscles in his legs. They would then go to a gymnasium where Betty put Arthur through a series of upper body exercises. He started with simple chin ups and then moved over to using machines with pulleys and ropes and weights that he had to lift and pull in different directions. He performed some of these exercises while seated, but others while he was on one crutch, with Betty supporting him. That first day, when Arthur had finished his exercise session and Betty was helping him towel away the perspiration that covered his body, she complimented him on his stamina and his balance.
"You’re in fairly good shape, considering what you’ve been through," she said. "You have good muscle tone to begin with."
Arthur told her about the boxing he had done at the Y in Sherburne before the war and how he had shown enough promise so that a local fight manager wanted to enter him in an amateur tournament.
"I would have done it if Elaine hadn’t put a stop to it," he said. "Too dangerous, she said. It’s just like Elaine that she worried as much about me hurting someone as me getting hurt."
He then drew a laugh from Betty when he said that only a year or so after Elaine made him give up boxing because she thought it was too dangerous, he was fighting his way across Europe, trying to kill people who were, in turn, trying to kill him.
Betty granted Arthur time for a rest period after lunch, but she usually put him through a lighter workout around 3 p.m. or so. If Betty’s schedule allowed, she also accompanied him when he went off, after that, to the hospital’s snack bar for a thick chocolate frappe, as well as a healthy serving of apple pie. (Betty restricted herself to a cup of coffee, no sugar, no cream.) Otherwise, Betty was strict and demanding in overseeing Arthur’s exercise sessions, and, Arthur, sweating and straining, responded not with curses but by calling her Sergeant Barnes, who had been his drill instructor at Fort Benning, Georgia. Sergeant Barnes, Arthur told Betty, was known for the pleasure he took in leading trainees on marches so long that half the company would collapse along the way.
From then on, Betty would often mimic Sergeant Barnes, or her idea of what a tough drill sergeant might sound like when she barked at Arthur, urging him to put more effort into his exercises and mockingly applauding him if she was satisfied with his performance. Every now and then, Betty would join in for a short spell on the exercises, taunting and teasing him and claiming that if she really tried, she could outperform him.
The VA Hospital had policies and guidelines governing the relationship between patients and their caretakers, but during and after the war, when the hospital was filled with veterans who needed extensive treatment, nobody was about to stop Betty from giving Arthur a congratulatory hug when he beat his personal best for chin ups. Neither did it seem to matter if, at the end of Arthur’s workouts, she gave him a back massage, even though back massages, as she told him, in a whispered aside, were not part of the therapy regimen for patients with amputated limbs.
"Patient morale," Betty would say, "The powers that be tell us that’s a vital part of our, quote, mission, unquote." She had a chance to demonstrate her own commitment to improving patient morale shortly after that when Arthur told her how he yearned for a stiff drink.
"People who run this place should realize that a nightly belt or two of Canadian Club can help people like me to relax and sleep more soundly," he said.
The next morning, when Betty arrived in Arthur’s room, she was carrying two clean white towels. Then, with a broad smile on her face, she extracted from the folds of the towels a pint of Canadian Club. She put a finger against her lips to indicate that Arthur should remain silent and she also created a hiding place for the whisky by putting it behind the towels, which she placed on the top shelf of his clothes closet.
"I hope you don’t get into trouble over this," he said.
She assured him that was unlikely as long as he rationed himself to a drink or two each day, which he promised her he would do.
Arthur and Betty had become comfortable enough with each other by then so that he sealed his promise by reaching out and grabbing her hand and squeezing it while thanking her again for the gift she had brought him. After that, he stopped calling her Sergeant Barnes and began instead to refer to her as Wonder Woman because he felt there was a parallel between the comic book heroine who battled villains of every kind and the ease with which Betty helped repair bodies broken by war.
Each day he was impressed all over again by Betty’s poise and unruffled manner, whether she was stretching the muscles in his leg, or delivered, before he asked her, another pint of Canadian Club. Even when she participated, albeit for a short duration, in the strengthening exercises herself, she did so without causing a strand of hair to break loose from the neatly coiled bun at the nape of her neck.
All that, Arthur ascribed to the training Betty had received, first when she became a registered nurse, and then in the special program the VA had set up to prepare its nurses for helping veterans recover from their war wounds. But in their chats at the snack bar, and twice, when she joined him for lunch, he also discovered that Betty’s even-tempered disposition extended to her personal life as well. Her father, like Arthur’s, had been notably deficient in supporting his family, but while Arthur was still angry at his father, who was remarried and now living in Florida, Betty laughingly referred to her father as the "world’s happiest drunk."
"Poor Daddy, God bless his soul, he’d arrive home, three sheets to the wind," she said, "and my mother and my two sisters and I would be beside ourselves because once again he had left too much of his paycheck in some bar. But it was hard to remain upset with him because before you knew it he’d be sitting at the old upright in our living room and there we were, my mother, who loved him dearly, and the three of us, who were just as crazy about him, singing right along with him while he played a medley of old-fashioned love songs."
Betty seemed to find it as easy to slough off her two broken engagements. She told Arthur that she had been deeply in love with the first fiance—or thought she was, she quickly corrected herself—but that he was the one, after he had entered pilot training, who decided that they should wait until after the war to get married.
"This was a guy who invented double talk," she said. "He claimed he didn’t want to make me a young widow, but if he survived, he said, and if I was still available after the war, then we would get together again. In other words, if I remained faithful, he’d look me up when he got home. Thank God I didn’t fall for that because he was still flying missions over Germany when he met and married a girl in England. I guess it’s a lot harder to break up with your girlfriend when she’s about to have your baby."
The second broken engagement was easier on her, she said, because she always sensed that her fiance had reservations about getting married. She even suspected that he didn’t mind being drafted because that gave him a reason to put off marriage. Then, just as he was about to go overseas—and well before he ever saw combat, Betty noted,—he wrote to tell her that he had considered off and on entering the priesthood, and now, knowing better about war and the suffering it had caused, he had decided, once the war ended, to enter a religious order that sent missionaries to foreign countries.
"How’s that for a winning streak?" Betty said. "One guy was lying through his teeth when he said he was worried that I would end up as a young widow. And the other one, well, I always had my suspicions about him, if you get what I mean. But it was still a shock to find out that he cared more about saving souls in some godforsaken hell hole than marrying me. I’ve had adventures with a couple of other smooth talkers who make those two look good by comparison."
When Arthur asked her if her "winning streak" had caused her to give up on men, she shook her head and asked him why he thought it should. Then, before he responded, she posed a question which she herself answered.
"Don’t you think it would be silly for someone in my line of work to get thrown off by a few bumps and bruises?" she said. "I do. The way I see it I should have at least as much gumption as the people I’m treating. Boyfriends come, boyfriends go, but what matters to me just now is making sure you, and all the other people we care for, can go back to being the guys you were before you went off to war. We owe you that. All the medals in the world and all the flowery speeches about bravery and courage can never repay you guys for all that you’ve done for us."
What Betty had said so impressed Arthur that the next day, when they were in the snack bar together, he told her again—this time with a catch in his throat—how grateful he was for the help she had given him.
"I want you to know something," he said, "you’re the first person I’ve met who doesn’t pity me. Other people, the army nurses, even Elaine, when I got home, they all meant well, but I could tell, the minute they looked at me, all they saw was a guy on crutches with his pant leg pinned up at the knee. My welcome home party, everyone was so cheerful, but I could see on their faces what they’re really thinking. ‘That poor bastard,’ they were saying to themselves, ‘I’m sure glad I’m not in his shoes.’ You know how that left me feeling? Like I was better off not seeing people at all. I’ll be honest with you, I’ve worried too much about tripping and falling and needing to depend on other people to help me to my feet. But, hey, with you, I’m ready to do whatever you say, and if I fall flat on my face, fine. I know you’ll get me back on my feet, no fuss, no muss."
Betty first thanked Arthur for what he had said. Then, reaching over and holding his hands in hers, she said, "I told you the first time we talked that I don’t do things halfway. You’re doing okay so far, and that’s very satisfying to me. But, let’s remember, I’m just making sure you get everything you’ve got coming to you. Besides, I also promised to get you back out on the dance floor."
"There’s something else I like about you. You haven’t asked me how this happened."
"Why should I?" she said. "My policy is to treat what’s in front of me, not to dig around into what’s already happened. What good does that do? In my experience, the people I’ve taken care of tell me as much as they want me to know. And I’m content to leave it at that."
"You’re a saint," he said.
"Now, with that, you’re overdoing it," she said, with a laugh. Then, pulling her hands away from Arthur’s and rising up from her chair, she added, "Enough. And don’t think the nice things you’ve said about me will make me go easier on you tomorrow morning."
In phone calls to Elaine, which Arthur made every other night, he talked mostly of his daily exercise routines and what progress he was making. He had been at the VA hospital less than a week before Elaine told him he was beginning to sound more like himself. Yes, he said, he was feeling stronger and he was more confident now that he would be able to adjust to walking with a prosthesis. She was overjoyed when, after two weeks or so, he told her that he had already put on four pounds and she was as excited to hear that the VA had begun the procedure for getting him the car they had promised him. But rather than mention Betty specifically, he talked of how helpful the hospital staff were and how much it meant to him to find himself among so many men who, like him, were trying to recover from wounds and injuries suffered in combat.
"You know the first thing I learned about this place?" he told Elaine. "You don’t stand out if you’re missing an arm or a leg. You might even think of yourself as being lucky if that’s the only problem you have. That’s been a big help to me. That and the people who care for us. They’re here to help, period, amen. None of that military bullshit. The nurses, doctors, the attendants, they all seem to know what we’ve been through, and they appreciate it. We owe you, they say. They tell us that over and over."
Out of caution—and because he had no desire to leave the VA Hospital just yet—Arthur decided against using the temporary prosthesis provided him a week after he arrived, even though, as Betty pointed out to him, waiting for a permanent one was likely to prolong his period of rehabilitation. No, he said, he wanted his stump to be completely healed, or "shrunk," before he was fitted for a prosthesis. Besides, he said, he was hoping to put on all the weight he had lost during the war. That would bring him back to his fighting weight, he told Betty.
By then, physical contact between Betty and Arthur was so frequent, and both seemed to be so comfortable with each other, that Arthur one day let out a groan when Betty was applying lotion to his amputated limb.
"Sorry," she said, with a laugh, "did I go up too high? That’s another form of therapy altogether, useful perhaps, but there are rules against that in this place."
Arthur’s responded by reaching out and grabbing Betty’s hand. "You know what they say about rules?" he said. "They’re only made to be broken."
Betty responded by pulling her hand away from his and raising her other hand, as if she was about to slap his face, but she didn’t follow through. She had a grin on her face when she said, "I’ll grant you this much, my friend. Maybe some of the rules around here should be reviewed from time to time."
That exchange took place the day before Arthur’s prosthesis arrived and Betty had begun teaching him to walk with it. The first two days he wore his prosthesis he used a walker, followed by two days when he learned to walk with the support of a cane. A day later, still with a cane, he took his first tentative steps up and down a flight of stairs, with Betty standing by to lend him support if he faltered. Finally, a week after he had begun wearing the prosthesis, he completed his first walk without a cane, fifty steps that he took by supporting himself, only slightly, on two waist-high parallel bars on either side of him.
When Arthur began his walk, he could hear, at the other end of the cavernous gym, out of his sight line, someone dribbling a basketball. It was a slow, steady dribble, sounding very much as if someone was learning how to dribble. Without realizing it at first, but quickly picking up on it, Arthur was planting his left foot down so that it coincided with the thump, thump, thump of the basketball hitting the floor. In that moment when he first experienced the exhilaration of walking almost on his own, he imagined himself again as the young Army recruit maintaining the cadence of march established by the stentorian growl—hup, hup, hup, two three four—of Sergeant Barnes.
Only this time, instead of marching towards the distant and seemingly endless horizon of a dusty training field in Georgia, he could see, waiting for him at end of the parallel bars, the smiling face of Betty Moran. Arthur had kept his eyes focused on his feet when he began his walk, but as his confidence grew, he looked up, and then, five steps or so short of his goal, he took his right hand off one of the bars momentarily and raised his fist in triumph, and Betty, in response, threw her arms out wide so that when he reached the end of his walk, she greeted him with a congratulatory squeal and then a fulsome embrace. Arthur, without giving it a thought, pulled her closer and kissed her on the lips, which caused Betty to draw back but only to take a quick look around to see if anyone could see them. Satisfied that they were alone in that end of the gym, she gave him a kiss that was more ardent than either of them had dared until now.
Betty was the one who stepped away, saying, "That’s it for now," as she smoothed down her uniform and appeared, as she did so, as if she was collecting herself. Arthur, wiping a thin sheen of perspiration from his brow, exhaled, somewhat like a runner who had just completed an exhausting race.
"After that," he said, "I think I deserve a rest."
Betty agreed, and both of them, said nothing more, as Arthur, using his cane now, headed back towards his room. There, Betty helped Arthur remove his prosthesis and carefully checked his stump. When doing so, she looked up at him, and with a perfectly serious expression on her face, so serious she seemed to be mocking seriousness, she said, "I have nothing definite to report at this time, Mr. Doyle, but it’s my understanding that there are about to be some changes in those rules I told you about."
A moment later, she checked her watch and said she was running late to see her next patient, but the next day Betty suggested that she and Arthur were now ready to take a longer walk. She wanted him to walk without a cane if possible, but he insisted on carrying the cane with him in the event he needed it. That precaution hardly seemed necessary because Arthur was doing so well that at one point he jokingly took a few steps with the cane resting on his right shoulder, as if he was carrying a rifle. When he did so, he recounted to Betty how the day before, when negotiating his way between the parallel bars, the sound of someone dribbling a basketball coincided with each step he took, so much so that he felt as if he was marching to the cadence as sounded by Sergeant Barnes. Just then they reached the limit of the unit occupied by amputees, but Betty, encouraged by the way Arthur was walking, said they should find a longer corridor.
With Betty leading the way, Arthur took a series of lefts and rights, passing through the main reception area of the hospital and then down a corridor that brought them to a dimly lit area where Betty pressed a button to summon an elevator that looked as if it was used to carry foodstuffs and other supplies. The elevator brought them down two levels, to a corridor lined with doorways that had labels on them indicating this area of the hospital housed the building’s mechanical equipment. Betty asked Arthur twice, as they walked along the corridor, if he was tired, and each time he said no, but neither of them said more than that until they came to a door that said Housekeeping, where Betty stopped and reached into her pocket for a key.
"Quick, in here," she said, as she unlocked the door and motioned with a nod of her head for Arthur to follow.
The moment Betty and Arthur were inside the room—it was filled with mattresses—they were in each other’s arms. She then managed, without loosening her embrace of Arthur, to nudge him a few steps backwards, towards a stack of mattresses. That allowed her to reach out with one arm and toss a mattress onto the floor. Thick wrapping paper covered the mattress, but neither Betty, nor Arthur, were distracted by the paper crinkling and cracking beneath them the first time they made love.
Betty and Arthur managed only one more visit to the housekeeping department’s store room, and even then, their lovemaking was overshadowed by Arthur pleading with Betty to find some reason why his stay at the hospital should be extended. Couldn’t she convince the doctor she worked for that he needed yet more practice walking, he asked, or that he needed to gain more weight before he was back to his full strength? And didn’t it take more than a week before anyone could tell whether his prosthesis was a proper fit?
No, Betty said, politely but firmly, fending off Arthur’s request. She was obliged, she said, both by hospital policy—and her own conscience—not to submit false information on a patient’s condition. Or as she put it, "I might cut a few corners here and there, but I’ve never written a report in which I said that a patient should stay here when I knew he had completed his rehab."
"Are you telling me I should trip and fall a few times if I want to stay here any longer?" Arthur said.
"Don’t be silly," she said. "You should realize that we consider you our number one star. How can I say you’re wobbly on your feet when you’ve shown that you’re not? Very few people we’ve had here have done as well as you have, as quickly as you have. That’s something you should be thankful for. On top of all that, you have a job waiting for you and a good home situation, which is more than I can say for some of the other people who leave this place."
"I still feel as if I’m being pushed out the door," Arthur said.
"Oh cut it out," Betty said, making no effort to hide her irritation with Arthur. "First, nobody’s pushing you out the door. You’re fully capable, on your own, of walking out the door, which is exactly what we promised you you’d be able to do by the time you left here. Second, we’re not going away. We’re always here if you develop a problem. And although it may be a chore for you to get here, you should come to us instead of going to your local doctor. He may know medicine inside out, and he probably means well, but it’s doubtful that he’s up to date on amputee care."
Arthur seemed to have accepted Betty’s verdict, or at least he said little before they left the room and not much more during their walk back to the amputee ward. But when they reached his room, he said, "So I take it, as far as you’re concerned, that I’m free to leave."
"The paper work’s been submitted," she said. "It’s just a matter of letting the office know if you want to check out tomorrow or the next day. Definitely the day after tomorrow, though, because they don’t want you here over the weekend."
"Well, don’t think you’ve seen the last of me," he said.
Without saying anything, she gave him a quick peck on the cheek, but then, when Arthur tried to pull her closer, she spun away from him.
"Sorry, I have to run or I’ll be late for my next patient," she said, a smile on her face, as she headed out the door.
Betty’s business like demeanor when she told Arthur he would have to leave so displeased him that he went to the hospital’s registration office and arranged to leave the hospital the next morning. He assumed, however, that there would be a quiet moment before then, and maybe even a private place, where he and Betty would be able to wish each other a proper good bye. But Betty didn’t come back to his room that day and the next morning, just as Arthur was getting dressed, a nurse he had never seen before arrived with a message from Betty. During the night, Betty’s aunt had suffered a stroke, the nurse said, and Betty was now at Boston City Hospital, at her aunt’s bedside.
"She doesn’t know if she’ll make it in today, but she hopes to get here if her aunt’s condition improves," the nurse said. "What the chances are of that Betty couldn’t say."
A half hour later, Arthur was having breakfast when the nurse who brought him the first message came looking for him. She told him that Betty had decided she could not leave her aunt, but wanted Arthur to know how sorry she was that she wouldn’t be able to see him off.
Arthur thanked the nurse for bringing him the message and said something to her about how he hoped Betty’s aunt would recover, but it rankled him that Betty had used a go-between rather than try to contact him herself. He then began to wonder if Betty had used an intermediary because she had fabricated the story about her aunt as a way to avoid saying goodbye to him. The possibility that she might be deceiving him so upset Arthur that he decided to leave the hospital immediately after he finished his breakfast. When he returned to his room to finish packing, the last thing he did was to tie the crutches that were once so vital to him to the outside of his suitcase with a leather belt.
Arthur’s hurried departure from the VA hospital caused him to arrive at Boston’s North Station by 11 a.m., and since the train to Sherburne wouldn’t leave for more than three hours, he headed for a cocktail lounge at the far end of the terminal. Along the way, just to satisfy his curiosity, he stopped at a phone booth and looked through a directory to find Betty’s phone number. He told himself that calling her made no sense, not if she was at her aunt’s bedside, but finding a listing for B. T. Moran he called and then waited as the phone rang for a full minute or more. That gave him some small assurance that Betty was indeed at the hospital tending to her aunt.
Arthur made sure to use his cane because the tile floor of the station was so smooth he was afraid he might slip. Thus, when he arrived at the cocktail lounge, the bartender, a friendly giant of a man, was particularly solicitous towards him. There was also the matter of the crutches attached to the side of Arthur’s suitcase, too. For a moment the crutches seemed to get in Arthur’s way as he mounted a bar stool, and that brought the bartender out from behind the bar and an offer from him—gladly accepted by Arthur—to move the suitcase to an out of the way spot near the end of the bar.
Since the cocktail lounge was empty at that hour, and since the bartender looked as if he had been waiting for someone to talk with, and since his one customer walked not so much with a limp but with a stiff-legged gait and carried a cane, the bartender, when pouring Arthur his shot of Canadian Club, asked him if he was recovering from knee surgery. The bartender then pointed over his shoulder with his thumb, noting that Massachusetts General Hospital, was only a few blocks away. Quite often, he added, he had customers who were on their way home after having been treated at the hospital.
Arthur’s instinct was to tell the bartender that no, he had not had surgery on his knee, and leave it at that. He also considered saying how he wished it was simply knee surgery he had had to contend with, but saying that much, he knew, would make it necessary for him to say more. Then, in an instant, and without giving it any thought, Arthur did something for the first time that eventually became a habit with him: He rapped his cane three times against his artificial limb.
"Ever hear of the Ardennes forest?" Arthur said. "Or maybe you know it better as the Battle of the Bulge."
The bartender, looking embarrassed, tried to say something that sounded like an apology, but Arthur, talking right over him, said, "Third Army, Eighty-Sixth Infantry Division—Patton’s army. Wouldn’t you know it? I made it through the worst of the fighting without a scratch. But even though we had those Nazi bastards on the run, they didn’t give up without putting up a fight. My buddy got the worst of it, but I was close enough so that now I’ve got this piece of plastic instead of a real live leg."
"You’re not paying for a drink in this place, not while I’m on duty," said the bartender, pouring another shot of Canadian Club and placing it in front of Arthur. The bartender, with a theatrical flourish, also tore up the slip on which Arthur’s first drink had been charged.
By the time Arthur was ready to board the train for Sherburne, he had provided the bartender with more details about the heroics of Patton’s army, his days in the CCC, as well as the wonderful care he had received from the VA, and the bartender, grateful for Arthur’s heroic service, kept the free drinks coming. At the bartender’s urging, Arthur ate an hamburger and some French fries for lunch, and that helped make him sober enough so that he didn’t need the help of a customer who offered to accompany him to his train. But because he had spent so much of the last three hours explaining to the bartender and other patrons the manifold contributions of the Third Army to ending the war in Europe, and because making his way across the tiled floor of the station required him to be careful and to concentrate on each step—and because, passing by a bank of telephone booths, he became upset all over again with Betty for not calling him herself to say good bye—Arthur was already on the train, and the train was beginning to leave the station, when he realized that he hadn’t yet called Elaine to say that he was on his way home.
At first, Arthur felt Elaine would enjoy being surprised, but by the time he arrived back in Sherburne, somewhat more sober because he had slept for most of the trip, he realized it might be too much of a shock for her if he simply walked through the door. Still, it wasn’t until Arthur was a short distance from his apartment that he had the cab driver make a U-turn and take him to the Old Towne Inn. Arthur intended to use the pay phone in the hotel’s lobby to call Elaine, but first he ducked into the cocktail lounge and downed a shot of Canadian Club. Refreshed by the drink, he then went to the pay phone and called Elaine. When she answered, Arthur said, "Look out your kitchen window in about five minutes. There’ll be a surprise waiting for you." Then, he hung up.
Arthur added yet more drama to his second homecoming by having the cab driver drop him off two blocks short of his apartment house. That provided Elaine, who was not looking out her kitchen window but standing on her porch, with a clear view of Arthur walking up the street. He was walking slowly, but didn’t seem to depend that much on the cane in his left hand, nor did he seem particularly burdened by the suitcase, with crutches attached, that he was carrying in his right hand.
Elaine seemed to get from her porch to the sidewalk without her feet touching the steps in between and she was running so fast when she reached Arthur that she nearly knocked him over when she threw her arms around him. Flustered by Arthur’s sudden appearance, Elaine’s words ran together as she both scolded him for surprising her while telling him again and again how happy she was to see him walking up the street. At the same time she was kissing him, wiping tears from her eyes and warning him that because he hadn’t told her he was coming home she didn’t have time to prepare the welcome home meal he deserved.
"Hey," Arthur said, "the way you’re acting, you’d think I was a war hero or something."
Then, thinking better of it, Arthur embraced Elaine again and rocked her from side to side, almost as if he was demonstrating for her—and anyone else who was looking on—that he had regained his ability to stand, unaided, when hugging his wife.
This was the homecoming Elaine had always imagined. Yes, Arthur was walking with a cane, and his walk was lacking its familiar swagger, but there was strength and purpose in his embrace and his smile, luminous and unforced, was the smile she remembered from when Arthur had gone off to war. She could even see, with just a quick glance, that his face had filled out a bit so that he no longer had the drawn, gaunt look of someone who was malnourished.
On that warm summer evening, Elaine’s exuberant greeting couldn’t help but attract the attention of many of her neighbors. Some children playing in the street, greeted Arthur as they ran by, and two couples, the Laplantes and the Roys, who had been sitting on their porches, hurried across the street to greet him. After a round of handshakes and hugs, they joined Elaine and Arthur as they walked towards their apartment. Along the way, Arthur waved and returned greetings shouted out to him by several more of his neighbors, and at one point, after Norman Laplante had taken Arthur’s suitcase from him, Arthur and Elaine took a moment to stop and talk with their next door neighbor, a tiny, elderly woman who was tending to her flower garden. The old lady squealed with delight when Arthur leaned across the garden fence to give her a hug and a kiss.
In the time it took to reach Arthur and Elaine’s apartment house, Arthur told the Roys and Laplantes that his stay at the hospital was much better than he expected, mostly because of the camaraderie he found among other wounded veterans. He talked, too, of the dedicated staff members at the hospital and explained how the rigorous exercise program, plus snacks between meals, had helped him put on close to five pounds in a little over three weeks. Everyone was also pleased to hear that the VA, according to Arthur, would soon give him a car with hand controls so that it could be driven by anyone who had an artificial limb.
When they reached the stairs leading up to Arthur and Elaine’s apartment, there was another round of handshakes as Arthur and Elaine said good night to their neighbors, and Elaine, who took Arthur’s suitcase back from Norman Laplante, followed Arthur, who climbed the stairs unassisted. The entire time they were going up the stairs, Elaine was still wondering out loud how she was going to prepare anything more than a snack for Arthur, given the provisions she had on hand.
In the next three days, Arthur told everyone he met how much he enjoyed being home—this time for good, he added. He and Elaine visited with his sister and her husband one night and the next night they were invited to have dinner with Elaine’s parents. He spent some time the first two days he was home walking around the neighborhood and chatting with old friends and found time to stop in a neighborhood bar, The Silver Dollar, to meet with two of his millwright friends who had just finished work for the day. Arthur’s companions wanted to hear about his war experiences, which he sloughed off for the most part, repeating what he had told Elaine about war being unlike anything depicted in motion pictures and newsreels, but he did add, almost as an afterthought, that he pitied the nurse who had the job of sitting by his bed, waiting for him to wake up so she could tell him his leg had been amputated.
That seemed to drain the reunion of its backslapping camaraderie, and a moment later it turned even more somber when one of the millwrights wondered whether Arthur wanted to return to his old job or if he was thinking about joining some other department.
"Are you saying I can no longer do the work I did before this happened?" he said, pointing towards his leg.
No, no, said his friend, trying hastily to explain that he didn’t doubt for a moment that Arthur on one leg was worth more than most people who had two. No, he said, he was only thinking of the letter Arthur had told them about earlier, the one Elaine had received from James Gilmartin.
Arthur’s other friend said, "Do you really believe anything Gilmartin says?"
Gilmartin was universally despised by the company’s hourly employees because they considered him to be more viciously antiunion than any of the company’s executives. They also felt that Gilmartin had been given his job, and the power that went with it, only because he had married into the Cromwell family, owners of the Black Diamond Paper Company.
"Oh, who the hell cares about Gilmartin?" Arthur said, who sounded as if he was trying to brush the matter of his future employment aside. "Someday when I’m good and ready maybe I’ll call his bluff."
That seemed to end the matter for the time being, although Arthur wasn’t being completely truthful when he downplayed any concern over his job prospects since he had known from the moment he looked down at the stump of his right leg that it was unlikely he could do the work required of a millwright. But his more immediate concern was how he could find some way to get back to the VA hospital to see Betty Moran. That was why, ever since he arrived home, he repeatedly inspected his stump, checking for any signs of irritation. Finally, on the fourth night he was home, he was in his bedroom, scrutinizing his stump for the third time that day when he discerned a slight reddening on the outside edge of his leg.
Elaine, who was in the kitchen preparing dinner, heard Arthur yell out her name, followed by a string of obscenities. She ran into the bed room, thinking he might have fallen, but when she got there, she found Arthur, sitting on the edge of the bed, pointing to the red spot on his stump. It was the first time he had fully exposed his stump to her and when she looked at it, she quickly agreed that it looked as if the skin was irritated.
Did she realize, he told her, that this bit of irritation, if not treated properly, could develop into a serious problem, maybe even endanger his ability to use a prosthesis? It was too late in the day, he said, to call the VA, but he would have to get in touch with the hospital the first thing in the morning.
"That was the last thing they told me before I left," he said. "You see any sign of irritation, anything at all, you let us know right away. I warned the doctor that he might be sending me home too soon, but that know-it-all bastard wouldn’t listen to me. Oh no, he said, you’re ready to go, but if you see any sign of trouble, give us a call. Cocky son of a bitch. He should learn to listen to people."
The next day, when Arthur reached Betty, he asked first about her aunt, who, it turned out, had survived but was now paralyzed on one side. He then told her about the reddening on his stump and asked her if that was normal for anyone adjusting to a new prosthesis. He was ready, of course, to return to Boston, he said, if she thought he should be evaluated.
"The wise thing to do," Betty told him, "is to put the prosthesis aside for at least a day, maybe two days even, and then see what your limb looks like. If it clears up right away, then it’s nothing to worry about, but if it doesn’t, you should come back to us."
"That isn’t what I expected from you," he said. "You know how much work I put into getting off those crutches. Well, now that I’ve got rid of them, I have no intention of ever using them again, not now, not ever, not even for a day or two."
"I can understand that," she said. "I was only trying to save you from a long train ride."
"That’s kind of you, but I’ll be on the train this afternoon. You can expect to see me in the morning."
When Betty and the doctor she worked with took a look at Arthur’s limb they conceded that, yes, there was some slight reddening of the skin, but they didn’t feel it was anything more than could be expected from an amputee who had just begun using a prosthesis on a regular basis. They agreed to have a technician adjust his prosthesis, and perhaps add a bit of padding, but both suggested to him that in these first weeks and months, he might consider going a day or two without using his prosthesis. The doctor then excused himself, saying that Betty could be of more use to Arthur than he could.
Betty had greeted Arthur warmly when she arrived at his room, but because the doctor was with her, she had only shaken his hand. Now, though, with the doctor gone, Arthur, who was seated on the edge of his bed, reached out to Betty. She moved towards him, but only to place her hands on each of his shoulders, doing so in a manner that clearly indicated she had no intention of getting any closer to him.
"Sorry," she said, "not now and not here. Some people around here are starting to act like old Father Mullaney at our high school dances. He liked to walk around, reminding couples who were dancing too close to leave some room for the Holy Ghost."
"You were the one who said I shouldn’t hesitate to come back if I developed a problem."
"And aren’t we tending to you? Haven’t I got someone coming in momentarily to look at your prosthesis and adjust it? I’ll tell you what—since I’m really busy and have to run, why not give me a call tonight. I’m listed in the directory as B.T. Moran." Then, after leaning forward to give him a quick kiss, she turned and left.
Because Betty’s phone was tied up for most of the night it was well after 10 o’clock when Arthur finally got through to her. Indeed, Betty seemed to be stifling a yawn as she explained that she was moments away from going to bed, but she took time to explain that her roommate tended to take over the phone because she was usually juggling calls from the three different men she was dating. Betty had begun to say more about her roommate’s dating habits, but Arthur, somewhat impatiently, cut her off, saying he had something important he wanted to talk about.
"First, they tried to say there was nothing wrong with my prosthesis. Then, they made adjustments that seemed to help, but the next thing I knew someone from the office came to my room and told me I’m scheduled to leave tomorrow morning. Chrissakes, I get the feeling you people think I’m wasting your time."
Betty apologized for not being able to check back with him during the day and told him how disappointed she was that he was leaving so soon. She reminded him that with each passing day the hospital was receiving more patients, and thus, the pressure on administrators to free up rooms whenever possible.
"I thought I’d get to see you before I leave," he said.
Betty paused for a moment, and then said, "What time does your train leave?"
"Three o’clock, but apparently they want me out of this place before 11 o’clock tomorrow morning."
"I’ll tell you what," Betty said. "I have a bunch of sick days I haven’t used up so I’m going to call in tomorrow morning and tell them I’ve come down with a bug. Then, we can meet for lunch, maybe somewhere near the train station. Why don’t you call me when you get to the station? Don’t worry about the phone. It’s usually free when my roommate’s at work."
When Arthur reached the train station and bought his ticket, he decided to sacrifice the largesse available from his bartender friend for the privacy he might find at a cocktail lounge farther away from the station itself. But once outdoors he could see that it looked as if it might soon rain so he settled for a tavern across the street from the entrance to the station. The tavern had a neon sign in the window saying, Ladies Invited, and inside, photos of hockey players covered the walls, which indicated that this was a gathering place for hockey fans who flock to the nearby Boston Garden, home of the Boston Bruins. On a weekday morning in early summer, with hockey season several months away, the bartender seemed surprised to find that he had a customer.
Not only was the tavern empty, but heavy curtains covered the lower half of the windows facing the street, and the only light seemed to come from a large sign behind the bar that advertised Ballantine Ale, and tiny lamps in each of the several booths lining the wall across from the bar. Once Arthur had picked out a booth and ordered a drink, he went to the pay phone in the corner to call Betty and tell her where she could find him.
Less than twenty minutes later, Betty arrived by cab. When she walked in the front door, the bar tender, who had been reading a newspaper, seemed surprised to find himself with yet another customer, only this time an attractive woman. Arthur himself, was struck by Betty’s very different hair style. She had loosened the bun she usually wore and her long lustrous hair was held back from covering her ears by two shiny barrettes.
"Hey," he said, reaching up with his hands to touch her hair. "You look different."
"It’s how I look out of uniform," she said. Then, after greeting him with a quick kiss, Betty let Arthur know that she wasn’t particularly impressed with the meeting place he had chosen.
"Gosh," she said, "I feel like I’m in a cave."
"Nothing wrong with this place," Arthur said, sounding as if the choice he had made was not open to discussion. "It’s near the station and I like being here because it looks like we’ll have it all to ourselves."
Betty, rather than pursue the matter, took off the raincoat she was wearing and settled into the booth Arthur had chosen.
"I have to say that I was surprised to see you return so soon," she said.
"I only did what I was told. I saw a red spot, I called the nurse who knows about these things. She told me to come so I took the next train."
"Well, maybe the nurse should have emphasized that you might see reddening from time to time. But let’s not quibble over that. How did it feel to be back home and able to get around without having to use crutches?"
Betty was pleased to hear about Arthur’s account of his homecoming and how, because it was a warm night, his neighbors had come out of their houses to greet him. He went on to say how much he enjoyed getting together with his friends at the Silver Dollar bar, but when Betty asked him if he had decided yet when he was going back to work, he ignored the question and asked her instead what she wanted to drink. Since she hadn’t yet eaten lunch, Betty said, she would settle for a glass of ginger ale. After Arthur called over to the bartender to bring a glass of ginger ale and another shot of Canadian Club, there was a lull in the conversation which was broken when Arthur asked Betty how her aunt was doing.
Betty said her aunt’s biggest problem was trying to decide if she could continue to live by herself now that she was limited in what she could do. Without commenting on that, Arthur then asked Betty why she put up with a roommate who monopolized the phone. Betty, with a laugh, said she had been trying to get her roommate to settle on one boyfriend at a time, hoping that would solve their phone problem.
There was another pause in the conversation when the bartender arrived with their drinks, but after he left, Arthur said, "I’m still a long way from going back to work if that’s what you want to know. Maybe I’ll begin to think about it when I’m sure that everything’s all right with my leg. Right now, though, I’ve been told that every now and then I might need to use crutches again."
"Oh Arthur, you’re not the first amputee who wonders if a bit of reddening might lead to a more serious problem. It’s quite common in fact, but most people don’t seem to get upset as you do if they’re told that they have to put their prosthesis aside for a day or two."
"You know what? Instead of any more talk about how I’m adjusting to having only one leg, why don’t we get around to that jitterbugging lesson you promised me? I think this is just the place for it."
Before Betty could respond, Arthur got up from the booth they were sitting in and went over to the juke box, where he quickly made a selection and put some coins in the machine. The first tune he picked out was Sentimental Journey, a song that had become an instant hit because it captured so well the emotions experienced by a traveler who anticipated returning home.
When he came back to the booth, Arthur, extending his right hand, and bowing his head slightly, asked Betty, in a mock formalized style, if he might have this next dance.
"Why, of course," said Betty, getting up from the booth. In the same vein, she reached out with her hand so that she looked as if she was a society belle attending her coming out ball. Their dancing, tentative at best, seemed like more of a chance for both of them to hold each other close and to move, slowly and haltingly, in a circumscribed circle. The dance floor, such as it was, couldn’t accommodate dancing any more spirited than that since it consisted of a small area in front of a platform that contained an upright piano and a sign saying that a pianist/singer appeared on Friday and Saturday nights.
"You know," Betty said, "this doesn’t seem like the kind of song we can jitterbug to."
"I thought we’d start with a slow number and work up from there," Arthur said. "You know, a little warm-up period to get the juices flowing before we move on to something more serious." He smiled, when he said that, clearly hinting that he was referring to something more than their style of dancing, and Betty, pouting her lips and tossing her head, said, "Since I’m such an innocent little girl, I have no idea what you’re talking about."
A moment later, when he tried to pull her closer still, Betty, moving back slightly, said, "If Daddy were still with us, this is the kind of song he’d love to sing. With him, the more sentimental, the better. He had this way of switching from singing to reciting the lyrics, adding accents here and there and expressions that were so suggestive he’d have my mother blushing."
"I could find something a little faster if you think I’m ready for jitterbugging," Arthur said.
"No," she said, "I think you’re right. We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves."
When the song ended, and there was a pause in the music before the next record cued up, Arthur returned to talking about what it felt like being back in Sherburne.
"That song reminds me that all everyone in my outfit talked about was getting home. From what they said you’d think they all came from places that were heaven on earth. I was no different from the rest, but when I got back, it took me only a couple of days to realize that Sherburne isn’t the liveliest place in the world. It’s a small town. Nothing much happens there. Nothing much will ever happen there. It’s a great place if you like long winters and lots of snow. People who ski love the place. But once I’m back there for good I’ll probably sit around and drink myself silly."
"That’s another song my father would have loved," Betty said, as Dick Haymes began singing about having inexplicably come down with a severe case of spring fever. Then, as they resumed dancing, Betty began humming the song’s refrain and Arthur, talking over her, said a bit more about what it felt like to be back in Sherburne.
"What I’m saying is that I might be able to do more for myself by leaving the place."
"You’re not being serious," Betty said. "Plus, you have a job waiting for you."
"I think I’m ready for living in a place that’s got a little more excitement."
"One question—with or without Elaine?"
When Arthur didn’t answer right away, Betty stopped dancing and Arthur, instinctively tightening his hold on her, said, "You’ve got the rest of the day off, and there’s nothing that says I have to get back to Sherburne tonight, and there’s a hotel right above the train station—
"No, Arthur, and before you go any further, I’ve got some news for you. I’m not going to be at the VA hospital much longer. In fact, I’m not going to be in Boston much longer."
Elaine pulled back slightly, but Arthur kept his arms wrapped around her waist.
"A while ago, an old boyfriend, a Naval officer, was back in town. We went out a few times and quickly discovered how much we have in common now that we’re both a little older. He’s going to make a career out of the Navy, and he’s just been transferred to a ship that’s based in San Diego, a perfect place for someone like me, who hates New England winters. So I put in for a transfer to the VA Hospital in San Diego and just this week I learned that it’s been granted."
The second song had just ended and the only sound in the lounge now was the clanking of beer bottles as the bar tender stocked the refrigerator case near the bar.
"You can’t do this to me," Arthur said.
"Sorry, Arthur, but the war is just about over, at least for me it is. I’m through with entertaining the troops."
With that, she turned her head and tried to walk away from him, but Arthur still held her tightly.
"Please," she said, "let go of me." She waited a few seconds after that, but when it appeared that Arthur had no intention of loosening his hold on her, Betty jabbed an elbow into his ribs. That worked, because it was so forceful and it caught Arthur by surprise. Freed from Arthur’s grasp, Betty hurried back to the booth where she and Arthur had been sitting to pick up her rain coat. Then, with a few long strides, she reached the doorway of the bar, and without looking back or saying good bye, she left, slamming the door on her way out.
Arthur was about to follow her, but it had begun raining now, raining very hard, so when he walked over to the doorway, he saw that Betty, holding her raincoat over her head was dashing across the street, dodging oncoming traffic in order to get to the other side. Arthur quickly decided it didn’t make any sense for him to try to catch up with her. He could just imagine himself getting halfway across the street before he slipped on the rain slicked roadway and took a terrible fall. No, better now, he felt, that he remain cocooned within the dimly lit bar, where he could have another drink or two before it was time to board his train.
This time, though, rather than sitting in a booth, Arthur hoisted himself onto a bar stool and once he began recounting to the bartender what it was like to see the fearsome Nazi army scurrying back to Germany, drinks were on the house and the bartender even ordered a lunch to be brought into Arthur from a nearby Italian restaurant of some renown. The bartender could only nod in approval and offer his sympathy when Arthur began to tell him about how painful it was, once you returned from the war with one leg missing, to find that a girl friend who promised to be faithful to you had taken up with an old friend of yours, someone who had been classified as 4F because of a punctured eardrum.
Elaine made it seem as if she was sharing something of a secret when she told relatives and friends—often in a whispered aside—that it was going to take time for men who had been in combat to adjust to civilian life. She was tempted to say more, to add some telling detail, maybe recount what Arthur had told her about the force of the explosion that cost him his leg, but she hoped that her allusion to "men who had been in combat" helped explain why Arthur could be found most afternoons, and early evenings too, sitting at the bar in the VFW Post.
She never told anyone else, except briefly, her mother, of her growing impatience with Arthur ever since he had returned from his second trip to the VA Hospital. That he was quiet and reserved she could understand and she could see why he sought companionship and solace at the VFW, particularly after he became close friends with three other veterans, who, like him, had been discharged after suffering serious wounds, but she had no idea why he was curt, even angry, with her when she tried to discuss his future plans. He ignored her when she suggested that, as matter of courtesy, he contact that nice man, James Gilmartin, who sent the letter assuring her that there would be a job waiting for Arthur at Black Diamond Paper when he got home. Likewise, he gave her little more than a sullen stare when she told him a few days later that he should at least write a short note to Gilmartin, telling him that he was home. Two days later, Elaine had another suggestion for Arthur. Suppose, she said, that she put a call in to Gilmartin’s office.
"I could bring him up to date, make sure he knew that you’ve spent some time at the VA Hospital, but that you were home now—"
"You know what I’d like you to do?" he said, "Stay out of this. I’m going to handle this business about when I go back to work. I told you before, I’ll begin to think about it—notice, I said, think about it—when I’m good and ready. But right now, I’m not going anywhere until I’m absolutely sure about this." And with that, he rapped his cane twice against his artificial limb.
A moment later, he added, "People who don’t know any better think it’s easy walking around with this thing. I’d explain to you why it isn’t, but I’d probably be wasting my time if I did."
Elaine was quick to apologize and to remind herself once again that she, more than anyone else, should realize what Arthur had endured, both before and during the war. Just the day before, her mother had made that very point when Elaine told her that she didn’t know why Arthur seemed always to be in a foul mood. She recounted, in particular, how upset he had become with her when she, somewhat in jest, had referred to him as Old Grouchy.
"He used to take something like that as a joke," she told her mother. "Mostly, he’d come up with a silly name for me, too. This time he barked at me and told me he had a right to be as grouchy as he wanted to be."
Her mother responded to that with a homily in which she told Elaine that a married couple could overcome any difficulty provided they supported each other during trying times. As long as a husband and wife could count on each other, she told Elaine, what seems like a crisis one day can turn out to be less serious a few days later.
"I agree, but what happens if one partner offers support and other one doesn’t seem to notice," Elaine said, in a voice that was uncharacteristically sharp.
Her mother then went off on a different tack, suggesting to Elaine that she keep in mind the many difficulties Arthur had endured.
"Never forget," she said, "Arthur was still a teenager when he found himself without a mother and not much of a father either. Yet he made it through the Depression and found himself a wife and a good job. But the next thing he knew, he’s in the war and he ends up losing a leg. No wonder he needs a little time to get himself straightened out."
Elaine, only slightly chastened, found it easier to discuss her uneasiness with Arthur in the privacy of the confessional booth with her pastor, Father Ouilette. There, she was able to tell Father Ouilette that when Arthur snapped at her, she wanted not only to answer back but to use words that never, not once in her life, had come out of her mouth. She paused for a moment after saying that much, and then, after taking a deep breath, she admitted that she had used those words, but had never said them out loud. Father Ouilette didn’t answer right away, and Elaine, anticipating what he might say, quickly conceded that yes, she knew, the thought was as bad as the deed itself, and for that she begged forgiveness. She also promised, but not that convincingly, to curb her temper in the future.
Father Ouilette, in that raspy voice of his, which could sometimes be heard well beyond the confessional booth, reminded Elaine that her prayers and her deep faith in God had undoubtedly helped to bring Arthur home. Didn’t that show, he said, that continued prayer and devotion could well hasten the day when Arthur put his wartime experiences behind him and became again the loving, devoted husband he had been before going off to war? Time, he told her, give God some time. But remember, God works on his schedule, not ours.
Still frustrated, but heeding the advice she had received from her mother and Father Ouilette, Elaine refrained from criticizing Arthur for the daily routine he had fallen into since his return. But as careful as she was, there was the night she had decided, for instance, that she was too hungry to wait until Arthur got home from the VFW post to have her dinner. Once she finished her own dinner, she put Arthur’s, a chicken and mushroom dish, into the oven to stay warm.
Arthur said nothing when he got home and she brought his dinner to him, but before even taking a bite, he sliced off a piece of chicken, and waving it in front of her face, he said, "Do you expect me to eat this piece of cardboard?"
Elaine, drawing her head back, had yet to answer Arthur when, with a backward flip of his hand, shoved the plate halfway across the table.
"Where’d you get the idea that I like my supper warmed over?" he said. "Not from me. So here’s how it’s going to be from now on. When I come home for supper, no matter what time it is, I expect to have a meal that’s just been cooked, not one that’s been sitting in the oven for a couple of hours."
After that night, and her apology, which Arthur never really acknowledged, Elaine made sure she had all the ingredients for a meal laid out, and some even precooked, so that it didn’t take her long to prepare dinner for the two of them whenever Arthur got home. Those meals, for the most part, were eaten in silence except for Elaine reporting to Arthur tidbits of news she picked up from the steady stream of customers who dropped into Hutchinson Drug each day. Arthur might ask an occasional question, but his conversation most of the time consisted of his frustration that the war in the Pacific hadn’t yet come to an end. He could never mention the war in the Pacific without directing an obscenity-laced tirade at the Japanese military for not knowing enough to surrender.
The same querulous tone was evident if he brought up the other topic that seemed to trouble him, the question of when, or if, the VA would provide him with his specially equipped car. He wasn’t sure, either, that the disability pension he had been promised would come close to compensating him for what the government owed him. From what Elaine could determine, that issue, the government’s obligations to wounded veterans, seemed to be the major topic of conversation between Arthur and his newfound friends at the VFW. Arthur’s voice would grow louder when he talked of how veterans would have to learn to pressure the VA into giving them the help they deserved, and it grew louder still when he told her of warning everyone at the VFW not to place too much trust in the VA.
Elaine knew that Arthur’s mention of the VA almost always led him to speak of his constant worry about the condition of his stump. He frequently complained that he didn’t know, from one day to the next, if he might find the skin on his stump had become irritated and how that could require him to go back to using crutches for a few days or more. That hadn’t happened, except for the one time he had to return to the VA hospital, but he was prepared, if a problem developed with his leg, to blame the doctor at the VA hospital who had discharged him too soon.
Most nights, Arthur spent some time after dinner sitting on the porch, always, of course, with a cigarette in his hand. Later, he usually settled into the easy chair in his living room, reading the newspaper or a magazine or listening to the radio, which he was considerate enough to turn down low because Elaine wasted little time, once she finished the dishes, in going to bed. She was responsible for opening Hutchinson Drug at 8 a.m. each day, so she tried to squeeze in whatever sleep she could before Arthur, sometime in the early morning, would come to bed, ready and eager to make love.
The overture to these sessions was sounded by Arthur taking off his trousers and shedding himself of his prosthesis so that it clattered when it landed on the floor. He would steady himself on the edge of a bureau while taking off the rest of his clothes, and then, with one hand still on the bureau, he hopped along on one foot the short distance to his bed. If Elaine wasn’t awake by then, she surely was when he fell forward onto the bed, landing face first. A few more moments were taken up in a perfunctory exchange of kisses and the necessary rearrangement of their respective positions, and then, those preliminaries out of the way, Arthur would begin making love with such fury and force that Elaine was sure their upstairs neighbors, and maybe even the people in the apartment house next door, could hear the rhythmic squeaking of their bed springs, as well as their bed’s headboard banging up against the wall.
Elaine could not recall that their love making before the war, spirited as it was, caused as much of a ruckus. Maybe, she told herself, she had been so overwhelmed with the novelty of sex to notice or care about the noises she and Arthur made. She wondered, too, why their frolicsome approach to foreplay had been supplanted, at least on Arthur’s part, with a grim and purposeful sense of mission. Was he was trying to prove to her that his war time experience had not hindered in any way his ability to make love? And why did he refuse to use condoms—"I don’t take showers with my rain coat on," he told her—when she said that it might be better to wait until he returned to work before she got pregnant?
Now and then, Arthur would ease up slightly when Elaine said they were making too much noise, but soon their bed would be rocking back and forth again and the grunting sounds Arthur made would increase in pitch and volume until, after one final and vigorous thrust, he would let out a loud groan, and then, a moment later, roll off Elaine and onto his side of the bed. But instead of the murmurs and caresses that they had once exchanged after sex, Arthur would throw an arm over Elaine and, pulling her close, ruffle her hair and give her a series of kisses before he fell off to sleep. Elaine couldn’t help but feel that Arthur’s post coital show of affection was much like that a dog owner lavished on a pet that had performed a set of tricks.
Other nights, maybe once or twice a week, having had too much to drink, Arthur never made it into the bedroom from his chair in the living room. There were times, too, when he needed Elaine to help him get his prosthesis off and to undress. Those were the nights when he might make a gesture, mostly futile, towards making love, but more often than not fell asleep as soon as Elaine helped him into bed.
Any number of times Elaine wanted to confront Arthur, to ask him if he was going to let his wound disrupt all the plans they had made when they were first married. She had even thought that she might be blunt with him and ask him outright if he expected to spend the rest of his life sitting at the bar in the VFW post? But whenever she was on the verge of posing either of those questions, and maybe reminding him that he had once looked forward to the day when they would move to a house large enough to accommodate all the children they were going to have, she drew back. She could well imagine him exploding in anger, just as he had when she suggested that he get in touch with James Gilmartin.
Elaine couldn’t forget, either, her mother’s advice to keep in mind all that Arthur had gone through even before he had lost his leg. She need only look at Arthur’s leg to be reminded that she was fortunate Arthur had made it home at all. The stump had healed, supposedly, or so Arthur claimed, but it still looked like a raw wound to her. There was also the distinct possibility that she might at any time find herself pregnant, and that, more than anything else, led her to think that she should continue, as Father Ouilette suggested, to pray and hope that Arthur would soon become again the man she had fallen in love with.
Much to Elaine’s relief, her decision not to interfere with Arthur’s daily routine proved to be a wise one since the end of the war appeared to be the magic elixir that restored Arthur’s vitality and spirit. Arthur was at the VFW when Elaine, just starting to prepare dinner, heard the news bulletin that Japan had accepted the terms of surrender. She immediately left what she was doing and ran—lifting her dress slightly in order to free her legs—the three blocks from her apartment to Mason Street and then continued running along Mason Street until she reached Main Street. She was able to catch her breath when she paused for a moment to let traffic pass at the intersection of Main and Mason, but once she crossed the street she ran even faster the last four blocks to the VFW Post.
A moment later, when she entered the hall, breathing hard but with an enormous smile on her face, Arthur, without his cane, immediately came over to her, and with a celebratory roar, he wrapped his arms around her and lifted her off the floor. Then, pivoting on his artificial limb, he whirled her around twice before putting her down. That prompted a round of applause from everyone at the bar, but it was cut short by the bartender, who announced, in a somewhat angry voice, that, yes, a celebration was in order, but he wasn’t going to serve another drink until everyone joined him in singing God Bless America.
Instantly, everyone at the VFW, led by the bartender, began to sing, and when they had finished (and while several of them were still brushing tears away from their eyes), Arthur grabbed the large American flag that stood at the far corner of the bar. He and Elaine, he announced, were off to Main Street to celebrate with everyone else in town. Already, through the open windows of the VFW, the sounds of people cheering, along with the ringing of church bells and the beeping of automobile horns could be heard, and that in itself, along with Arthur’s rallying cry, caused a contingent from the VFW to form behind Arthur and Elaine.
It was the first time since Arthur had returned from the VA hospital that he was seen in public without his cane, having handed it to Elaine so that he could grip the flag pole with both his hands. He also sounded cadence for the march, doing his best to emulate the growling, gravely voice of Sergeant Barnes, while Elaine, her face lit up with an enormous grin, marched along next to him, brandishing the cane in the manner of a drum majorette waving her baton. It took no more than five minutes for the delegation from the VFW to reach the very heart of Sherburne’s downtown, the intersection of Main and Mason Streets. On one side of the street, was the U. S. Post Office, an impressive edifice with a broad sweep of granite steps leading up to its entrance, and diagonally across from it was Sherburne’s City Hall, which had an even longer set of granite steps leading up to its entrance.
The crowd of celebrants had grown so quickly and were packed in so tightly that the VFW people had to disband and pick their way through the crowd, exchanging handshakes and hugs with people they knew, while making their way up the steps of the Post Office. Following Arthur’s lead—he wasn’t always visible, but the flag he carried was—the VFW group reassembled on the top of the steps, where they could look out on a crowd that was cheering and yelling and exchanging hugs and kisses and discreetly at first, but then less so, drinking bottles of beer and passing among themselves bottles of liquor.
Soon after the group from the VFW arrived, members of the American Legion band came marching up the street and then, pausing in their music making, they pushed their way, one or two at a time, through the crowd to position themselves along the Post Office steps. The band, once settled, played the national anthem, which caused the crowd to quiet slightly, though car horns were still sounding up and down Main Street. Then, when the band began playing a medley of patriotic songs and marches and musical tributes to each branch of the armed forces, it was Arthur, still holding the flag, who waved it back and forth in time to the music.
It was a night, oddly enough, when Arthur had been so caught up in the celebration that he went to bed more sober than usual. His love making, too, was less frantic than other nights, and later, in their long and languorous embrace, Elaine and Arthur began a good natured game of trying to outdo each other in coming up with the most gruesome forms of punishment they wanted personally to mete out to the Nazi leadership, including Hitler’s generals, as well as every last member of the Japanese high command. Much to Arthur’s delight and amusement, Elaine showed herself to be highly imaginative in suggesting punishment that centered on various forms of sexual debasement, both before and after mandatory castration.
Eventually, their lust for revenge intermingled with speculation about what the end of the war would mean for people they knew and for themselves, with Elaine wondering when she would be able, at long last, to rid herself of the tub type washing machine she had inherited from her mother’s aunt to something more modern and up to date. She also spoke longingly of a new refrigerator and maybe even an electric stove before Arthur interrupted her fantasizing about new appliances to say how disappointed he would be if they had less than six children.
"Six?" Elaine said.
"At least," he said, giving Elaine a forceful hug. "The way I see it, with six kids, we have the best chance of getting a good mix of boys and girls. Less than that and we might end up having only one kind."
For a moment, Elaine wondered if Arthur had given her an opening to ask just how he intended, unless he went back to work, to provide for the support of all these children. Quickly, though, she dismissed that thought. She agreed, instead, that they would have as many children as it would take to get a good mix of boys and girls, but didn’t that mean, she added, with a gentle jab into Arthur’s ribs, that it was time to begin, at last, the renovation of their second bedroom? That, Arthur agreed, as he was falling off to sleep, would be the project he started on the very next day.
Arthur was well intentioned about the bedroom project, but except for buying paint and wallpaper, he made little progress since he and fellow members of the VFW were busy working with city officials on plans for Sherburne’s VJ Day celebration. The formal surrender of Japan was going to take place on the Sunday before Labor Day, which meant the ceremonies commemorating the end of the war would lead right into the observance of Labor Day which was always treated as a major holiday in a community where so many people were union members.
VJ Day served, in a sense, as Arthur’s coming out party. Dressed in his uniform, with his purple heart medal pinned to his Eisenhower jacket and wearing his peaked cap tilted slightly to the right, Arthur and his three wounded comrades from the VFW, were seated in a convertible, with the top down, that followed along behind the cars carrying the Gold Star mothers in a parade that wended its way first towards the monument to veterans of the Civil War, then on to similar monuments honoring veterans of the Spanish American War and World War I. At each site, Arthur, his cane tucked under his left arm, stood at attention and saluted as taps were sounded and wreaths placed in front of each of the monuments by the commander of the VFW post and the mayor of Sherburne.
There was a modesty in the way Arthur responded to the applause along the parade route with a demure half wave, half salute of his hand. Unlike his three comrades, he did not shout out greetings to friends, or wave frantically with both hands raised above their heads, but at one point, as he passed by Elaine and her parents, he did blow a kiss towards them, and when Elaine stepped out into the street and did likewise, there was a round of applause from the crowd of onlookers standing nearby.
The stoic expression on Arthur’s face never wavered, not even when the parade reached City Hall, where it halted so that the mayor, standing on a reviewing stand draped with red, white and blue bunting, read a proclamation expressing the city’s heartfelt thanks to all the brave men of Sherburne who had gone off to war. Arthur, his eyes trained straight ahead, did little more than give a quick nod of his head when the mayor, departing from his text and gesturing with his outstretched arm towards Arthur and his three friends, personally thanked each of them for their part in helping to defeat the greatest evil the world had ever known.
Arthur was notably sober, or more sober at least than his comrades, the entire two days of the celebration, through the two band concerts, the baseball game with Sherburne’s great rival, Halstead, the races and games held for young people and a vaudeville show. On Sunday night, at a dance staged by the VFW, Arthur, without his cane, and Elaine, participated in the grand march that led off the festivities, but he begged off, with a quick rap of his cane against his artificial leg, when friends urged him and Elaine to join in on the dancing itself. The next night, still in his uniform, and with a ribbon on the right side of his chest, denoting him as a member of the VJ Day celebration committee, he also restricted himself to quiet applause rather than the whistles and cries of triumph, when the two-day celebration culminated in a gigantic bonfire at which both the effigies of Hitler and General Tojo were tossed on top of the flames.
In the two weeks following VJ Day, Arthur, as promised, turned his attention to the bedroom project, first scraping away numerous layers of wallpaper and then stripping almost as many layers of old paint from the woodwork around the door and windows and the mopboard along the floor. After patching and smoothing the walls, he painted the woodwork and the ceiling, but he was relegated to serving as Elaine’s assistant when it came to hanging new wallpaper since she had a better eye for matching the wallpaper pattern. During that two weeks, he made only two visits to the VFW, and on three occasions, he showed up at Hutchinson Drug at 5 o’clock to walk Elaine home.
A week after VJ Day, Arthur also suggested to Elaine that they go back to hosting their Sunday dinners. Arthur’s sister and her husband had recently moved to Portsmouth, but their places were taken by Elaine’s brother’s fiancee and Elaine’s aunt, whose husband had died the year before. The following week, just as Arthur was about to finish the refurbishment of the second bedroom, he called the Black Diamond personnel office and set up a meeting with James Gilmartin. He said nothing to Elaine about his impending visit to Gilmartin because he wanted to treat her to another surprise, much as he had when she looked out from her porch to see him walking up the street without the use of his crutches.
Arthur was hoping that he might be able to meet with someone in Gilmartin’s department rather than Gilmartin himself, but when he got there he was ushered into Gilmartin’s office. Gilmartin, tall and skinny, and with a wizened face and rimless glasses, was known for his fixed smile and the unctuous manner he used when reminding Black Diamond employees how fortunate they were that the Cromwell family provided them with steady employment. But the day Arthur walked into his office Gilmartin’s smile seemed more genuine than usual. He also leaped out of his chair, and hurrying across his office, he grasped Arthur’s hand in his and began to shake it vigorously while telling Arthur that the world, yes, the entire world, he emphasized, would be in one unholy mess for a long time to come but for fine young Americans like Arthur and the bravery they had shown in fighting to defend this country’s precious freedoms.
Gilmartin, still spouting platitudes about the spirit of the American fighting man, then led Arthur outside his office and into the personnel department where he clapped his hands to get the attention of the half dozen employees who were sitting at their desks.
"Some of you may already know Arthur," Gilmartin said, to the employees who formed a semi circle in front of Gilmartin and Arthur, "You’ve probably heard, too, of his gallantry in action and the sacrifice he made on our behalf. So I’m sure I’m speaking for everyone here, and for everyone at Black Diamond—and I mean by that everyone from Mr. Cromwell himself to all the men and women in all our mills—when I express our thanks to him for his outstanding service to our country. Arthur, from all of us at Black Diamond, welcome home and well done."
The employees of the personnel department then stepped forward to shake hands with Arthur before Gilmartin escorted him back into his office. Arthur expected that now Gilmartin would begin to discuss what kind of job Black Diamond was ready to offer him, but first Gilmartin, his smile undiminished, said, "Tell your wife that I appreciated the note she sent me a few weeks back. It was awfully nice of her to keep me up to date on what you’ve had to go through. I had no idea, until she wrote and told me about it, that it took so much time, and such hard work, getting fitted for an artificial leg."
Arthur wasn’t sure if he should say something about not knowing that Elaine had been in touch with Gilmartin, or if he might explain in detail why he needed an artificial leg and possibly add on to that what it felt like to look down and see your leg sticking out sideways from your body. But before Arthur was able to say anything, Gilmartin wanted Arthur to know that Willard Cromwell, president of Black Diamond, had decreed, on the day war was declared, that all Black Diamond employees who served in the armed forces, in whatever capacity, would find their jobs waiting for them when they returned, no ifs, ands or buts.
Gilmartin paused after he said that, almost as though he expected Arthur to express thanks for such beneficence, but Arthur thought it best that he move on to a discussion of what type of job he was seeking. He began by mentioning briefly the difficulty he might have in doing the work of a millwright, practically swallowing his words when he said that, but he spoke more clearly when he told Gilmartin that, in view of his war injury, he hoped the company would find him a clerical job. Arthur thought a timekeeper’s job might be one possibility.
Gilmartin took a moment to clear his throat, and then opening a folder that was lying in front of him, he said, "I’m glad you realize, as I indicated to your wife, that you would most likely have some difficulty doing millwright work. You undoubtedly know better than I do that those fellows have to do a lot of bending and squatting and climbing in and out of tight places to keep our many mechanical systems in working order. So with that in mind, we think we’ve found something that should be a perfect fit for you. You’re familiar no doubt with the guard shack near the main gate of the pulp division, where trucks enter and leave the plant. Years ago we gave the job of opening and closing the gate and keeping a log on truck traffic to Jimmy Deslisle, the fellow with a shriveled left arm. Well, since Jimmy’s about to retire, we figured you could take over for him."
"And what if I don’t see myself as the perfect fit for sitting there all day, pushing a button that opens and closes the gate?" Arthur said. Then, rapping his cane against his artificial leg, he added, "I realize that I’m a little bit lame, but what’s wrong with my suggestion about a timekeeper’s job?"
Gilmartin responded quickly to that, telling Arthur that he was sorry, but time keepers at Black Diamond were required to be high school graduates. He gestured towards a folder in front of him when he said that looking at Arthur’s record, he saw that he had completed only two years of high school.
"Have you thought of going back to school?" he said. "I understand that a number of GI’s, once they get home, intend to finish high school."
"I may not have finished high school," Arthur said, as he got to his feet, "but I know how to find my way to the Sherburne Enterprise, which is where I intend to go now that I’ve talked with you. I think they’d like to hear about Black Diamond offering a wounded veteran a job when we were still at war, but changing their tune now that the war is over."
Gilmartin tried to explain that he wasn’t refusing to give Arthur a job, only that Arthur didn’t have the qualifications required for the job he wanted, but Arthur by then was already out of his chair and heading towards the door of Gilmartin’s office. Just as he reached the door, he stopped, and looking back towards Gilmartin, he said, "It’s your choice, my friend. Either you keep your word and I get the job I’m looking for or you’ll be reading all about it in the paper."
Arthur went directly from Gilmartin’s office to the VFW post where he gave an account of his meeting to several of his friends. Everyone sitting at the bar first accused Gilmartin of being fond of sex with animals. Only then did they encourage Arthur to follow through on his plan to visit the Enterprise. Arthur, keeping close track of the time, left the VFW earlier than usual because he wanted to be home when Elaine got there. He couldn’t wait to see her reaction when he let her know that the surprise he had planned for her, the news that he had gone to see Gilmartin, had been overtaken by his own surprise at learning that she had been in touch with Gilmartin.
He waited until they sat down to eat before he said anything about his meeting with Gilmartin, and when he did, he introduced it by saying, "I discovered two things today. First, James Gilmartin is even more of an asshole than I thought. And second, that little trick of yours, going behind my back to get in touch with him, didn’t work out so well."
Arthur then mimicked a look of surprise, when he said, "Yeah, the letter you sent Gilmartin. He told me today to thank you for it because until he heard from you he didn’t know what a rigmarole it was getting fitted for an artificial leg. I guess he thought you just strapped on a replacement and went out dancing."
"I only wanted to make sure he knew why you hadn’t been in touch with him," Elaine, said, speaking softly, but not sounding the least bit apologetic for what she had done.
"Oh, that part worked," Arthur said. "He couldn’t wait to tell me how delighted he was to have heard from you. But as for me and Gilmartin, we don’t see things the same way. That’s why I’ve got another visit to make tomorrow. No, not to Gilmartin. I plan to drop in on the people who put out the Enterprise. I’m sure they’ll be interested in hearing that Black Diamond during the war said, ‘Don’t worry about your job. We’re saving it for you,’ and then after the war, changed their tune."
"I don’t believe the company will do that to you," she said.
"I’m not bullshitting you. Your friend, Gilmartin, the minute I told him I was interested in a time keeper’s job, he said I wasn’t qualified. Time keepers, he said, had to be high school graduates. Then, he tells me that maybe I should try going back to school to get my diploma. But I didn’t have to worry because he was saving a job especially for me. Guess what the job is? He expects me to sit in a little shack outside the pulp mill, opening and closing the gate for trucks coming and going. Gilmartin seems to think a guy with one leg is just the person to replace someone who’s got that job now, who has a shriveled up, useless left arm. That’s exactly the way Gilmartin put it. ‘Jimmy Delisle, the guy with a shriveled arm is about to retire,’ he said, ‘so we thought you’d be a perfect fit to replace him.’ Perfect fit, my ass. I told him he could take his job and shove it. But maybe since you and Gilmartin are such great pen pals you could put in a good word for me."
"I sent him a letter," Elaine said. "I never talked to him." There was still no indication, from the sound of Elaine’s voice, that she felt as if she had done anything wrong by contacting Gilmartin, but she had put her fork down and stopped eating while Arthur took several more bites before he continued.
"I think people want vets to be treated with some respect. Don’t you? They aren’t going to like hearing that Black Diamond’s isn’t keeping its word to a wounded veteran," he said.
"He did offer you a job," Elaine said. "You can’t deny that."
"I’m not going to argue with you," Arthur said, "not if you’re going to take Gilmartin’s side. I happen to think I’m in the right and I think because of that Gilmartin’s going to be changing his tune."
The rest of the evening there was an uneasy silence, with Arthur sitting in the living room, first reading a newspaper and then listening to the radio, all the while sipping Canadian Club, this time from a glass and not from the bottle. Elaine went off to bed early, where she read through several of the movie magazines she followed so closely, before falling off to sleep. She guessed correctly that this was one of those nights when Arthur would end up falling asleep in his easy chair.
The next morning Elaine tiptoed through the living room, carrying her clothes with her into the bathroom so she was able to get dressed and leave for work without waking Arthur up. She was going to call him at mid-morning to find out if he was up and ask him again if he really wanted to follow through on his threat to visit the Enterprise, but before she reached him, Arthur called her.
"I won," he told her. "I knew Gilmartin didn’t have the guts to stand up to me. He just called to tell me that ‘upstairs,’—Mr. Cromwell in other words—decided that in my case the company was going to waive the requirement that timekeepers be high school graduates."
When Elaine told him how happy she was at the news, Arthur’s response was to tell her that the next time he got in a fight, he’d appreciate if she was on his side. Elaine sidestepped Arthur’s remark by congratulating him, but she was too busy just then—the store was filled with customers, she said—to say much more.
"Hey, don’t you want to know what Gilmartin said. He kept telling me how sorry he was that there had been any misunderstanding."
"You won," she said. "What difference does it make?"
Arthur found a more receptive audience at the VFW, and by the time Arthur’s version of how he got Gilmartin to back down made its way through the Black Diamond mills, Gilmartin was supposed to have practically been in tears when he apologized to Arthur for having first refused his request to become a timekeeper. Arthur’s victory over Gilmartin also assured him that he was right to warn everyone at the VFW that returning veterans might not get the benefits (and respect) they were owed unless they demanded something more than fervent thank yous.
In the next several months, as the first veterans began coming home, Arthur seemed to have become the VFW’s resident expert on the rights and benefits returning servicemen should demand from the government. He wasn’t as much of a presence at the VFW bar as he had once been after he had returned to work, but whenever he was at his accustomed place—second stool from the end, closest to the door—he sounded again and again his battle cry, which was encapsulated in his phrase, "They owe us."
Arthur was well aware that the government was preparing to provide returning veterans with a number of benefits, but he kept telling everyone that he was looking for more than promises. Why, he had been told not long after he was wounded that he would be given a car, specially equipped for amputees, but all he ever heard from the VA since then was how the automobile companies would need time to fill their backlog of orders for new cars and trucks.
Arthur treated it as a major victory when he was able to show everyone the letter the VA had sent him, informing him that he would be the first amputee in New Hampshire to receive a specially equipped auto. Midway through 1946, when Arthur’s car arrived, there was a photo on the front page of the Sherburne Enterprise of the governor and the state’s VA director standing in front of the car, along with Arthur, who held the car keys aloft in his right hand, much like a boxer who has just won a title fight.
In those years right after the war, most veterans couldn’t wait to shed their uniforms, but there were a few, Arthur invariably among them, who put their uniforms back on to participate in parades and civic ceremonies. Even if it was the parade honoring the high school basketball team for having won the state championship or the torchlight procession that kicked off Sherburne’s winter carnival, there was always an honor guard from the VFW, and right behind it the cars carrying the town’s Gold Star Mothers, and right after that the car carrying disabled veterans, including, of course, Arthur.
A year or so after the war ended, when the bodies of men killed in action were being shipped back to Sherburne, Arthur insisted on being part of the delegation that marched from the VFW Post to the Boston and Maine station to perform military honors for the returning serviceman. Bystanders would pause (and some would wipe tears from their eyes) when the VFW members, a bass drum beating out a cadence, marched past. At the station, Arthur and his colleagues would drape a flag across the coffin of their fallen comrade, and after firing a volley of rifle shots and the sounding of taps, they would march—the bass drum again beating out its mournful cadence—behind the hearse that delivered the coffin to one of the town’s funeral homes.
Arthur, forsaking his cane, marched in the first rank of war veterans. Always in step, and always with his eyes trained straight ahead, he looked every bit the kind of soldier who would have passed muster with Sergeant Barnes, except for the slightly awkward gait that came from having part of a leg that consisted of metal and plastic.
Not long after V-J Day, Arthur had been elected to a position in the command structure of the Sherburne VFW post. That made him eligible to attend regional and national conventions of the organization. At the first state convention he attended, in Manchester, Arthur had no objection to the non-stop drinking that seemed to be a tradition at these VFW gatherings, but he didn’t care to join those colleagues whose idea of a good time was to drop water-filled balloons from their hotel windows onto passersby below. On the first night of the convention, when his companions began their hell raising, Arthur went off on his own to the cocktail lounge of a nearby hotel where he became acquainted with Celeste.
Arthur had never known anyone like Celeste. He wasn’t even familiar with the name, which served as a convenient way to begin a conversation with Celeste after he had bought her a drink. But as intrigued as he was with her—she was tall and slim and beautifully dressed—he was careful not to reveal his own name or much else about himself. On the spot, therefore, he came up with an alias, Glenn, and a fictitious occupation, sales representative for a distributor of auto parts. It was a name and line of work, he felt, that made him sound solid and trustworthy. As for his cane and artificial leg, he told Celeste that he had been wounded in the war, but preferred not to talk about it, news Celeste greeted with an expression of sympathy that included her kissing the tips of her fingers and placing them gently on Arthur’s cheek.
Arthur’s use of an alias was hardly necessary with Celeste since she didn’t indicate any interest in finding out about his background. By contrast, Celeste couldn’t be more forthcoming and candid in talking about herself. At present, she worked as a sales lady in Manchester’s most exclusive dress shop, but she was far more interested in expressing her enthusiasm for the loosened sexual mores of war time Portland, Maine, where she had entered into and left, without any regrets, a brief marriage.
"My husband used to go nuts if I looked at another man," she told Arthur, "but he seemed to think it was his God-given right to chase after anyone who wore a skirt. No fairsees, as we used to say when we were kids. In other words, the one lesson I learned during the war years was that being a girl doesn’t mean you can’t have just as much fun as the boys. The war was horrible, but it gave everyone plenty of chances to have fun, and you know what? Now that the war’s over with, I intend to go right on having fun."
Celeste and Arthur spent two nights together, and when they parted, she assured Glenn that she would always be available if his business brought him to Manchester again, but she warned him to let her know well in advance because there were not many nights, as she put it, when she sat home all alone by her telephone.
Arthur’s experience in Manchester was reason enough for him to join the VFW delegation that went off a few months later to attend the VFW’s national convention in New York. Even before Arthur left Sherburne, he had decided that he wasn’t about to spend much time on VFW business or whatever high jinks his colleagues had planned, not when there were cocktail lounges and bars all over New York filled with women who were willing to entertain convention visitors.
Arthur had two sexual encounters in New York, neither of which measured up to the erotic adventures he had envisioned when he separated himself from his hometown friends. His hopes were high when, in the first cocktail lounge he visited, he met a long-legged blonde whose hair hung over one eye, much in the manner of the Hollywood actress, Veronica Lake, but the glamor and excitement he anticipated began to fade when the penthouse apartment the blonde had talked about turned out to be a grimy room the size of a closet. Likewise, the sighing and purring sounds she had made in the cocktail lounge when she ran her hand along his inner thigh led to nothing more than a brief interlude of robotic sex that would have been forgetful, except for the $20 the Veronica Lake lookalike wheedled out of him.
The next day Arthur met a dark-haired, dark-eyed woman in her mid-thirties who didn’t disclose her name, or much else about her background, but who wore an overseas cap with a Marine insignia and a first lieutenant’s gold bar. The cap she talked about freely. It belonged to her husband, who had been killed on Iwo Jima, and she told Arthur that she intended to wear it every moment of every day for the rest of her life, except for when she was taking a shower. She also called Arthur by her husband’s name and though she invited him to her hotel room soon after they met, she refused to leave the hotel’s cocktail lounge until the pianist there played her husband’s favorite song, "Long Ago and Far Away." True to her word, the war widow kept her husband’s cap on even after she had taken her clothes off and she even tried, without much success, to hold it onto her head, while she and Arthur were having sex.
Arthur’s New York trip may have fallen somewhat short of his expectations, but he was more than ever enamored of the pleasure (and the risk, which was pleasurable in itself) that came from meeting a stranger for no other purpose than to have sex. He thought it an added bonus, an erotic charge of sorts, to use a fictitious name, and to create a fictionalized self, as he did with the war widow when he recounted how heartbroken he was to find out after he came home from the war that his wife had been cheating on him—with a close friend, no less—the whole time he was away.
He enjoyed, too, the challenge of coming up with stories that explained to his VFW colleagues why they saw so little of him both in Manchester and New York. In Manchester, he claimed to have run into an old friend from his days at the CCC camp, and in New York, Arthur told his friends from Sherburne, that he wasn’t going to visit New York City without taking time to see several of the best known tourist sites in the world. Neither explanation was questioned by a group of men who spent much of their time away from Sherburne in an alcoholic haze.
Since Arthur couldn’t count on VFW conventions occurring as often as he liked, he eagerly took over from an ailing World War I veteran the job of organizing the Sherburne VFW Post’s annual trip to Boston to attend a Red Sox game. The trip had always been done in one day, with the bus leaving Sherburne early on a Sunday morning and then departing from Boston as soon as the Red Sox game ended. Arthur proposed turning the trip into a two-day affair, with the bus leaving Sherburne on Saturday morning. By arranging for the group to stay at the Boston YMCA on Saturday night, he made it possible for everyone to take in another game on Sunday afternoon.
The two-game weekend proved to be so popular that Arthur was able to organize two trips to Boston, one in July and the other in August. On the first trip, after the game on Saturday, Arthur got his companions to the Y and made sure they were checked in, but then excused himself, saying he was off to meet a friend, a buddy from his Army days. Since the friend, according to Arthur, lived in a suburb of Boston he told everyone that he didn’t think he’d get back to the Y in time to see anyone until the next day at noon, when they would board the bus that took them to the ball park.
Less than half an hour after Arthur had left his VFW colleagues, Arthur was sitting in a cocktail lounge in downtown Boston that seemed to attract a number of the soldiers and sailors stationed at military installations in the city. He took the presence of servicemen as a good sign, which it turned out to be, when he found himself sitting only two bar stools away from a blonde who was slightly overweight, but had a carefully coiffed hairdo and make up that had been meticulously applied. Arthur wasted no time in sending her a drink, bourbon and water, and a few minutes later, when she nodded her thanks and gave him a friendly smile, he introduced himself and exchanged some small talk with her.
By the time, the two of them had moved to a nearby booth, Glenn, the sales representative for an auto parts distributor, was much better acquainted with Gerri, whose real name, she said, was Geraldine, but who hadn’t used that name in years because it reminded her of a grammar school nun she disliked. Apart from that, Gerri didn’t say much about herself, except to mention briefly, almost as if it didn’t matter, that she was employed as a receptionist for a doctor, an eye surgeon.
Gerri conveyed a certain gentility in the dainty way she sipped her drink and the seeming elegance with which she drew slowly on her cigarette and held it aloft after each puff, but after three more bourbons (easy on the water) and then dinner at a Chinese restaurant, there was nothing delicate about the language she used, or her comportment when she and Arthur arrived at a hotel room he rented not far from the Chinese restaurant.
It was an evening that could not have come closer to that Arthur imagined when he planned the baseball weekend. He had met this attractive woman who seemed not to care whether she was being unfaithful to her sailor husband, whom she noted, had never been any more observant of their marriage vows than she. It was sex that came without any conditions attached and given so freely, and with such abandon, that there was no need for Arthur to resort to telling her the story about how his wife had been unfaithful to him while he was helping General Patton defeat Nazi Germany.
Arthur enjoyed even more his second Red Sox weekend. This time, when leaving his VFW friends at the Y, he told them he was going off to meet a fellow amputee whom he came to know when they were both at the VA Hospital. This friend, too, lived in a distant suburb, which meant that Arthur would see everyone the next day.
The bar Arthur chose was close by the one where he had met Gerri, and once more, by sending over a drink—a martini instead of bourbon and water—he quickly found himself a companion for the night. Loretta, more attractive than Gerri, and more outgoing, took little time in telling Arthur that her former husband had been a relief pitcher with the Red Sox. With one more martini, she also disclosed, laughing heartily when she did so, that her husband’s won and lost record, so dismal the Red Sox had recently released him, perfectly matched his performance in bed.
After the third martini, Loretta and Arthur left the cocktail lounge and went directly to the same hotel Arthur had used on his previous visit. On the way, Loretta, with a note of surprise in her voice, said that this would be the first time she ever went to bed with a man who had only one leg. That next morning, when she was bidding Arthur farewell, she told him that, based on his performance, she might make it a habit from now on to sleep only with men who were missing a leg. All the way back to Sherburne, Arthur considered, but ultimately rejected, telling his companions of the testimonial he had received from Loretta.
Arthur didn’t wait until the next baseball season to organize another trip to a sporting event. Twice that winter he arranged weekend bus trips to Montreal to see the fabled Montreal Canadiens of that era play the Boston Bruins and then the team from Toronto. On those trips, Arthur didn’t need to come up with excuses for going off by himself since he and everyone else who made the trip rushed off right after the game to the bars and night clubs in Montreal’s notorious red light district on St. Catherine Street.
Arthur, on his own, succeeded both times in finding a cocktail lounge somewhat beyond the more lurid bars favored by his companions, and while neither of the women he met in Montreal, Lorraine on his first trip and Carol on his second, were as attractive as the women he had met in Boston, he considered both encounters a success since neither had demanded money in exchange for sex. Where Arthur had been, and what he might have done, aroused little curiosity or discussion among his companions since they all seemed to have agreed—without ever discussing the matter—not to reveal much about these trips to anyone back in Sherburne, except to express disappointment at seeing the invincible Montreal team humiliate their opponents.
That spring, Arthur expanded on his offerings, recruiting enough VFW members to charter a bus for an overnight trip to Portland, Maine, to cheer on a boxer from Sherburne who was moving up in the rankings of welterweight fighters in New England. In Portland, Arthur had a more difficult time separating himself from his fellow fight fans because there was such a short window of time between when the fight ended and the city’s bars closed. Arthur didn’t let that deter him from becoming friendly with Joyce, the pianist singer in the hotel’s cocktail lounge, nor did it bother him that some of his friends from the VFW probably spotted him leaving the hotel with Joyce after the bar closed for the night.
Because the Sherburne fighter won his bout in Portland by a quick knock out, he earned the chance to fight for the New England welterweight championship in Boston, and a victory there, it was said, might mean a title bout later in the year. Such talk made it easy for Arthur to recruit a bus load of fight fans from the VFW to travel to Boston so they could cheer on their hometown hero. The boxer from Sheburne, alas, lost badly, so badly that not long after, on the advice of an eye doctor, he retired from boxing.
The outcome of the fight was only one reason why Arthur didn’t enjoy that trip to Boston. On his other trips, Arthur had thought about checking a Boston telephone directory to see if there was still a listing for B. T. Moran because he never quite believed the story Betty had told him about moving to San Diego. But he always decided against doing so because he wasn’t sure what to say if he found that Betty was still living in Boston. Did he want to see her again, or would this be his chance to let her know how angry he was at the way she had run out on him?
That day, soon after Arthur and the other fight fans from Sherburne arrived in Boston and checked into their hotel, Arthur took a short walk by himself, looking for the kind of bar where he was likely to find some female companionship after the fight. In doing so, he went pass the bar where he and Betty had had their fateful last meeting. Then, moments later, on his way back to his hotel he walked past a telephone booth outside the hotel.
This time Arthur couldn’t stop himself. It was three hours before the fights began, more than enough time to see if there was any evidence that Betty still lived in Boston. Quickly flipping through the pages of the telephone booth’s phone directory, he found a page that contained any number of Morans, and there, near the top of the page was a listing for B. T. Moran.
His excitement at spotting the listing for Betty was such that he failed to noticed the directory, its pages somewhat tattered, was probably out of date. All Arthur could think about at the moment, as he quickly deposited coins and dialed the number, was that he would soon be talking with Betty again, and that maybe, before the night was out, they would be able to meet. His fantasy about being reunited with Betty came to abrupt end after the second ring of the phone, when a man with a deep voice answered the phone.
No, the deep voiced man said, he didn’t have any idea who the hell Betty Moran was and furthermore he didn’t like being bothered by wrong numbers. Pay more attention to what you’re doing when you dial the phone, said the voice on the other end of the phone. Arthur’s response to that was a loud fuck you. He then slammed the phone down with such force that he cracked its mouthpiece.
Arthur might have found it easier to put the abortive phone call behind him by the time, later that night, when he met Jo Anne, except that Jo Anne, while short and busty, was also a nurse and she also wore her auburn colored hair pinned up behind her ears by two flashy barrettes, just as Betty had the last time Arthur had seen her. That in itself proved a distraction to Arthur because no matter how he tried, his thoughts kept drifting back to the day Betty had bolted from the dingy cave-like bar and ran, in a pelting rain storm, across two lanes of oncoming traffic so anxious was she to get away from him.
Arthur’s usually buoyant mood on these trips was further weighed down by having just witnessed the savage beating administered to the boxer from Sherburne. The sight of the boxer stumbling around the ring, with blood coming from cuts above both his eyes, was troublesome enough, but Arthur was also trying to figure out how he could explain to Elaine that he had lost $75 from two bets he had made on the Sherburne boxer to win the fight. Recently Elaine had begun to complain about how little progress they were making in putting aside the money they would need to buy their own house.
Jo Anne, whose cheerful disposition also reminded Arthur of Betty, tried to brighten Arthur’s mood by recounting the antics of her large Italian family, including her two uncles who, though Prohibition had ended, still ran a bootleg business selling gallon jugs of their home-brewed wine. Arthur was slightly more amused when Jo Anne began telling him about male patients, particularly randy old men, who thought they could get somewhere with her by bunching up their bedclothes so that it looked as if they had enormous erections.
Jo Anne had just started telling Arthur that nurses learned early in their training how to handle male patients who made a play for them when he suddenly placed his hands over hers, and looking into her eyes, he told her that she struck him as a marvelous girl, one that he would have liked to spend more time with, but, sorry, not tonight. Having said that much, he reached into his pocket for a $20 bill, and slapping it on the table, he told her to use the money to pay their bar bill and to keep the rest for herself. Then he quickly got up from the booth they were sitting in and walked back to his hotel room alone.
Arthur waited two days to tell Elaine he had lost money on the fight in Boston, and when he did, she greeted the news with a sigh and a remark about the insanity of a sport that called for two men to beat each other senseless. She was quite concerned, too, about the condition of the boxer, whom, she had heard, might need eye surgery to save his sight in one eye.
A moment later, after again expressing her disgust with boxing, she let Arthur know that anyone who bet his hard earned money on a prize fight was stupid. That apparently didn’t fully convey her feelings because she twice repeated the word stupid, each time furiously spitting it out.
"Why not take your paycheck and throw it in the trash?" she said. "That makes as much sense as betting money on which guy is going to knock the other guy out."
After a slight pause, she continued, only now switching to another grievance, Arthur’s failure to complete the refurbishment of their second bedroom.
"One simple bedroom," she said, "and it’s dragged on forever."
Mention of the bedroom caught Arthur by surprise. By his standards, he thought he had finished the project. That may have been why he sounded so tentative when he pointed out to her that the room had been painted and had new wallpaper.
"But look at the rest of it," Elaine said. They were in the kitchen when Arthur told Elaine about his gambling losses, but now Elaine, as if to press her argument, walked over to the doorway of the bedroom, and entering it, she pronounced the room to be, in her words, a mess.
Her description was not exactly accurate since the room was clean and neat as the rest of the apartment, but it seemed to have become a home gymnasium rather than a bedroom. In the middle of the room was a table with a padded cover that Arthur used for his daily stretching exercises. On the floor near the table, there were a variety of dumbbells and on a board bolted into one wall there were two pulleys with ropes holding some weights. Also, across the doorway leading into the room, Arthur had installed a metal bar that he used to do pull ups.
Arthur, following Elaine into the bedroom, said, "It doesn’t look very messy to me, not unless you have something against a guy trying to stay in shape."
When he said that, he reached down, and grabbing a dumbbell with each hand, he began curling them upwards towards his chest. After doing that a half dozen times or so, he added something to the exercise by twisting the barbells around when he brought them up to his chest and lifting them over his head.
"One thing I learned at the VA," Arthur said, as he put the dumbbells back down on the floor, "there’s dozens of ways you can use dumbbells to keep yourself in shape."
Elaine’s response to that was to remind him that there was no longer any room for a bed.
"That was the whole idea," she said, as she turned and began walking back towards the kitchen. "This was supposed to be a bedroom."
Arthur, putting down the barbells, followed her, but on the way out, he stopped at the door, and grabbing the metal bar, he performed several chin ups.
A moment later, when Arthur followed Elaine into the kitchen, he said. "Funny you never brought up the bed before. That’s why I figured we could wait until we needed it before we put one in there."
Elaine, who was standing by the kitchen window, looking out, didn’t answer him, and it was only when Arthur began explaining to her how he thought he could fit both a bed and his exercise equipment into the room that he noticed she was crying.
"Hey," Arthur said, walking towards her, "I’ll put a bed in there tomorrow if it means that much to you."
But when he tried to place his arms around Elaine’s shoulders she twisted away from him. That left Arthur standing there, looking as if he wasn’t sure whether he should try again to comfort her—about what, he still had no idea—or simply walk away. Elaine resolved the matter by placing her hand over her mouth, which seemed to stifle, for the moment at least, her sobbing. Then, shaking her shoulders and clearing her throat, she explained to him, in a surprisingly matter of fact way, why she was upset.
A week ago, Elaine said, she had seen a gynecologist from the medical center at Dartmouth who made a monthly visit to the hospital in Sherburne. Elaine’s doctor, who arranged the appointment, hoped the specialist would be able to find out why Elaine was having such a difficult time becoming pregnant. The Dartmouth doctor had examined her, from stem to stern, according to Elaine, and had also run some tests. The day before he had called to tell her that he could see no physical reason why she hadn’t yet become pregnant.
"Well, isn’t that good news?" Arthur said. "I think he’s telling you to keep on trying and sooner or later, someday, bingo, we’ll hit the jackpot."
"That wasn’t all the specialist told me," she said. "He wanted me to know that there are women who have nothing wrong with themselves but who simply can’t get pregnant. It’s not a common condition, he said, but it happens. He didn’t come right out and say I might be one of those women, but you know me, the way he said it, it sounded like it was a warning. To me, it was his way of letting me know that it just wasn’t in the cards for me to have a baby."
"Oh, chrissakes, this guy sounds like a bullshitter to me. He’s a big specialist so he’s supposed to know what’s going on, but since he didn’t have any answers, he gives you this stuff about women who never get pregnant no matter how hard they try. Who ever heard of such a thing? You know what I say? Let’s stick with the first part of what he told you. There’s nothing wrong with you. We just haven’t connected yet, which to me, means we have to try a little harder."
Arthur gave her a little grin after that, and Elaine turned and curled in towards him, burying her head on his chest. No more than three minutes passed before she and Arthur were in bed, apparently intent on proving to the specialist that Elaine was not one of those women who was unable to conceive. Arthur, in particular, seemed as if in this one coupling he would apply himself with such force that Elaine couldn’t help but become pregnant, possibly within the next 24 hours, and Elaine, emitted a low moaning sound that was a counterpoint to the banging of the headboard against the wall, all of it building to a crescendo that ended with a joint declaration, a guttural growl from both of them that served to usher in a period of sexual activity similar to those first few months after they were married.
Not that Elaine had ever been remiss in satisfying Arthur’s demands for sex, but she now made a special effort to accommodate herself to Arthur’s work schedule, which required him to work two out of every three weeks either the four to midnight shift, or from midnight until 8 o’clock in the morning. If Arthur went into work at 4 p.m., she would take a nap after she ate dinner so that she was awake and ready to make love when he returned home after midnight, and when he was on the midnight shift, and went off after dinner to take a short nap, Elaine would wake him by sliding into bed around 10:00 so they could have what Arthur called a "quickie" before he left for work.
Elaine also discontinued those Sunday dinners for family members because, as she explained it to her mother, Arthur’s shift work made it too difficult for her to get a dinner prepared by noon, or even early afternoon. In reality, Elaine cancelled the Sunday dinners because she wanted to set aside Sunday mornings, no matter what shift Arthur worked, as a time when she and Arthur could lie in bed and make love in a more leisurely fashion, before getting up to make the late mass at St. Aidan’s. It was Elaine’s belief, no matter what her doctor said about her fertility cycle, that having sex any time of the month—and as much of it as possible—was bound to improve her chances of becoming pregnant.
Arthur came up with an idea that complemented Elaine’s Sunday morning love fests. In mid-May, not long after Elaine told him about having seen the specialist from Dartmouth, Arthur asked her to calculate the next time she would be at her peak period of fertility. By Elaine’s calculations that would be the second week in June. Once he heard that, Arthur put in for a week’s vacation precisely when Elaine would be ovulating and arranged at the same time to rent a cottage for that week at Old Orchard Beach, Maine.
"Oh, what a moron you are," Elaine said, giving him a playful punch on the shoulder, when he told her what he had done. "Everyone’s going to wonder why we’re spending a week at the beach when the water’s still freezing cold and a windy day can make it feel like it’s February."
"Let them talk," he said. "We can either tell them to mind their own business, or we’ll say, you know, we’re not going to spend much time at the beach because morning, noon and night we’ve got something else to occupy our time."
But neither the week at Old Orchard, nor the Sunday mornings, or all the love making sessions in between yielded the desired results, not even when supplemented by Elaine’s novenas and prayers. By that fall, Elaine had become so consumed with charting the times when she was most fertile that one month she met Arthur at the door when he returned from work and led him, literally, by the hand to their bed because she had determined, based on her temperature and some strange sensation in her womb, that they should have sex right now, at this very moment, or risk missing out on her absolute peak period of ovulation for another month.
Elaine developed a short-hand phrase to indicate that once again, her menstrual period had arrived on schedule. "My friend dropped by again," she would tell him, and Arthur would give her a kiss and hold her tight and murmur in her ear her that there was no need to worry, that they were young, that they had plenty of time. That did little, however, to brighten Elaine’s mood that day, and maybe the next, and sometimes for the entire week. She, more than he, but both, in a sense, seemed to feel that their lives were on hold, that so much of what they had talked about ever since they were married, was still pending.
Even when they talked of buying a house, or rather when Elaine talked of how they should at least look for a house, the conversation would trail off because Arthur didn’t think there was any need for them to move until they had at least one baby and maybe more. What’s wrong with this place, he would say when Elaine would update him on couples she knew who were buying houses, or in a few cases, building new homes?
Except for Arthur becoming a timekeeper (and his war wound, of course), their lives hadn’t changed all that much since 1942. Not only did they live in the same apartment, but Elaine still had the same job and their social life, allowing for Arthur’s work schedule, was similar to what it had been back then. There was a slight variation in that on Friday nights, instead of Terry’s Clam Shack, they went to Camilli’s for spaghetti and meat balls and they were old enough now to stop by the cocktail lounge of the Old Towne Inn where they usually had drinks with some other young couples they knew. They had also switched their movie night. Now, they went on Sunday nights and took their seats in the orchestra with all the other adults who gave their full attention to what was happening on the screen. Tuesday nights, on the week when Arthur worked the day shift, he had a meeting at the VFW, and Thursday nights, in winter, Elaine bowled in the bowling league for wives of Black Diamond Paper Company employees. Often, if Arthur was at work, Elaine and her mother might attend a movie or play bingo at St. Aidan’s, just as they did when Arthur was away during the war.
The one new element in their social calendar consisted of the weddings that were being held practically every week. Friends, relatives, coworkers, everyone who hadn’t married before the war was rushing to catch up, and in those first two or three years after he war, it seemed as if Elaine and Arthur were at weddings every weekend. Often, within a year, babies began to arrive, along with christening parties. Elaine grew to dislike these get-togethers because she knew there would always be an aunt or some other relative from either side of the family who would sidle up to her, and in a whisper (and sometime more than a whisper) ask whether it wasn’t time for her and Arthur to join in the baby boom. Elaine thought herself lucky to be suffering from a flu that kept her bed ridden for several days when there was a christening party for the baby her brother and his wife had had after being married less than a year.
As sympathetic and involved (and cooperative) as Arthur was in trying to make Elaine pregnant, it was his out-of-town adventures that continued to provide him with the sense of excitement he had alluded to when he told Betty Moran why he had wanted to move from Sherburne. On his desk calendar at the timekeepers office he would mark in red those days when there was a VFW convention, either at the state, regional or national level, or the prospective dates for his trips to Boston and Montreal. He yearned for that moment when he would enter a dimly lit cocktail lounge, having no idea who he might meet and what the outcome of that meeting might be. He would even feel a physical quickening when he sent a drink over to an attractive woman and then waited for the recipient to respond with a smile or a quiet thank you, either gesture signaling an invitation to become better acquainted. Then came the part he found so intriguing, the introduction and the small talk that followed, which, if done right, led to greater familiarity. ("Glenn? Oh, I’ve never known anyone named Glenn. Such a nice name, though, very manly.") After another drink or two, it was just a matter of suggesting, rather casually, of course, that they leave the bar to go elsewhere, perhaps for a bite to eat, although the women he met knew quite well that their inevitable destination was a hotel.
To Arthur, these one night affairs were tantamount to the discovery of sex itself. He looked forward to the stories he heard, those accounts of broken romances and cheating husbands and whatever rationale, true or false, these women offered to justify going to bed with someone named Glenn in a hotel that catered almost exclusively to people who hadn’t known each other for more than an hour or two. His own stories he varied, though he liked to tell of how he had forgiven his wife for a wartime romance with a neighbor because he knew how lonely and anxious she was while he was away. But then, only a year after he was home, he discovered that she was having another affair, this time with her boss, the president of the local savings bank. The second time, he said, an ominous tone in his voice, he didn’t forgive her.
Often, in the middle of making love to Elaine, he thought of the women he had met on his out-of-town trips and their varied approaches to sex, as well as their readiness for indulging in sexual experimentation. Never, he told himself, would Elaine wear the kind of frilly undergarments favored by Celeste, nor was she ever going to entertain him, as did Carol in Montreal, who insisted on performing her striptease act for him as a prelude to sex. By contrast, Elaine, in bed, eager as she might be, particularly when she was ovulating, continued to approach sex with the same efficiency and diligence she put into the dusting and vacuuming and cleaning of a house that was already spotless.
Arthur had been home for a bit more than three years when Elaine’s doctor told her it was probably a good idea to run some tests on Arthur. Uncertain about how Arthur might react to that news, Elaine tried to divert the doctor by telling him, as she had before, about the frequency with which she and Arthur made love. She went one step further this time, mentioning how physically fit Arthur was and even using the word, amazing, to describe Arthur’s stamina as a lover.
"Look, it’s up to you and your husband," the doctor told Elaine, "but after all this time, I think it’s something you should bring up with him."
Elaine nodded her head in agreement, but put off saying anything to Arthur because she didn’t think it necessary to bring up that subject when this month, or next, or certainly the one after that, any testing of Arthur’s sperm would become a moot point. But by the fall of that year, the doctor told Elaine that it would be irresponsible for him not to find out if her problem in getting pregnant could be traced, as he put it, to the "quality" of her husband’s semen. He then added, as if he anticipated what Elaine might say, that outward signs of virility didn’t necessarily "correlate" with healthy sperm.
Elaine knew already that Arthur didn’t care much for her doctor, who could sound rather pompous, so she wasn’t surprised at his reaction when she told him the doctor wanted to test him.
"Tests? What kind of tests?" he said.
"You know," she said, with a little grin on her face, "or didn’t anyone ever tell you why it takes two people to make a baby?"
"No," he said. Then, raising his voice, he said, "Your doctor’s nuts if he thinks I’m going into his office and jack off for him."
"I’ve told him plenty of times that I can’t imagine anyone as fit as you are, having any trouble when it comes to making babies."
"Well, tell him again. And here’s something else you can tell him. He’s one lucky guy if his plumbing works half as well as mine does. Or maybe the stupid bastard thinks that a guy with one leg might be missing something in another area, too."
Elaine didn’t think that was worth an answer. She also realized that it was best not to press the issue with Arthur, not when he began to ask her, moments after they made love, if his performance indicated that his "plumbing" was lacking in any way. Instead, she told the doctor that Arthur wasn’t sure just yet about being tested.
"My husband can be stubborn about some things," she said, "but he usually comes to his senses, sooner or later.
The doctor assured her that Arthur’s initial reaction was not that different from the husbands of several other patients he had. The funny thing, though, he told her, is that sooner or later most of them changed their minds.
That exchange with her doctor did give Elaine an opening she needed to bring up a matter she had always wanted to ask him about, whether Arthur’s vigorous love making had any effect on her chances of becoming pregnant.
"My husband has always been quick," she said, hoping that conveyed clearly enough what she wanted him to know. "Does that matter? And to tell you the truth, sometimes I think he treats the whole thing like it’s one of those exercises he does to keep in shape."
The doctor had always struck Elaine as sympathetic, but this time she didn’t think he took her seriously because he had a smile on his face when he told her that it made no difference how the sperm came to fertilize the egg. Who the two people are, the nature of their relationship, even whether they love each other, the doctor said, all that is incidental. Sperm meets egg, he said, as he drove one hand, which was balled up into a fist, into the other, which gripped it tightly, and when that happens, he added, clamping down even more tightly on the hand holding the fist, new life is created.
Elaine didn’t like the doctor’s attempt to make it seem as if pregnancy was nothing more, really, than a balled up fist driven into a hand that enfolded it. She didn’t find reassuring, either, his advice that she should worry less.
"Don’t put pressure on yourself," he said, "all bodily functions work better if we’re relaxed and at peace with ourselves and the world around us. In the meantime, I’m confident that there’s nothing, physically, to keep you from having a baby."
Elaine left his office, thinking that what her doctor had said about trying to relax during sex didn’t vary that much from what she had found when combing through the medical text books, all of them seriously out of date, that belonged to Claude Hutchinson. Claude had this idea that his customers would take more seriously the advice he gave them if it came from a pharmacist who stood against a backdrop of medical text books that were, in essence, a kind of stage set.
Elaine ignored the advice in one text that claimed spicy foods could damage a vital component of semen, but she saw no harm in following the recommendation, from the same doctor, that she remain on her back after sex and then, raising her legs towards the ceiling, "peddle" a bicycle vigorously for three full minutes. She was less certain, but not entirely dismissive, of the text book that warned females not to tense up, as the author put it, because a husband rushed through the sex act.
Wives should understand, according to this physician, that nature required males to spread their seed as widely as possible, and as often as possible, because it was the male’s job to impregnate the maximum number of females in order to propagate the species. Thus, this author maintained, males were only fulfilling the duty assigned to them by nature when they performed the sex act with the same urgency they displayed when running to catch a train that would take them to an important business meeting.
As amused as Elaine was by the idea of a man having sex in the same way he might chase after a train, she felt the text book described perfectly Arthur’s style of love making. She had asked him numerous times to slow down, particularly on those Sunday mornings, when they were supposed to have more time than usual, but she was no more successful at getting Arthur to curb the speed with which he made love as she had been in getting him to mute the grunting sound he made when thrusting into her. Only a few hours after she had been reading that text book on human reproduction—and with that image of a man chasing a train still fresh in her mind—Elaine noticed that Arthur, while in the middle of having sex, had turned his head slightly to the right so that he was looking at the alarm clock on the night stand next to his side of the bed.
It also seemed to her that Arthur, for all his huffing and puffing and panting, kept his eyes on the clock, looking very much as if he was measuring how long it took him, in the words of that medical text book, to "fulfill the duty assigned to him by nature." That night and the next day, the more she thought about it, the more convinced she became that Arthur was keeping track of how much time it took him this particular night and was more than likely comparing his time to the night before, or the night before that.
Elaine’s first instinct was to move the clock the next morning, placing it somewhere in the room that was out of Arthur’s field of vision when they were making love. But since she didn’t have a ready explanation for moving the clock, she waited a day and then announced that their bedroom needed to be "freshened up." Over the next week, she put up new curtains, changed the bed spread and bought new lamps for the night stands on either side of their bed. The curtains and bed spread she changed right away, but it took a week for the new lamps to arrive, lamps with a base so large there was little room left for the alarm clock that had always been on the night stand next to Arthur’s bed.
Elaine also bought a new clock, an electric one that replaced the wind up clock they had had since they were first married. The new clock, with numerals that glowed in the dark, she placed on the tall bureau on the side of the room facing the bed. Now if Arthur was interested in checking the time that elapsed from insertion to orgasm, he would need eyes in the back of his head.
That evening, when Arthur returned from work, Elaine asked him to take a look at the bedroom. She waited for a moment before she followed him into the room, and when she did, she found that he had unplugged the alarm clock and was holding it in his hand.
"How long since I’ve been home from the war?" he said to her. Then, without waiting for an answer, he asked her another question. "What’s it been, a little over three years? Maybe that’s so long ago that you forgot I came home with one leg missing? Now, what the fuck am I supposed to do if I’m here by myself when the alarm goes off and I’m lying in bed. Do you expect me to hop on one leg from the bed to where the clock is?"
And with that, he threw the alarm clock at the wall so hard that it shattered into several pieces. Then, quietly, but with a noticeable menace in his voice," he said. "So now, we’re going to get a new alarm clock and I hope, the next time you change things around, you’ll remember to keep the clock somewhere that’s easy for me to reach."
The discipline (and guile) that had helped Arthur to conceal his sexual forays abandoned him at the VFW’s national convention in Miami late in the summer of 1949. Until then, Arthur would read just enough from tourist bureau brochures to make his VFW companions think that he had taken some time away from drinking and carousing to visit historic sites and other points of interest.
But in Miami, he became mesmerized with Dolores, a petite blonde who was able to drink one martini after another and yet remain sober. Arthur, feeling he had to keep up with Dolores, drank more than he usually did, so much so that on the first night of the convention, when he and Dolores were walking through the lobby of the convention hotel—and Dolores had one arm wrapped around Arthur’s waist, trying to hold him upright—the two of them practically collided head on with Roger Doucette, commander of the Sherburne VFW post and father-in-law of Elaine’s brother, Henry.
Even then, Arthur might have been able to return to Sherburne relatively unscathed because Doucette knew as well as anyone that VFW members shouldn’t be judged too harshly for their behavior during the group’s conventions. The next night, however, or rather in the early morning hours of the second day of the convention, Dolores and Arthur, again with their arms entwined, entered an all-night diner where they ran into a group of Arthur’s VFW companions from Sherburne, including once again, Roger Doucette.
Arthur now assumed that news of this second sighting would make its way back to Sherburne before the week was out and that within days it would most likely reach one of the major destination points of the town’s gossip grapevine, the lunch counter at Hutchinson Drug. That it never did, or that Arthur saw nothing to indicate Elaine heard as much as a whisper about who he was seen with in Miami, probably played a part in making Arthur feel as if he didn’t have to be as discreet as he had been in the past.
Arthur’s first chance to exercise his greater sense of freedom came three months later, on a chilly night in November, when he was leaving a meeting at the VFW post. It had been raining most of the day, but now, with the temperature falling, the rain was turning to sleet and snow. Arthur was heading towards his car, and as he passed by Denny’s, a bar next door to the VFW post, he saw a young woman leaving the bar who didn’t seem as if she was prepared to be outdoors in such inclement weather. Her skirt was so short it barely covered her thighs and her waist length jacket of imitation fur must have been lacking any buttons because with one hand she was holding her jacket closed while with her other hand she was trying to keep the sleet and snow from hitting her face.
Arthur, who had just gripped the visor of his cap and pulled it down lower on his forehead, made a brrring sound as he passed by the woman and added a comment about the damned winter weather arriving too soon, both the sound effects and the comment serving as his prelude to his offering her a ride. Arthur’s readiness to rescue the young woman—her name was Mona Bouchard—from the nasty weather was sincere, but it wasn’t as though he failed to notice Mona’s long, shapely legs and the blonde curly hair that fell halfway down her back. He was also aware that at this hour, with stores on the street closed for the night—and in this weather—there was little risk that anyone would see him offering a ride to a young woman who had just left the least respectable of all the bar rooms in Sherburne, and perhaps all of northern New Hampshire.
Arthur didn’t know it at the time, but Mona, only 22 and already married two times, came from a family, the Campbells, who were infamous on its male side for repeated run-ins with the law and on its female side for sexual promiscuity. Thus, the sizable number of children, only a few of them legitimate, who could be seen romping among the abandoned cars and discarded tires and automobile parts that littered the front yard of the Campbell family’s farm in nearby Brookfield.
He was unaware, too, that even among the Campbells, Mona’s behavior was considered to be so egregious that she had been evicted from the family farm at age 18 by the patriarch of the clan, her grandfather, Mossy. The eviction had taken place in the fall of 1945, when the government had yet to begin repatriating German soldiers who had been sent to a prisoner of war camp not far from the Campbell family’s farm. Because the POWs had been so well behaved, military officials decided that a number of them could be lent out to farm families to help out with the potato harvest. The harvest was in full swing at the Campbell family farm, with everyone from toddlers to the elderly out in the fields digging up potatoes, when Mossy went to a shed at the far end of the potato field for more burlap bags and discovered, nestled within a pile of burlap bags, Mona having sex with one of the German soldiers.
Mossy was not easily offended by the sexual habits of his extended family, but he could not countenance his granddaughter offering herself to an enemy solider, not when everyone else in the family was under orders—no exceptions allowed—to help harvest the potato crop. Less than an hour after her grandfather had broken in on her and the German POW, Mona with a tiny suitcase holding all her belongings, was standing by the side of the highway, hitching a ride into Sherburne.
No doubt Arthur would have had nothing but contempt for the only female in northern New Hampshire who had made herself available to a soldier of the Third Reich, but the night he ran into Mona his only concern was trying to warm a woman who was so chilled that her teeth were chattering when she got into his car. Lacking a blanket or anything of the sort, and knowing the car’s heater would take some time to throw off any heat, Arthur himself became a source of warmth, gallantly offering her his jacket and even making sure that he placed it properly around her shoulders. Mona, grateful for his kindness, quickly reciprocated by wiggling her way across the car seat so that she was already cuddled up against him when he offered to drive her home.
The trip to the ramshackle house where Mona and her husband and her two children lived took less than ten minutes, enough time for her to thank Arthur several more times while also cursing the owner of Denny’s for asking her to leave the bar though it wasn’t her fault, she maintained, that the man who had bought her a drink was about to start a fight with another customer who seemed to be making a play for her.
"I wasn’t doing a thing," Mona said. "but Denny decided that I was the troublemaker. That’s how nervous Denny is these days. He’s been warned. Another fight like the one last weekend and he could lose his license."
During that ten-minute drive, Arthur also learned that Mona’s two small boys practically drove her crazy and that her husband, Ronnie, should try to understand why, after putting up with her unruly children all day, she needed some time for herself. By then the car heater was throwing off enough heat so that Mona was able to loosen Arthur’s jacket. That made it possible for her to move even closer to Arthur, which gave her a keener appreciation—as she ran her hand across his midsection—of his muscular build.
"Is your old man expecting you home?" Arthur said, as they approached Mona’s house.
"Oh sure, he’s expecting me, but I’m in no hurry."
That told Arthur he and Mona could take some time to become better acquainted with each other, particularly when he saw there was only one street light on her street and her house was set back a bit from the street and perched on an incline so that anyone looking out couldn’t easily see a car parked at the end of the driveway.
"Who knows what I’ll find when I get in there?" Mona said, when Arthur parked his car. "The kids are supposed to be in bed, but I bet Ronnie’s sitting in his easy chair, probably half shit faced, and not caring if those two brats are running around raising hell. He does that just to spite me even though we have this deal, I put up with the boys during the day, he takes over when he gets home. He thinks it’s funny when I end up having to put the kids to bed after I get home. I’ve warned him. He tries that trick once too often and I might not come home at all."
Then, after lighting a cigarette, Mona said, "Ronnie’s hubby number two. The oldest kid belongs to my first husband. I know that for sure because he has the same nasty temper as his father. The other one, well, that happened when I was leaving my husband and was in the middle of seeing my husband’s friend and Ronnie, too. Okay, Ronnie’s no bargain, but he has a steady job and he didn’t try to weasel out of it when I told him I was pregnant."
All of that was interesting to Arthur, but having learned a bit more about Mona’s relationship with her husband he began to wonder if this might be a night when Ronnie Bouchard was sober enough to check on what was going on in the car parked at the end of his driveway. He didn’t mind, of course, that Mona was practically sitting on his lap by then and had her arms wrapped around his neck, but when she made a move towards unbuckling his belt, he said, "Whoa, Nellie. I don’t want to discourage you, but to tell you the truth, I feel like we’re a little exposed here. Whaddya say we go to some place that’s a bit more private?" Saying that, he also saw, from taking a quick look at his watch, that he had only a half hour or so to get home before Elaine might wonder why he had stayed so late at his regular Tuesday night VFW meeting.
"I know just the place," Mona said, pulling herself away from Arthur just enough so that he followed her directions, taking a series of left and right turns that took them to the back end of the A&P store’s parking lot.
"Over there," she told Arthur, pointing to an area where the parking lot seemed to trail off into a wooded area. "Nobody notices it, but see, there’s a place that looks like a pathway. Drive in there and we’ll find all the privacy we need."
When Arthur got there, he saw that the pathway was wide enough for a car, and that by driving just a short distance, his car was in an area surrounded by thick underbrush and covered for the most part by a canopy of trees. With the snow falling hard enough now to begin sticking to the car’s windshield, and with the car heater humming, Arthur felt that he and Mona were sealed off from the rest of the world, and so this time, when Mona began unbuckling his belt, he didn’t stop her when she offered—as a thank you gift, she said—to perform oral sex on him. From that night on, the out-of-town trips Arthur so enjoyed were not as necessary as they once were.
Arthur was careful at first to meet Mona at a spot some distance from her house and well out of public view, but she never liked his plan, which required her to take a local bus to the other side of Sherburne and then walk another two blocks to a less visible, less well lit street corner. That’s where Arthur, sitting in his car, would be waiting for her. He had also warned her never, under any circumstances, to call him at home or at work. He would contact her, he said, if there was any reason to change their plans.
Otherwise, on those weeks Arthur worked the day shift, he would see Mona on Tuesday nights, when he always had a meeting at the VFW, but one which he would leave by 9 o’clock or so. That gave him just enough time to go to their hideaway near the A&P parking lot. That same week he could also see Mona on Wednesday nights, when Elaine worked late because it was Claude Hutchinson’s bridge night. On Wednesday nights, Mona and Arthur had enough time to travel to a roadhouse, Moose Hunter’s Lodge, 10 miles north of Sherburne, for a quick dinner before they went to a nearby motel for an hour or two of what Arthur jokingly referred to as "rest and relaxation." He coined the term when Mona said that sex, preferably with someone other than her husband, was the only thing that helped her "relax" after a day of caring for two children.
Mona and Arthur had known each other for four months when Mona, still complaining about having to take that bus, told Arthur that he could come to her house to pick her up.
"But what about your husband?" he said.
"What about him?" she said, "What’s he got to complain about? He knows damn well when I leave the house that I’m not going off to a sewing circle. He gets pissed off from time to time and when he does, he says he might leave me, but I know him, he’s not going anywhere."
On one of those Wednesday nights when Elaine was working—it was in the middle of March—Arthur drove, as he had twice before, to Mona’s house to meet her. The two previous times Mona had come out of the house just as he arrived, but this particular night Arthur, who was parked two houses away from Mona’s, had been waiting for a full five minutes and still there was no sign of Mona. He believed Mona when she said that her husband didn’t, or couldn’t, stop her from going out at night, but it appeared to him as if Ronnie Bouchard, on this night, wasn’t being as compliant as usual.
When five minutes had passed by with still no sign of Mona, Arthur, reached into his glove compartment for the pint of Canadian Club he kept there and took two long swallows. Then, after checking his watch, he impulsively tooted on his car horn, twice.
A moment later, Mona ran from her house, and jumping into the car, she said, "Holy Christ, let’s get out of here. He’s on the warpath tonight."
Her blouse was only half buttoned and her skirt was still unzipped so, as she straightened her clothing out, she explained to Arthur why she thought her husband was more upset than usual with her.
"I think Ronnie’s just beginning to realize that a big guy like him, who’s blonde and has light skin, might not be responsible for my youngest, who’s tiny and has dark hair and dark eyes," she said.
Having heard that Mona’s husband was more upset than usual, Arthur was going well beyond the speed limit as he drove away from Mona’s house. He also decided, since precious minutes of his time with Mona had already elapsed, to take a short cut to the Moose Hunter’s Lodge. That would mean driving through his neighborhood, where his car could be easily recognized, and then down Mason Street, with its collection of small shops, including Hutchinson Drug. He realized there was a slight risk that Elaine might see him, but he assured himself that Elaine was usually too busy to keep a close eye on passing traffic.
That night, however, just after 6 o’clock, there was a lull in business and Elaine took a few moments to have a cup of coffee, which she was drinking while she stood behind the lunch counter, looking out the drug store’s front window. That day had been uncharacteristically warm for the middle of March and she was trying to see if the sun, which had been shining so brightly all afternoon, had made a noticeable dent in the dirt encrusted snow banks that still lined the sidewalks on either side of Mason Street.
For a moment, when Elaine spotted Arthur’s car going by, traveling faster than it should have been on that relatively busy street, she wasn’t sure if it was his car at all since there was a young woman with long blonde hair sitting in the front seat. The reflection from a street light on the front window of Hutchinson Drug, which obscured Elaine’s view, however slightly, added to her doubts about whether the car belonged to Arthur or whether it was a car similar to his. Mostly, though, she was trying to convince herself that Arthur hadn’t really driven by Hutchinson Drug with another woman in his car because she couldn’t imagine that he would do such a thing. Also, it would have been stupid for Arthur to think that in a town the size of Sherburne he could drive down Mason Street without someone, probably one of his neighbors, noticing that there was a strange woman sitting beside him. No, Elaine told herself, that car more then likely belonged to someone else because whatever Arthur’s faults, he was not stupid.
Nevertheless, when she turned away from the window her ears were buzzing and she took a moment to lean against the fountain and breathe in deeply. Then, though the fountain fixtures were already gleaming, she decided they needed a more thorough cleaning. She took each of the fixtures from the containers holding sauces for sundaes and after emptying them she immersed them in hot, soapy water, scarcely flinching when the water practically scalded her hands. Once she had thoroughly rinsed and dried the containers, she refilled them and returned them to their proper places.
That done, she still felt some discomfort. It wasn’t anything physical, not dizziness exactly, but a feeling, new to her, of having lost control of her imagination. She had seen a car pass by that, as far as she could tell, was the same model, the same make and the same color as Arthur’s. But this was Wednesday night, in a week when Arthur was on the day shift, and since she wasn’t at home to make his dinner, it was his custom to drop by the VFW for a drink or two after he left work and then move on to Terry’s Clam Shack for one of his favorite meals, fried clams with a double side order of onion rings.
She realized, of course, that she could end all this speculation by first calling home to see if Arthur was there, which she did. There was no answer so she considered calling the VFW, but decided against that because it was a standing joke, one she had heard from Arthur himself, that bartenders at the VFW were under orders to say, "He just left," if they received a call from a wife looking for her husband. But even if she called, and the bartender, suffering from a fit of forgetfulness, yelled out Arthur’s name, what was she supposed to say if Arthur came to the phone? Oh, I’m just checking to see if my eyes were playing tricks on me when I thought you drove past the drug store with a blonde sitting in your front seat?
Unwilling to call the VFW, but still troubled by the fleeting image of Arthur’s car passing by, Elaine decided to busy herself with another one of those projects she took on whenever she had a free moment. First she moved the two trays of glasses and sundae dishes stacked on the shelf behind the lunch counter to the top of the lunch counter itself. With the glasses and dishes out of the way, she could begin polishing the large mirror that served as the backdrop to the lunch counter. She had to stop twice to wait on customers who came in to buy magazines and once for someone who picked up a prescription. After that customer left, she went to the back room of the store to get a step ladder so she could reach the top half of the mirror.
Another two times, while she was still washing the mirror, she had to stop and climb down the ladder to wait on a customer, and when each of those customers, commented on her vigorous cleaning, she told them that the sunny day made her realize spring wasn’t that far off. Never too early, she said, to get a start on spring cleaning.
She also decided, since she had the step ladder out, to remove and wash the three white glass globes that covered the light fixtures at the top of the mirror. Three times, she climbed the ladder, removed a globe, brought it down and washed it, and three times, she climbed the ladder and reattached the globes to the light fixtures.
She kept telling herself that it was foolish of her to think she could tell who was driving a car, let alone who was riding in it, that she had seen for no more than a second. She blamed herself also for thinking that Arthur was the only person in Sherburne with a black Chevrolet sedan. She even wondered if Arthur, while at the VFW, had lent his car to a friend who might have had an urgent errand to run, but quickly realized that was unlikely since without a lesson or two it was difficult for anyone to drive a car with hand controls for braking and acceleration. It was more likely, she thought, that Arthur had been driving downtown, heading towards the VFW, when he saw some woman who worked in the Black Diamond company offices and offered her a ride. That made some sense to her because she knew that Arthur and all the other time keepers were friendly with the women who worked in the company’s payroll office. Then again, none of those women—and she was familiar with all of them—had long blonde hair.
At one point, when she was climbing the ladder to reattach one of the glass globes, she found herself thinking that if Arthur was having an affair, perhaps she might likewise have an affair herself. Why not fight fire with fire, she told herself. But the notion of her finding a lover struck her as so absurd that she almost started laughing, which she didn’t want to do while perched on top of the step ladder.
Moments later—she was off the ladder by now—she began to think it might be worth having an affair of her own simply to see the expression on Arthur’s face when he learned that she was cheating on him. The only question in her mind was whether she would announce it to him herself or arrange for him to find out on his own. Oh, she could just see him, however he found out, yelling and screaming and using terrible language, but she would wait patiently, allowing him to have his say before she quietly informed him that she was only doing to him what he had done to her. Ah, that, she thought, might just be the moment when he begged for forgiveness, maybe even vowed, tearfully, never to stray again.
The idea of Arthur, wounded and trying to win her back, was so pleasing to her that she took a moment to review candidates she might consider if she were to have an affair. That, too, was a thought she found laughable because she concluded rather quickly that finding a candidate to commit adultery with was more difficult than she imagined.
There wasn’t a neighbor she cared much about and it was unthinkable to her that she would have much to do with most of Arthur’s VFW friends. Some of her male customers at Hutchinson Drug, several of them quite old, who stopped by for a coffee or a coke, were always complimenting her and saying Arthur was a lucky man to have her, but she couldn’t take any of those comments seriously. There was Claude Hutchinson, too, mild mannered if a bit fussy, but she couldn’t imagine herself ever cuddling up to Claude Hutchinson, whose pot belly caused his white pharmacist’s jacket to bulge out so that its buttons were ready to pop.
No, the possibility of taking Claude Hutchinson as a lover, or anyone else she could think of for that matter, made her rethink the notion of getting even with Arthur by violating marriage vows she considered to be sacred. Besides, she reminded herself, she wasn’t absolutely sure yet that Arthur was seeing another woman.
With two hours to go before she could close the store, Elaine decided that the elaborate display of boxed chocolates she had created the day before could be repositioned slightly. When she finished, not having changed the display that much, she sorted out the store’s magazines, making sure she put each publication back in its proper slot and then, hurrying around the store, she made a list of items on its shelves that needed to be restocked. She did take a break from that to wait on a friend, Teresa Hickey, whom she had known since they had been in kindergarten together.
Teresa had stopped by to say hello and have a cup of coffee and swap the gossip she picked up at her hair salon for the gossip Elaine picked up from customers at Hutchinson Drug, but for fifteen minutes or more—while Elaine put aside any thoughts about Arthur—she and Teresa explored the question of how Bette Davis, who they didn’t consider all that glamorous, had managed to become a major Hollywood star. Both felt likewise about Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck, too, but both agreed that Barbara Stanwyck, in the right role, could be quite attractive. In the end, it was Teresa’s opinion, based on her years of reading movie magazines and Hollywood gossip columns, that the "casting couch" had more to do with who gained fame and fortune in the motion picture industry than talent or looks even, and that went, she added, with a giggle, for both females and males. Elaine said she didn’t like to think that, and Teresa, bidding her good night, told Elaine she should stop being so naive.
That bit of advice from Teresa only reminded Elaine that she was fooling herself if she didn’t think that was Arthur’s car she saw earlier in the evening and that caused her to call home once again to find out if Arthur was there. When there was no answer, she began asking herself whether this had been Arthur’s way of letting her know that he had found someone else and that he didn’t care enough to conceal it. That thought alone made her decide, at ten after nine, to close the store rather than wait until 9:30. She knew what a drastic step that was and the risk she ran of some customer complaining to Claude Hutchinson that he, or she, had dropped by the store at twenty after nine to find that it was already closed. But knowing Claude as well as she did, she knew that he would understand if she told him that she closed early because she had a headache, one so painful that it made her nauseous. Indeed, that wasn’t a lie at all, except for the nauseous part.
Elaine was so eager to get home that she walked more rapidly than usual, and then, from the sidewalk, when she saw there were no lights on in her apartment, she decided that once she got in the house, she was going to call the VFW and demand that the bartender, for once in his life give an honest answer, when she asked if Arthur was there or if he had seen him at all that evening. But she had just entered her apartment, and had yet to take off her coat, when the phone rang. The caller began by identifying himself as officer Peter Ramsey of the Sherburne Police Department. That Elaine heard distinctly, but she wasn’t sure if Officer Ramsey said there had been an accident or an incident because of what he then told her, that Arthur Doyle had just been brought by ambulance to Sacred Heart Hospital.
That caused Elaine’s legs to go weak and left her speechless, but she was standing next to the living room sofa so she was able to reach out and steady herself. The police officer, sensing that Elaine had been stunned by what he told her, offered right away to send a patrol car to pick her up and take her to the hospital.
No, no, Elaine told the officer, she could get there sooner on her own. She hung up on him abruptly and called her brother who lived only four blocks away, but when she blurted out that she needed to get to the hospital right away because Arthur had been taken there, her brother began questioning her. Why was Arthur in the hospital, he asked? Didn’t she have any idea what had happened to him?
"I don’t know, I don’t know," she yelled into the phone, "and right now that doesn’t matter. He’s there. I want to get there. Now, not later. Let’s go!"
Her brother assured her that he would pick her up right away, but Elaine, rather than wait, began running towards her brother’s house and flagged him down not long after he had backed out of his driveway. Of that night, and Elaine’s many memories of it, some vivid, others hopelessly jumbled, the one that always stood out for her was how foolish she felt on that ride to the hospital, when she confessed to her brother that she wasn’t sure if the police officer who called her had said there had been an accident or an incident.
When Elaine and her brother arrived at the hospital, there was not one but two ambulances backed up to the loading dock of the emergency ward and surrounding the ambulances were a bevy of police cars, three from the Sherburne police department and two from the State Police, all parked in a helter skelter random pattern. The entire area was lit up by the blinking red and blue lights of the police vehicles.
Inside the hospital, Elaine saw more people than usual in the emergency room and all of them, including police officers, seemed either to be scurrying in one direction or another or talking on a phone. At one end of the room, a doctor dressed in his surgical outfit, was talking to another doctor, who had just arrived and was shedding his coat. She wanted to walk over to the doctors and ask them about Arthur, but she could tell, even from that distance, that they were too absorbed in their own conversation to speak with her.
At the same time, Elaine’s brother, who could be short tempered, was becoming upset because nobody in authority seemed to have noticed him or Elaine. Spotting a nurse he knew, a neighbor, he called out her name. That nurse came over to where Elaine and her brother were standing just as another nurse, who looked as if she was a supervisor of some sort, arrived. Each of the nurses instinctively reached out and gave Elaine a quick hug, and then, the first one who had arrived, wrapped her arm around Elaine’s shoulder, while leading Elaine and her brother and the other nurse into a small waiting room off the emergency ward.
The nurse who looked like a supervisor spoke first. In a very soft voice, she told Elaine that Arthur right now was in the operating room. The other nurse, also speaking softly, then said that Arthur had lost a great deal of blood, but that the doctors were working on him and, as of a moment ago, his condition had been upgraded to stable. Then, before Elaine could ask what kind of an accident Arthur had been in, a doctor appeared at the door, accompanied by the Sherburne police chief, Roland Therrien.
The doctor, with his surgical mask hanging below his neck, had apparently come straight from the operating room. Walking towards the nurses and Elaine and her brother, the doctor instinctively reached out, and shaking Elaine’s hand, he introduced himself as Dr. Jake McKelvey. But he seemed to be speaking to the nurses, as well as Elaine, when he said, "We got the bullet from his shoulder, and that’s always a big first step when treating someone who’s been wounded."
"Bullet?" Elaine said. "I thought there was an accident."
Elaine saw one of the nurses put her hand to her mouth, obviously surprised that Elaine didn’t know what had happened to her husband, and Dr. McKelvey, likewise, seemed puzzled but recovered quickly enough to say, "As to the details, m’am, I’ll leave that to the police."
That’s when Roland Therrien, who had been standing off to one side, stepped forward and in that flat, somewhat mechanical tone used by police when they make public announcements, he began by saying that at 8:10 this evening the Sherburne Police had received a call about a shooting incident in the parking lot of the Moose Hunter’s Lodge in East Brookfield.
"Upon arrival, the responding officers found two victims, a Mrs. Mona Bouchard, and a Mr. Arthur Doyle, both suffering from gunshot wounds," he said. "Both victims were in the front seat of an automobile registered to Mr. Doyle. Our officers then summoned ambulances to transport both victims to Sacred Heart Hospital."
There was a slight pause, and Chief Therrien’s voice seemed to falter when he said, "Mrs. Bouchard was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital."
Chief Therrien took a deep breath before he continued, and when he did, he announced that at 9:05, Ronald Bouchard, husband of Mona Bouchard, had just turned himself into the Sherburne police.
"Mr. Bouchard has told the sergeant on duty that he was the individual who had fired the shots into Mr. Doyle’s car. Mr. Bouchard then turned over to the desk sergeant a .38 caliber pistol. Mr. Bouchard has been arrested and is now being held in the Sherburne Police Department jail.
The only response to Chief Therrien’s report came from Elaine.
"I want to see my husband," she said, her voice louder than usual. "When can I see him?"
Dr. McKelvey said he didn’t think that would be possible for several hours yet. Then, directing his comments towards Elaine’s brother, he said, "The best thing for her would be to get some rest. She can stay here, but I doubt very much that Mr. Doyle is going to be able to see anyone for some time yet. That’s why I think going home and getting some sleep might make a great deal of sense right now."
Elaine’s brother nodded, indicating that he agreed with what the doctor had said, but Elaine, directing her remarks at the doctor, said, "I’m not going to do much resting until I can see my husband. So if I go home, or stay here, it really isn’t going to make much of a difference."
For a moment nobody in the room said anything, but then, Elaine’s brother, placing an arm around her shoulders, tried to lead her away, suggesting to her that she should come to his house.
"No," Elaine said, twisting away from her brother. "I’m staying here. I don’t care if I have to camp out in the waiting room."
"Suit yourself," her brother said. Then, unable to curb himself, he added, "I’ll be honest with you. It doesn’t sound to me, from what I’ve just heard, that I’d want to lose a night’s sleep over all this."
"If that’s how you feel, fine," she said. "Do what you want. Go home. Get some rest. But to my way of thinking no wife leaves the hospital when her husband’s still on the operating table."
Elaine’s brother then made a move towards giving her a hug, but since she had already turned away from him, his attempt to give her a supportive embrace became little more than a tap on her shoulder. Even then, in its awkward way, it seemed like he was repeating, with a physical gesture, what he had told Elaine about not wasting a night’s sleep over whatever had happened to Arthur Doyle.
One of the nurses who had earlier spoken with Elaine appeared just then with a pillow and blanket and told Elaine to follow her. Chief Therrien and Dr. McKelvey walked away, both talking to Elaine’s brother, while the nurse with the blanket and pillow led Elaine to an out of the way spot in the hospital waiting room, an alcove where she would have some privacy. She also helped Elaine get settled on a sofa and assured her that she was unlikely to be bothered by anyone for the rest of the night.
Elaine was unable to sleep, with her thoughts skittering from her momentary glimpse of Arthur’s car speeding past Hutchinson Drug to Chief Therrien’s statement, which sounded as if he was reading directly from the police blotter. Images of the nights’s events, shifting speedily and without logical progression, came to rest on that woman with the long blonde hair who had been sitting in the front seat of Arthur’s car, half turned so that she was facing Arthur, talking to him. It puzzled Elaine that she didn’t know the woman, that the name, Mona Bouchard, meant nothing to her. How did it happen, then, Elaine asked herself, that this stranger ended up sitting there, looking for all the world as if this was her customary perch, as if she was somehow entitled to take the place that by right of marriage and simple human decency belonged to her?
Unable to answer that question or to piece together how Arthur had met this woman, she reverted to one that seemed more vital to her: Did Arthur think he could drive by Hutchinson Drug without being seen, or did he intentionally take that route? And if so, why? Was he flaunting his infidelity, showing off in a sense? Or had he been absent minded and preoccupied and then realized, when he was already on the way to Mason Street, that he could speed by Hutchinson Drug without being noticed?
Still pondering that question and still unable to find coherence between what little she knew and all that she imagined, she finally dozed off, only to be awakened at 3 a.m. by a nurse who wanted to update her on Arthur’s condition. He was now out of the operating room, the nurse said, and seemed, in the nurse’s words, to be holding his own.
Elaine responded immediately with a flurry of questions. Was Arthur going to survive? How badly wounded was he? When could she see him? The nurse, somewhat officiously, told Elaine that hospital rules prohibited nurses from saying anything more than what doctors authorized them to say. Your husband’s condition, the nurse repeated, is stable. Then, in a comment that seemingly violated hospital rules, the nurse added, "Look, stable isn’t that bad, not when someone’s suffered a gunshot wound."
Once awake, Elaine had trouble falling back to sleep, even though she had convinced herself by then that the circumstances of what had happened didn’t matter as much to her as whether Arthur survived. She thought of the days after she first learned that he was wounded and the frustration and anxiety of not knowing the extent of his wounds and then, instantly, it came to her. Rather than trying to piece together an incident that seemed like some crazy nightmare, why shouldn’t she turn to prayer. She scolded herself for wasting the night in useless worry and speculation when Arthur so desperately needed God’s help.
In one quick motion, she reached down to find her purse and took from it her rosary beads. Then, asking God to forgive her for forgetting Him when she, and Arthur especially, were so much in need of His help, she began reciting the rosary. As fervently as she prayed, however, she had barely finished the third decade of the rosary when she fell asleep again, this time until just before 7 a.m, when a nurse awakened her to say that her mother was on the phone. The nurse then led Elaine to a phone near the nurse’s station.
Elaine’s mother began by telling her she should go home and get some rest, and Elaine responded to that by repeating, word for word, what she had told her brother only a few hours before.
"So you’re really going to stay there until they let you see him?" her mother said.
"And why not?" Elaine said.
Her mother didn’t answer right away and when she did she conceded that it was up to Elaine to decide what she should do, but it was her opinion—strongly felt, it seemed—that it didn’t make any sense for Elaine to remain at the hospital any longer since it was unlikely the doctors would let her see Arthur that day, and maybe even the next. A moment later, her mother more bluntly stated what she had been intending to say all along, that Elaine should not only leave the hospital, but dissociate herself, presumably forever, from Arthur Doyle.
"It’s up to you," her mother said, "but if even half of what I’ve heard is true, I can’t see why you’d want to spend another minute at that hospital. And to tell you the truth, I can’t see why you should spend another minute of your life worrying about him."
"It sounds to me like tongues are already wagging," Elaine said.
"That surprises you?"
"No, it doesn’t, but nothing I do is going to stop people from spreading dirt. That’s what everyone loves to do at a time like this."
"Maybe you haven’t got the full story yet," her mother said. "This isn’t something that just started last night. It’s been going on—-
"You even have the juicy details."
"You bet. This was a woman who had two kids, from two different men, before she was 2l years old. God only knows how many more she would have had before she was through. Here’s something else you might like to know. Your brother got it from the police when he was leaving the hospital. The husband told the police that the wife’s boyfriend—Arthur, in other words—had the gall to drive up to the house where the Bouchards lived to pick her up. Arthur then sounded his horn because this woman—I almost called her another name—didn’t come out right away. The police said that the horn was what pushed the poor husband over the edge."
"Look, this isn’t going to go away if I go home and sleep in my own bed. Maybe some people think that I can show how I feel about all this by leaving Arthur here, all by himself. But I don’t care what you, or any other busybody thinks I should do. I’m hanging on to what I’ve always been taught about marriage. It’s a vow you take to stay with each other from that day until the day you die, no matter what. You can’t walk away just because things aren’t going the way you’d like them to."
Her mother had begun to answer when Elaine abruptly hung up on her, but she couldn’t so easily ignore what her mother had said about Arthur blowing his horn to summon Mona Bouchard. The police, she thought, didn’t have to join in on the gossip that was alreardy circulating through Sherburne, but that part about the horn struck her as being true. Arthur had a habit of sounding his horn just like that whenever he was waiting for her and several times she had complained to him, telling him that he was being ill-mannered to toot his horn just because she was delayed for a moment or two.
Elaine returned to the sofa, and folding the blanket and pillow she had used, she brought them back to the nurse’s station. There, the nurse said again that Arthur was doing as well as could be expected. That was delivered in an impersonal tone, but then the nurse, in a whispered aside, said that maybe Elaine would be able to see Arthur sometime later in the day.
Elaine was cheered enough by that news to go to the hospital cafeteria where she had a cup of coffee and a muffin and pretended not to notice the two women at the other end of the room who were trying to look as if they were not stealing glances at her, though they were. She could well imagine them discussing between themselves what it must feel like, the shame and humiliation, of being married to someone who was now immersed in the kind of scandal that rarely, if ever, occurred in Sherburne. She wanted to walk over to the two women and inform them that all she cared about just then was her husband’s chances of survival, not his alleged philandering. But looking at her watch, she realized that she needed to call Claude Hutchinson and tell him that she would be unable to open the store.
Elaine went from the cafeteria to the hospital lobby where she used a pay phone to call Claude. Her conversation with him was brief because he sounded as if he couldn’t wait to get off the phone. I’m just running out the door, he told her, which indicated to Elaine that Claude already knew she would be unable to open the store that day. Claude added, almost as an afterthought, that he was sorry to have heard what had happened to Arthur, but then, signing off—and having failed, Elaine noticed, to ask her about Arthur’s condition—he told her she should take as much time off as she thought necessary. Her next call, to the personnel office at Black Diamond Paper, was likewise brief and here again she sensed that the young woman who had taken her call already knew that Arthur Doyle would be out of work that day, and for several more days, maybe even several more weeks.
She then returned to the quiet, almost private, corner of the hospital waiting room and idly turned pages of magazines aimed at homemakers, only half paying attention to tips on how to make casseroles more interesting or what household items could be adapted to serve as Christmas tree ornaments. Just before 11 o’clock, she took out her rosary beads again and this time managed to say the entire rosary before a nurse came by, just a bit before noon, to tell her that she could see Arthur. The nurse, quickly correcting herself, then said, "Now, when I say you can see him, I don’t mean you can visit. This will be more like a chance for you to look in on him. It will probably be another day before you can speak with him."
She followed the nurse, who walked rapidly through a maze of corridors and up two flights of stairs. That brought her and the nurse to a floor that seemed to be isolated from the rest of the hospital. There was a nurse seated at a nurse’s station, but unlike most hospital floors with the doors of patients’ rooms opened wide and with nurses and doctors coming and going in the corridors, here the doors were closed and there didn’t seem to be anyone on the floor, except for that nurse seated behind a desk.
The nurse who was with Elaine led her to a room at the end of the corridor, where she opened the door slowly. Only when the nurse had looked into the room herself did she stand aside and allow Elaine to enter.
"Doctor’s orders," the nurse said. "You stay right here until I tell your husband that you’re here."
From where Elaine stood, it looked as if Arthur was sleeping. He was lying on his back, with his eyes closed, and his left arm, indeed, his left shoulder and most of his left side, was heavily bandaged. His hand and arm were extended outward slightly and suspended several inches off the bed by a traction device attached to a rack above his bed.
The nurse, approaching Arthur’s bed, stepped around his outstretched arm and gently tapped him on his right shoulder. He opened his eyes, and when he did, whatever she said to him, caused him to turn and look towards the doorway. When he did, Elaine lifted her hand and gave a small wave, and Arthur, trying to twist his body around, but unable to do so, lifted his right hand to his mouth and blew her a kiss. His hand then flopped back down and he closed his eyes.
Elaine wanted to move closer to the bed, to say something to him, but the nurse hurried back to where she was standing and put her hand out, preventing Elaine from getting any closer to Arthur’s bed. The nurse also reached down to grab Elaine’s hand and gave it a slight pull, indicating that the visit was over. It looked by then as if Arthur had already gone back to sleep.
Outside the room, the nurse told Elaine that Arthur was sedated and that if she had tried to talk to him, it was quite unlikely he would be able to follow what she said. Maybe tomorrow, the nurse said, the doctor will allow a real visit.
Elaine thought herself lucky to get a cab right outside the door of the hospital. She had been afraid she would have to call her brother, or her brother’s wife, to give her a ride home. She was surprised, once she was back in her apartment, that she was hungry enough to eat a bowl of soup. She had yet to finish the soup when her phone rang for the first time. Elaine didn’t answer that call, nor did she answer the call that came only a few minutes later. She then went off to take a bath, and twice, while she was in the bath tub, she heard the phone ring. It also rang when she had finished with her bath and was preparing to take a nap. That time, just before she got into bed, she waited until the ringing stopped and then took the phone’s receiver off the hook.
The next thing she knew it was six o’clock at night. She immediately got out of bed and put in a call to the hospital and the nurse who answered told her that Arthur’s condition had been upgraded from stable to fair. Does that mean I can visit him now, she asked? No, the nurse said, that’s still up to the doctor.
Elaine made a tuna fish sandwich but could eat only half of it. She was undecided about whether she should call Arthur’s sister. Not that she wanted to talk to anyone, but she had always liked Arthur’s sister and felt it only decent that she let her know how Arthur was doing. But just as she was about to make the call she changed her mind. She didn’t want to talk to anyone until she had spoken with Arthur.
Unlike her mother, Elaine had decided that she wasn’t going to accept as true the secondhand account of someone who had got a thirdhand account from someone else. She knew very well how gossip spread in Sherburne, how, as it went from one person to the next, a detail, true or not, was added so that someone’s musing about what might have happened became, by the next telling, hardened, proven fact.
Having put off the call to Arthur’s sister, Elaine washed some clothes and did some dusting in the living room and then, by 11 o’clock, she put the receiver back on the hook so that she could call the hospital. When she heard that Arthur’s condition remained unchanged and that he was resting comfortably, she went to bed. In the morning, when she called, she was relieved to hear the nurse say that Arthur had slept through the night and that maybe she would be able to see him for a brief time that afternoon.
That morning she took another long bath. Lying there, she tried, but failed, to stop herself from asking what caused Arthur to become involved with this other woman because the answer she came up with was always the same: if they had had a baby by now, maybe even two, Arthur never would have been unfaithful to her. She was certain of that. Likewise, she was more than ever convinced that Arthur’s wound and the horror of war had damaged him in ways that were hard for anyone to fathom. That’s what had upset her so about her conversation with her mother. It was as though her mother (and presumably others) felt that Arthur should be condemned not only for having committed adultery but for doing so with someone like Mona Bouchard and in a manner that resulted in murder and mayhem. She was determined not to fall into that trap. Arthur, wounded but alive, was still her husband, still the man she loved, still, the man, she was sure, who loved her.
At noon, having ignored only one call that morning, Elaine went by cab to the hospital and had the cab drop her off at a side entrance so that she could avoid passing by the main reception area, where she was more than likely to run into people she knew. She didn’t feel she was ready yet to meet relatives and friends, let alone her customers from Hutchinson Drug. Just as Arthur needed time to recover from his wounds, she told herself, so, too, did she need a bit more time before she could greet her customers at Hutchinson Drug with a perky good morning and a comment about the weather.
In the hospital, she found the stairway leading to the floor that seemed to be occupied solely by Arthur, but when she got there, the nurse at the nursing station said she would have to wait to see Arthur. Right now, the nurse told her, Dr. McKelvey was in Arthur’s room, checking on him. No, there was nothing wrong, the nurse said. It was a routine visit. The nurse had another message for Elaine, Arthur’s sister had called.
"We don’t like to get involved in family affairs," the nurse said, "but your sister-in-law sounded like she was beside herself. She wants very badly to talk with you."
Since the nurse couldn’t say how long Dr. McKelvey would be in Arthur’s room, Elaine decided to return the call to Arthur’s sister, but wanting privacy, she refused the nurse’s offer to call from the phone near the nurse’s station and used instead a pay phone at the end of the corridor.
Arthur’s sister began by apologizing to Elaine, telling her that what Arthur had done was despicable. She said she was so angry that she didn’t know whether she ever wanted to see him again. Arthur’s brother, who was still in the Navy, felt the same way, she said, as did his two other brothers.
"I can understand how people feel," Elaine said, "but right now, I want to wait until I get the story straight from Arthur’s mouth. You know how it is at times like this—people can’t stop themselves from exaggerating. They get a kick out of making things bigger than they really are. I’m not going to do that, and I think it’s because I feel something like I did when I first heard that Arthur had lost his leg. Thank God, I told myself, thank God, he’s alive. Then, when he got home, and I saw the way his pant leg was pinned up, I began crying like a baby. And that’s when Arthur told me to cut it out. What’s done is done, he said, you can’t erase it. So I think of that, and I remind myself that this was a guy who was practically dead when they dragged him from the battle field, and yet he fought his way back. So, who knows what might come out of this, right? I’m not going to be like everyone else, like my mother, for instance, who’s acting like this is the end of the world. It’s bad, but not that bad."
Arthur’s sister tried to respond to Elaine, but she began crying so hard that Elaine could barely make out what she was saying when she tried to tell Elaine what a good wife she had been, a faithful, hard working wife, one who didn’t deserve to be treated like this, which caused her to apologize again for what her brother had done. But then, sobbing too hard to continue, Arthur’s sister hung up.
When Elaine returned to the nurse’s station, the nurse who had taken her to Arthur’s room the day before was waiting for her. Elaine asked her what the doctors were saying about Arthur’s condition, and the nurse, exercising great caution, said the doctors felt that Arthur was making satisfactory progress. Elaine’s conversation with the nurse was broken up by the arrival of Dr. McKelvey who greeted Elaine by asking whether she had been able to get any rest.
"All that I’ve needed, thank you," she said. "but I’d rest better if I could get in to see my husband."
"Ah well, he’s still a little groggy, but I can see that he’s a battler," the doctor said. "He was in pretty tough shape when he got here, but we were able to stabilize him soon enough and now, we’ll wait and see how it goes, post surgery. I’m more optimistic today than I was when I first saw him, I’ll tell you that. I just finished telling your husband what a lucky guy he is. The bullet that hit his shoulder just missed vital arteries leading to the heart."
Elaine thanked the doctor and when he left, she and the nurse continued on to Arthur’s room. On their way, walking down a corridor that was silent except for the squeaking sound made by the nurse’s rubber soled shoes, Elaine asked the nurse if Arthur was in a regular ward or if this was a section of the hospital set aside for people who were seriously ill.
"It’s like any other ward," the nurse said, "but we don’t usually use it unless we’re short of beds on the other floors. Right now we have plenty of empty beds, but I guess they’ve decided to keep your husband in a quiet place while he’s recovering."
Again, when they reached Arthur’s room, the nurse made Elaine wait by the door, and again, since Arthur was lying there, with his eyes closed, the nurse reached over and tapped him on his right shoulder.
When Arthur opened his eyes, he looked up towards the nurse, who said, "I’ve got a visitor for you." Arthur then said something to the nurse and turned his head away so that he was looking at the window on the opposite side of the room from where Elaine was standing. As soon as he did that, the nurse quickly moved away from Arthur’s bedside and back towards Elaine.
"He says he’s tired and wants to rest," the nurse said, when she reached Elaine.
"You mean he doesn’t want to see me?" Elaine said.
"He’s been through a lot," the nurse told her. "Maybe you should go to the cafeteria and have a cup of coffee. He might feel better later on, or you could wait until tomorrow."
"No," Elaine said, and when she did so, she brushed past the nurse and went around to the side of the bed that put her directly in Arthur’s line of vision. The nurse, trying to reassert her authority, said, "Three minutes, no more than that, doctor’s orders." By then, Elaine had already reached out and grabbed Arthur’s right hand.
"Hey," she said, "the doctors tell me you’re going to be all right."
Arthur didn’t answer Elaine right away, but he tightened his grip on her hand, and after a moment, he pulled her hand up to his lips and kissed it.
He needed to wet his lips with his tongue before he could say anything, and a moment later, when he did speak, his voice was scratchy and hoarse.
"More sorry than you can imagine. Sorry and ashamed."
He was about to say something else, but just shook his head because he had begun crying.
Elaine reached over to the box of tissues on Arthur’s night stand, and still holding his right hand, she took a tissue with her left hand to wipe away the tears coming from Arthur’s eyes.
"I just talked to your doctor," she said. "He told me you’re going to get through this. You’ll be out of here in no time."
As much as thirty seconds of their allotted time passed before either of them spoke again and then it was Arthur, after trying to clear his throat, who said, "What else can I tell you besides how sorry I am?"
"You don’t have to say anything," Elaine said. "Besides, under the rules they’ve established here, we’re not supposed to do much talking. Otherwise, they’ll ask me to leave."
"Does that mean I can’t ask you how you’re doing?"
"I’m fine. I’m taking a few days off so I can spend time with you, if the people who run this place ever allow me to."
"Can I tell you again how sorry I am?"
"Oh, shush. Right now, your job is to get better. Forget everything else. You’re a lucky guy, you know. The doctor said an inch or two to the right and—"
"Maybe for anyone else," she said, "but you’re luckier than most people."
"Luckier than anyone deserves to be," he said. Then, with a little laugh, he added, "This time I even got hit above my waist and on my left side. I’d be pretty lopsided if I had a bum shoulder and missing leg on the same side."
"That reminds me," Elaine said, "have they done anything for your leg, stretched it out?"
"Oh Christ," he said, "who knows, who cares? Were you here yesterday? It’s all hazy to me. I think I was dreaming. Today, before you came, I told myself I’d probably never see you again."
"You’re sounding like we’ve never been through anything like this before. A little while ago, I talked to your sister and I told her, remember, this was a guy who’s gone through things the rest of us will never imagine. He came back from that. He’ll come back from this, I said. I reminded her how I felt when I heard you were wounded. All that mattered to me then was that you were alive. That’s all that matters to me now, too. I’ll take you in whatever shape you’re in, bum shoulder, one leg missing, who cares?"
A moment later, when the nurse arrived to say their time was up, she found that Arthur had hooked his right arm around Elaine and both of them were kissing with the kind of passion reserved for people who were meeting again after a long absence.
Elaine left the hospital feeling quite pleased with her brief visit, particularly after Arthur’s nurse, who had seemed irritated with her at first, stopped her outside Arthur’s room and told her she was "a miracle worker."
"Earlier today, he was down, really down," the nurse said, "but once he saw you, he came back to life. You’re obviously just the medicine he needed."
Elaine had been cheered by her visit to Arthur, and what she had heard from both his doctor and the nurse, but that feeling began to dissipate as soon she got out of the cab that brought her home from the hospital, and she saw, parked in front of her apartment house her brother’s car, and sitting beside her brother, her mother. Elaine so disliked the idea that they seemed to be lying in wait for her that she pretended, as she left the cab, that she didn’t see them, but just as she reached the door of her apartment and put her key into the lock, her brother called out to her. She turned towards him and saw that he and his mother, with an urgency in their steps were heading towards the stairs that led up to her porch.
Elaine, waiting for them, made no move towards entering the apartment. If her mother and her brother had anything to say to her—and it was apparent from the serious expressions on their faces that they did—they would have to talk with her right there, on the porch. This, on a cool day, chilly enough so that Elaine’s brother, who had a thin jacket on, had hunched up his shoulders and had his hands in his pants pockets, and her mother, even though she had gloves on, had dug her hands deep into the pockets of her coat.
Elaine’s mother was the first to speak, and as she herself noted, what she had to say would be, in her words, short and sweet.
"Since you don’t answer the phone, we came here to tell you that we hope you’re planning to leave him," she said. "And we think the sooner, the better. People think you’re a damn fool for even visiting him."
"I thought I already told you that I don’t care what people think. People don’t get to decide how I should live my life. I do. It so happens that I was going to give you a call just now to tell you that Arthur’s condition is improving and that his doctors think his chances of recovering are very good."
"The stuff I’ve been hearing about him," Elaine’s brother said, "it’s a wonder something like this didn’t happen to him a long time ago."
"You make it sound like you and the people you’re talking to feel that he deserved just what he got."
"Did he give you his side of the story yet?" her mother asked. "I’d love to hear him try to talk his way out of this mess."
"No, he hasn’t," Elaine said, "and I’m not about to ask him to, either, because it doesn’t matter as much to me as it does to you and the people you’re talking to. I have a very good idea what happened. Nobody has to spell it out for me. I also know it isn’t going to change anything if we all sit around telling each other that what Arthur did is unforgivable. He knows that better than any of us."
"Your father’s fit to be tied," her mother said. "The relatives, I don’t know yet. I think most of them are too embarrassed to call."
"And both of you, all you care about is that I leave him. You even think there’s something wrong if I go to the hospital to visit him."
"Look, we’re only telling you what we think is best for you," her mother said. "A few neighbors have told me how sorry they are. They’ve been asking about you and how you’re doing. I tell them you’ve been through something like this before, when you got that telegram telling you he was wounded. But this is different, very different."
"So different that you think I should just walk away from him."
"That would be my choice," her mother said.
"I remember the nuns teaching us that marriage was a sacrament."
"That’s why the church gives annulments," her mother said.
"No, an annulment says you were never married. Well, I was and I still am and I’m not going to pretend that the man I’ve lived with all these years isn’t really my husband."
Elaine’s mother didn’t answer, but Elaine’s brother, lifting his eyebrows and tilting his head towards his car, seemed to indicate to his mother that it wasn’t any use trying to change Elaine’s mind.
"I don’t know what else there is to say," Elaine said, "so if you don’t mind, I’d like to have a little time to myself. I haven’t had lunch yet and after that I plan to take a nap. My nights have been a little restless lately."
Elaine’s brother was now blowing on his hands to warm them. Then, with a more distinct nod of his head, he more clearly signaled to his mother that it was time to leave. His mother, with a weary sigh, turned and began walking away, but as she did, she told Elaine that she might try sleeping pills.
"The pills can leave you feeling logy," she said, "but at this point, the important thing is for you to get some rest. That might help you come to your senses."
Elaine, without saying good bye, turned away, and unlocking the door, she entered her apartment. She made herself some scrambled eggs and toast and then, after going through some mail, which she hadn’t looked at for two days, she lay down, not sure she was ready for a nap. An hour or so later she was awakened by the phone ringing. She made no attempt to answer it, but whoever was calling let the phone ring for at least a full minute. Finally, to relieve herself of that bothersome ring, Elaine answered the phone. Much to her surprise it was Arthur’s sister.
"I had to call because I hung up on you too soon today," she said. "I want you to know that I think you’re well within your rights if you decide to leave Arthur. There’s no reason why someone like you should be tied down to someone like him, not after what I’ve been hearing. Okay, you may think I’m being a busy body, that I should mind my own business, but you should know, I’m on your side, not his."
Elaine thanked her, but said she was tired and didn’t care to talk just now. But she took a moment to tell Arthur’s sister what she had told her mother and her brother.
"Arthur and I, and only Arthur and I, will decide what we’re going to do once this is over. But that’s a long way off. He has to get back on his feet first. Don’t worry. We’ll work it out."
Elaine didn’t bother to say good bye when she hung up the phone because she was thinking that what her mother and brother and Arthur’s sister were urging her to do was the natural reaction of people who felt they were being helpful. But that visit by her mother and brother (and now the call from Arthur’s sister) troubled her. She thought of them as mourners whose idea of offering her comfort was to tell her that her marriage was over and that she was only fooling herself if she didn’t accept that fact. She had no doubt, either, that her mother was behind the call she had received from Arthur’s sister.
By the next day, when she arrived at the hospital, her mother’s visit and the phone call from Arthur’s sister didn’t seem to matter as much once the nurse at the nurse’s station greeted her with the news that Arthur’s condition continued to improve. The nurse, nevertheless, still walked with her to Arthur’s room, but then allowed her to enter on her own.
"Ten minutes today," the nurse said, as she turned and went back to her desk.
Arthur was sitting up in bed and didn’t hesitate at reaching out with his right arm and pulling Elaine towards him. She planted a kiss on his lips, but as she drew away from him, he pulled her closer, this time for a long, lingering kiss. Elaine welcomed the show of affection, but it was awkward for her, physically, since she had to bend over to kiss Arthur while being careful not to put her full weight on Arthur’s chest. Finally, when Arthur loosened his hold on her and she was able to stand up by the bed, Arthur, still gripping her hand in his, announced, in a somewhat sober tone, that he had something to tell her.
"Uh, oh, this doesn’t sound good," she said.
"It isn’t," he said. "It’s damn hard, too. But it’s something I have to do because it looks like I’m going to survive this thing."
"Well, isn’t that good news?"
"Yes, but what happens now? That’s the hard part."
"I just hope you haven’t been talking to my mother and Henry."
"No, this is me talking. This is me without any advice from anyone else. It’s me who thinks it’s best for you if we—let me put it this way—take some time off from each other. I say that because I think a lot of people are thinking that I got exactly what was coming to me. Nobody has said that to my face, not yet. But I know what they’re thinking. You make your bed, you sleep in it, right?"
"I hope you’re kidding," Elaine said.
"No, the more I think about it, the more I’ve decided it’s best for you to begin making a life for yourself. You don’t need me messing things up and dragging you through the mud."
"Stop it. You’re talking crazy."
"No. I’m not crazy. Look, as long as I’m around, people are always going to wonder why you haven’t left me. Every time they see us, it’s going to remind people of what happened. That’s just the way it is in a small town, the way it’ll always be. I can hear them now. See that guy. He lost a leg in the war, but his crooked arm, that comes from something altogether different. And the story that everyone’s told each other a thousand times will then be told all over again."
"I can take it if you can."
"You say that, but you don’t want to live with this all your life. And if we ever had kids, they’d hear about it someday, too."
Elaine took a moment to get a chair from the corner of Arthur’s room and dragged it closer to his bed. She again took his hand in hers and then, when Arthur tugged on it, she leaned forward and placed her head on the pillow next to his.
"Temporary insanity. That’s the only defense I have to offer," he said.
She smiled when she said, "Temporary?"
"I’d like to think so."
"Let me tell you something," she said. "I remember, you remember, too, I bet, the first night you were home. What’s done is done, you said. That was your way of saying no matter how hard you try, you can’t wish some things away. That’s the way I try to see things. You got wounded. You dealt with it. This happened. It’s over. No looking back. No wishing it away. We go on from here. And to hell with what people say about us."
A moment later, Arthur, looking over at Elaine, began humming a song, and then, haltingly, and with his voice still a bit hoarse, he sang the first line of the song.
"Gonna take a sentimental journey. Gonna set my heart at ease. Gonna take a sentimental journey, to renew old memories."
"It must be all the medication they’re giving you," Elaine interjected.
"Seven, that’s the time we leave at seven," he sang. "I’ll be waiting up for heaven, counting every mile of railroad track that takes me back. Oh, gonna take a sentimental journey—"
"So, when did you start thinking you were Sinatra?"
That caused Arthur to trail off, but then he said, "I love that song. Whenever I hear it, whenever I think of it, I’m back when the war was coming to an end, when so many people knew they were going to be going home soon. Home, getting home. That was all we talked about, all you ever heard. Home was like heaven. Once we got there, everything was going to be just great again."
"It’s a great song," Elaine said, "but I haven’t heard it for a while."
"Let me tell you one thing I regret," Arthur said.
"Only one thing?"
"Well, one to start with. I should never have let this leg stop us from dancing. So what if I was a little bit gimpy?"
"When you’re better, the first thing we’ll do is go out dancing," Elaine said.
There was a brief pause, almost as though neither of them had any idea what direction their conversation should take in the few minutes remaining to them. It was Arthur, a moment later, who said, "I hope you’re eating and taking care of yourself. And I hope you’re not going to let all the talk around town get to you."
"It isn’t. The Enterprise was already printed for the week when this happened so there was nothing in the paper, but I guess the Manchester paper got hold of it. I can’t imagine what they’re going to put in this week’s paper. Not that it matters by now since everyone in town probably has their own version of what happened. You know something? I haven’t answered the phone though it’s rung a lot. I talked with my mother twice and I can’t say that I enjoyed it at all. I talked with your sister, too. That wasn’t as bad, but I have this idea that my mother gave your sister a call, or maybe it was the other way around because what they had to say sounded so much alike. Frankly, they’re wasting their time because they don’t see things the way I do. Okay, something bad happened, but you survived. Thank God for that. What else is there to say?"
"You’re a saint," he said. "I’m not."
Elaine heard the nurse arriving in time to pull herself up so that she was only sitting next to Arthur, holding his hand, when the nurse entered the room.
"I’d say you folks have had enough time for today," the nurse said, as she glanced at her watch.
The next morning, Elaine was awakened at 7:30, by the ringing of her phone. Fearing this might be a call from the hospital, and worried that Arthur may have suffered some reverse, she scrambled out of bed and ran towards the phone. When she answered, she was relieved to hear Arthur’s voice and not a nurse or doctor. He first asked how she was doing, but Elaine, in a panicky voice, asked him if there was something wrong, why was he calling. He was fine, just fine, he assured her, and then, without any warning, he told her that he was being transferred to the new Veteran Administration hospital in Lanesville.
"No," she said, "they can’t do that. Who decided to move you? Why wasn’t I called and told about this?"
"Calm down, calm down," Arthur said, "I’m calling and I’m telling you about it, okay? Another thing, the hospital at Lanesville is new, it just opened a couple of months ago. It’s a great place from what I’ve heard. Christ, it’s only two or three hours, by train. It’s not like they’re sending me off to Nebraska."
"I want someone to explain what’s going on," she said.
"Well, it’s Sister Olivette who told me. She runs this place. What she decides, goes, and nobody better get in her way. You oughta see her. She’s like a little bulldozer. She came in here about an hour ago and told me that my doctors okayed the transfer."
"We’ll see about that," Elaine said. "I’m on my way up to see you right now."
As soon as she hung up, Elaine called a cab and, in the few minutes it took for the cab to arrive, she got dressed. She assumed that when she got to the hospital she would have time to find out more about the decision to move Arthur, maybe even stop the transfer, but when she arrived, and went straight to Arthur’s room, she found a nurse preparing him for the ambulance that would take him to Lanesville.
Elaine took barely a moment to greet Arthur and give him a cursory kiss before asking the nurse when the transfer was going to take place. She also asked where could she find Sister Olivette.
The nurse said that the ambulance was already on its way from Lanesville to Sherburne and was expected to arrive within the hour. She then explained to Elaine that Sister Olivette’s office was down the corridor to the rear of the reception desk in the hospital’s main lobby. Look for the corridor lined with portraits of the other nuns who once held Sister Olivette’s job, the nurse said.
Elaine had no difficulty finding her way to Sister Olivette’s office, but when she got there, the secretary said that she would have to wait to see Sister Olivette because Sister, as she called her, was on the phone. Less than a minute passed before the door of Sister Olivette’s office opened and Sister, maybe five feet tall, but with broad shoulders, filled the doorway.
"Mrs. Doyle," she said, "in here if you please." Elaine followed Sister Olivette into the office, taking a seat in front of Sister Olivette’s desk. The office had two windows, but the blinds were closed and the only light came from the lamp on Sister Olivette’s desk.
Sister Olivette, foregoing any pleasantries, briskly and efficiently announced to Elaine that the medical staff had concurred on the transfer of Arthur Doyle to the VA hospital in Lanesville.
There was a short pause before Elaine was able to manage a weak sounding, "But why?"
"At Sacred Heart, we tend to the sick and dying," Sister Olivette said, "but we retain the right to decide which patients we will treat once their condition is stabilized and they need long term care. Your husband’s doctors said he had improved enough to make the trip to Lanesville, so I’ve decided they can tend to his needs there as well as we can here."
"Sister, I don’t think you’ve answered my question," Elaine said, her voice more assertive.
Sister Olivette, sitting upright behind her desk, with her hands folded, and the light from her desk lamp reflecting on her rimless glasses, simply repeated that the best place for Arthur right now was the VA Hospital.
"We cared for him," she told Elaine. "Dr. McKelvey saved his life. You can’t ask for anything more than that from us."
"I appreciate what Sacred Heart has done for him. Everyone here has been very kind and understanding. But I’m wondering why you’re in such a hurry to get rid of him. Maybe if he could stay here a few more days, he might be well enough by then so that he could come home. Then I could take care of him. You should understand that right now it means a lot to me, and to him, too, for us to be with each other. Can’t you see that?"
She was about to say more, to ask if Sacred Heart Hospital routinely sent patients who were veterans to the VA hospital, but before she could continue, she began weeping.
Sister Olivette poured a glass of water from a pitcher on her desk and pushed the glass towards Elaine. Elaine didn’t reach for the water so Sister Olivette got up from her chair and carried the glass over to Elaine. She waited a moment while Elaine was wiping tears from her eyes with a handkerchief, and then, after handing the glass to Elaine, she returned to her desk, the rosary beads hanging from her waist clattering against her chair as she sat back down.
"When I told your husband about the transfer, he didn’t seem to have any objections," Sister Olivette said. "In fact, he seemed to think it was a good idea."
Elaine, who had taken a tiny sip of water, said, "You still haven’t told me why you’re moving him."
"I don’t think I have to repeat myself," Sister Olivette said.
"You can’t wait to get rid of him, can you?" Elaine said, as she got up from her chair. Leaning forward, she placed her glass of water on Sister Olivette’s desk, doing so with enough force so that some of the water spilled. "You know, of course, that it would be better if he was here, close to me. But none of that matters to you, does it, Sister? I get the impression that this is some form of punishment. It’s as if you’re judge and jury and you’ve decided, whether or not the case has been heard, that it’s time for you to pass sentence, which is to kick Arthur out of your hospital because you don’t like the reason why he ended up here."
"It’s hard to answer somebody who claims to know what I’m thinking."
There was a hint that Sister Olivette didn’t enjoy this exchange in the way she ran her finger between her chin and the edge of her wimple, almost as if it was suddenly pinching too tightly the flesh beneath her jaw. She had also looked away from Elaine, towards the window, when she spoke.
"All I’m asking is that you be honest with me, Sister," Elaine said, as she stood by her chair. "If the situation with Arthur was different, if he was just another veteran recovering from a bad accident, say, would you be transferring him to Lanesville?"
"We extend care to those who need it," Sister Olivette said, "but we allocate care as we see fit, depending on certain circumstances. We’re a small hospital and we don’t always have as many beds here as we need. So we’re fortunate, when we’ve reached our capacity, that the VA hospital can absorb our patients who are eligible to be cared for there."
"Why can’t you just say you’re kicking him out?" Elaine said, her voice growing louder. "First, you put him on a floor you don’t usually use, as if he’s got some terrible disease. And right now, I happen to know that this hospital has empty beds. With all due respect, Sister, it might be nice if you’re going to run a hospital, that you try to tell the truth."
Elaine then turned and marched out of Sister Olivette’s office. On her way out, perhaps for the first time in her life, she deliberately slammed a door behind her when she left a room.
When she arrived back in Arthur’s room, she found that he had already been moved. She ran down the two flights of stairs leading to the floor where the emergency room of the hospital was located and moved quickly to the entrance used when ambulances arrived. There, she found Arthur on a gurney, wrapped in a blanket, and with a knitted hat pulled down over his ears. The traction device on his left arm was supported by a pole with wheels on it.
"You really can’t wait to get him out of here, can you?" she said to the nurse who was standing next to Arthur.
"We were told the ambulance would be arriving within the next ten minutes, but that was more than 20 minutes ago," the nurse said.
"It’s like the army," Arthur said, "hurry up and wait."
"I just had a little talk with Sister Olivette," Elaine told Arthur. "We discovered that neither of us like each other."
"Don’t let yourself get upset over this," Arthur said. "I’m the reason why they have VA hospitals. Hell, I got a lifetime pass to any one of those places."
No doubt that Arthur just then, if he had his cane handy and was wearing his prosthesis, would have punctuated what he had said by rapping his cane against his artificial leg.
There was a quiet moment or two and the nurse, looking out the door of the emergency room, announced that it looked as if it might snow.
"A few days ago, it was like spring," she said, "but I know when that happens we’re sure to get another storm before spring finally gets here. It’s nature’s way of letting us know we shouldn’t get our hopes up."
"Are you going with him?" Elaine asked the nurse.
"No, they send their own nurse. Don’t worry, she’ll make sure he’s all right."
Another minute or so passed by before the nurse, still standing by the door, announced that she had spotted the ambulance. Elaine, walking over to the door, saw the ambulance turn off the highway and begin traveling up the long curved, sloping driveway that led to the hospital. A wealthy land owner had donated the land for Sacred Heart to build a hospital, but because the site was on a hillside, the area in front of it had to be graded and leveled off so that vehicles entering and leaving wouldn’t have to negotiate a steep hill. Thick woods lined one side of the driveway and surrounded the hospital itself.
As the ambulance drew nearer to the hospital, the nurse positioned Arthur’s gurney so that it could be pushed out the door. A moment later, pushing a button, she caused the door to open, and seconds after that, she and Arthur, with Elaine holding on to Arthur’s right hand, were outside, waiting for the ambulance driver to back the ambulance into place.
The nurse from Lanesville got out of the ambulance once it was parked and went up to the nurse from Sacred Heart with a document for her to sign. She was friendly and smiling as she introduced herself to Arthur and Elaine and assured them she would take good care of Arthur both during the trip to Lanesville and at the hospital itself.
"We’re one of the newest hospitals in the VA system," she told them. "Everything in the place is new and up to date. They tell us that some of the equipment we have is as good, if not better, than some of the major medical centers in Boston."
The two nurses then began pushing Arthur’s gurney towards the ambulance, with the ambulance driver standing by, to help if he was needed. Moving Arthur required some care since one nurse had to hold Arthur’s arm in place while the other nurse, who had climbed into the ambulance, was waiting to attach Arthur’s arm to a traction device inside the ambulance. Arthur’s transfer into the ambulance had been completed, and the nurse from Sacred Heart was climbing out, returning to the loading dock, when Elaine seemed to surprise everyone by squeezing past the nurse and getting into the ambulance itself.
"Sorry," said the nurse from Lanesville, who was still inside the ambulance, "but regulations don’t allow anyone but medical personnel to enter the ambulance."
"One minute," Elaine said, "just give me a minute to say good bye."
The nurse, without answering, got out of the ambulance, and she and the nurse from Sacred Heart and the ambulance driver huddled together outside the ambulance. A brisk wind was blowing, and the nurse from Sacred Heart, though she was wearing a jacket, was shivering and had pulled her hands up into the sleeves of her jacket. The nurse from Lanesville, who was wearing a heavier jacket and a hat and gloves, wrapped an arm around the other nurse and held her close, trying to offer her some warmth and protection from the wind.
"I think they want to get going," Arthur told Elaine. Her answer was to grab his right hand and kiss it.
"I wouldn’t mind this so much," she said, "if I didn’t feel as though they were running you out of town."
"Maybe they are," Arthur said, with a grin. "But to be honest with you, I’d like to get this show on the road. If they aren’t going to let me stay here—and it’s obvious they aren’t—Lanesville is the place where I should be right now."
"You want me to leave?" Elaine said.
Before Arthur could answer, she began crying.
"Let me tell you again how sorry I am," Arthur said. "I didn’t mean to cause you any harm."
Her response to that was to wipe her tears away and then plant several kisses on Arthur’s face.
The ambulance driver, poking his head into the ambulance, said, "M’am, we’re on a tight schedule. We’ve got two more transfers scheduled today."
The nurse from Lanesville, echoing the ambulance driver, "Mrs Doyle, you’ve had your chance to say good-bye. We’re running late, and with the weather we’re having, we really want to get going. On the way up here, snow was already beginning to fall when we came through Pinkham Notch."
At the same time, Arthur promised Elaine that he would call her the moment he arrived in Lanesville. That seemed to satisfy Elaine because after she kissed him one last time, she climbed out of the ambulance.
Once Elaine was outside the ambulance, the nurse from Lanesville got back in and after a few adjustments to the traction device holding Arthur’s arm—and waving good bye to Elaine and the nurse—she closed the back door of the ambulance. The thump of that door was the signal the ambulance driver had been waiting for and slowly the ambulance, a red revolving light on its roof, began heading down the long driveway that led to the highway.
Elaine followed along for a few steps, and for a moment it looked as though she might try to keep up with the ambulance, but once it picked up speed, she stopped and stood there, watching it as it traveled down the long looping turn that brought it to the highway. She remained there even after the ambulance had left the hospital’s driveway and the only thing visible was the red light of the ambulance flickering through the branches of the trees that lined the highway.