Fate’s method to guide your life
John Orrin Chase
Chase, Inc. http://www.chaseinc.net/
A Minnesota Corporation
This book is a memoir of events in John Orrin Chase’s life occurring from 1999 to 2005. Other than John Orrin Chase any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
©2015 by John Orrin Chase
All rights, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever, are reserved for Chase, Inc.
Revision December 2019
This printing January 2020
Printed in the United States of America
Renee Ann Chase
She graciously lived through this with me
I am standing over a weaved wicker basket with a baby lying in it. I look at the 1923 silver dollar in the palm of my left hand. Lady Liberty faces the initials E W, which were obviously etched by hand with the tip of a knife. I take the coin with the thumb and forefinger of my right hand. I proceed to place the coin into the baby's hand. With my left hand I reach down to steady the baby’s wrist. The instant my hand touches the baby my sight goes black.
I woke instantly as the dream ends. Exactly the same as this dream as ended a hundred times since my mid-teens when this dream started appearing to me. I laid there thinking, I know this must be some message and I have to understand its meaning. The obvious details of this dream are the baby, the dollar and our flesh touching. How many hours have I spent pondering this dream? I asked myself. The only connection to reality is that I recognized the silver dollar as the very one that was given to me by my uncle on the day of my birth. With no further clues, I must conclude this is a vision of a future event where I will pass this dollar on to another newborn. Okay, I have figured this out; so why must I continue to be awakened by this dream?
The alarm on my digital clock interrupted this train of thought. With a groan I rolled over, hit the snooze bar and the clock fell silent. The red LED display flashed the date 0718, then the time 05:00. What the hell, I thought. I have an hour and twelve minutes before I have to punch in. It is Sunday so nobody but Scott and me will be there. I won’t shave. That saves me ten minutes. I’ll take the snooze.
“06:12 is my start time?” you ask. I worked for Northwest Airlines as an aircraft mechanic in the engine test facility. They had thousands of employees so they staggered start times in fifth hour intervals to lighten traffic in the parking lots.
I rolled back over to face my wife. The very dim light of the break of dawn took advantage of the open window to reveal Renee, already up on her elbow, looking back at me. I reached up to turn the knob of the fifteen watt wall sconce directly over our heads.
Through her squinting, dark brown eyes she groggily exclaimed, “Already?!” Her hair, also dark brown, was long enough so it cascaded down still leaving some hair lying on the bed. She had bangs so the light olive complexion of her face was not hidden by hair falling in her face. She was exceedingly beautiful for her fifty years. Even though I was only two years older, I showed my age but she did not. She has had a thousand people tell her that she looks like Cher since I Got You Babe was released when Renee was sixteen. 1965 also happens to be the year we met, and we have been together ever since.
“I already hit the snooze,” I told her. “I will stay with you for ten more minutes. Kiss me now and I will sneak out without waking you.”
“Okay,” she sighed. We kissed and she fell back to sleep.
I put my head back on the pillow and just stared at her for a couple minutes. I remembered back to the first time I saw her. She was an A&W carhop. She looks as adorable now as she did thirty-four years ago. I am so lucky and blessed. I turned the light off and fell back to sleep. The ten minutes passed in a nanosecond and the alarm went off again. Little did I know those ten minutes would the last I would spend with her in bed for a couple of months. This day was going bring me a life changing event.
When I got to work Scott told me that he had purchased a Honda motorcycle on Saturday. He asked me if I would help him pick it up after work. “Of course,” I replied. When our shift ended we rode to Blaine with me riding tandem behind Scott on his ‘old’ bike, a one year old Harley. After a few minutes of talking to the previous owner, Scott got on his Honda. I jumped on the Harley and we started out to his house. I had never been to Scott’s house so I followed him. It was 80 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. What a beautiful day for a ride! I thought.
We traveled through Minneapolis on I-94. We reached downtown St. Paul and exited the freeway to merge onto highway 52 south. I looked over my left shoulder to check the merging traffic when suddenly a heavy darkness had consumed me. I felt as if I was in a closed box because I couldn’t feel any air movement. But then I couldn’t sense any walls around me either. It wasn’t cold, it wasn’t warm. There was no smell or sound either. There wasn’t anything. I felt like I was nowhere, in a vast timeless nothingness, and it was not a dream. I have no idea how long I was suspended there. Then I had an eerie feeling come over me. It felt like something was stalking me. Is it the Angel of Death? I wondered. If Death was beckoning, my first and only thought was of Renee; what if I would never see her again. The thought that I may never hold her in my arms again caused an immense pain in my soul. I begged God for my return to Renee’s arms.
Then, somewhere far in the distance, I could hear a voice singing very softly. The voice was pulling me back from the nihility. I could recognize the refrain. You Are My Sunshine! I listened closely and I recognized Renee’s voice in the distance. Then she stopped singing. She started saying soothing and comforting things to me. I could feel myself coming out of that void.
Now, as consciousness slowly returned, I was feeling pain as I had never felt it before. I was blind! I couldn’t talk! I couldn’t breathe! I was vomiting and I was lying on my back. I couldn’t lift my head. I tried to thrash about but I couldn’t move any part of me. I knew if I couldn’t breathe I would die! I was so frightened. I could hear Renee still talking to me. She sounds so calm that I must be all right, I thought. Minutes passed. I kept trying to talk but nothing would come out. After a few more minutes, I realized I could move my right hand at my wrist. I made a motion with my hand like I was writing. It got Renee’s attention and she put a pen in my hand. I could feel her lift my hand. When she put it down I felt the crinkle of paper so I scrawled
“You had an accident,” she said. “We don’t know exactly what happened. Somehow you were thrown off the motorcycle. Your body crashed into the concrete meridian barricade, face first.”
That made no sense to me. I needed more information. I still had the pen but could feel no paper under my hand. Again, I made a writing motion. She must not be looking, I think, so I franticly patted on the bed with my hand. She put the paper back under my hand and pushed down on my fingers.
“You are in Regions Hospital in St. Paul, very near where you had your accident,” Renee said.
I tapped again so she slid the paper in.
She said, “Your face is so swollen you can’t open your eyes.”
I made more anxious taps.
“There is a tube into your lungs with a machine doing your breathing for you,” she told me.
Once again I tapped.
“You have broken bones all over your body,” she said. “You are restrained so you can’t move. Your right arm is tied at the wrist so you can still move your hand.”
Three weeks passed, I was recuperating at home with the radio playing. The only part of me unbroken was my right arm and hand so, without causing pain, the limit of my physical activity was changing stations. I stopped at a station that plays music from the 40’s. The DJ announced the next song as - I’ll Be Seeing You sung by Frank Sinatra and played by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. A few moments into the song I had an overwhelming feeling of sorrow come over me. The grief was so powerful tears started flowing from my eyes. Along with the sadness was a strange sense of déjà vu, that experience that leaves you feeling that what just happened was a memory from before. This is so difficult to accurately describe, but it was a feeling like a déjà vu detached from its event. The song ended and all the emotions slowly subsided. I thought, “Wow that was strange.”
I have often wondered, what exactly is a déjà vu experience? Every time I have had one, it’s been so fleeting. Now I had nothing but time to think about it. I wanted to grab it with my mind and hold on to it. They always appear so unexpectedly and they are over before you even get a chance to connect it to a previous experience. Is it a memory or is it a feeling? I have never been able to put my finger on it. I felt like I was whizzing down a highway and had seen something out of the corner of my eye but didn’t get a chance to focus on it. Except, in this case, the highway was a timeline and there was no way to stop to back up to get a second look. By the time I realized what was happening the event was too far behind me to vividly recall. As far as this particular event, I just attributed the experience to residual effects from my accident and returned to brainlessly listening to the radio.
A couple months later I was back at work. As I said, I am an aircraft mechanic, and on this day I was working on an APU in the test cell. An APU is an acronym for Auxiliary Power Unit. An APU in this case is a small turbine engine that supplies electric and hydraulic power to the aircraft when it is on the ground and the main engines are off. When any aircraft component has been repaired or overhauled it is placed in a ‘test cell’ so it can be run under required load conditions to assure serviceability prior to installation on aircraft. Test cells can be anything from a closet sized room (for pumps, etc.) to a very large room the size of two basketball courts or more with very high ceilings (for large jet engines). Test cells always have many sensors attached to the unit being tested to collect data and are always built to contain catastrophic failure of the unit under test. The walls are made of concrete or steel and range from a few inches thick to over three feet thick.
I was alone in the test cell preparing an APU for test. My radio, playing big band music, was behind me on my tool box. I was a teen of the sixties but have always had an inexplicable propensity to 40’s music, but the inclination had become much stronger since my accident. They announce I’ll Be Seeing You, this time sung by Rosemary Clooney, and again the tears welled in my eyes. I could no longer see what I was doing. I had such an overwhelming feeling of sorrow that I had to sit down as I lost my balance. I was held motionless by the song despite futile attempts to muster all the self-control I could. I silently wept as it played. A few minutes after the song ended my feeling of sadness turned to a feeling of gratitude that no one was around. A man that works closely with hundreds of other men can never show sensitivity or the ridicule would be endless.
Another month passed and the radio played I Had the Craziest Dream, a song from the same era. I experienced another episode, but this time I was alone in my garage. I didn’t have to worry about interruptions so I tried to be more aware of what was happening to me. Physically nothing was happening but it was as if the very core of me was hit by an overwhelming blast of emotions. The feeling included an intense desire of…? I tried to understand what it was I desired. I knew the song would end soon and I only had a few moments before the feelings would pass, so I tried to coax the unknown event into my consciousness. I got very fuzzy images and other sensations. It was kind of like a dream state. For just a moment I felt the presence of a young woman against me. Not pressing against my body but it was like a memory of her holding me. It subsided again regardless of my efforts to keep it from slipping away. I wished it wouldn’t. I continued playing 40’s stations for the next month but had no further bouts of grief. I decided whatever I had been experiencing was finally behind me.
In the early spring of 2000 Renee and I were on a trip. We went to a dining room in the hotel where we were staying. The waiter seated us and we examined our menus. We placed our order; the waiter took our menus and left. I looked up and gazed about the room. It was an old hotel and the dining room was in the Art Deco style of the 1930’s or 40’s. Another event was coming on. In this more vivid déjà vu I was slow dancing in a ballroom of a similar style to this room. I was holding a young lady whose clutch was as tight as mine. The tears came again and I was having trouble getting through the meal. I was in a public place and I didn’t want this now. To force it away, I looked down at the table for the rest of the meal. I suppressed this occurrence but I had learned more. I was having these experiences with certain songs and they were tied to a room similar to this dining room.
I bought a Tommy Dorsey CD with I’ll Be Seeing You in an effort to see what other songs might bring it on. Armed with this visual image of the place and the CD, I wanted to see if I could induce a sustainable state of these sensations. With uninterrupted solitude I was able to achieve what seemed like memories of images and conversations. When my trance faded I replayed the music and was able to stimulate it again. I could only play the song about three times in a session, as it was emotionally very exhausting and I was unable hold the required focus. My intention was to examine these events and reassemble the memory as much as I could. I did this many times over a period of several months. I became quite skillful at this and was finally able to put the visions, impressions and feelings together in as much detail as possible.
I also realized this was someone else’s memory, not mine. Until now I had never believed in the supernatural things. I had always been skeptical about séances and such. Now I had to push my doubts aside as knew there was someone else that joins me when I hear that music. I’ll Be Seeing You was his ticket to re-live, through me, an experience that he held so dear that it constituted all of his purpose in whatever kind of existence was his. During these months, when I would describe these experiences to Renee, I referred to him as The Traveler as I thought he must be some wandering soul that found me when I played that song. The images and sensations of The Traveler’s experiences became clearer as I continued my sessions with the Tommy Dorsey CD. There was no verbal communication from The Traveler, but I received the thoughts of his mind during these sessions. These feelings had become actual memories. My near-death experience was the impetus that permitted my awareness of him. As the months became years, I learned his name was Eli.
His story unfolds to me by visual imagery much as a movie does for you. For example, when you go to the theatre, you see a scene that contains a large crowd. You know what the center of this scene is, but if you choose to you can look at people at the edge of the field of vision. You may focus on the face of a nameless man in the crowd. Unlike a theater however, since I am looking at a memory of a scene I am forced to see only those things on which Eli is focused. The visions sometimes have peripheral sight when it is part of that memory but objects in the fringe are identifiable only by shape. Also, I never get to see what Eli looks like since there was no memory shown to me where he looked into a mirror. But when he looks in that direction I can see his hands, which are broad with stout fingers. His forearms are quite muscular. I can hear the conversations taking place with each memory of the man I now know as Eli.
I invite you to come with me as I relate the memories of his life that he has shared. The Tommy Dorsey CD always brings us to the Knickerbocker Hotel in Atlantic City on Tuesday, February 27, 1943.
Eli is standing inches from the face of a young man in a freshly pressed khaki Army uniform. The shirt is buttoned to the neck with the tie tucked into his shirt between the second and third buttons. His eyes are level with Eli’s eyes and he is of thin build. His blond hair is short but of a length that can be combed. It’s parted almost in the middle but slightly to his left side. He has a narrow, freshly shaven face. His eyebrows are normal thickness but so light in color that they are almost invisible. With his left hand he lightly pushes on Eli’s right shoulder and tauntingly says with a southern drawl, “Well, go on Bailey. What are you waiting for? She doesn’t have a guy with her.” Eli turns his head to look across the very large room. “Don’t be such a chicken-shit,” the man heckles.
Without focusing on anything across the room Eli turns back to the man and looks him squarely in the eyes. I can sense Eli has formed a big grin and comments, “Parker, you are such an ass-hole.”
“Well, okay I’ll buy that,” Parker agrees then continues, “If you’ll buy the fact that you are chicken-shit. You don’t have a hair on your ass if you don’t get over there!”
“Fine, then take a close look at my hairy ass while it’s leaving, shithead,” Eli laughingly responds as he pivots left in military style. His eyes scan a raised stage with only female musicians milling around. He stops his turn with his gaze looking across a large dance floor at people seated at tables. The Art Deco ballroom is done with patterns of primarily cyan accented by apple green and lime green. Overall the men outnumber women slightly and most of the men are soldiers. Eli can see many rectangular tables, each with four chairs on the side of the table away from the dance floor. Most of the tables are occupied, surrounding a nearly vacant large dance floor. For a few moments Eli hesitates as he exudes apprehension then, as he forces his trepidation to shift to determination, he crosses the dance floor in front of the stage.
As he approaches the other side of the ballroom all peripheral vision disappears as his resolute gaze is focused on two women in their early twenties seated at the second table from the stage on the edge of the dance floor. I think they might be sisters. They have similar shoulder-length hairdos in a style that reminds me of Rita Hayworth in the 40’s movies. They are by themselves as they converse with each other. There are two empty chairs, one on each side of them. As Eli continues his determined march he glances at the woman on the right. She has medium brown hair. She is wearing a white collared blouse with a blue floral print skirt. The blouse is unbuttoned enough to expose just a peek of cleavage. About four strides from his target his gaze shifts exclusively to the woman on the left.
I now realize she was his objective from the moment of his pivot away from Parker, but I was unable to pinpoint his fixation until he got this close.
Eli sees in her a remarkable resemblance to his sixth-grade teacher, Miss Shannon. Her modestly buttoned white blouse, which has red piping on the collar and sleeves, contrasts her very dark brown hair. Her skirt’s hemline just below the knee reveals attractive calves that curve into her slender ankles. As he stops in front of their table his gaze again captures both ladies. They simultaneously turn to look at Eli with expressions of curiosity. His focus returns solely to the woman on the left. Speaking directly to her Eli says, “Please forgive me for the intrusion, my name is Eli.” Then, as he turns his head toward the group of men, he pauses when he sees Parker. They are staring back at him. He then turns back to the ladies and while pointing at the group and comments, “Those fellows with the stupid grins would not stop pushing me to come over here and speak to you.” Eli’s voice has an accent similar sounding to that of Tom Bodett of the Motel 6 commercials.
“Speak to me about what?” she asks while staring at the men with stupid grins. “What impudent stunt did they put you up to? Or better yet, just tell me up front the terms of the wager.”
Eli points at Parker who is now waving the back of his hand with fingers pointed down as in a gesture of ‘go on….go on’. “Oh, there was no bet. I had told the one with blond hair that there was some mystical power drawing me to you. He started urging me and soon enough they are all relentlessly ganging up on me to come over here.”
“Well then, to avoid further torture, please sit down,” she says as she pulls the empty chair next to her away from the table. “My name is Mayme. This is Geraldine. To be honest, we didn’t come here to sit at this table by ourselves so we would be happy to have you join us.”
“Thank you, Mayme. You have a great name,” Eli says in earnest. He reaches between his legs to pull the chair under him as he sits down. “It fits you perfectly.” Then, as he nods to Geraldine he says, “It’s nice to meet you Geraldine.”
“So where are you and your friends from?” Geraldine asks.
“I am from Iowa,” Eli replies. “They are from all over. I didn’t know any of them until a few weeks ago. This is our last night. We are getting on the train to ship out tomorrow morning. Are you from around here?”
Mayme begins to open her mouth but Geraldine, who seems to be staking her claim on Eli, rattles on, “Yes, we live close to here. We wouldn’t have missed tonight. They haven’t had a band here since the Army moved in. Thanks to the USO we have someplace to dance tonight besides the Steel Pier. We got here early to get this table. It is a good thing we did because it is a double header tonight. The first band is an all-girls band, and it looks like they will be starting any minute.”
As Geraldine is finishing Eli turns back toward Mayme in time to see her irritated glare toward Geraldine. When she realizes Eli is looking, her expression transforms to a smile. Mayme reclaims the conversation, “So, Eli, tell me about this mystical power that has a grip on you.”
Eli stammers, “Ah, w-well, maybe that was a poor choice of words. My mouth is always saying stuff that I end up having to explain. I don’t want you to think I am some kind of nut case.”
“That didn’t work Eli,” Mayme admonishes with a perplexed expression. “You are beginning to sound like a nut case. So in addition to having mystical powers, you also don’t have control of what your mouth says?”
Eli is embarrassed now. He thinks it may have been a mistake to come over here. He is so enamored of Mayme he decides to make good on his effort at explanation. “It’s just that I was looking around at all the people here and when my eyes found you they automatically stopped scanning the room. My attention was glued to you. You are very pretty, but it is more than that. It is you that has the mystical power over me.” Up to this point Eli has remained serious. He wanted to tell her it may be fate that made her stand out in the crowd but he thought that might make Mayme uneasy if brought up anything about the power of fate. So to lighten the conversation I can feel his grin as he laughingly says, “And the part about my mouth is simply that your mystical power has me hypnotized and therefore you had disconnected my mouth from my brain.”
As he delivers his explanation Mayme’s face goes from a puzzled expression to a smile. “Okay Eli, you have redeemed yourself. That was pretty smooth but your grin gives you away. I can tell you have a sense of humor. Good thing too, because if I thought you were serious I wouldn’t be able to handle a guy that believed he was that suave.”
The band has just started playing Moonlight Serenade as he comments, “Suave is about the furthest thing you could use to describe me. I am just a simple boy from Iowa. The only thing you could find in Iowa that is suave is Cary Grant up on the screen in a theatre.” Eli has a feeling of relief come over him because he doesn’t think Mayme could hear the last remark over the band. He turns to watch the band to hide his embarrassment. He silently reprimands himself, What a stupid thing to say. Don’t try to make jokes. His mind is racing to figure out what to say to the woman he thinks may be the one his father told him to watch for. In his mind she looks exactly like a composite of all the women he had been drawn to in his life. He looks out the corner of his eye to see Mayme watching the band. Eli mentally thinks, My attempts at small talk with women are pointless. I always sound dim-witted. This is hopeless. Now, I am so infatuated I will never be able to have a real conversation with this woman. Eli fears that if the band finishes this song he will lose his chance at an easy exit so he rises and starts back across the now full dance floor.
Mayme immediately calls out, “Eli.” As he hears this he hesitates for a moment but he is unsure whether he should turn around or not. Then Mayme loudly yells, “Eli!” With his feet remaining pointed on course, Eli swivels at the hip to look back over his shoulder at her. She is holding his garrison cap, that foldable cloth type of military cap. She waves it around as if beckoning Eli to come take it. He wonders how she got it as he looks down to check his belt where it should be secured. He turns around and makes the short return trip but does not sit down. The band is playing a slow romantic song. As he reaches out to retrieve his cap she snatches it back. “I would be open to an invitation to dance, Eli,” she says.
Eli confesses, apologetically, “I am not a good dancer. A skill I never acquired, I guess.”
Mayme is now looking up at Eli as he stands in front of her. She appears disappointed and pleads, “That’s too bad Eli. I did come here to dance. This song is slow. Would you be willing to let me show you how to dance? I promise it will be painless.”
Eli rethinks his trepidation and warns himself, this may be my only chance! “Well, you should know, I am powerless to decline your wishes,” Eli admits. Then he extends his right hand and requests, “Mayme, may I have the honor of your hand for this dance?” Mayme rises, takes his hand with her left hand and walks a few steps from the table. The first touch of Mayme’s hand to his hand is a savory experience for Eli.
She points out, “We have enough seclusion here to allow a student to learn.” Mayme’s definition of seclusion is an unoccupied five foot square. She turns face to face with Eli. With her left hand she pulls his right hand around behind her and places it above her waist. Then she places her left hand on his right upper arm. She takes his left hand with her right and presses their palms together. She holds them out away from them but with elbows slightly bent. She pulls him closer but leaves a comfortable gap between their bodies.
“This is the proper position for waltzing, Eli,” she says. “However this song is not a waltz, but we will use it for any slow dancing. Now we will just start stepping side to side in time to the music. For this song we will step to every beat. Just watch my feet for a few steps and mirror me so your right foot mimics my left and vice versa.”
She drops her left hand from his arm and takes his right hand. “We will get out of the dance position so while you watch we will just hold hands.” Eli nervously complies as he backs away from her so he can see her feet. They step side to side for a few beats. “That’s it. Now look up at me and just keep doing that while you feel the music.” In spite of her praise he still feels awkward. She brings him closer again. “Now we just shuffle around doing the same step while changing directions.”
After a few moments he asks, “Am I doing what I am supposed to be doing, Mayme?”
Mayme praises, “You are doing splendidly. You can be proud of yourself.”
Eli is just slightly taller than Mayme, so they are almost eye to eye and he loves staring into those dark brown eyes. They have been dancing for a couple minutes now. With this slow tempo Eli has easily been able keep up. Mayme is leading, directing them around in this small area of the floor. She has been accommodating him by walking backwards and just slightly pulling or pushing to make the turns. Moonlight Serenade ends and smoothly transitions to I Had the Craziest Dream. “This is a slightly faster tempo, Eli,” Mayme instructs, “Watch my feet for a moment.” He has immediately felt the tempo change and continues stepping to the new beat. “Well, you caught on to that quickly. You seem to have no trouble dancing. Do you enjoy it?”
“I certainly do. More than I ever imagined I would.” To Eli this is an understatement, but it is the only words he can find. After a few moments he asks, “Have you been dancing long?”
“Geraldine and I have been dancing together since we were young teens.” she says. “Ever since swing dancing started we have been doing it a lot. We both love it. Swing dancing is much faster than this, but I still enjoy this, too.”
Another minute passes as they silently dance when Mayme begins to speak softly as they shuffled about the floor. Eli pulls her closer so he can hear her over the music and other people. She is not speaking but singing the lyrics with the vocalist on stage. Now he begins to listen closely.
I had the craziest dream last night, yes I did.
I never dreamt it could be
Yet there you were, in love with me.
I found your lips close to mine so I kissed you
And you didn’t mind it at all. 1
As he listens to her he thinks this song must have been written for Mayme and him, at this moment. The lyrics were perfect. Her smooth feminine voice, even though she is singing softly, has a subtle perfect vibrato. As he held her in his arms he wishes she was really saying those words to him instead of merely singing with the vocalist. He nuzzles his nose into her hair and draws a deep breath. Her smell has him mesmerized. It isn’t perfume, maybe it’s shampoo, Eli thinks. A feeling of tranquility has come over him, like he is home. I Had the Craziest Dream ends and the vocalist leads off her solo with the word “Heaven” as she starts singing the first line in Cheek to Cheek. The band comes in on the next word as the vocalist continues, “I’m in heaven.”
“They just doubled the tempo Eli, but just keep stepping the same. We will step to every other beat. We are still just rocking side to side so it works just the same for us. That way we can keep slow dancing. Just follow my feet and ignore what everyone else is doing. Pretend it is just you and me out here.”
“I can do that Mayme,” he happily complies. He is amazed how easy this is. Mayme really knows what she is doing, he thinks as they keep dancing. They have come together little closer now so that their bodies are sometimes lightly touching. The room is large enough that the walls provide an echo to the band. He feels as if he is experiencing a movie. He looks around as they dance. The ballroom is quite crowded now but Mayme keeps them in the corner of the dance floor near the band and her table. It’s less congested than the main part of the floor. Eli can’t believe he has danced this long and really enjoys it. He notices there are couples dancing quite fast and doesn’t see anyone dancing like Mayme and himself. Somehow he is not self-conscious and doesn’t care about anyone else. Time passes and Eli has slipped into a trance. For the last couple minutes he has kept his feet moving but hasn’t heard a thing she has said. Now he realizes Mayme is not singing but has repeated something. “I’m sorry, Mayme, what did you say?”
She repeats, “I asked you what Iowa was like, Eli. Have you heard a word I have said?”
“I am so sorry, Mayme,” he apologizes as they continue shuffling about to the music. “I am enchanted by this whole thing, the music, the way this ballroom makes it sound, the people, but mostly having you in my arms. For the first time in my life I am actually enjoying dancing. Anyway, Iowa wouldn’t impress a city girl like you.”
“But you are wrong,” Mayme says. “I am very interested. I have hardly been anywhere. Please tell me what you find special about Iowa.”
“I am much like you, I am no world traveler. Before I joined the Army I had only once been out of Iowa and that was a weekend trip to Chicago to see the Cubs play. There are some things in Iowa that I am sure you have never seen though. For one, there is the famous tall corn of Iowa. We even have a song about our corn. Our corn grows to over ten feet tall. When you step into a corn field….”
Mayme stops him midsentence, “Sing me the Iowa corn song, Eli. I want to hear it.”
He offers multiple excuses. “Well, I don’t know if I can. I am dancing. There is other music playing. The two melodies would confuse me.” As if right on queue the band stops.
“See, Eli, all of your pretexts just disappeared.”
“But now there is no music playing and someone might hear me.”
Mayme argues, “You can’t use the same excuse both ways, Eli. I won’t allow it. Besides that, the band leader is talking and everyone else is talking. There is a din in here. No one will hear. We’re just waiting here on the dance floor to see if the next song has an Eli beat. You might as well sing while we’re waiting.”
“Okay, but no critique.” He looks around, then at a volume only Mayme could hear, he sings:
We are from Ioway, Ioway.
State of all the land, Joy on every hand.
We are from Ioway, Ioway.
That’s where the tall corn grows.2
Eli’s grin grew as he sang. He was almost laughing as he finished.
“You didn’t make me promise so I will critique.” Mayme pauses expecting a protest but Eli gives her none. “I loved it. It’s a cute song. You sang it beautifully, I might add.”
He smiles and looks around again to be sure he is free from embarrassment, then proudly states, “If you ever meet anyone that says they are from Iowa and they can’t sing, at least that song’s chorus, then they are lying. Every Iowan learns that song while they are still in diapers.”
“Is that it? There is only that short verse?”
“No, that is just the chorus. You’ll not get me to sing the whole thing though.” He realizes she may take that as a dare so he softens his statement to a request. “Please don’t ask me because I would be overcome with your charms. You must be careful with your mystical powers as you can be quite bewitching, and it gives you an unfair advantage.”
Mayme tilts her head and gives a pondering look for a moment then muses, “I don’t think you called it Ioway before.”
Eli explains, “We Iowans have rules of grammar like anyone else. When not in Iowa, say Iowa. When speaking to an Iowan, say Ioway.” Eli recites this in a sing-song way as if it were some lesson he had learned by rote and then laughingly continues, “It’s kind of like that “i before e” rule. No exceptions for Iowans though!” Mayme laughs, so he thinks he might have an acceptable sense of humor after all.
The band leader has quit talking and the band resumes playing with Opus No. 1 “Wow, look at the people move now,” Eli says, “There is no way I can do that, Mayme. Some of these guys are throwing their partners all over the place. I can’t do that.”
“This tempo is just too fast. Only the very accomplished dancers are keeping up. We will sit this one out.” Mayme shrugs, takes Eli’s hand and heads off the dance floor. “Well, I guess it’s back to the table. That’s okay though, because I want to hear more about Ioway.” She emphasizes the long ‘a’ at the end of Iowa.
As they arrive at the table, Eli seats Mayme. Geraldine is not there. There are two empty glasses on the table. Eli asks, “May I get you a drink, Mayme?”
“That would be nice. I will have a 7-Up® please.”
Eli goes over to the bartender behind a counter against the wall on the same side of the ballroom as their table. The bartender, resting both hands on the bar with a towel in his left, doesn’t say anything but just looks up at him. Eli orders, “A Coke® and a 7-Up® please.”
“That’ll be fifty cents please,” the bartender states loudly.
Eli puts two quarters on the bar and heads back to Mayme. On the way back he tries to think where he left off before his rendering of the Iowa song. He places the glass on the table in front of her as he sits down.
“Thank you, Eli.”
The band is still playing loudly so he leans in to speak into her ear to remind her, “Oh, yes. Before I sang you the Ioway song I was telling you about Iowa and the corn.
“Yes, you were telling me about how tall the corn grows.”
“Yeah that was it. The corn is so tall in late summer once you get a few rows in you can get lost. On a cloudy day, without the sun to fix on, the only way out is to pick a row and keep walking in one direction or you can keep crossing rows but you can never make turns or you’ll never make it out.
“Then in June there are the fireflies. I don’t know, maybe you have lots of them here too, but they are always a favorite of mine. When you go out in the evening just at dusk there are so many of them.”
The band finishes Opus No. 1 and immediately goes into Stompin’ at the Savoy.
Eli continues, “You can look in any direction and see thousands streaks of light blinking in and out. It is amazing. I used to go out at night to catch them and put them in a jar. I would collect twenty or so in the jar then take them to bed with me. They wouldn’t seem to glow as often as when they were outside but they would still amaze me. Another favorite thing I can think of is the wheat fields. In late summer I would sit on a hill overlooking a field and watch the wind blow. You can actually see the air. As far as I know, a wheat field is the only place you can see the variations of air pressure and direction of its movement so plainly. When the wind blows over water it starts to make waves, but they become consistent waves because of the density and momentum of water. A stalk of wheat has no resistance to the movement of air and gets no momentum. The stalks move back and forth in unison and if you look over the whole field you can see the movement of the pockets of air.”
“Eli,” Mayme interjects as she leans in to his ear, “you are probably the most observant person I have ever met. Most people would just see a field but you actually see the air.”
They fall silent. Eli immediately feels uncomfortable. He looks around then mentions, “I have also observed that Geraldine is missing. Do you want us to look for her?”
It appears like Mayme is thankful not to have competition for the conversation. “No, I think she has found a friend. I saw her on the dance floor a while ago.”
Eli is pleased to have her to himself. “That’s good,” he comments. To be honest I enjoy your company and wanted to be alone with you.”
“Thank you Eli, I enjoy being with you too.” Her attention is drawn to the dance floor as she blurts, “Speak of the devil.” Eli turns to look in that direction. He spots Geraldine coming back to the table from across the dance floor. It is obvious that Mayme has no desire to be sharing Eli with Geraldine again. With a sense of urgency she suggests, “There is a drug store just a few blocks away that has a soda fountain where we could have a quiet conversation sitting in a booth. Would you mind if we went there to get better acquainted?”
“That would be great, let’s go.” Eli leaps at the chance to have her alone.
As Mayme rises from her chair Geraldine is approaching the table with a man in tow. “Geraldine!” Mayme yells. “Eli and I are going to go to Kessler’s for some quiet conversation. We will be back later.” She doesn’t wait for a reply and turns to leave. On the way out, pointing at a couple of the guys that came with Eli, she asks, “Are your friends going to be missing you?”
Eli shakes his head, “They won’t miss me. They are really just acquaintances of just a few weeks. Well, all but one. The guy with the blond hair was with me at the Army camp I was in before Atlantic City. Even though we have kind of a strange rapport, I guess I would call him a good friend. I need someone to call a friend, otherwise I would be alone and I wouldn’t like that. I really only have one true friend. We signed up together but we went our different ways and he is already overseas.”
They are walking side by side along the dance floor as they leave the table. Actually, Eli is happy to be away from the needling men. Space along the edge of the dance floor becomes scarce as the flying dancers force him to fall behind Mayme. He watches her skirt sway from side to side so he enjoys the view and thinks her walk is so feminine. She takes a narrow path between tables. Stompin’ at the Savoy ends and the leader announces the next song as The Music Goes Round and Round.
Mayme reaches a set double doors. She pulls the right vertical brass handle. Eli grabs the edge of the door and scolds himself, I should have gotten that. The door closes after them and although you can still clearly hear the band the volume level drops greatly. With no conversation they both stop at the coat check room directly across the hall. The girl brings Eli’s coat first then returns to the racks of coats. He quickly slips his coat on as he wants to be ready to take Mayme’s coat when it arrives. The coat check girl returns just as he finishes his last button. She hooks Mayme’s coat collar on Eli’s outstretched hand and turns away. He drapes her heavy wool coat over his left forearm. He turns and she has already started walking away. He again fixes on Mayme’s walk as they enter the hotel lobby. By today’s standards she is hardly showing anything, but Eli thinks her legs look so great. He unsuccessfully tries to recall any Iowan women walking that way and decides maybe it’s just the rhythmic swaying of the skirt. He glances at a registration desk above which is a red, white and blue banner that in large print says USO Night at the Knickerbocker. The smaller print can’t be deciphered with his quick glimpse. There are two gentlemen, a bellman and a clerk, standing together behind the desk. Eli’s eyes catch the men staring at Mayme as she walks. Their eyes meet Eli’s and with an exchange of smiles, all three silently strike an accord on what each is thinking.
Mayme is oblivious to the agreement of the men and strides on. As they arrive at the hotel exit Mayme turns her back to Eli with her arms angled back and her elbows bent slightly so her forearms point straight down. She has her fingers shaped to form a point ready to receive her coat. He has never put a coat on a lady before but her position makes it clear what he must do. There seems to be extra fabric at the collar of her coat so Eli fumbles until he gets it open by holding the lapels and guides her hands into the arm holes. He lifts it up into place on her shoulders then she turns around to face him as she wraps the coat closed.
She looks up at
Eli as if waiting for his inspection approval. Eli gives her a warm smile. As
she swivels around to face the door Eli makes a dash around her left side so he
can get the door. Instead of being on the outside wall of the hotel foyer it is
a single door on the right side of what appears to be a temporarily constructed
twelve-by-twelve foot room. She gives him a smile of approval and steps back
allowing him to cross in front of her to hold the door. She walks past Eli then
he follows her into a closed entryway that has everything painted black. This
room is lit by a hooded dim light at knee level. In a routine they appear to
find commonplace, Eli waits for the interior door to be fully closed before he
opens right exit door. Mayme exits and turns to wait for Eli.
On leaving the hotel door Eli glances forward. The sky is overcast and the last throes of daylight don’t reveal any surface features. He can smell the ocean and hear the distant sound of the surf. He slides the garrison cap out from under his belt and puts it on as Mayme makes an immediate left. She walks a couple steps, pauses and turns to await Eli, who is now approaching on her right. They are walking on wooden boards that have a sheen from moisture. She places her hand on the inside of his left arm at the elbow. Eli realizes that he has never had a woman take his arm. He instinctively bends his elbow to make a place for her to rest her hand.
Mayme says, “I am glad the wind is not blowing. It is so chilly out.”
“Yes,” Eli replies, “but at least it is above freezing now so what little snow we had this morning has melted.”
“I’m also glad this is a very warm coat, but I am going to need my mittens too,” admits Mayme as she takes her hand from Eli’s arm and pulls a knitted mitten from each pocket and puts them on her hands. She places her hand on Eli’s arm again and directs their bearing with a slight pull on Eli’s elbow. As they turn left again they reach the corner of the hotel,” Mayme asks, “What did you mean by ‘strange rapport’ with your friend, Eli?”
Eli stammers as he tries to come up with a way to say what he means without offending Mayme. “Well…that’s just Parker…it’s just the way we talk to each other. I don’t even know how it started, but we always cuss at each other. It may not sound like it but it’s done in a friendly way. I don’t do it with anyone else but I do enjoy the banter with him. It’s actually mentally stimulating to come up with new ways to insult each other. We don’t say anything without verbally abusing the other in some way. I guess I don’t understand it myself, so I can’t explain it any better than that, Mayme.”
“I have seen that between my uncle and a friend he has so I think I know what you are talking about,” she says. “Well, anyway, you can thank Parker for sending you over to me. Without cusswords however,” she laughingly teases. They walk quietly for a few steps then she continues, “Most people go to the ballroom on the Steel Pier. How did you end up at the Knickerbocker?”
“Well, the main reason is that we are quartered there. But I did go to the Steel Pier the last time we had a pass and it was just too hectic. It is too big and there are way too many people there. Why did you come here?”
“I agree with you about the Steel Pier. The ballroom is just too big. They do have big name entertainers come there so sometimes we go there to see them. Geraldine and I like to go to the USO but sometimes there just isn’t enough room to dance without colliding with other couples. We were excited when they announced they were going to have dancing at the Knickerbocker again.”
Eli thinks back to Mayme’s singing while they danced, and was amazed how she knew the lyrics by heart. “I was surprised you were able to sing along with that song like you did. You never missed a word. Did they just happen to play the one song you knew or do you know many song lyrics?”
“Oh, yes,” she said. “I have a copious repertoire. When I get home from work there is a New York station that plays all the popular music until seven p.m. when the network programming starts. I love listening to that music. Geraldine and I practice our dancing then. But anyway I enjoy learning the lyrics to my favorite songs so I buy the sheet music to songs that I like. I Had the Craziest Dream hasn’t been out very long but it zoomed right to the top of my list.”
“I had heard that song somewhere before,” Eli said. “Come to think of it, I heard it at the Steel Pier. I liked the melody but didn’t listen to the words closely. When you sang the words I really paid attention.” He wanted to say he wished the words were from her heart to him. He is always thinking he is going to say the wrong thing so he thought he had better bite his tongue. After all she barely knows him, so instead of saying what’s on his mind he continued with, “It was a beautiful description of an enjoyable dream.”
“It was in a movie that just came out a couple months ago,” she said. “It was Springtime in the Rockies. Did you see it?”
“I haven’t been to a movie since I left home,”
“Oh, of course, I should have known that. Did you enjoy going to the cinema when you were in Iowa?”
“Yes, I do enjoy movies, but don’t go real often. The last one I saw was at the Avalon in West Union. It was a Boston Blackie film. It probably wasn’t the greatest movie to the critics, but I thought it wasn’t bad. It doesn’t matter to me though. I just want to be entertained and it did that.”
Mayme agreed, “I am the same way. I love going to the cinema, although if I get a choice I choose dancing first, then the movies. Is West Union the city you come from?”
“No, I am from an even smaller town by the name of Fayette. Well, it’s not real small like Maynard. We have a university there, Upper Iowa University. My father is a grounds-keeper and does building maintenance there. My parents have a small home just a few feet from the Volga River.”
“Oh! That must have been great. I would have loved to live next to a river.”
“It was fun, but it’s probably not what you are thinking of for a river. It’s small, but it provided plenty of entertainment for me. I like looking for rocks along the river. I have found some pretty interesting ones, obsidian and calcite. My grandfather and I enjoy fishing in it. It isn’t great for fishing but I catch catfish sometimes, once in a while a bass. It was infrequent enough that when I did catch something I would go crazy then Grampa would laugh at me. The time I spend fishing is relaxing even when I don’t catch anything. I also enjoy my time with my grandfather and I know it means a lot to him.”
“Do you go swimming in the river?” Mayme asked.
“Usually it’s not deep enough to swim, at least not by my house. When we wanted to swim we would take the hike to Big Rock.”
“Is that the next town from Fayette?”
To Eli it seemed absurd to think of Big Rock as a town, so he laughs as he says, “No, it’s just what the name implies. It’s a big rock in the Volga River and there is a deep hole there. I don’t know how deep it is, but it we could jump off the rock and not hit bottom. It’s not dangerously deep though, because we could swim to the bottom and still not be very far down. From my house it is only about a mile as the crow flies to Big Rock. And when it’s Jerry and me we will always make as straight a path as we can. We were just kids so it was a treacherous trek though. There was no path that we went on.”
“So you were young when you would go there. Did your mom know you were going there?”
“Well, the first time we went there we were about ten. Jerry and I followed this older neighbor boy. We went every summer since but my mom always knew. And we still went a couple times this last summer. Why do you ask?”
Mayme responds, “Well, you said it was treacherous and I was wondering if you were young enough that your mom would approve of you taking that path.”
“As a matter of fact, she did get mad at me, but it wasn’t for the treacherous path. Like I said the Big Rock is hard to get to so consequently girls never went there. At least we never saw any there and I figured that was the reason. That first time we just went. I mean we weren’t prepared to go, we had no trunks. Since it was only boys there we just skinny dipped. When I got home after that first time my mom asked me where I was. I told her that neighbor kid had taken us to Big Rock for swimming. She asked me what I wore to swim in and I told her everyone went with no clothes. She gave me a licking with her hair brush and told me that my body was not to be flaunted around in public no matter what.” Eli laughed as he recalled how his mother reacted. “I think she loved swatting my butt with that hair brush. It seemed to come out of nowhere and always caught me by surprise even when I should have known it was coming. The lickings were always followed with a lecture. So this time when she got done with her speech she took an old pair of my britches, cut them off and handed them to me. She told me when I saw Jerry to have him bring her some old trousers and she would make him a pair too. If he didn’t comply I wouldn’t be allowed to go. I never disobeyed my mom so that’s what we did. After we went swimming the next time I told her that the front pockets caught the water and pulled my pants down when I would dive,” Eli says with a laugh then continues, “So she sewed the pockets up for me.”
They had walked about a quarter mile since they left the Knickerbocker when they came upon their first intersection. Eli glanced at the street sign. It is getting dark but it’s still readable. They are at the junction of Tennessee and Pacific. They cross the street then Mayme steers us to make a right onto Pacific. There are some stores on this street but all appear to be closed as the windows are all dark. The street however is busy with auto traffic. Unlike Tennessee Avenue, Pacific Avenue intersections are much closer together and the street is lined with two- and three-story buildings with an occasional taller building. There are businesses with big windows, and in between some of the buildings are small doorways with two or three mailboxes. Obviously there are apartments and owner residences atop each store.
Mayme says, “Your mom sounds like a master of improvisation.”
“She is. She could always come up with a solution to any problem I had.” Eli replies. “Oh, the pockets remind me of a story you might enjoy.”
“Oh, good, I am a little chilled and that will take my mind off being cold. Bring me in closer Eli. You have to give me your heat.” Eli removes Mayme’s hand from the crook of his arm and turns her toward him. He closes Mayme’s collar at the top and buttons that last button. He steps back to her right side, brings her close and puts his arm around her. They continue walking as Mayme acknowledges, “Thank you, Eli. Please continue your story.”
“Jerry and I were about fifteen and we had an early warm stretch in the spring. He came over to my house and wanted to go swimming since it was so warm. Of course he’s wearing cutoff trousers with open pockets and I have mine with sewed-up pockets. There is a bridge right at the end of Water Street to cross the Volga, but that meant there would be a slight deviation from what we thought was the straightest line to Big Rock so Jerry wanted to wade through the river right by my house.
“Now in the summer we do that all the time but this being spring the water was much higher and the current much stronger. The sudden warm spell had melted the snow much faster than usual. Undaunted we started across and I started yelling how cold it was. I told him ‘The water was still snow a couple days ago.’ but Jerry said, ‘Oh, you’ll get used to it, don’t be such a sissy,’ and insisted we go on. When we got chest deep we started to get too buoyant to get any footing and off we went with the current. Jerry yelled, ‘Hey, let’s just swim there. This current will have us there in no time.’ I agreed at first, but after about a minute I told him I was quitting because I couldn’t handle the icy water. Now he agreed and we both started swimming for shore. By the time we got back to dry land again we were a few blocks downstream. Because the water was so cold I suggested we walk back home and abandon all the swimming plans. Jerry agreed again so we started to make our way up Water Street.” Mayme asked.
“Was it cold walking being all wet like that?”
“No, it was so warm so it felt good, especially after that ice cold dunking. So, anyway, when we got in front of Mrs. Gowanlock’s house she was sitting on her stoop with her cat at her feet so I waved at her. This got the cat up and she started to come toward me. That is what she would normally do whenever I would pass by. I would usually stop and, although I never knew the cat’s name, I would let the cat rub around my ankles as cats always do.
“So this time when I stopped I looked at Jerry and noticed his pocket was bulging. I said to him ‘Hey, look at your pocket. That’s strange looking. It must be full of water.’ Jerry stopped and pulled the top of his pocket open and this big bullfrog poked his head out. We both laughed as we watched the frog squirming around trying to get the footing to jump out. We weren’t the only ones watching because right then Mrs. Gowanlock’s cat took a flying leap at that frog. So the frog ducked back into Jerry’s pocket and Mrs. Gowanlock’s cat went crazy. She was hissing and clawing at the pocket. She had her claws dug right into Jerry’s britches and I am sure his leg too because he started yelling and jumping around trying to get the cat off by beating on her. I was yelling for Jerry to stand still so I could help him, but he was moving around too fast.
“Mrs. Gowanlock must have seen Jerry thrashing the cat so she came running from the stoop carrying her broom yelling something at the top of her lungs. She caught up to Jerry and started beating him on the head with her broom yelling something in Gaelic over and over with enough Fluffs thrown in that I figured out that was the cat’s name.”
Mayme starts to laugh as Eli continues his story. “So now Jerry had both his arms up to protect his head. The beating he was getting from Mrs. Gowanlock had at least made him stand in one place long enough for me to get into the fray. I knew the root of all this evil was the frog so I was trying to get past the flailing broom and the cat to get the frog out of Jerry’s pocket. Now Mrs. Gowanlock had started beating me, too. After a few seconds all the straw was off the broom and we are getting beaten by a bare broom handle with wire on the end. I remember thinking, if Mrs. Gowanlock and Jerry would just stand still for a second I could end this fracas but neither one would let up. Fluff’s hind claws had a firm grip on his trousers leg while her front legs were shredding the pocket. After a few seconds that seemed like an eternity I got past the front claws and into the frog’s lair. I grabbed the frog, yanked him out and showed him quickly to Fluff. Then without looking which direction I flung him as far as I could. Off went Fluff after the frog. Immediately Mrs. Gowanlock forgot all about us and was in a high-speed waddle flailing both hands in the air with the broom handle in one, all the while yelling at Fluff over and over.
“Relishing in our moment of ultimate relief, Jerry and I watched the frog sail through the air and glide into the open window of an approaching milk delivery truck. It struck the driver on his chest then dropped out of sight. He immediately slammed on his brakes, which brought the truck to a jerking halt as the engine tried it best to continue running with the brake down and the clutch up. I’m sure you could have heard the clanking bottles throughout all of Fayette. The truck driver was looking down at his lap in bewilderment unaware of what was in store as the cat was about to make the leap into that cab followed by who knows what Mrs. Gowanlock was going to do. I turned and looked at Jerry who was looking at me with a look of horror on his face. With mouths agape we silently acknowledged the impending doom awaiting the unsuspecting milk man. Without saying a word we took off running as fast as we could for my house.”
Eli joins in with the already laughing Mayme as they continue walking. Then as her laughter subsided Mayme asked, “Did Mrs. Gowanlock hit the driver with the broom handle?”
“I don’t know, we were running and never looked back.”
“That was very funny, Eli. Did you get in trouble for the frog disaster?”
“Surprisingly I never heard anything about it,” Eli confessed, still chuckling. “My mom’s best friend is Mrs. Gowanlock’s daughter, and she would often bring her along for a visit which she did a few days later. This event was never mentioned. I think she was so upset she didn’t even pay any attention to the identity of Fluff’s attackers. I have often wondered what went through the milk truck driver’s mind. Having a bullfrog land on you while you were driving must have been bizarre enough, but then to have a wild cat and a broomstick wielding woman follow…” Eli laughed as he let the sentence trail off without finishing.
Their laughter abates in the course of a few steps. After a few moments of awkward silence Mayme inquires, “Have you enjoyed your time in Atlantic City?”
Eli is relieved that she spoke up as his brain was a complete blank on what to say next in spite of frantic mental searching. “Well no, until tonight I can’t say that I have enjoyed it. Although, I have not been miserable here, enjoyable wouldn’t be the word I would use. It has just been work since I got here. It definitely beats Camp Claiborne but still it hasn’t been a vacation. I haven’t gotten to take in the sights. I would have liked to. When I told my mom that I was going to Atlantic City she said she was jealous. She had always wanted to come here ever since she saw an article about the boardwalk in Look.” They have walked a few blocks down Pacific Avenue now. There is no light anywhere that could be seen from the ocean. Even the headlights of the cars are blocked with blinders of some kind that deflect the light down but allow no light to be projected forward. There has been no conversation for a few moments then Eli asks, “Do you always go dancing with Geraldine?” Eli makes this inquiry while trying to sound like he is just making conversation but he is actually fishing to see if she usually has a date.
With a hint of embarrassment Mayme says, “I hate to say this but if she can’t go I won’t go either. There is such a preponderance of soldiers that it is intimidating to be alone and I don’t know anyone else that would go. This is not meant to offend you but most soldiers are just looking for a good time if you get my implication. I have never done this before so…” She pauses for a few moments then continues, “It’s inexplicable, but I am trusting my intuition about you. Geraldine is the only person with whom I do anything regularly. You mentioned Camp Claiborne. What is that?”
“Well I might as well tell you the whole path I took from Fayette.” He does not want any more awkward silence so he thinks this will be good time-filling conversation to get to their destination. “Jerry and I enlisted together in Des Moines. He joined the Navy and I went with the Army. They immediately took me to Camp Dodge, which is just north of Des Moines, for processing. I was assigned to the 34th division, 133rd infantry regiment of the Iowa National Guard. After a couple days there, everyone boarded the train for Camp Claiborne in Louisiana. I did twelve weeks training there. Then at morning formation they asked if anyone had radio experience. I stepped forward because my uncle Albert has always been a ham operator and in my early teen years, I spent a lot of time after school with him. He had built his own set. He taught me Morse code and about electrical components. I had spent a lot of time tweaking his set. So anyway, I got assigned to the 34th Signal Company. The 34th division is the Red Bulls so if you see anything about the Red Bulls in the paper you know I am there. I had a couple days off before they started radio training then I spent another month there for that. When that was over they told me I was going to aircraft identification school in Atlantic City.”
“Why would they have given you radio training then switch you to aircraft identification?”
“Well, the two are tied together. There are planes from both sides flying around over there. They don’t want any of our guys shooting at the wrong planes. A radioman that can identify planes and communicate that to the anti-aircraft artillery units is valuable.”
“Did they let you go home after Camp Claiborne? Is that when you told your mom that you were coming to Atlantic City?”
“Yes,” Eli affirms. “I had an eight-day furlough between leaving Claiborne and having to be here. That gave me a few days in Fayette. It was nice to be able to see my family before I go overseas. Who knows, it might be a couple years before we rout those Krauts.”
There is another short break in conversation then Mayme asks, “Oh, yeah, I forgot. You said you only had one true friend and that you signed up together. Is that Jerry? What is the difference between a friend and a true friend?”
Eli is sorry he had used the words ‘true friend’ because now he has to explain what he meant by that. I can sense, when it comes to females, he thinks he is always going to say something stupid when explaining his thoughts. He gives his answer a thought for a moment then confirms, “Yes, it’s Jerry. He is a true friend because he holds my complete trust. He would never let me down. He knows secrets about me that no one else knows and I trust those secrets with him. He wouldn’t betray me and use that knowledge to embarrass me.”
Mayme’s curiosity is piqued. “Secrets? What kind of secrets?”
In his mind Eli is saying, Oh, no! How am I going to get out of this? Why does my mouth keep saying these things? After thinking this one through he admits, “Oh, nothing dramatic or anything. Just stupid things you do as a kid and teenage confidences that I would never tell anyone. But we grew up together and we know things about each other that might humiliate us if they got out.”
Mayme is still not satisfied. “Would you trust me enough to confide a secret?”
Eli, still trying to squirm out of his quandary, replies, “Well, granted, there is something about you that I find compelling, but I don’t know you well enough to tell those things. A best friend is more than things he knows though. He would do anything I ask of him and vice versa.” That should get us off the secret thing, Eli says to himself.
“That is quite a claim Eli,” Mayme marvels. “What if he asked you to do something illegal or something stupid?”
“That’s the point, he knows me well enough that he knows what I would not do so he would not ask it.”
“I somehow sense that about you Eli,” Mayme observes then clarifies, “I mean that you are trustworthy. There is something about you I find fascinating also. Do you believe in love at first sight?”
Good, a change in topic, Eli thinks. And it’s a topic of interest to Eli. Since she is asking she must believe in it too. This is a conversation he wanted to have but was afraid to bring up and be labeled a nut case again. “Yes, I have always believed that when you meet that one person, you will know. I did have that feeling about you when we danced, but you are so beautiful I am not in your league. I would not allow myself to speak it. But now that you said it first….”
Mayme stops Eli midsentence, “Well, I guess I get by, but I certainly don’t think of myself as beautiful. Besides that, I think you are handsome Eli. You have a very wholesome appearance, and a chivalrous look. Quite muscular, I might add. So you possess what I have imagined to be the qualities of Sir Lancelot. So I am certainly not in some league above yours.”
He replies with a chuckle, “No one has ever compared to me a knight. No one has ever told me I was handsome before, either.”
They are now approaching the storefront of Kessler’s Pharmacy as Mayme concedes, “Well Eli, then apparently there is something affecting the eyesight of both of us. Maybe the mystical power you speak of is contagious. It may be destiny.”
The store windows have been blackened to become opaque. At knee level next to the entrance there is a dim light directed downward by a hood. Mayme stops before the door to Kessler’s to allow Eli to get the door this time and he takes the hint immediately. He removes his cap and as he pushes the door it hits jingling bells. He steps in and looks up but it is much too dark to see them. Eli holds the door open as she passes him. They enter what appears to be a dark closet like at the Knickerbocker but it feels much more confining. He shuts the outside door and he can see a dim light shining on the door handle of the inner door which does not face the outer door but is on the left. When the outside door is fully shut they open the second door and enter Kessler’s. After turning right he sees a five foot wide aisle with wood flooring running down the center of the store. On the right of the aisle are some wooden display racks with magazines, film, and other sundries. After the racks there is a four foot pharmacy counter for the dispensary and cash register. Eli scans a soda fountain on the left with four pedestal bar stools in front of the serving counter. Behind the counter stands a teenage soda jerk. He is wearing a white smock and white cloth hat similar in style to that of Eli’s hat. He gives Eli a pleasant smile which broadens considerably as he looks to Mayme and says, “Good evening, Mayme. It’s always nice to see you.”
“Always great to see you too, Marty. This is my friend Eli. Eli, this is Marty.”
Eli nods to Marty and greets, “Nice to meet you, Marty.” Eli’s eyes make a quick clockwise sweep of the store starting with the soda counter which is about ten feet long with just room enough behind it for one person to work. Behind Marty is another counter against the wall which has the soda dispenser, malt mixers and cash register. Above that to the left is a 7-Up sign and to the right a Coca-Cola sign. At the right end of the counter is the first of four booths. Hanging from the white embossed metal tiled ceiling are three brown fans, each turning slowly. The booths appear to have some people but Eli’s scan is so fast that I am left with only an impression of shapeless figures. After the last booth there is a short vacant space then in the corner against the back wall stands a phone booth with its open bi-fold door facing the front of the store. To the right of the phone booth is a fifth booth that is turned so that the side faces the front of the store. As Mayme passes the pharmacist she says, “Good evening, Nathan.” With a warm grin and a nod, Nathan waves back as he continues helping a customer at his counter. Behind Nathan are numerous shelves with an abundance of pharmaceutical products. Mayme leads the way to the sideways dining booth at the back wall and slides into the bench on the left while she comments, “I always sit here because I don’t like to have my back to the door.” This booth is the only one where, when seated, you would be able to look at the entrance from either bench.
While sliding in across from her Eli thinks of making a joke of her phobia by saying, I’m not the only nut case here. But he doesn’t want to risk changing the subject away from destiny so instead he asserts, “So you are saying maybe both our visions our blurred by fate? Well, I know there is nothing wrong with my vision even if you say you are not beautiful.”
I could tell the compliments were making her uncomfortable but I think Eli is missing that. “Thank you for being so flattering but you are embarrassing me. I guess modesty prevents me from saying I am beautiful. That word is too audacious.”
Mayme has plainly stated her uneasiness so Eli allows, “Okay, I will concede because gentlemen don’t argue with ladies. I want you to know my mother has raised me to be a gentleman and I hold women in highest esteem. Also, I want to believe fate has intervened so I definitely don’t want to argue that point.” Mayme doesn’t respond so Eli lets silence ensue as he studies her face. This is the first opportunity he has had to try to understand what it is that so captivates him. As they’re eyes lock together it appears as though Mayme is taking the same moment to study Eli. I feel as though they are looking into each other’s souls. As they reflect in silence I just noticed something else that I find remarkable: the absence of Muzak. It is so prevalent today that I don’t hear it anymore but its absence is very noticeable and pleasing. All I hear is the low murmured conversations of other people in their booths. Their talking is much more subdued than in public places today. I guess they don’t have to speak over all the background noise. I find it so pleasant. Eli’s hypnotic spell is broken as he hears someone loudly clear his throat a second time. He turns to see Marty, the soda jerk, standing with is hands on the end of counter, who is glaring at Eli as if to say Well, are you going to order something? Eli has realized his faux pas in sitting before ordering. “Please forgive my ill-mannered behavior Mayme, what would you like?” Eli asks as he points to the counter.
“I would enjoy a lime phosphate, please.”
Eli goes to the counter and asks Marty for the phosphate and a Coca-Cola for himself. Mayme’s destiny remark has intrigued Eli. Thoughts of his father have been going through his mind since her ‘love at first sight’ comment. He is remembering his father’s advice when he was a teen, that fate will lay out a course for his life but, using intuition, he must recognize which turns and events are plotted by destiny and which are random.
The soda jerk and counter disappear as a vision of his father appears before him. This memory is vivid to Eli. He is sitting opposite his father at what appears to be a kitchen table with a chrome strip around the edge of the top. Eli’s eyes look down at the table top which has a pattern of small trapezoidal shapes with varying shades of gray to white. His father says, “Eli, I sent your mother away because I want to have another talk with you that my father had with me.” Eli raises his head to intently focus on his father. In his hazy peripheral vision behind his father I can see a refrigerator, the type with the louvered compressor on the top. Above and to the left, on the light blue patterned wallpaper is a black object and a calendar to the right. His blue-eyed father has salt-and-pepper gray hair.
He continues, “Sensing the presence of your life’s partner is the most important intuitive act you will ever have. Most people are married to the wrong person and they end up being miserable. Fate will give you a proclivity for certain physical traits to help you recognize your wife. Nature has given you a penchant for all beautiful women. Beautiful women are an enjoyable vision for sure and that is okay. But in your search you must ignore this inclination. To find your wife look for what you think is your type. She may be a beautiful woman so do not eliminate them from your search. But no matter what, if she is the ‘the one’ you will automatically find her attractive even if she is not beautiful. After you get to know her, you will know for sure if she is the one. Then she will be become the most beautiful woman to you. For example, if you have a tendency to like dark haired, shorter, heavy women then that is what you should be looking for. Nature, who’s only interest in this endeavor is procreation, may lead you to an unhappy life. But if you follow fate’s choices for you it will lead to ecstasy. The one hitch in this is that you must hope that she, at least subconsciously, is aware of destiny’s plan and will be waiting for you.”
“Eli’s eyes focus on the black object on the wall. It is a cat with a clock on its belly. The eyes are going side to side in unison with the swinging pendulum which shaped like a cat’s tail. The clock reads 7:10. His father says “Fate can control your life by….” and his father suddenly vanishes as the soda jerk loudly repeats, “Sir…. Sir….Sir”. Eli blinks his eyes as the impatient soda jerk reappears and says, “Please take your drinks, sir” Finally! I can’t wait to get back to Mayme Eli thinks as he slaps a dime on the counter. With drinks in hand, he pivots and strides toward Mayme. Sliding back into the bench opposite Mayme he thinks to himself, Yes she is definitely my type. He questions Mayme, “Do you have a feeling of fate’s involvement with me?”
“Like I said Eli, I have an intuitive feeling about you. I must explore this more to make a final ruling,” Mayme explains with reservation.
Eli is feeling elated that he is at least still in the running. “Have you ever had a feeling of destiny about another man?”
“No, Eli. All the men I have met are far too impetuous and bold if not outright rude. I can tell you are a tad shy and yet you were daring enough to overcome that. Your shyness trait gives you enough restraint to make me feel unthreatened.”
Eli wonders if she is aware of fate’s method of helping you find your partner. “So, do you have a preconceived notion of what your husband should be?”
“Yes, I do. Maybe not in appearance but in the qualities he must possess. I have always wanted a true gentleman. Someone who is not pushy and more importantly, who senses what I want. I want a man who is completely in charge but whose decisions would always be based on considering me first. I want a man of unyielding rectitude. I want a man who would protect me. I must have read too many fairy tales Eli, because I want Sir Lancelot.” There is a pause while Eli ponders whether he possesses the qualities of her ideal man but before he can finish his evaluation Mayme asks, “Do you have a girlfriend?”
“I have never had a girlfriend if your definition is someone I dated regularly.” Eli pauses while he re-thinks that statement and just how honest he wants to be here. He thinks to himself, If this is the one then total honesty is essential. If it puts her off then I might as well know now. “Mayme, I hope you don’t think I am weird but I have never dated anyone before.”
“Well Eli, I do think that is a bit unusual,” Mayme comments with her brow furled and her head cocked to one side revealing her bewilderment. “Every man I know is on a constant prowl. Is there some reason why a man your age has never dated?”
Eli knew the reason was that his intuition hadn’t detected any girl that complied with his father’s advice enough to force him to subdue his bashfulness. He didn’t think he could explain the involvement of providence as clearly as his father did so he just went with, “For one, my shyness has always gotten in the way. Truth be told, were it not for the constant badgering from my buddies I may have never gotten the gumption to walk over to you earlier. It’s not that I haven’t found some girls attractive, and girls have shown an interest in me before too but, um,” Eli stumbles for a moment then continues, “I have never found the one with the qualities I desire strongly enough to make me overcome my timidity to approach her. I guess I have been waiting for fate to show me the right one. I have never made a conscious decision to not date, I guess I just haven’t had a strong enough incentive to date.”
With eyes wide in awe Mayme asks, “You mean you haven’t ever been out with a girl in your whole life?”
To Eli, it is sounding as if she thinks there may be something wrong with him so he stammers, “Ah, yes, er ah no. I mean I haven’t asked a girl out on a date, but I have been places with girls but never formally asked one to go with me. I would just end up at a place and a girl would sit with me. I guess I have had girl friends but never a girlfriend.” Immediately after this statement Mayme, apparently in deep thought, is kind of staring right through Eli. He gives her time to absorb their last discussion and looks around Kessler’s. There are three soldiers sitting on the pedestal chairs at the counter who are talking with the soda jerk. The booth next to the counter is occupied with a soldier facing Eli and an older couple with their backs to Eli. The next booth has a young couple in their late teens sitting next to each other on the bench facing Eli. The third booth has a couple in their sixties with the man’s back to Eli and the woman is facing him. Eli’s eyes meet hers and she gives him a warm smile. He smiles back with a nod of greeting then continues his surveillance. The fourth booth is unoccupied. This is a relief to Eli because he is sure no one has heard his dating confessions. There are two people at the pharmacist’s counter.
“Eli?” Mayme beckons. Eli immediately turns his head back toward Mayme. As their eyes meet she continues, “Ordinarily, I would never want to have this discussion with a man on a first meeting Eli but, I have this intuitive feeling about you, Lancelot wise. Now, since you are leaving tomorrow it brings urgency to the impartation of your opinions on this matter. Simply put, I need to know what makes you tick. Is it ok if we have a conversation about …” Mayme pauses for a moment; I think looking for a better word but finds none then delivers, “…sex?”
Eli is relieved as he realizes he has passed muster so far or she would not be bringing up sex. “Mayme, the more we are together the more I want you to know me in and out.”
“Okay then. It has always been my conviction that on the subject of sex, a woman would never get a truthful answer from a man. How do I know you will answer honestly?”
“Well from your point of view that is a tough one. If I am a liar, I will say I’m telling the truth and if I’m always truthful, I will say the same thing. We should have already introduced ourselves, but, better late than never. What is your full name?”
“Mayme Myrna Richards,” Mayme proudly proclaims.
“Mayme Myrna,” Eli repeats as if to contemplate their rhythm. “That’s a pretty combination. Okay Mayme, I am going to look right in those beautiful dark brown eyes and I want you to look into mine. When you get a lock and feel you could see through to my soul let me know.” With that said, Eli leans over the table and she responds similarly until their noses are inches apart. They stare into each other’s eyes. They are so close that Mayme’s eyes have to move one side to the other as she focuses on Eli’s left, then right eye repeatedly. I can’t believe how long Mayme can stare without blinking. It must have been two minutes. It is so intense that I feel as if she is looking right through Eli’s eyes into mine. If Eli was bluffing, Mayme was certainly calling it.
“Okay, I am locked,” she finally proclaims while maintaining her piercing stare. “Have your say. Do not circumlocute. Be concise and precise in your words.” She has obviously determined that she would discover a lie were it to come from Eli’s lips.
Eli, in a firm and steady voice, demands, “Do you now trust me absolutely, Mayme?”
“I trust I will detect any falsehood, Eli,” she modifies while preserving her lock on Eli.
“Mayme Myrna Richards! I, Elijah Dillon Bailey, will never ever lie to you. Not now, not ever.” Eli, pleased with his efforts to gain Mayme’s trust, breaks his gaze and proudly leans back on his bench. “Will that suffice?”
“Unequivocally, Elijah Dillon Bailey. I do trust you,” Mayme replies with an equally unyielding tone.
“Okay, Mayme Myrna Richards, proceed with your interrogation.” Eli smiles as he finds it funny that they repeatedly call each other by their full names.
Mayme continues as she takes on a very serious demeanor, “Eli, my experience with boys when I was younger, and now young men, has been that they are totally driven by sexual aspiration. Every time I have been with a guy it always leads to the same thing. I can tell that every action taken, from the asking out, to the small talk, to the eating, to the movie or whatever, is driven by the same obsession. The only motivating force there is to guys is sex. From beginning to end there is one objective. Oddly, I haven’t perceived that from you...,” she gives pause as she reserves her skepticism, “…yet. How have you coped with that urge? Are you saying you have never had that urge?”
“Mayme,” Eli complains, “now you are making me tell you secrets. I did take an oath, so, yes I did fool around a little with a girl when I was about fifteen. I never dated Sharon so I didn’t consider her my girlfriend. On a warm summer day we found each other by chance in a secluded wooded spot across the Volga from my house. I guess you could call it a sexually awakening for both of us. We met there a few times that summer. We didn’t have sex but explored each other’s bodies.”
“So you do have those urges!”
“If you are thinking that is on my mind now you are wrong,” Eli says.” After those occasions with Sharon I became depressed because I had ignored my conscience. Now this part relates back to observing my parents’ relationship. My mother and father have a very deep bond. They are so happy together. When you see them together the fulfillment they provide each other is so obvious. In private they are very affectionate, so I am sure their urges are satisfying to both body and soul. They exhibit true love, compassion, companionship,” Eli pauses after each of the following words while he searches for the correct adjectives, “trust, contentment, commitment, and selflessness toward each other. I have seen the relationships of my friends’ parents. No one has that, at least not to the extent they have. For this reason when my father gives me advice I take it to heart. He could see I was troubled after the events with Sharon so he wheedled what was going on out of me. He told me that nature has created sexual desire to ensure procreation, which of course I knew but he always has to start at the basic. I had to listen to the whole thing.”
Eli paused so Mayme requests, “Well then, Eli, I deserve no less. I want the whole thing”
“You mean the way my father delivered it?”
Mayme says emphatically, “Why not?”
Hesitantly Eli retorts, “Well, because it is a bit lengthy and much of it was to the obvious. So I will abbreviate some. He went on something like, ‘All the animals on earth have primal sexual urges. Fulfilling those urges is very pleasurable to the body which ensures that their species will continue. But in addition to those same primal urges, God has given humans a soul and the gift of free will. The only way to have a life whose outcome will be pleasurable to your soul is to exert complete control over those urges. Gratification of the soul is completely different from that of the body.’ That was about it.” There was much more, but Eli doesn’t want to talk for an hour about his father.
“That is an insightful dissertation by your father and I agree with him.” Then she admonishes, “But we have wafted from the topic of your urge control.”
“I’m sorry, you’re right. I do have those urges but I also have complete self-control. You wanted complete honesty so here it comes. When I look at you, my first thought isn’t that I want to have sex with you. My first thought is, could you be my partner in life? I know, for me to find fulfillment, I need to emulate my parents and could you be the woman with whom I could build that relationship. I no longer have any desire for primal sex, by that I mean sex that is only fulfilling to the physical me. Because of my desire to fulfill my life in the long term, I guess you could say I have a puritan ethic when it comes to sex.”
Eli pauses for a few moments and Mayme remains silent just staring back at him. Then without giving any thought he blurts, “Now, to get back to you, I get the impression you have been dissatisfied with your dating experiences.” For a moment he thought maybe he shouldn’t go here, but then he decided it was a fair question since she had asked him. He continues, “Have you had numerous dates?”
“I believe that is your gentlemanly way to ask how experienced I am, and after your confessions it is an equitable query. When I was a teen, I also had similar experiences to yours. I never went all the way either, but boys are always groping and it didn’t take me too long to realize that successful groping from the boy’s point of view didn’t lead to any more fruitful relationships for me than when I didn’t give in. But I haven’t given up on dating because I am still searching. Yes, I have been out on many dates but I have never had a second date with the same guy. It would seem I am on a quest for Lancelot. The first date is only to see if I have found him. Lancelot hasn’t shown his face...” There is a silent pause while Mayme studies Eli, “...until tonight. You and I are not that much different Eli. I need one date to see if I have found my mate. You skip that step by using some sixth sense for mate detection. After that, it appears that neither of us is interested in initiating a relationship with anyone but our soul mate. So, I guess what I am saying is, you are the only guy I have met that I would be willing to date more than once. And we aren’t even out on an official date now. We are exactly where you have been with every girl in your life. We just arrived at the same place and now we are sitting together.”
Eli confesses, “A couple hours ago I had no reason to stay but now I wish I wasn’t leaving tomorrow. I would certainly like to start dating you now.” They both stare into each other’s eyes for a few moments then Eli continues, “We still have a few hours. Mayme, would you please spend the rest of this evening with me? Now, if you accept, this will be our first official date.”
“Splendid Eli, I accept. I will go out with you, but with a condition.”
“What is the condition?”
“I want us to be true friends, Eli. That Sharon thing might border on a secret but no one would be surprised to hear it. Let me hold one of your secrets that Jerry knows. It will be our bond of trust.” Mayme has an expression on her face that Eli finds irresistible.
“Okay, but then you will share a secret with me.” Eli pauses while he thinks. Minutes pass as he has thoughts racing through is mind but he can’t focus on one qualifying event. “Everything I can think of might sound stupid. I really didn’t have anything in mind when I said that. We just did a lot of stupid stuff as we were growing up. Can you go first?”
Mayme considers that request for a minute then admits, “I can’t think of any secrets either. I have never done anything. I went to school with Geraldine, graduated with Geraldine, then started working …. with Geraldine, of course. Boring, mundane life. Now, I just go to work every day and go home every night. I even live with Geraldine.” It appears that Mayme’s mind is full of Geraldine. “Now she has some secrets! But I guess it wouldn’t work if I told you one of her secrets.”
After a half minute of silence a smile appears, then slowly grows as her eyes open wide and he can tell something has come to her. “Oh, I do have one that is mine, but even then it was something I did to impress Geraldine. And it is stupid so then you can comfortably tell me your secrets. Not only do I live with her, work with her and now the only stupid thing I have ever done was because of her. She is always doing silly stuff that makes me laugh. She is fun to be with. We work at this place running machines that make parts for boats. Geraldine works on the machine next to me. You can’t imagine how noisy it is in there. We have this inspector that walks around all day looking at the parts that come out of the machines. He is always flirting with me and asks me out all the time. I went out with him when I first started there, but he was the usual obnoxious guy, so I never did again. That doesn’t stop him from asking every single day though.”
Mayme rolls her eyes and nods her head side to side with each of the three words to emphasize the monotony of the mundane daily event.
“Anyway there was this woman, Mrs. Miller, an older fat lady that worked on the machine on the other side of me. Now, ordinarily I don’t use disparaging words for people’s appearance but she was so mean I call her fat because I don’t have any respect for her. She hated Geraldine because she had no sense of humor and Geraldine is always goofing around. She was always trying to get Geraldine in trouble and wanted her to get fired. Actually, nobody liked this lady, not even the boss, but she was so dense she seemed oblivious to that fact. She was always walking around snarling so everybody called her Mad Dog Miller.
“A few months ago when I was walking into work, I saw this piece of rope sitting on the top of the trash can. The last foot of the rope was frayed so badly, I thought it looked like a horse tail. It gave me an idea. It wasn’t an original idea because I had seen this done before, but I knew it would make Geraldine laugh and I rarely get to do that. I grabbed it and took it into the locker room and cut the frayed end off after I wound a piece of wire around it to keep it from falling apart. I threw the rest of the rope away but kept the frayed end. Then I bent the wire to make a hook. I rolled it up, stuck it into my pocket and went out to my machine to wait for the opportunity to hang it on Mad Dog. When Buttons came by, Mad Dog had just come back from the bathroom so when she was sitting down she bumped him with her big butt from behind. She almost knocked him over so when he turned around I…”
“Wait! Wait!” Eli interrupts. “Who is Buttons? What kind of a name is that for a guy?”
“Well, that’s a whole other story. He is the inspector. Like I said, when I first started there I didn’t know he was so prurient. So when he asked me out I said OK. But as soon as he got me alone he made me feel creepy with the things he said and the way he looked at me so when dinner was over I ended the date. He is just so obvious about his focus, if you get my drift.” Mayme said the word focus with such emphasis he could see the quotes around it in the air. “Anyway, every time he comes out, he is so obvious about inspecting a lot more than just the boat parts. So as soon as Geraldine spots him she yells buttons as loud as she can. That is the signal for all the women to check their buttons on their blouses. After a few days of the inspector hearing that when he walks in he asked me why Geraldine yells buttons when he walked in.”
“Why did he ask you?”
“I think it’s because, in spite of the fact that I don’t like him, it’s my nature to be nice to him. I’m always nice to everybody, even people I don’t like.” Mayme pauses for a moment then qualifies that statement with, “Well, maybe except Mad Dog. Nobody else has trouble being rude to him but I can’t. Besides that, he knows I am Geraldine’s best friend and he knew I would know why Geraldine says that. Also, he knows I can’t tell a lie ‘cause on the date I told him that he was just too forward and I am the kind of girl that gets disturbed by that. He thanked me for being honest because most of the girls he goes out with make up some ridiculous but obvious lie to end the date, like they have a toothache.
“This time though, about Geraldine and the shirt buttons, he was wrong because I did lie to him. On this occasion, my inability to be mean to anyone won out over my inability to tell a lie. One of them had to give. I told him the first thing that came to my mind that wouldn’t hurt his feelings and said Geraldine thinks he is cute as a button. Since then he has been extra friendly to Geraldine. No lie goes unpunished because it got me in trouble with Geraldine. I couldn’t win. She has no problem being mean to him, but I think he even interprets that as a sign Geraldine likes him. Anyway, he thinks Geraldine named him that, and the name has stuck. Now everyone calls him Buttons to his face.” Mayme displays a proud grin of accomplishment.
Eli laughs as he declares, “I think I know that guy. He’s from Fayette.”
“You are probably right. There is one of him in every place. Now back to my secret. When Mad Dog was sitting down at her machine her butt just about knocked Buttons over. He swung around to chew her out, I pulled the tail out of my pocket and hooked into the back belt loop on his pants. I know I had it planned for Mad Dog but he stuck his belt loop right at me. Opportunity struck and it couldn’t have worked better. He was arguing with Mad Dog and didn’t feel a thing.” Mayme is laughing as the memory of the next part comes back to her. “Geraldine was watching me and burst out laughing. Geraldine was laughing so loud Buttons turned to look at her. I could tell he was wondering what she was laughing about. He finally just ignored her so he must have decided she was laughing because he almost got knocked over. So anyway, Buttons walks with this funny gait. Really, I think he thinks John Wayne is attractive to women so he is copying his walk because his saunter looks like that. Now with the tail, it looked really funny as he’s sashaying around the room doing his inspecting thing and that big tail waving back and forth with every step. Pretty soon everybody in the place is laughing. It was hilarious because he thinks he is so important when actually he’s looking ridiculous.” Mayme’s laughing has brought tears to her eyes now.
They laugh together for a minute then it occurs to Eli, “That is a very funny story Mayme, but it isn’t a secret.”
“Oh, I got so carried away with the story I forgot about the secret part. Well, that’s where things ceased being funny because now Buttons stopped in his tracks. He saw everyone looking at him and laughing. He had this bewildered look and took a couple steps backward. Then he tripped over this pipe on the floor that runs between the machines. In trying to keep his balance he looked like he was running backward for about five steps until he hit the back of one of the other machines. He hit it hard enough to knock the belt guard just far enough that the tail must have gotten inside because the tail got caught in the belt driving the machine. He must have felt it get pulled off his pants because when that happened he jerked around. By then the tail was whipping around, caught the belt guard and bent it all up. Then the belt came flying off and hit Buttons in the face.
“This all happened in a fraction of a second and it clearly embarrassed him because everyone was watching him. Buttons looked at what was left of the tail on the floor, then at Mad Dog, then at Geraldine, then back at the tail again. I felt terrible that the belt hit him. I’m sure my face was red with embarrassment and guilt so I was glad he didn’t look at me. I could see he was piecing all the evidence together in is mind. Obviously he remembered Mad Dog bumping him, then turning to look at Geraldine laughing so he thought Mad Dog had put the tail on him. Everybody in the place was still staring at him and he wasn’t going to take this humiliation lying down. He took her to the office with her loudly proclaiming her innocence at him the whole way. She got fired anyway.
“The secret is that I never confessed that I did it,” Mayme said. Everyone but Geraldine thinks Mad Dog did it and I let her get fired because I kept my mouth shut. Geraldine was glad it happened, but it bothers me that I let someone else suffer the consequences of my actions. I told Geraldine I couldn’t live with the guilt and had to confess. She said she would choke me if I told because then Mad Dog would be back and I would be gone.”
They’re both laughing while Eli agrees, “That was a great story, Mayme. I can see why you keep it a secret.” After a few moments and their laughter has diminished he adds, “It reminds me of something that happened to me where one event leads to another and it also involves a big lady.”
“Is this your secret?”
“Well, no it’s definitely not a secret,” Eli confesses, then boasts, “Most everyone in Fayette knows this story.”
“Great, I’m in the mood for another story, Eli. Please, tell me,” Mayme implores. “This has been fun. I want it to be a magnificent story.”
“After I graduated from high school I went to work in the shoe store. Now normally the store closed at five o’clock. But this Friday the owner of the shoe store, Mr. Thomas, decided he wanted to keep the store open later and of course it was going to be my job to stay late.
“Now, whenever I was working Mr. Thomas always made me keep a pencil over my ear. That was his style.” Eli changes to a deeper voice as he does his impression of his boss. “You must conform so you don’t waste time looking for a pencil when it comes time to fill out the bill of sale. Give the customer extra time and they might change their mind.” Eli resumes his normal voice, “Now my friend Jerry and I like the Amos and Andy show and we never missed it. Because I had to work on this evening Jerry came to the shoe store to listen to the show with me. Mr. Thomas had a radio in the store just to listen to the Cubs games and wouldn’t have liked it if he knew we were listening to Amos and Andy. We were about two minutes into the show when Mrs. Hanson came in and wanted to know if the shoes that were in the window came in her size. Now, Mrs. Hanson is a nice lady but really large and I don’t mean tall. She had been in before and when she sat in the chair her hips ended up resting on top of the arm rests. In other words she is much wider than the chair. The chairs are the metal kind where the seats are upholstered but the sides are open under the tubular metal arm rests. Do you know the kind I am talking about?”
Mayme, now wide eyed with intense interest, nods in the affirmative.
“OK,” Eli continues, “so I went into the back and came out with the shoes and asked her if they were the ones she wanted. Mrs. Hanson said, ‘yes they are the ones,’ as she started to back up to the chair. Right at that moment Andy had said something that really set Jerry laughing and he slapped me on the back. That knocked the pencil off its perch over my ear and I watched it fall to the floor as if in slow motion. It landed right in front of the chair just as Mrs. Hanson’s left toe came down on it. She had these cork soled shoes on that had no separate heel so there was nothing to stop the rolling action of the pencil under her foot.
“Now this is still playing in slow motion in my mind to this day. Mrs. Hanson’s right foot was still forward as she had just stepped back with her left. The left foot then went sailing forward, rolling on the pencil which shifted her center of gravity way behind her feet. That left her enormous weight to fall unfettered into that chair full force. The momentum of those parts that would have normally rested on top of the arm rests carried right on through to underneath the arm rests. I looked at her, I’m sure with my mouth agape, and she looked at me as her expression went from surprise to shock. Then as soon as it reached anger she started drawing a deep breath for what I could tell was going to be an unrestrained tongue lashing for me.
“Right at that moment the left leg tubing folded under the chair as simultaneously the right tube collapsed outward. She hit the floor with a bounce, legs straight out. Her expression then progressed to horror. There she was sitting on the floor unable to get up with her butt securely clamped in that tangled mess of steel tubing that used to be a chair. She began rocking side to side, flailing her arms and screaming at Jerry and me to get her up. When she rocked back to the side with the chair leg folded under she rolled onto her side. Now screaming, she’s trapped on the floor with her legs kicking, and her arms flailing. It looked like some Spanish Inquisition torture device with that one big metal loop that used to be the right leg stuck straight up in the air.
“Now remember, Jerry and I are experienced at wrestling old ladies so with no discussion we both grabbed her right hand and pulled until we got her rolled upright again. Then Jerry moved to grab her left hand and we both pulled with all our might. We finally moved our grip to her armpits and we did get her up on her feet. However, the chair was still securely fastened to Mrs. Hanson because her hips and thighs were squished under the arm rests. The back rest of the chair was keeping her half bent over, but she started running around anyway. Jerry and I were pulling on the chair in futility while she was dragging us all over the store. This whole time she was screaming at the top of her lungs.”
Mayme has tears rolling down her face and her infectious laugh is causing Eli to embellish his story.
“There she was swinging Jerry and me around the store like we were rag dolls, slamming us into every shelf and table until they were all destroyed with shoes flying everywhere. By now she’s spinning fast enough to make a figure skater envious. I was hanging on to that chair tubing for dear life but the futility became apparent and she flung me off like a catapult crashing me into the desk holding the cash register. The desk took a beeline to the wall allowing the cash register to free fall to the floor narrowly missing me. With me gone her mighty swing gained momentum and I watched Jerry’s feet touch the floor less and less until he sailed into the wall and ricocheted like a perfect bank shot into the window display. She stopped spinning and eyeballed the exit. She bolted full speed for the doorway but when she got there she was wider than the door because those parts of Mrs. Hanson that normally stuck out the back were now squeezed under the arm rests with those parts that normally stuck out the side. Her full momentum as she entered the doorway jammed her in there like a cork in a wine bottle. So there she was stuck solidly in the doorway, screaming while her feet are running but not going anywhere.” Eli ends his story and joins Mayme, both laughing uncontrollably.
Mayme begs haltingly between laughs, “Eli… Please… Stop… I hurt.” Finally she gets her breath and protests, “Wow, my side hurts!” As her laughing subsides she looks at the pharmacist counter. Eli turns to see what has her attention. Two customers are staring at them, one of them an older lady with an expression of disgust. Eli turns back in time to see Mayme giving them a scowl as if to say ‘what are you looking at?’ She looks back to Eli and complains, “They are ruining the moment, Eli.”
Based on Mayme’s laughter, Eli congratulates himself on a story that has achieved ‘magnificent’ status. However it is essentially done and he feels compelled to erase her melancholy. Eli assures, “Don’t worry Mayme, I will restore the moment. There is more. It isn’t over.”
He glances around and sees that he has gained the attention of everyone within hearing range. His only concern is Mayme, so he ignores them. Although he doesn’t know what he’s going to say, he is emboldened by the belief that he is now capable of spinning a good yarn so he continues, “Now remember, Mrs. Hanson is stuck in the doorway. All this ruckus had attracted the attention of everyone outside listening to the Friday evening high school band concert. Her screaming at full volume was evidently much louder than the band playing Sousa’s Stars and Stripes. Men from the outside took hold of each of Mrs. Hanson’s arms. Two on each arm so there were four of them pulling from the outside. Jerry and I hurriedly regained our grips on the tangled tubes and pulled the other way ‘cause we could plainly see from our vantage point that Mrs. Hanson is not getting out that door unless her hips and butt were set free. All of a sudden the chair let go of Mrs. Hanson. Jerry and I, still gripping the chair, ran backwards a few steps before landing on our butts on the floor causing us to lose our grasp. Landing where I did gave me a ringside seat to the resulting calamity. The large tubular steel pretzel went flying over our heads thus destroying the only thing in the store so far unscathed, which was the ceiling fan. The ceiling fan came down narrowly missing us landing between Jerry and me. The combination of Mrs. Hanson’s running feet and the four guys pulling created an unstoppable force the effects of which would rival a locomotive going downhill with a full head of steam. The four men galloping backwards, still ahold of Mrs. Hanson charging forward made a direct assault on the Fayette County Quilting Club display stand outside the shoe store. The quilts and the stand, which could now be classified as kindling, went flying and landed at the base of the cattle trough full of sweet corn which of course had a glorious fire going at its base. Within seconds, fueled by all the quilts and wooden sticks the fire grew immensely. All the members of the band were leaping off the hay wagons. A bunch of men went running the other way trying to put out the fire by using their hats to bail the boiling water from the cattle troughs onto the fire. This was probably the only hat-and-cob fire brigade in history. They got the fire out but not before about thirty people were scalded from being hit with flying boiling ears of corn. All the corn was ruined by getting dumped out on the road.”
“That,” Eli said, “brought an immediate end to what became known as the first and last annual Fayette Corn Festival. I got blamed for the whole thing. The townsfolk were ready to tar and feather me,” Eli returns to truthfulness, “I told Mr. Thomas the next day that the burden of responsibility for the whole mess should lie on Amos & Andy and the stupid pencil he made me put over my ear, but he fired me anyway. I will never forget that day as long as I live. I am sure it will live on in Iowa folklore as the Great Amos & Andy Pencil Fiasco.”
Eli stops and laughs with Mayme who has fully regained her cheerful mood. Eli looks around and realizes he has the attention of everyone in Kessler’s. They are all laughing now. They must have overheard the last part of his story or it’s simply due to contagious laughter. After a few moments Mayme’s laugh is just starting to taper off then Eli says with a straight face, “But then again they may choose to forget it.” As innocuous as that statement was, it sets Mayme off in an uncontrollable roar. She has reached a point where anything will make her laugh. Now Eli has caught the contagion so he is laughing. Everyone in Kessler’s is still laughing.
Finally, between gasps she gets out, “What a…. horrible…. but funny…. episode! My side is killing me. That is a true tragicomedy.” Mayme laughingly quips, “Wow, I guess you are right. You probably are infamous in Fayette.”
After Eli has regained his composure he announces, “Well, until today I thought that day was the worst day of my life.”
This remark immediately sobers Mayme. She has a look of bewilderment. “Oh no, you mean you think today has been worse than that?!”
“Not at all, Mayme. I just realized that had it not been for the Great Amos & Andy Pencil Fiasco I wouldn’t be here right now. Ever since Pearl Harbor I had been wanting to sign up but Mr. Thomas insisted I stay because with both sons gone he really needed me there. This had bothered me because when I would go to West Union or someplace people didn’t know me, strangers would give me funny looks like why is this young guy not enlisted. But anyway his wife became ill right after his sons joined up. He said he couldn’t run the store by himself because he had to stay with her more. So I felt sorry for him and promised I would stay and help him at least until I finished college. I figured I wouldn’t have to wait too long because eventually the draft would free me from that promise. The Fiasco released me instead. That was Friday and on Monday morning Jerry and I went to Des Moines to enlist. So, as of today, what had been the worst day of my life has become the second best day of my life because it led to us being together. Now I firmly believe it was fate that made that pencil fall from my ear.”
Eli has just realized this next point and continues on as if Mayme knows what he is talking about. “I can see the Pencil Fiasco was exactly what my father was talking about. Today has been, by far, the best day of my life but would have never happened without the Fiasco.”
“Oh, Eli,” Mayme gushes, “you go from upsetting me to saying the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. But now you said something puzzling about your father. You said your father tried to tell you the Fiasco was a good day?”
“Oh, no, I am referring to another thing about life my father had told me. All he said about the Fiasco was c’est la vie. What he had told me in one of his big father-son speeches was that fate steers people’s lives by usually unnoticed little events. He told me to be observant and not to resist the obvious turns presented by those events. To do so might have a negative impact on my life. If an event leaves multiple choices none of which are clear, I must use my common sense to go with the safest choice and if that fails, use intuition. It just occurred to me that applying his theory to the Fiasco meant it was a marker set in my path of life by destiny and it makes perfect sense now. A pencil falling at a precise moment in time had released me to do what I had wanted to do, which then brought me to you at this moment. This was all engineered by Fate, Mayme.”
“Wow, your father is profound. You said ‘father-son speeches’. How many speeches have there been? ”
“Well, let’s see,” Eli ponders. “The first one was about God, my soul and my conscience. Then there was the one that I just mentioned about little events caused by fate. Then there was one about girls that he told me after Sharon. Then there was one about how to find my mate and how to maintain a marriage for life. Those were just the big ones. He had a few small talks too.”
“How to maintain a marriage for life,” Mayme repeats. “Now that is one you are going to have to share with me.
“But first I will have to make a confession to you.”
“What is that, Eli?”
“Well, the story I told you was true. But when you said you needed a magnificent story I felt the need to embellish the end a little,” Eli admits. “And that was right after I made a promise to you that I would always be truthful.”
“My father always says every good story needs to be seasoned with just a little exaggeration to make it a great story,” Mayme says. “Leave the story in my mind with no corrections, please. But anyway you still owe me a secret. I need it to be something no one knows, not even Jerry. I want it to be a part of you that is only known to me.”
Eli looks around Kessler’s. Everyone has resumed their own conversations so in a softer volume he complies, “Okay, give me a minute.”
Eli thinks as he gazes around the drug store looking for something that will jog his brain into action. The calendar on the wall behind the soda jerk catches his attention. It has a picture of Mallards on it. “Okay, you may think this is not any deep dark secret but it’s not something I would want those guys I’m with to know. I don’t want anyone to know because it may be construed as weakness. And it fits your condition because I have never told anyone, not even Jerry. I hope you won’t think I am a pansy but I love animals. My greatest enjoyment was watching the ducks dipping their heads down so their tails are straight up out of the water. My uncle lives in Minnesota so we would often go there. They live on a small lake where many ducks nest. I love watching the ducklings in the spring all follow their mother in a string swimming or waddling wherever she goes. I love watching the squirrels. They are so playful. I love the way they freeze at the end of every motion. I love the way they would nibble on nuts while they hold them in their tiny front feet as if they were hands. Sometimes one squirrel starts chasing another and it will go on for several minutes through the trees and on the ground then back to the trees again. I love deer. They look so serene when they are eating in a field. They are so graceful when the run and their speed is amazing.
“I don’t see anything wrong with loving animals, Eli. How is that a weakness?”
“It’s not that. I don’t want to kill animals. You may not know this but many boys and men find it exciting to just go out target shooting squirrels or birds. So this is not a trivial secret. If those guys I’m with knew that I don’t want to harm or kill animals the teasing would be endless to the point of persecution. My life in the Army would end. Many might take this as a sign of weakness on my part. I am trusting you with this fact.”
Mayme could see a paradox here. She presses Eli, “If you can’t kill an animal what are you going to do when you get overseas?” Then she points out, “You will probably have to shoot men.”
With extreme resolve Eli declares, “If I was walking in my neighborhood and saw some child or a woman being attacked I would come to their defense and take whatever measures that would be required to protect them. If that meant killing the aggressor I would do that. We were attacked by Japan without provocation. Then a few days later Germany declared war on us. Germany has made their intentions of world domination obvious. Just as in my analogy my neighbors are now, in fact, being threatened. Because of my convictions I must take action. As far as animals are concerned I should have said I can’t wantonly harm animals. I have killed and butchered animals because it is required to live and I can do that. Of course killing a human would be much more difficult but the existence of our country and our freedom is at stake. The tyrannies of brutal men in the past have prevented people from living fulfilling lives. The remembrance of the lives sacrificed by the brave men who have given me the freedoms I have enjoyed has given me the determination to honor them. This is so important to me because I wouldn’t have been able to sit and enjoy watching the animals if I had to focus my attention on my most basic of life’s needs under some dictator. I want my children to have the privileges I have enjoyed in my life. These may seem like opposing convictions to you, but my principles require me to always choose an honorable solution to any decision I must make.”
Mayme ponders Eli’s speech for a moment. As a glow comes over Mayme’s face she admits to Eli, “Those are noble beliefs indeed. I would expect nothing less from Lancelot. You could cherish the life of others and yet I believe you would protect me at any cost. You possess my requirement of unyielding rectitude. I have finally found you.” With this statement Mayme has made it clear that he is the Lancelot she has yearned for all her life.
“You have told me what you want your man to be,” Eli states then asks, “Tell me what you think a wife should be to her husband.”
“Eli, more than that, I will tell you what I want to be for you. But first I want you to know I have never felt for anyone how I feel about you and I just met you. When I was dancing in your embrace I felt like I was home.” Then Mayme leans across the table, takes both of Eli’s hands in hers, and looking straight into Eli’s eyes says, “Elijah Dillon Bailey, I truly believe you were made for me. I want to be your best friend. I want to watch sunsets and sunrises with you. I want to enjoy the squirrels and ducks with you. I want us to be partners in the truest sense of the word. I don’t want to be subservient to you nor you to me. I want to share with you the only thing I truly own and that is my soul. I don’t want any long range plans. I want to allow fate to lead us by….”
Mayme pauses. She has a look on her face as if she is mentally searching then proclaims, “….infinitesimal happenstance.”
Excitedly she continues, “I have given a wonderful name to your father’s magnificent theory. I want our life together to be what we decide it to be as we go. I want all choices to be made by the two of us as one. I don’t know how this can be after only a couple of hours, but I am sure you are the man I want for my husband.”
Both Eli and Mayme have fallen silent. They are still holding hands across the table. Eli is head down steadfastly looking at Mayme’s hands in his. I can’t see what Mayme is looking at. Eli is in deep reflection on these latest revelations as I assume Mayme is also. He had been looking forward to his new adventure in the Army but now has mixed emotions. After Mayme’s discourse he knows he has found the one. Also, he has had two friends whose parents have received the telegram from the Secretary of War. The chances that he might not return had crossed his mind when he signed up but a man in his early twenties believes he is invincible and dismissed the idea immediately. It would be someone else not him. The significance of the possibility that ‘it could be him’ hadn’t really struck home until this moment. Until this moment he had nothing to live for except defending his country. The desire to fight for his country has now taken on even more importance because, as Lancelot, he now has a maiden to champion. On the other hand, the desire to return home which had been almost negligible has immediately increased in galactic proportion. With thoughts racing through Eli’s mind a minute passes with his eyes glued to the clutched hands. He suddenly craves to hold Mayme but he can’t here in the drug store. Eli is thinking, Maybe if we return to the ballroom they will play more slow songs.
Just as that thought has entered his mind Mayme complains, “You know, Eli, the touch of your hands in my hands leaves me with an intense desire. I need more than holding your hands. I have endured dating so many jerks to find you. I feel like I have spent years walking the desert in search of an oasis. I have finally reached the ultimately refreshing oasis and tasted just enough water to know how good it could be. Then, a horde of camels show up and want to take all the water from me. You are leaving tomorrow and we have so little time to be together. I have just a few hours to drink all the water I can. I may have to go a couple years before I can quench my thirst again. I am certainly not going to go searching the desert for another oasis. This is the only one! I am trying to make clear to you the urgency I feel at this moment. The reason I want you to understand my compelling need is that I am going to propose something and I don’t want you to think less of me.”
Eli opens his mouth but Mayme puts her finger to his lips and stops him with, “Don’t say anything yet. I have to finish what I want to say.” With resolve in her voice she emphasizes, “No, what I need to say! I want all this out on the table now. Know this: I am not an easy girl. All of my physical contacts with men have never been more than petting and even those were not at my behest. I have never cared for petting. I’ve never had a desire for that because I’ve never had a desire for the man I was with. I am going to pause here with this question. Do you believe that I am not a floozy?”
Eli concurs, “Yes, but wh….”
Mayme raises her palm toward Eli. “Good. Now let me finish. I am not asking to have sex. I am not asking to pet. My apartment is right above this store. Although your hands are great they just aren’t cutting it. I am proposing we go there so I can hold you. I need to hold you without any surrounding noise, talking, music…” At that moment there is a loud crash behind the soda counter. Eli glances at the counter but Mayme remains focused and without missing a beat she continues, “…soda jerk clanking or other distractions. I really need to beat those camels to the water. In fact I have to be a camel and store up two years’ worth of water. I’ll say it again, I’m not looking for sex, but I actually have an ache in my soul that I need to mollify. Okay, now you can talk.”
“Mayme, when you started that whole speech I was thinking the same thing. I want to hold you too, and I agree, we certainly can’t do that here. I am ready to head back to the ballroom and just hope for enough slow dances that I would be able to hold you while we dance. I can settle for that if you want.”
“Okay, Eli,” Mayme agrees with a beautiful warm smile then without saying another word she slides out of the booth while still holding his right hand with her left hand. They both stand up together and Mayme leads Eli out the door of Kessler’s making an immediate right. Eli lets go of her hand to put on his cap and she places her hand on his arm. After another step she places the other hand on his arm too. The street is dark except for a few dim lights from across the street. Eli is glad she has taken him up on the suggestion to return to the ballroom and he is looking forward to holding her. As they reach the next doorway Mayme’s grip on his arm suddenly becomes very tight. She makes an abrupt right turn and pulls Eli by the arm. Mayme, in a quiet voice mutters sternly as if to herself but Eli can hear her, “I am parched and I’m not letting any camels get ahead of me!”
Mayme’s sudden jerk on Eli’s arm has caught him off guard and causes a momentary loss of balance. They stumble into an entryway that gets its only illumination from a bare light bulb at the top of a stairway. Eli removes his hat as he passes two mailboxes on the left. The first step is only about four feet from the entry. The stairway is too narrow for him to be next to her. She quickly ascends and stops on the top landing at her door. Eli stops on the last step before the landing which has a door to each side. He waits while Mayme unlocks the door on the right. There has been no conversation since the sudden jerk on his arm. Eli follows her in, turns and watches her as she rotates the light switch on the wall just inside the door. She closes the door and hangs the key on a nail on the hinge side of the door casing. She slips her coat off and hangs it on the left of four empty hooks on the inside of the door. He has already unbuttoned his coat and took the liberty of hanging it on the second hook.
She then turns with her back to the door and announces nervously, “This is the living room.” Mayme, in spite of obvious uneasiness, is trying to act nonchalant as she grabs his hat from his hand and tosses it onto the coffee table which sits in front of an upholstered, dark-brown sofa on the opposite wall from the entry door of the rectangular well lit room. Eli has remained next to Mayme as he surveys the room. It’s large, about 20 feet by 20 feet, with no windows but it does have a skylight which, of course, is dark. In his mind he has envisioned that he is standing over the soda jerk and the sofa is over the pharmacist. In the wall to the left there are two closed doors. Centered between the doors is a large console radio with two medium sized high back chairs with armrests to each side. The chairs, upholstered in brown tweed, are positioned to face the radio as if it were a TV. The wall to the right also has two doors. The door on the left is closed and the door on the right is open which reveals a kitchen stove behind which is the only window I have seen. Between the doors is a small dining table with two chrome tubular metal chairs, one to each side. There is an open expanse in the middle of the room. Eli visualizes Geraldine and Mayme practicing their dance moves. “Please, sit down,” Mayme requests as she sits on the right end of the sofa.
Because Mayme has gone to some length to assure Eli that she is not a floozy he feels obliged to protect her reputation. As he sits down on the left end of the sofa he confesses, “I am feeling awkward, Mayme. I am not sure we should be here. What if Geraldine would come home? She might think badly of us.”
“You are right. There is a very slight possibility she could come home. Although she would be shocked to find me with a man in our apartment I guarantee you she is not the one to throw stones on that account. She has done this very thing on occasion. I would not define her as loose, but she is no saint either. Right now Geraldine and her opinions are not my concern. I know nothing immoral is going to happen. May I put my head on your shoulder as we talk?”
“Of course,” Eli approves as he places his arm on the sofa backrest to make an inviting place for her head. Mayme crawls across the sofa then leans into him as she places her head on his shoulder. She kicks her shoes off as she folds her legs up on the sofa cushion. He places his left arm around her and all reservations about Geraldine coming home vanish from Eli’s thoughts. About a minute passes as the two revel in their new-found closeness. Eli’s arm, which was simply resting on Mayme’s arm, now curls around her and gently tightens. As he does this she wriggles tighter against him and nestles her in head in closer over his heart. Eli thinks she may be listening to his heartbeat. The sounds from Kessler’s are barely audible.
Mayme whispers, “It is nice to have it quiet.” Then after just a moment of more silence she questions in the same soft voice, “What one more thing would you do if you didn’t have to ship out tomorrow?”
“I would want to date you for at least a couple of months before I left. This afternoon there was nothing I wanted but to get on the train and start my journey. Now everything has changed,” Eli says regretfully.
“Although, I would have been disappointed if that hadn’t been your answer and it is very sweet of you to say that but I was wondering what you would have done with more time if I wasn’t in the picture.”
“Right now all I can think of is you, Mayme,” Eli confesses. “I am overjoyed to have found you. Give me a minute to mentally remove you from the picture. That sounds objectionable to me but I’ll try.” Eli is thinking back to yesterday to see if there were any unfinished things before Mayme. Then he starts rambling. “Well I heard that the Mount Rushmore carvings are as done as they are going to be. I wanted to see that and Old Faithful. Oh, and I want to see Hoover Dam. But those are just things I want to see, not want to do. You know, Mayme, ever since Pearl the only thing I have wanted to do is go and give them Japs or Krauts a good whooping. Excuse my language, but they have me pissed off. It turns out that now the Krauts are in my immediate future. The only thing long range thing I wanted to do is find the person I was meant to share my soul with and have children. That is you and now you cannot be removed from that picture. So that brings us back to dating you for a couple months is the only reason worth a delay.” He pauses for a moment then asks, “What would you like to do, Mayme?” He begins to lightly caress her temple with the back side of his fingers. He thinks his fingers tips are too rough for her skin.
Mayme has started running her fingers around on Eli’s chest and stomach. She admits, “I would like to not work at that factory any more. I start watching the clock by 8:30 am. Each day is endlessly long doing the same repetitious motions. I enjoy Geraldine, but I would like to live by myself. Maybe I could enjoy her more if I didn’t live with her. Those are my short range desires but I have the same long range plan that you do. Oh, I want to finish college and be a teacher. As with you, everything has changed for me in the past couple hours. I would like to go to Iowa with you and sit and watch the animals. The only thing that I really want is endless days with you. You know what I just realized, Eli?”
“What?” Eli asks.
“Remember when I said how unlikely it is that I could know I wanted you for my husband after only a couple hours?”
“I understand now,” Mayme realizes. “Ever since I was about eight I have fantasized about what qualities my husband would possess. In my mind I have built that man from the ground up. I’m not talking appearance but personality and values. That man has become my dream. I have always been in love with that dream. And here you are before me, a living manifestation of that dream.” There is another moment of silence as Mayme’s fingers find their way between the buttons on Eli’s shirt. “There is still something else I want, Eli. Something you can do for me.”
“I would do anything for you, Mayme,”
“This is enjoyable but I want more,” Mayme grumbles. “The ache has not been placated. We are not on the same level. In order to get face to face I would have to sit up and then we are not comfortable. The only way we can be equal to each other is if we lay down. May we move to the bedroom?”
“I agree. That would be better. I want you to know I feel the same intense desire but it is not sexual.” He wants to assure her that he is not another one of those guys. “I want my soul to touch your soul. We need to mix our bubbles.”
“Bubbles?” she asks. “What do you mean by that?”
“Oh,” Eli laughs, “I believe that our souls can extend beyond our bodies like a bubble that envelopes us. When we hug they get mixed.”
“Yes! I agree. We must mix our bubbles.” With that Mayme jumps up and grabs Eli’s hand. He arises and follows her. She goes to the left door on the wall with the radio and opens it. She enters and rotates the switch next to the door which activates a bright light in the ceiling.
“Oh, that won’t do. It’s almost blinding,” Mayme protests as she goes over to the lamp on the night stand to the left of the head of the bed. “Turn off the overhead please.”
He complies and closes the door, which leaves the room in a soft warm glow. The window across from the door has its roll shade already pulled down. There is just room enough to walk between the bed and wall on each side. Mayme removes, folds the white bedspread and sets it on a chair at the foot of the bed. As she goes back to the right side of the bed she says softly, “You should remove your shirt and pants or they will get wrinkled. I don’t want anyone to get suspicious.” Eli turns away, removes his shirt then, as he hangs it on the door knob. When he turns back she is sitting in her blouse with her left foot on the floor and right leg folded on the bed so she is still facing him. She pats the bed and pleads, “Please lie down, Eli. I want us to hold each other.” He sits on the edge of the bed’s left side facing away from her and takes off his shoes. He stands again momentarily removes his pants, folds them loosely but neatly and places them on the floor. Leaving his undershorts on he lies on his left side propped up on his left elbow facing her. She slides over to him and pulls his elbow out from under him so they are both on their sides facing each other. She moves in closer so their bodies are against each other and gives Eli a gentile kiss.
With exhilaration, Eli returns her kiss with an ardor that increases with intensity as they fuel each other’s stinging desires for more intimacy. He starts stroking all of her body as she does his. It is as if their craving for each other had been pent up for all their lives. They roll so she is almost on top of him. The intense passion goes on for several minutes then Mayme heavily laments, “Oh, Eli, the desire is so overwhelming. I will not be appeased unless we give in to the passion. In my mind we are husband and wife as much as we would be after exchanging vows. They are just words and will add nothing to our relationship. Please Eli, it may be years and I need consummation now.” With that she rolls off the bed and removes the last of her clothing and quickly returns to Eli. The sight he has just beheld has him in awe and at the same time has intensified his passion.
Yet his promise to protect her reputation still controls him as he reminds, “Mayme, I want it too but you made me promise…”
“I didn’t know it could be this concupiscent. I have changed my mind. You promised you would do anything I asked.” Mayme then implores, “Lancelot, you are going into battle. I don’t want to talk anymore. Fulfill me now!” Her voice reaches a frenzy that now has consumed Eli. Mayme pulls him over on top of her and embraces him with her arms. As their fevered lovemaking continues she throws her legs around him and her arms squeeze him tighter.
They have been speechless through this whole episode, which has lasted maybe twenty minutes. She gently pushes Eli’s shoulder and he responds by rolling off to her right. Mayme breaks the hush with, “Eli!” a moment’s pause then, “That was unbelievable. I am completely drained. Until now, I had no interest in even light petting. It was unimaginable to me that I could do that.”
Breathlessly Eli agrees, “I had no idea that it could be like that. It’s beyond words.”
They silently lie next to each other for a few minutes then she rolls on top of Eli. She slides her arms under him and curls her hands over his shoulders. He puts both arms around her in firm embrace. Her right cheek is against his right, he reaches up with his right hand, pulls her hair off his face and they stay locked together silently for a few more minutes. Mayme raises her head and softly kisses Eli. She rolls back to his side and puts her ear to his heart again. Then she rolls away from him and gets into the spoon position.
Mayme whispers, “Hold me Eli.” He pushes up against her back, wraps his right arm tightly under her breasts and pulls her in. He then folds his legs into hers and even bends his feet up at the ankles to press the tops of his feet against her soles. Their bodies are perfectly aligned together. Eli is amazed at how it feels to hold her in this manner. He thinks heaven could be no better. In a normal but soft voice Mayme continues, “I never could have imagined what it would feel like to caress and be caressed by a truly compassionate and solicitous man. There is an arousal but it transcends the sexual in a colossal way because it does fulfill my soul. It would be impossible to try to tell someone what it feels like,” Mayme declares. “Amazingly, I have absolutely no regret.”
“You are right Mayme, it is indescribable. This is what I have been searching for also.”
“Thank you for coming across the dance floor to me. I will never venture into the desert again.”
“Thank you for calling me back. I was so close to allowing my timidity to let me lose you. In fact I did allow it but had you not stopped me…”
Mayme interrupts him and states, “I didn’t call you back Eli. I simply picked up the hat that you dropped and yelled your name. When you came back to take your hat you looked so adorable in a sad puppy way I wanted to dance with you.” Suddenly, Mayme flips back over to face Eli and excitedly queries, “You know what, Eli?!”
“What?” Eli responds in a voice showing his alarm.
“It was exactly the same as when the pencil fell!” She waits for Eli to be as excited as her.
“What was?” He still doesn’t understand what point she is trying to make.
“The hat falling! It was an infinitesimal happenstance. Again! It happened twice for you…. no, for us. Had it not fallen, you would have gone back to your friends and that would have been the end of us. We are truly the result of fate’s intervention. It is phenomenal!” A moment lapses while they look into each other’s eyes and ponder the significance of her discovery. Still in a very excited voice she demands as she pushes his shoulder, “Roll over Eli. I want to spoon the other way!” Eli rolls over to face away from her. She presses up against his bare back and puts her left arm around him to repeat his actions from the other way. He can feel her try to press her feet against his soles but they don’t seem to fit as good this way, she can only get his heals with her toes.
“You must have a way with words to come up with infinitesimal happenstance.”
“I am proud of my vocabulary, Eli,” Mayme pauses for a moment then continues, “My phraseology could be sesquipedalian and although I believe this verbose discourse is felicitous, to others I would sound fastuous or even pedantic so I normally remain terse.” Mayme giggles proudly after finishing this sentence.
“Wow!” Eli exclaims with a laugh. “That did make you sound fastuous, whatever that word means. I have noticed that you are over my head with many of your words this evening.”
“I always got A’s in English,” Mayme boasts. “I got good grades in all my classes, but English is my best subject. You may think this is crazy but I enjoy reading the dictionary in the evenings. I want to become a teacher so can I utilize that skill.” They both fall silent again. Eli again thinks to himself that it is still heaven even though they are now reversed. A tingle starts in Eli’s back at the point where her belly button is in contact with his spine at the waist. It spreads through his body and makes him shiver. She asks, “Are you cold Eli?”
“No. Your belly is giving me a tingly sensation that shoots throughout my body. It is strange but very enjoyable. I have never felt anything like it before. It has subsided a little but I like it.”
Amazing, Eli thinks, Eve’s Vibrations! There is another minute of contemplative silence while Eli recalls yet another memory of his father’s astute revelations. His father is saying, “A woman’s belly button is quite a magical spot. It is the vestige of her life-receiving connection to her mother and her mother’s mother and so on until you get back to Eve. There is a living and direct physical cord that is connected at 15-30 year intervals that stretches with continual life back to the beginning of human life on this planet. You have that connection going back in time but it dies when you are born because you can’t pass that connection on. A woman passes it on to her daughters and then to her daughters. The shared connection from Eve goes on into perpetuity in the future. Only a woman can physically pass it on and that is where the magic comes from. When your mother presses up against me and her belly button lines up perfectly with the center of my back at my waist I can feel something mystical. As long as she is content she emanates Eve’s Vibrations. I hope you can make that connection someday.” Eli thinks to himself, Most of that talking by my father never made sense until today. I thought he was crazy with his ramblings. The tingling sensation has suddenly ceased.
Eli’s father disappears as Mayme shares, “I am worried about you Eli. What if something happens? I want you to go but it is very dangerous. I am apprehensive about it. I do not want to speak it but…,” she stops midsentence.
There is stillness for moment then Eli hears her whimper. He rolls back to face Mayme who now has tears flowing from her already reddened eyes. He stays a few inches away. “Hold my hands with palms together.” She brings her hands up and he takes her right into his right and left into left. “Come up against me.” Still crying, she wiggles her body up against his. Now Eli’s arms are crossed with the back of Mayme’s hands against his chest and the backs of his hands are against her chest. He lifts his head and touches his left cheek to her left cheek so his mouth is next to her ear. Now, palm to palm, cheek to cheek, body to body they are pressed to each other. Speaking very slowly and softly he proclaims, “Mayme Myrna Richards, I, Elijah Dillon Bailey, do hereby vow to be with you on your death. I also vow to accompany you on your ascent to heaven. You said you trust me so do you now believe I will come back to you?” He pulls his head back to look at her.
Still teary eyed but with a relieved and happy expression she exclaims excitedly, “Thank you, Eli! I do believe you. Let me hold you again. I will not think any dark thoughts again.” She is all bubbly again as they resume the identical spooning position they had been in. Eli again feels the tingly sensation from her belly except more intense now. He tries to resist the temptation to shiver but can’t. “I love you, Eli,” she states with contentment in her voice.
Eli wished he had said it first, but echoes, “I love you too, Mayme.”
“I can’t believe that is the first time we have said that. I have loved the idea of you my whole life.”
“Yes, we have loved each other our whole lives, Mayme. That is why we have searched so hard. Somehow we both knew we had to find each other to be complete.” A few silent moments pass then Eli asks, “Mayme?”
“Yes,” she replies.
“There is something I would like to do before I go, if you agree.”
“What is it, Eli?” she pries with eager anticipation.
“If we go back to the ballroom, could you teach me how to dance?”
The words are barely out of his mouth and Mayme quickly sits up and exclaims, “Really, Eli, really?!” She is now bouncing on the bed as she gushes, “I would love to teach you! You have complied with every wish I have had. Even one that I have not expressed. We only have a couple hours left. We must hurry.” Mayme is already up and getting dressed. He is sitting on the bed still tying his shoes as she runs around the bed and inquires, “Are you a good student, Eli?” She has her foot on the bed next to Eli as she buckles her shoe.
Eli is now buttoning his shirt. “Well, I think so. But I have never been a dance student so I am not sure. I do know that I have never in my life had the determination that I have right now to be that good student. I also know that I have never had a teacher with mystical powers before either so that might help.” He is fastening his belt as she is leaving the bedroom. He thinks maybe she didn’t catch his joke as he rotates the light switch. The light on the night stand is still on but he decides Mayme is moving so fast he has no time and closes the door behind him as he re-enters the living room.
Mayme crosses the room. Using a pencil and pad that sits atop the radio she scribbles something quickly. She tears if off and holds it out, “Here is my address, put this in a safe place. This is really important. I need you to write to me often.” Eli takes the paper, removes his wallet from his pants pocket and carefully places it in an inside pouch. As he is replacing his wallet Mayme says, “Oh, wait. I have something else that is much better than that scrap of paper.” She runs back to the bedroom and emerges holding a small leather bound book in her outstretched hand. “I just bought this to use as a diary. It is just a book with blank pages and I have only made one entry in it. Keep a journal for me. I want a chronicle of your life while you are away.”
“Do you want to tear the page out with the entry?”
“No, read it and you will know my state of mind the day before I met you. Besides that I’ll buy a new magnificent book tomorrow because I have a sensational new entry for it.” She walks away as Eli pulls the scrap of paper out of his wallet and places it in the book, which is about three and one-half inches by four and one-half inches by over a half inch thick. It fits easily into his shirt pocket. He is buttoning his shirt pocket after placing the book there when Mayme reappears exclaiming, “Oh, I need this too!” He looks up and she is already holding a camera with a very large flash reflector attached. “My father gave me this just last Christmas. Fortunately it has a flash so I can get a decent photo of you indoors. Put your hat on so your uniform is complete,” she instructs. Eli complies with a nice smile as she holds the camera up to her eye and clicks the shutter. Eli drops his hat back on the coffee table and is temporarily blinded but can still see her set the camera on the dining table. “I will be right out, Eli,” she proclaims almost bouncing through the door to the left of the table. There are a few moments of silence so he walks over to the painting above the sofa to take a look at it. He is distracted as soon as he gets close when Mayme yells from the bathroom, “I am so excited about this Eli. I love dancing and now we can dance together. There is a new dance I have learned called the East Coast Swing. The steps are very easy to learn. We will use a single step instead of the triple so you will have no trouble.” Eli has no idea what she is talking about. He is taking steps toward the bathroom as she speaks, “It is very fun too. I think it is the best dance step ever invented. That’s good for you too because even as a beginner you can look like an adequate dancer.”
She has come out the door in the middle of that sentence and collides into Eli as he was now in front of the door listening. The bump doesn’t even faze her as she keeps on talking while she dashes back to the bedroom. It appears they may be leaving soon so Eli grabs his cap as he passes the coffee table.
“When we get back to the Knickerbocker I will show you a couple that are doing it,” she says from the bedroom then comes out carrying a dark brown wool scarf. She continues, “Then you will have some idea what we are trying to do.” She wraps the scarf around her head to cover her ears then tosses both tails over her shoulders. She turns her back to Eli with elbows back and points her fingers down to accept her coat. Eli takes his cue, takes it off the door hook and slips her coat on, less clumsily this time. She grabs the key off the nail and opens the door. “Don’t be intimidated if they look really good, though.”
He passes through the doorway then steps down onto the first step down to allow Mayme room on the landing to turn and lock the door. “I learned the Swing just a month ago, but it is still fun even while you are learning. Geraldine and I practice it in the living room while we play the radio,” she says as she pulls the key out of the lock and slips it into her coat pocket. “I may have to lead tonight just so you get the dance down.” Eli backs up against the wall so she can squeeze by then he watches her hop down the stairs. “Geraldine always makes me lead so that will simplify things tonight. We tried it with her taking the lead but it just didn’t work. I hope she has saved our table for us.”
Eli has replaced his cap as they exited the entryway at the foot of the stairs. “Since you aren’t a dancer you may not know this, but someone has to lead.” Eli looks back at Kessler’s. Everything is all is dark. “It just doesn’t work with two people trying to make decisions simultaneously. Don’t worry though; no one will notice that I am leading because someone would need very astute observation to tell who is leading. All you have to do is learn the basic step and just keep doing that. When I make the turns or twirls you just keep doing the same step.” Eli is thinking he was in the bedroom just moments ago when he mentioned learning to dance and here they are going down the street. “As long as you have that down it all works out.”
Eli’s first words to interrupt Mayme’s monologue, “It feels like it may have dropped below freezing,” go unreturned.
“We will start with a song that has a slower tempo.” She has placed both hands on Eli’s arm but still no mention of the cold. “It can’t be an Eli slow-dance tempo though. Here’s what we will do.” Mayme keeps walking but looks at Eli at the end of every sentence. “When we get there we will sit the fast ones out, dance the slow ones like we did before and when the beat is just right we will start our lessons.” It looks almost as though she is dancing as they go down the street with her light bouncy sideways step as she turns to look at him every few feet. “That way we will be able to dance to most of the songs. It won’t be long though and we will be doing the fast ones, too. Eli you haven’t said a thing. Aren’t you excited about this?”
“I did Mayme, but you are enthused enough for both of us. I love it that way. I love you that way. I want you to continue. I am listening. You see, I am being the good student already. I promise I want to do this as much as you want me to. I really enjoy being with you.” Her exuberance is infectious to Eli. She makes him feel childlike.
“You make me so happy Eli. I could just bust. When you get back from overseas we will work on you taking over on the lead. If you are willing, we will go dancing every week. Is there a ballroom nearby you in Iowa?” Mayme asks.
“Yes, there is a ballroom in Oelwein. It’s called the Coliseum. They have a band every Saturday night. Usually a big name, too, like the Dorseys.”
“How far is it to Oelwein from Fayette?”
“It’s about a half hour drive.”
“I can’t wait to get to Fayette. Did you graduate from the high school in Fayette?”
“Yes. Fayette High School, class of ’41.
“Oh, I was the class of ’41 too. Philadelphia High School for Girls,” Mayme declares proudly. “In the fall of ’41 I attended the University of Pennsylvania. I quit in the middle of my freshman year. When the war started, it changed everything.” As their conversation has drifted from dancing their pace has slowed. The still air makes the evening walk comfortable in spite of the temperature.
“Oh, I thought you were a native of Atlantic City,” remarks Eli then wonders aloud, “How long have you been here?”
“Less than a year, although we have been coming here most my life for holidays. Geraldine’s other uncle works at Ventnor Boat Works. He said…”
Eli thinks that was a strange way to refer to an uncle so he interrupts, “Why do you call him ‘other uncle’. We haven’t talked about any uncles”
“I guess I left this out about Geraldine. Her mom and my mom are sisters so we are cousins. My dad is Geraldine’s uncle, but when I refer to her dad’s brother then that is her other uncle since he is no relation to me. I have called him Other Uncle all my life. Anyway, Ventnor Boat had gotten government contracts to build boats for the Navy. He told her Geraldine should do her part for the war effort and they needed help. Of course there was no way she was going to leave me behind, so I quit after the winter semester. Our parents had brought Geraldine and me here often when we were kids. Neither of us have siblings so we ended up being like sisters.” A short pause then, “and best friends. We would jump on the Seashore Line and ride here. Geraldine and I had always promised each other we would live here when we grew up. After we graduated I decided I wanted to be a teacher, so college became more important to me than a childhood dream. But now with Ventnor Boat we can fulfill our childhood pledge and help the war effort. We work long days but we still try to have fun. Being here isn’t anything like we imagined it would be when we were kids though. Most of the hotels are housing soldiers and the fun atmosphere on the boardwalk is nothing like it was. The nights are very different especially because all the lights are gone. All the windows that face the ocean are covered and all the lights on the pier signs are off. The war has taken away the frivolous side of life. Don’t get me wrong though, I don’t regret coming. I take my job seriously and am glad I can do my part.”
“Yes, you can be proud of doing your part. But I know what you mean. I would still be in college were it not for the war. It has definitely changed the lives of everyone forever. With what little I have seen of Atlantic City I can tell it must have been very different. I assume there must have been a completely carefree attitude by everyone. It looks like everything was built for fun with the ocean beach as the center focal point. But when we spent the evening on the pier it was like being at a party but with a feeling of impending doom hanging over it. Always alert for any threat that may be coming from the sea. The German’s have submarines that could sneak up unseen. The coast is so long it seems it would be impossible to completely watch.”
They have reached the intersection of Pacific and Tennessee.
“Yes, it is very frightening. What college did you attend?” Mayme asks, and then continues without waiting for the answer, “Was it the same one where your father works? What courses were you taking? How many years did you complete? What profession were you studying for?”
After crossing Pacific, they make the turn to head back toward the Knickerbocker.
Eli is overwhelmed by the barrage of questions. “Wow, I don’t know if I can remember all those questions, but I will try.” He pauses for a moment, then says with a grin as he has decided to answer in the same fashion as asked, “Upper Iowa University. Yes. Several. One. Radio Systems Engineering.”
“Oh, you’re real funny, Eli,” Mayme responds with a laugh. “You know I expected you to expound a little bit.”
“I thought my rapid fire answers matched your manner of query,” Eli chuckles. “But, okay, you deserve better. Yes, it is where my father works and I get free tuition there. All I have to pay for is books and any other incidental costs. I have an intense desire to get into television. Someday everyone will have televisions just like radios today and it would be exciting to play a part in bringing that about. After Pearl I thought if I could stay in school as long as possible I would get a job in the Army that would fit my ambitions. But then the Great Pencil Fiasco left me with no other choice. So now I have to go kick some German butts before returning to college. I am sure my father will still be working there so I can return when I get back.”
“From what you have told me, your father sounds like a pretty smart guy. Is there more to the father-son speech that he gave you about fate’s control?”
“Oh, yes.” recalls Eli. The vivid memory of that evening returns. “That speech rambled on for quite a while. I don’t know for sure what time it started but it didn’t end until almost nine. It was like he had so much in his mind and he had to spill it all.” Eli admits, “It’s just starting to make sense to me now.”
“Well, did it start in the afternoon or early evening?” Mayme pries in a way to help him remember.
“I guess I can figure it out.” Eli says as he restarts the vision in his mind again. “Mom always serves dinner at 5:30, or at least close to it. As soon as my sister and I had the dishes done he sent her and mom out of the kitchen and….”
“Wait a minute.” Mayme excitedly interrupts then chastises, “You didn’t tell me you had a sister. You can’t leave out a detail like that. Tell me about her.”
Undaunted Eli complies calmly, “Betty, the one I was doing dishes with, is two years older than me. And there is another sister, Jean, almost five years older than me, but she had already left home at the time of this story.”
“I still want to hear your speech story but you will have to come back to your sisters after that. I am going to have two sisters? I must know all about them! This is exciting, but I want to hear the other story first. Okay, you were determining how long the speech was when I interrupted you.”
“Okay, so…” Eli stammers as he tries to maintain his concentration. “Let’s see… after mom and Betty left it must…..”
“Eli!” Mayme shouts as she stops dead in her tracks. She had tightened her grip on his arm and jerks Eli to a stop which automatically swivels him around to face her.
He is baffled and with a calm voice he says, “What?”
“I am not going to have sisters!”
“Why not?” Eli can see her sudden distress and wonders what provoked the turn of Mayme’s temperament.
“This is terrible. I have jumped to a conclusion! You haven’t asked me to marry you.”
“I can assure you Mayme that you didn’t make any jump that I hadn’t already made. But you are right and I will rectify my mistake right now.” Eli kneels down onto his left knee. After a few second’s thought he has formed the words he wants to say. As he opens his mouth it occurs to him that he doesn’t have a ring. “Mayme! I don’t have a ring!” he exclaims in a desperate, almost pleading tone.
“That will not do Eli.” Eli thinks her meaning is that the omission of a ring will not do, she then continues. “This is no time to be punctilious. The ring is unimportant. I don’t care about the ring. If it is important to you, you can mail me one when you get one or get one when you get home. Our souls will be bound by betrothal of which the ring is only a symbolism.” Eli is still on his knee but is thinking this is not the way he imagined this moment to pass. “I am going to consider myself betrothed if you ever get around to asking. If you want me wear one to prove my engagement then I’ll buy one myself tomorrow.”
He wants to ask but something else occurs to Eli, “What about your father. I must get his permission first!”
Mayme scolds, “Are you looking for reasons not to ask, Eli?”
“Of course not, Mayme, but these are very important to issues to Lancelot. You would think less of me would I not bring them up.”
Mayme concedes, “I must allow your argument, Eli, but this is a desperate situation. I will deal with my father. I will tell him you were hesitant without his blessing. These are circumstances that are beyond our control and he will understand. But still, it is very important that I hear the words from your mouth. Even more importantly is that you ask, not because I am telling you to, but because it is your desire. I have looked into your soul, Eli. I will know if your proposal is not earnest.”
“Then as I am on bended knee I will ask you two questions.”
“What are they?” Mayme asks with a bewildered look.
Eli is looking up into Mayme’s eyes. “Will you forgive me for not being totally clear on my intentions and allowing you to jump to a conclusion?”
“Yes. I will and do forgive you.”
Without taking his eyes from hers he takes Mayme’s left hand in his right hand and continues, “It is my desire, if you would have me, to spend eternity with you. It is also my desire to announce to God as my witness, my vow to love, keep and cherish you as my wife. Mayme Myrna Richards, will you do me the honor of marrying me as soon as possible after my return?”
Mayme’s eyes are welling with tears. “Oh, Eli, you are the most wonderful man in the world. You can’t imagine how happy I am. I have waited my entire life for this moment. Yes, yes! Sir Lancelot, please rise, hold me and seal our betrothal with your kiss.”
Eli stands, puts his arms around her and firmly pulls her close. They kiss passionately then hold each other in tight embrace for a couple minutes without talking. She then continues, “I love being held by you Eli. There is so much I want and so little time. We have to get back to the ballroom, so we must press on. Please finish your father’s story as we go. Forget about how long the speech was, but I do want to know more of his words of wisdom.”
Eli gives some thought to which part of his father’s advice Mayme would find interesting. “It was so long and had advice on so many of life’s dilemmas, but there are a couple points that would pertain to us when I return and we resume our lives together. He is a keen observer and sees things in other people’s relationships. He said the most important rule is that a husband and wife must make this pact. Both must vow to never go to sleep angry at the other. All disagreements must be resolved without exception. Rule two is related to the first. He said most arguments arise from misunderstandings. Never read anything into what your wife has said. Never respond to something she has said with: “Are you saying that….?” Or “Do you mean that…?” When you do that you are throwing your words into what she has said which will often lead to insult then an argument. If you are unsure of her meaning then your response should be “Please explain…” or “I need to understand…” Your statements to your wife should always be unambiguous.”
Mayme asserts with a laugh, “If your father were here right now he would have to scold you then, Eli.”
“Why is that?”
“You forgot to pose the most important question and you left me with doubt.”
“You’re right. He would not be happy with me.” Eli agrees as he laughs along with Mayme.
“Well, you have certainly made me happy. I can’t wait to start my life with you. We are going to have so much fun!” Mayme exclaims as they arrive at the door of the Knickerbocker.
Mayme lays out the plan. “Okay, now when we go in there we will go into the ballroom and I will show you someone doing the swing. Then we will go back into the lobby and I will show you the basic step.” Eli gets the door for Mayme and she leans in to him and places a short but affectionate kiss on his lips as she passes by. He slides his hat under his belt so that half is behind and half hangs over. As they pass through the lobby Eli doesn’t notice if there is anyone at the desk. Mayme grabs his hand and pulls him into the ballroom. Geraldine is sitting at the same table as when they left but a man has joined her. Mayme jumps up and down as she waves from across the dance floor until she has gotten Geraldine’s attention. Geraldine waves back. There are still two chairs waiting for them. Eli is standing behind Mayme, who is surveying the floor full of dancers. The all-girl band has given way to a male band. They are playing Crazy Rhythm. Mayme points to a couple dancing a few feet away. “There, see that couple, Eli? The girl has a white blouse and blue skirt. They are doing the East Coast Swing.”
Eli immediately loses his confidence. “That looks complicated. Their feet are a blur. There is no way I can do that tonight.”
“No defeatist attitudes here, Eli,” Mayme demands. “Actually, the tempo of that song is very fast. We will sit the fast songs out to begin. And don’t try to analyze what they are doing. It only looks complicated, and like I said we are going to do a single instead of triple so it is much simpler than it appears. I will show you how to do it. I just wanted you to have a mental picture of our mission. There is absolutely no pressure on you. We are here just to have fun and it is impossible for you to disappoint me. All these people are here to have fun too. They won’t be watching us dance so there is no reason for you to feel self-conscious. Okay, let’s go out to the lobby,” she says as the music ends.
She takes his hand again, but this time walks next to him. After passing through the door she takes about ten steps to the left of the door. She observes, “Okay, this is good. We are out of sight and should be able to hear the music here.” The band starts to play Anything Goes, another fast tempo. Eli looks toward the hotel desk. The clerk is busy and apparently unaware of their presence. The bellman is gone so Eli is somewhat relieved that maybe he can get through his dance instruction without embarrassment. Eli turns back toward Mayme and she is looking at the desk, too. She turns toward Eli and says, “The first thing you have to learn is how we hold hands. In fact, for the swing we don’t really hold them but we loosely rest our hands together. It’s more like we have paws and since we don’t have thumbs we can’t grip each other. Here, hold your paws like this.” She holds her arms bent at the elbow and her hands with palms facing each other. Her fingers are together and bent so the tips of her fingers are pointing at each other about eight inches apart. Her thumbs are relaxed pointing slightly upward.
Eli complies as he asks, “Like this?” while holding his hands to mimic Mayme.
“Yes, that’s perfect.” Now she turns her hands so her fingers are pointing down and continues, “So now I put my paws pointing down and just hook your sideways paws. See? Now it’s like my paws make downward hooks that fit on top of your sideways hooks. We are hooked together but it allows any kind of movement without restraint. From now on don’t think about the position of your hands but just that we remain hooked. Now we will just stay hooked and wait for the next song to start.”
A few moments pass as they gaze into each other’s eyes while the band leader continues talking. Mayme breaks the silence, “You have made me so happy, Eli, and I love you so much. My mental picture of the rest of my life has gone from mundane to exciting in just a few hours.”
Eli releases her paws, pulls Mayme close and holds her tightly while he whispers in her ear, “Mine too, Mayme. I love you.”
“Heaven itself could be no more pleasurable then your embrace,” Mayme softly replies. They silently keep their embrace while waiting. The music starts again and simultaneously they slowly pull away from each other. Mayme’s exuberance returns as she commands in military style, “Present paws!” Eli grins as he snaps to attention and puts his hands in the paw hook position. Mayme laughs and continues, “Connect hooks! Oh, good I’ve Heard That Song Before has a perfect tempo to learn dancing the swing.”
Eli interjects, “I thought you had heard all these songs before, Mayme. You sing with every one of them.”
”Oh, you’re real funny, Eli. It’s the right tempo and count...” Mayme looks at Eli’s face which must be showing his puzzlement and she interrupts herself, “Oh, you weren’t being funny. You really haven’t heard this song before. I’ve Heard That Song Before is the title. It came out just recently, probably since you left home. I thought you were doing the Who’s On First routine.”
A moment passes then, “Oh, I get it, Abbot and Costello.” Eli replies as he understands his unintended double meaning. “I love that skit. We listened to it a few years ago. I remember both my sisters were home and we laughed so hard I couldn’t hear all of it. I wish I could hear it again.”
“I loved it too, but we’re getting sidetracked, Eli, and we don’t have time to get sidetracked. Okay, we need four beats to the measure. Now, all you have to do is feel the beat and step. Each foot takes a step for each beat. One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four. It’s just like walking but it makes a difference which foot goes with the downbeat. You have to feel the downbeat, Eli. I want you to count the beats of the music. Start with one when you feel the downbeat.”
“This I can get. I was in band,” Eli concentrates on the music then starts counting, “One, two, three...” then stops as Mayme interrupts.
“Great, Eli. Okay, now on the downbeat you start with your left foot and I start with my right. One, two, three, four, left, right, left, right. Good just keep doing that.” She instructs as she is just stepping in place to the cadence of the music.
Eli is imitating Mayme’s step and after a couple dozen steps he comments, “This feels silly. We are just marching in one place.”
“That is what dancing is Eli. It’s as simple as this. Walking with a beat. The same for marching except for dancing we will add twirls and turns. And we also hold paws which you don’t do while marching.” she says as she takes both of Eli’s hands.
“Okay, you have that,” Mayme observes as she watches his feet mirror hers. “You are halfway there. Now, keep stepping and I am going to add something new. Watch my feet, on the downbeat I will step back with my right foot. One, two, three, four, back, two, three, four, back, two, three, four. Okay, now keep counting and on the one you will step back with your left foot so you are opposite me.” Eli complies. As he repeats the back step a few times he feels like maybe he is going to get it. “Now, all you have to do is that step. That back step is the most important part of this dance. Notice how when we do that it opens the space between us. It is that space that allows everything to happen. We will just do this for a minute so you feel natural doing it,” Mayme instructs. “Get a firm mental grip on what you are doing.”
As they continue dancing she continues offering tips. “Here is the secret. All you think about is that back step. Don’t try to anticipate what I am going to do and don’t resist what I am doing. Let me lead you. Be loose and relaxed. I will always have at least one hand with yours at all times, gently pulling or pushing.” As I’ve Heard That Song Before ends Mayme takes over with a verbal count of beats and we continue just as if the music never stopped. “When the next song starts, if the tempo is correct, we will continue and I will start doing different things on the back steps.”
Mayme keeps contact with both of his hands as they continue stepping to her count but with no music. Music soon resumes with So Rare and Mayme considers the tempo. “This song has a slightly faster tempo but it should still work for you. Keep stepping.” Mayme releases Eli’s right hand. She pushes his left hand to his right as she starts her back step. She turns her body to face away from Eli’s right then as she goes into the normal step turns back to face Eli. “That is what I call opening up. It is the simplest move we do and is a prelude to almost every move we will make. Next time, when you feel me push your hand you will turn that way so we both face the same direction. In fact, from now on I will announce my moves before we get to the down-beat. It will be like square dancing but I will be the caller. I will call that ‘open right’ which will be your right. We can do an open left too by dropping your left hand. We will do a few of those now,” Mayme coaches as they have kept the basic steps going.
“You are doing great, Eli.” She compliments Eli as they resume just the basic back stepping. He doesn’t say anything as he concentrates on her every instruction. Apparently she doesn’t need his reply to her comments and she continues, “On our next step we will go around each other. So after the back step the next steps we take both go forward so we pass each other. I think this is why it’s called the swing because the back step reverses our motion and makes us swing past each other as we go around. Three, four, back step…” After the back step she steps forward and goes around Eli. He remains stationary but her hand gently pulls him to turn and face her as she goes by. Then she falls back to the basic steps. “Next time you walk forward on the two, three, four like I did. Three, four back step, walk forward.” Eli strides forward on the next three steps and on the next back step we are so far apart our paws come unhooked. Mayme requests, “Take smaller steps Eli. We don’t ever want to pull hard on each other. Let’s do it again. Three, four, back step….” After the back step he walks forward again and this time when he back steps he is just at arm’s length apart.
“That was perfect Eli. You are a great student. It turns out you are a natural at this.”
“You may be right Mayme. It’s amazing how it works. It’s just so much easier than I thought it would be. You are such a great dancer it makes it easy for me.”
“Just so we don’t confuse you, for tonight we will always go around so I am on your left but when you get back we will swing both ways. So for now just concentrate on the back step and I will always get you there. Let’s go,” Mayme coaxes as she grabs Eli’s shoulders. She spins him around then lightly begins to push him toward the ballroom door.
As So Rare ends Eli applies his brakes and says with hesitation, “We are already done with training? I’m not sure I’m ready for this.”
“You’re not done training, but we will continue on the dance floor. I assure you that you are ready. From here on out training will be just as it has been out here in the hallway with me giving instructions while we have been back stepping. Trust me that you now know enough to make it look like you know what you are doing while you learn,” Mayme asserts as she applies more pressure to Eli’s back. Eli relinquishes resistance and willingly heads to the door. As he opens the door Mayme comments, “It will be much more fun on the dance floor. You’ll see.”
After they get through the door Mayme excitedly bounces around Eli and grabs his right hand then while still bouncing pulls him to a small unoccupied area in the corner of the dance floor. They stop and Mayme says “We have a little more room here so this is where we continue your training, Eli.” She looks deeply into Eli’s eyes and says, “I am so excited I can’t stand it, Eli.” Then she throws her arms around Eli’s neck and plants a passionate kiss on his lips while she must have lifted her legs because he can feel all her weight.
Eli responds by putting both arms tightly around her waist and swinging her around in a circle. As he releases her he says, “Your exuberance is contagious, Mayme. I love being with you.”
“Me too!” She returns enthusiastically, takes both of Eli’s hands, then continues, “Imagination is a good song for us so we have to get back to doing our swing step. 2 3….” With that she pushes him back and commands, “Hook paws and back step! Good Eli,” she says as they resume the basic step again. “Now to dress this up and make it look like we know what we’re doing we will start on twirls. On twirls we will start by doing an open but you don’t turn. So if I announce a twirl you will continue facing me. I will lift your hand over my head. As I do so always keep loose contact with my hand but let it turn in your fingertips.”
Mayme says, “Twirl.” She lifts Eli’s hand up and as instructed he keeps his face toward her. Eli holds his hand directly over her head as she twirls. “You lost your back step, Eli,” Mayme complains. She resumes counting to get Eli back on track. “3 4 back 2 3 4. I didn’t instruct you accurately about not turning. You don’t turn in the same direction I am going, but you do turn so you are facing me as I twirl. As I twirl we are going to go past each other like the swing step but I will be twirling as I go past you. Also, as I turn, make your hand go in a circle over my head as if you were pushing me through my turn so it will look as you are leading. But you did well in letting my fingers turn in yours.” They continue back stepping as she is talking. “Ok, here we go. 3 4 Twirl.” This time Eli follows instructions to the letter and has his hand go in a circle over Mayme’s head as she twirls. After she finishes her twirl Eli goes into back stepping. “That was great, Eli. You did that perfectly. One more time, twirl,” she commands and Eli complies as though he has done it a hundred times.
He is feeling proud of himself. “Wow, Eli, that’s good. Did you notice as I do turns we always get back to a spot where that back step automatically fits in?”
“Just like clockwork!” Eli exclaims. He understands what everyone loves about dancing. “This is amazing! You are a terrific instructor. I am actually dancing good enough to be out here with other dancers. No one is looking at me, Mayme. I was afraid I was going to embarrass myself. This is so much fun! We are going to the Coliseum in Oelwein every week.”
“That’s great, Eli. I can’t wait. I have you hooked now.” Eli thought his proposal for weekly dancing would evoke more enthusiasm from Mayme so he is surprised when she abruptly continues, “Okay now we are going to add one more step. You will graduate from dance lessons with the cuddle.”
Eli thinks possibly Mayme didn’t understand his Coliseum remark so he interjects, “I thought you would be more excited about us going dancing every week, Mayme.”
“Oh, Eli,” she swoons, “I am so excited, but we are so short on time. After we learn the cuddle we can just dance which will leave more time for small talk while we’re dancing. I’ve never had a dance partner with whom I had a romantic interest in before so now this will probably become my favorite step.”
“Just from the name I know it’s going to be my favorite already,” Eli says as Imagination ends.
“We don’t need the music for me so show you what were are doing so I’ll start. Present paws!” Eli complies by holding out his hands in the hook formation. She hooks his hooks and instructs, “You stay stationary and I will step toward you. It starts out like a twirl but we keep contact with both hands. As I approach I will raise your left hand so our arms form a bridge for me to step under like this.” She steps slowly under the bridge while keeping contact with both of Eli’s hands. As she goes under his right arm she makes a 180-degree counterclockwise turn. Eli’s right hand, keeping contact with Mayme’s left hand, naturally goes around behind her waist with her left arm crossing in front of her waist holding his right hand at her right side. Eli’s left arm crosses in front of his waist and holds Mayme’s right hand at her left side. Now they are both facing the same direction with her arms crossed in front of her and his right arm around her.
The lack of music doesn’t faze Mayme at all as they both continue back stepping she says, “This is the cuddle. We can stay in this position and continue our back stepping as long as we want however it’s usually not more than eight beats. You notice now when we back step we move in the same direction at the same time rather than opposite. Here is another thing we can do. Now don’t let our hands separate.” She takes one step forward and to the left so she is in front of Eli then continues with two more steps to the left. With the next back step she ends up on Eli’s left side with her arms still crossed in front of her. Now Eli’s left arm is around her waist, a complete reversal of the first position without letting go of either hand. She says, “Now when we do that from now on I’ll call ‘reverse’ because we are reversing the cuddle. Then you step behind me at the same time so I don’t have to step forward so far to get around you.”
“Wow, that’s amazing Mayme. And fun, too!”
“Okay Eli, now we have every step we are going to do tonight. You’ll learn more when you get back to me.”
“Will you be giving me lessons on how to throw you around like the other dancers were doing earlier?” Eli jokes.
“You’re funny the way you make it sound, Eli,” Mayme says. “But you definitely have the strength to do those lifts so yes, you will learn to do that. For now, though, all we have to do is wait for the music to start again. I wish the band leader would quit rambling on.”
They both fall silent patiently facing each other while holding hands as they wait for the band leader to start the music. He announces they will be taking a fifteen-minute break which provokes Mayme to complain, “Rats! We were just going to really start dancing. Well, let’s head back.”
Mayme rests her hand on Eli’s forearm as they head for the table. “You have exceeded expectations though,” she says. “You certainly have nothing to be embarrassed about. I have never had this much fun before and I love dancing. We will have plenty of time to practice when the war is over. You can start ‘throwing me around’ then,” Mayme quips with a laugh..
They reach the table at which they were seated earlier. There are a couple of half-empty glasses on it but no Geraldine in sight. They seat themselves in the same chairs as earlier but he pulls his closer to her so he is also facing the band. “I saw Geraldine sitting here a couple minutes ago,” Mayme mentions, looking around the ballroom floor. “Oh, there she is with Roger.”
Eli watches them dance. Roger is one of the guys that can fling his partner. “That guy is really good,” he observes.
“That is the same guy she was with when we left,” Mayme comments while they are both watching Geraldine and Roger. “He is a pretty good dancer and Geraldine usually hooks up with him on the nights he is here. They never date though. I think maybe he has the same affliction you have Eli - shyness. We know very little of him except that he can dance and he works somewhere at Ventnor Boat. I have seen him there but he never talks to us. He doesn’t talk much, even when we are dancing. He seems nice, though. Geraldine just can’t get him to open up.”
Eli turns back toward Mayme as he wonders aloud, “Does Geraldine like him? I mean would she like to date him?”
“Yes. Well, she thinks she would. What she would really like is if he would open up while we are here so she could get to know him better. Oh, here they come,” Mayme says as she nods in the direction behind Eli, giving him a clue to stop talking about Roger.
“Wow, you two were gone long enough,” Geraldine complains as she seats herself adjacent to Mayme. “Eli this is Roger. Roger, Eli.”
“Hi, Eli,” Roger says, extending his hand.
“Nice to meet you, Roger,” Eli stands as he gives and receives a firm handshake.
“What was going on at Kessler’s anyway?” Geraldine pries with a suspicious demeanor.
“Eli and I took time to get acquainted,” Mayme retorts without acknowledging Geraldine’s subtle accusation of possible impropriety. “He told me a story that was so funny my side was killing me from laughter.”
This intrigued Geraldine. “Tell me! I love funny stories.”
“I will have to tell you tomorrow. It was really long. I know I can’t relate it as well as Eli, but I don’t want to share him for as long as it would take to tell.”
“Well, you must be pretty well acquainted by now. You missed half the dance. I also noticed you were all of a sudden were able to dance, Eli. I thought you said you couldn’t dance.”
Eli responds proudly, “I couldn’t. Mayme taught me.”
“Oh, I guess that explains why you were gone so long.” Geraldine accepts this as a valid reason for being gone so long. “You do better than okay for a beginner, Eli.”
“Thank you, Geraldine.” She had made Eli feel quite good about himself. All his life he never danced and now because of Mayme a whole new world has opened up to him. “Mayme is a very good teacher.”
“She should have been a teacher,” Geraldine agrees. “She is so smart. Mayme, will you go to the powder room with me?” With that said off they go and leave Eli and Roger at the table.
Eli watches them talk to each other as they walk away. He suspects they are talking about him. “You are a very good dancer Roger.” Roger smiles and nods but doesn’t say anything. A silence ensues. Sitting with someone but not interacting makes Eli feel uncomfortable. In an effort to break the impasse Eli inquires, “So what do you do Roger?”
“I am a tool-and-die maker,” Roger says. “I work at the same factory where Geraldine works.”
“Oh, you must have a deferment from the draft with a job like that.” Eli realizes that somewhere in the back of his mind he must have been wondering why Roger, whom he guessed to be in his late 20’s or early 30’s, was not in the service. Eli realized this thoughtless statement was inspired by the same thinking that the people giving strange looks on the streets of West Union must have had. Now he had regretted saying it because it was just hanging out there but it couldn’t be withdrawn.
Eli could tell Roger was reflecting on it and after a moment Roger did finally respond. “Yes, I do. In fact I went down signed up for the Navy ’cause I knew they needed machinist’s mates, but as soon as I told my boss I was quitting he went down and had them reject me. Before the war we were just a pleasure and racing boat building company. In fact, we made the fastest boats in the world. Now we make boats for the Navy. I started there as toolmaker apprentice right out of high school. That was nine years ago. Now I am a journeyman and the owner says he couldn’t replace me if I left. Now with the war the boss said he can’t get anyone experienced so the Navy agreed with him.
“Being a journeyman tool-and-die maker at a factory for the Navy is more than a deferment. They just won’t allow you to join if they find out. I have been working really long hours because I have had so many dies, molds and other tools to build. I also have to be the tool and cutter grinder. And I have to train all the women that start there. I don’t like being a civilian though. A month ago this woman came up to me while I was walking down the sidewalk. A complete stranger! She said ‘why are you still here? I lost my husband and son and here you are walking around here happy as can be.’ She made me feel terrible. I get looks all the time when I am out.”
Eli thought how unfair that was and asks, “Didn’t you tell her you make boats for the Navy?”
“I don’t talk about what I do with people on the street. ‘Loose lips sink ships’ you know. I don’t know why I’m talking to you. Normally I generally just keep to myself. I guess the only reason I told you is ’cause I’m sitting here with you. You’re in uniform and I didn’t want you thinking I was a slacker, I guess.”
Now Eli really felt bad. He had, in a way, made a remark like the cruel lady had said to him. In an effort to undo his own unkind statement he admits, “I didn’t think badly of you Roger. I don’t meddle in other people’s lives. In fact until just a few months ago for reasons of my own I was just waiting for the draft to get me. Everyone has things going on in their lives, Roger. Don’t ever put any guilt on yourself. Ignore those people that give you those looks. You seem like a real nice guy. Talented too, in your work and dancing. Geraldine likes to dance with you, right?”
“Geraldine is very nice. We have a great time dancing. I have trouble talking to anyone, but especially girls. I always have. I can hide behind my dancing ability to be with Geraldine. I wouldn’t even have that if it wasn’t for my sisters. They taught me. I am amazed I am talking to you about girls. I guess it’s the fact that you don’t condemn me for not being in the service.”
Eli feels he has mended his error and sees an opportunity to possibly help Roger. “Well, to begin with, you are in the service of our country so stop thinking that way. Look Roger, on a different subject, you and I have something in common so I want to help you out.” He wants Roger to know he is willing to go out on a limb for him as he continues, “I am going to tell you something Mayme may not want me to say. Mayme and I have fallen in love with each other. Because of my own shyness I could not have that relationship were it not for a little push by a twist of fate. I am going to repay fate by offering you that same little push. Mayme told me that Geraldine thinks you are a nice guy but she knows so little about you. She wants you to willingly engage her in conversation. When they get back I am going to tell them the little story you just told me about the Navy refusing to take you. That will let Geraldine in on a side of you she doesn’t know. Mayme and I will leave the table. Then all you have to do is respond to whatever she might ask or say. You have to overcome the shyness and start talking to her. Knowing that she likes you should help you do that. Is this an agreeable plan?”
Roger hesitates, “It will embarrass me to have you talk about me in front of me. Can I leave while you talk about me?”
“No, Roger, it has to be in front of you so Geraldine will continue the conversation when we leave.” Eli remembers another bit of advice from his father. “If you don’t do something different today then tomorrow will be just like yesterday. Can you force yourself past the embarrassment?”
“You are right. Okay, go ahead.” Then he gives Eli a heads up, “Here they come.”
“Okay, we’re back,” Geraldine announces as they approached the table from behind Eli. “Miss us?”
“Yes, we did miss you,” Eli affirms. “But we also had a nice conversation while you were gone.”
“Oh yeah? About what? I can’t ever get two words out of him,” Geraldine remarks with astonishment.
Eli begins his story with, “Roger tells me he works with you two.”
Geraldine interrupts, “Well, he trained us on our first day but we haven’t seen him since. I don’t even know what he does there.”
Eli continues, “He is a tool-and-die maker there. A pretty prestigious job. He didn’t say that, but I know it is. In fact, he enlisted in the Navy and was declined because his job is too important to the war effort. Now, because of that, he gets nasty looks from people while he is in public because they think he is a slacker. In fact he had one woman come up to him on the street and insult him to his face, simply because he was not in uniform.”
Geraldine is obviously upset by Eli’s comments. Looking at Roger she protests, “Roger, that is terrible! No one should treat you like that. What right did that woman have? She has no idea what your personal situation is.”
The band has been playing At Last for a few moments. Eli, holding true to his word to Roger, stands and requests, “Would you two please excuse us? Mayme, will you dance with me?” Geraldine and Roger are glued eye to eye and completely ignore Eli’s request. Mayme arises, takes Eli’s outstretched hand and as they walk away Geraldine is continuing her tirade about rude people.
Eli tells Mayme, “Do you care that this is a slow song? I like dancing slow also, Mayme. You are right about the swing, though. It is a really fun dance, but it’s so great to hold you against me.” He is holding her much closer than in the first dancing session they had.
“I really enjoy being close to you too, Eli. I have to admit it is much easier to talk during slow dances. What did you say to Roger? He and Geraldine are talking up a storm. Look at them,” Mayme marvels as she gently turns them around on the dance floor so Eli is facing their table.
“I was unable to talk to you at the beginning of this evening,” Eli admits. “I was much like Roger was toward Geraldine. All I needed was a little nudge from a falling hat. Now I gave that little nudge to him. He is a very nice but shy guy. I told him he had to get past the shyness or he would never have anyone. I hope it works out for Geraldine and him. It has certainly worked out for you and me.”
“We have known him for months and I’ve never seen anything like this. You amaze me Eli.”
“It’s him that is amazing. He is a very talented person. And I liked him.”
A few moments pass with no conversation while they dance then Mayme asks, “I have never asked. What are you going to be doing when you get where you are going?”
“I am going to be lugging around a field radio,” he answers.
“That sounds very dangerous, Eli. You won’t be able to protect yourself.”
“Well, I don’t think anyone is safe over there. But you won’t be safe either until we finish our job.” The tempo of Chattanooga Choo Choo is faster and they automatically open up into the East Coast Swing. “I am looking forward to starting our life together,” Eli shouts as he swings past Mayme. “We are going to have such a great time. I love being with you!” he exclaims on the next pass.
“I have always loved dancing but you make it even better,” Mayme affirms. Eli is much more comfortable dancing and it is obvious to Mayme. “You are much looser now. Your knees are more relaxed. That makes for a smooth, quicker step.” Mayme falls silent for a couple minutes while she continues dancing. It has gotten quite mobbed on the dance floor. Eli sees nothing but empty chairs as everyone is now on the dance floor. Eli realizes the evening may be nearing its conclusion. Mayme stops dancing and she pulls Eli to the only non-congested corner of the ballroom near the exit to the lobby. “We are almost out of time, Eli. Any one of the next songs could be the last one. There is so much I want to talk about. I don’t want to return to the table because I can’t share one more moment of our time with Geraldine. Eli, I need you to write to me whenever possible. Can you do that?”
“If there is a second available to me I will use it to write to you, I promise.”
“In these final minutes I will lay out what I want in your letters. I want to know everything about your sisters, your mother and your father. I have heard that they censor mail. Don’t write anything that might cause them to edit your letters. I don’t want your mail hacked up. I want you to write to your parents and sisters to tell them about me. I need their addresses. After I know you have told them about me I will start correspondence with them. Tell me anything that pops into your head about you. About when you were a little boy. About when you were a teenager. About Big Rock. About Upper Iowa University. About Fayette, West Union, Oelwein. Anything about you. I can’t get enough. Eli, I don’t know how this can be but I love you so dearly. You have captured my heart.”
She stops talking and is visibly choking up. Her eyes are pools of water as she continues, “You… must… I… I am beginning to ache to the core… I’m feeling….”
Tears are streaming down her cheeks and her breath is gone so she is unable to finish her last sentence. Eli is feeling her heartbreak and finds it difficult to speak, but with a big swallow forces the emotions back down his throat. Her knees are buckling and he puts his arm around her to keep her from falling as he grabs a chair from the nearby table. She falls into the chair still weeping. Eli takes two steps to get another chair and pulls up next to her but facing as if they were in a love seat.
In Eli’s mind they are alone in this big ballroom. It is empty except for the two of them. Even the sound of the band has become just a faint background noise as he whispers, “I will tell you all those things, Mayme. I will tell my family about you. In fact that is the first letter I will write.” This is proving very difficult for him so he tries to lighten the mood by assuring her, “I know my sisters will be absolutely nuts about you.”
This has made Mayme look up with a slight smile. He knows that the prospect of having sisters is a very bright spot on her horizon. “I will come straight here when I get back. I will get the official blessing from your father for your hand in marriage.” Her face is slowly brightening the more he talks about their life together. “After your family has learned to like me we will jump on the first train to Iowa. When your new sisters meet you they will be all over you like pigs at the trough.” That metaphor brings a slight giggle from Mayme. “Have you ever heard of the song The Little Brown Church in the Vale?”
She is almost glowing again as she replies between gasps of crying, “I have heard… that song, Eli... Is that song from Iowa?”
Eli is satisfied with himself as he brings her back to that excited little girl she had revealed to him before. “More than that, Mayme, the church described in that song is real. It is in Nashua, not that far from Fayette. If you like, we can get married there. We will get it all arranged so your parents can come. Geraldine, too. Her parents and even your ‘other uncle’,” he says with a genuine laugh, and now Mayme is laughing, too.
“Oh, Eli,” Mayme gushes as Eli wipes the last of her tears with the back of a finger. “You have made me excited again. It will be so fun. I will look in the mail every day for your letters.” Her exuberance returns. She and Eli rise together. As she takes him in her arms the people in the ballroom slowly reappear to Eli and now he can hear the band leader as he thanks everyone for coming and announces this is the last song for the evening.
They start playing I’ll Be Seeing You. Eli and Mayme separate a few inches and stare into each other’s eyes as the realization that their time is about to end. Eli grasps Mayme’s upper arms to pull her close then wraps his arms around her at chest level. She puts her face into Eli’s neck and rests her ear on his shoulder as she encloses her arms around his neck. They both tighten their hold. I must never forget this moment. Lock the feeling of her bubble in my soul, Eli tells himself. They are barely moving their feet making the slightest pretense of dancing. They are silent throughout the dance. Eli is experiencing intense pain in his heart but he knows he can’t reveal that to Mayme. At the final few bars of the song they have stopped all movement and are now in a very tight embrace with Eli’s back to the doorway to the hotel lobby.
The last lines the vocalist sings are “I’ll be looking at the moon, But I’ll be seeing you.”
Without lifting her head Mayme whispers into Eli’s ear, “You look at the moon every evening and I will be seeing you.”
For a moment Eli’s analytical mind starts to calculate exactly when each of them should be looking at the moon. He immediately represses the impulse. “Yes, I will,” Eli whispers back unable to continue for the lump in his throat. There is a lot of commotion about the dance floor. Occasionally they are lightly bumped by passing people, but they remain silently frozen in each other’s arms as minutes pass.
Parker has approached from Eli’s right side and taps Eli on his shoulder. “We have to get going, Bailey. Come on.”
“Give me just a few more minutes, Parker. Go wait by the door, please.”
“I have already waited a few minutes and we are by the door,” Parker explains. “We have to go.”
Eli ignores Parker. This was their last dance and even though the music has ended he doesn’t want it to end. They cling to each other in a last desperate embrace. Eli proclaims, “I love you, Mayme.” Eli thinks, Such a trite phrase and yet it absolutely expresses what is in my aching heart.
Mayme raises her chin enough to put her lips to his ear. She softly whispers, “I love you, Eli.”
Eli and Mayme release simultaneously. Eli grabs her upper arms and holds her inches away to look deeply into her eyes. They both look into each other’s souls. He releases his grip and steps backwards slowly as his hands slide down her arms to one final clutch of her hands. Then their hands slip slowly away until just their fingertips are touching. Mayme drops her right hand, reaching out with her left to maintain contact with her left fingertips. Eli withdraws his fingers from hers as he backs toward the doors to the lobby. He has passed through the now blocked open doors as he stares at her. She is frozen with her hand held out palm up just as it was when their fingers parted. Just before he has to make the turn around the corner he pauses and tries to burn her image into his mind. Parker, at Eli’s left side, places his hand on Eli’s shoulder.
The memory transmission from Eli ended.
The parting of Eli and Mayme deeply saddened me. I wanted to know what happened to them, but all of my sessions with big band CD’s were fruitless. I couldn’t get beyond the dance. Is that all there is? I asked myself.
In the several months after Eli’s first appearance I had become very aware of his presence. Even though he didn’t always send me his memories I could feel that he was always with me. In fact I am quite sure he had been with me for a good share of my life if not all of it. I know my core values have been inspired by his beliefs in destiny and relationships. It is my hope that someday he will reveal to me how and when he came to reside within me.
The last few months I have spent many fruitless hours in self-induced trances in an effort to discover more of his life. I have stopped all efforts to bring him out, deciding those must be the only memories he was willing to share and I must know all I was going ever know about Eli and Mayme. I made a decision to avoid radio stations that might play I’ll Be Seeing You or any ‘40’s music for that matter, because they still produced the memories which just brought to me the sadness of their parting. The image of her with tear-soaked cheeks is seared into my mind. Her outstretched fingertips are a reminder of what may have been the final touch of two young people who had just discovered their perfect love. Without knowing any ensuing events that vision has become very painful. As sad as it was, I had to accept this as the culmination of my experiences with Eli.
A year after Eli’s first appearance, in August 2000, Renee and I attended the United States Army Exposition at Fort Snelling, Minnesota. Of the many events scheduled, one was a World War II battle re-enactment. We seated ourselves in bleachers as the announcer described the field we were overlooking as very much like a battlefield in Italy. We could see tanks and ground troops from both sides of the battle they were portraying in waist high grass interspersed with shrubbery. The uniforms and weapons were authentic. It all appeared very genuine. The tanks were firing their huge guns. There were reports from rifle fire. There were fallen soldiers.
Suddenly Eli made another visit.
Instead of a feeling of desire, I experienced intense, overwhelming sorrow. I was sitting in a crowd of people and I couldn’t suppress him. I had seated myself with the exit aisle to my left, so I stood up to leave but, blinded by tears, I couldn’t take my first step. Renee was seated to my right. I turned toward her but couldn’t see her. I waved my hand around. She had witnessed my previous déjà vu experiences so she instinctively took my hand to lead me down the bleachers.
As my feet hit the ground an image of a man burst upon me and then it vanished to blackness. A few seconds passed and before I could process what I had seen a different image appeared to me. A few more seconds then another, and another. The images flashed so fast I couldn’t define what I was seeing. I saw a man’s face then realized that was the first image I had seen. As Renee was leading me along these flashes continued, until I realized they were repeating and there was a definite sequence. With each repetition I was able to define more details with each scene. I see the man again and this time I recognize the grin. It is Parker showing the same expression as when he was taunting Eli to cross the dance floor.
Now totally blinded by my mind’s eye, Renee kept leading me until she stopped me with both hands on my upper arms. She then backed me up until I felt a chair touch the back of my legs and I fell into it. Now I knew Eli was communicating with me so I tried to memorize his visions and the order. The sorrow and flashes stopped just moments after I seated. In a few more minutes my composure returned. With excitement, I was now certain Eli wanted to continue his story.
I felt Eli’s message was clear. I should focus on the first image of the repeating sequence which was of Parker, seated across from Eli at a little over arm’s length away. It appeared that Parker was laughing. I retreated to my quiet room to get the other essential ingredient – solitude. I formed the image of Parker in my mind with his open mouth smile. An hour went by with no results. It was so obvious that Eli wanted to communicate with me. Why was this not working? I questioned myself. Am I not forming the complete image? But my memory just does not provide a more complete picture. After a couple hours of concentration all I experienced was exasperation. I had spent many hours a few months ago with fruitless outcomes, so I decided to give up again. So I thought; because over the next few days I was haunted by Eli’s flashing images and I just could not shake it. I simply had to know what happened to Eli. Rather than retreating to my quiet room, I decided to take a different approach to avoid the same unproductive result.
Then it hit me. When I had the ballroom image I had also used music. At the battle re-creation there was canon and gunfire in addition the visual stimulus to induce Eli’s return. I realized that I must provoke one of my senses in addition to mental imagery. Maybe I needed some audio in addition to Parker’s face. I just needed to get an Eli transmission started and it might trigger other memories much as those events at Kessler’s Pharmacy were acquired as a result of the ballroom memory. I realized that it might be my mental state, not Eli’s, which prompted these experiences.
There is one thing I knew about the next day for Eli ─ he was getting on a train and going to New York the next morning. If I can place Parker’s laughing face seated on a passenger train transporting soldiers, maybe I can discover another Eli memory.
The Internet supplied me with an audio recording made from the inside of a passenger car rolling down the tracks. I looped the recording of the train sounds so it would continue while I shut my eyes to form my mental image. I could hear the sound of the locomotive and steel wheels rolling on steel track. I could hear the clack of the wheels hitting rail splices. I envisioned myself inside the car and placed Parker across from me. As I listened to the wheels clack and occasional locomotive whistle I found it strangely relaxing. I closed my eyes.
It turned out that this plan would be the last inspiration I would have to offer to Eli. In a series of visions he revealed his entire story to me.
Eli has his eyes closed. His mind is occupied with the same image that I now have burned into my mind. Mayme is standing there with her hand held out, palm up. The inability to be with her is causing an intense ache in his heart. He decides he must think of something else to ease the pain. The clickety-clack he has been hearing subliminally now comes to the forefront. The rhythmic clatter soothes him. He resolves to analyze the sound to distract his despondent mind. The sound of the steel wheels hitting the gaps at the splices of the steel tracks is what causes the clicks. The forward pair of axles hitting the slight gap of the splice causes a nearly imperceptible double clack whose interval is so close it almost sounds like a single-click. Then the rear axles cross the same gap an instant later...
Someone is talking. He hears his name. “Bailey!”
He keeps his analysis going. There are actually three rhythmic sounds going on here. The space between axle pairs causes the first nearly imperceptible double-clack…
The distance between car’s axle trucks determines the second rhythmic interval then the length of the track between splices causes a third rhythmic repeat of the wheels’ clacking…
Eli stops his analysis but keeps his eyes shut.
Now quite loudly, “Hey, asshole.”
Eli opens his eyes. Eli is seated in an aisle seat near the end of the car facing the center of the car. Parker is seated opposite and facing Eli. “Aha, you’ll only open your eyes if I call you by your real name,” Parker jibes.
Eli returns a short laugh aloud as his eyes scan the railroad passenger car. The window seat next to Eli is occupied by two large duffel bags, each about one foot in diameter and three feet tall. Next to Parker in the window seat is a sleeping, square-jawed, black-haired man with thick eyebrows. He’s one of those guys whose hair is so black and thick that even though he is clean shaven you can still see his beard. There are bench seats that are installed so there are pairs of seats that face each other, not unlike some commuter train cars today. The entire car is medium to dark brown and yet there is so much olive drab equipment and so many olive drab uniforms the car appears to be olive drab. The men have so much gear there are only three men to each four-seat set, nevertheless, almost every square inch is of the car is taken. Everyone is seated, a few with their eyes closed. The aisle, less than three feet wide, is completely occupied with sprawled legs and booted feet. Eli is facing the rear of the train.
Eli moans, “Whad’ya want, Parker?” Actually, he welcomes the interruption from his clickety-clack analysis, but he feels he has to keep up the defiant attitude that he knows Parker expects from him.
“Are you planning on sleeping your way to New York? Your hot babe wear you out last night, Bailey?”
“Don’t call her that, Parker. I like her a lot.” Eli knows he would have to take a lot of guff if he told any of these guys he fell in love and wanted to marry a woman he had just met. They would never understand, so he left it at ‘like’. “Besides, assface, I wasn’t sleeping. I’m keeping my eyes closed ‘cause the sight across from me is so ugly it makes me want to puke,” Eli barks back.
Parker ignores the ‘ugly’ comment and exclaims incredulously, Don’t call her that? Are you crazy? She was the cat’s meow. You must be a blind eunuch if you couldn’t see that?”
“Well, yes I saw that, but the way you say it, it sounds disrespectful.”
“Sometimes I just don’t know about you, shithead. Now, if I’d said, ‘She’s a homely bag’, that would have been disrespectful. You spent the whole evening with her so you should be thanking me. You know, you wouldn’t have gone over there if it wasn’t for me.”
“I guess you’re right, asshole. I probably would not have gone over to her if it weren’t for you. So thank you, Parker. Okay, you’re right again. She is a hot babe, but the comment about wearing me out was disrespectful to her. Don’t be such a dickhead.”
“Okay, Bailey. Since you’re such a sensitive prick, I apologize for that part. But you claimed you couldn’t dance and didn’t even want to go there. I had to just about push you all the way there. What was that about anyway? I saw you out there dancing. You can dance you lying sack of shit!”
“She taught me everything you saw me do just last night,” Eli declares. He then confesses, “I didn’t know one dance step before. She was amazing. And smart, too.”
“Well, you had me fooled,” Parker admits. A few moments pass then he continues, “You know, Eli, I’d never ridden a train before all this started. Now I’ve had a lot of rail time and I kind of like it. When I get back home I think I’ll get a job as a conductor. I like the sound of the rails.”
Eli thinks this conversation is a little strange. Parker does not normally share small talk. In fact, Eli thinks, if he isn’t needling someone he isn’t talking. That was four sentences without calling me a name and he used my first name. Eli then continues aloud, “That is exactly what I was thinking about when you yelled at me. Not being a train conductor, but the sound of the rails.” Eli thinks he did not hear his comment as Parker looks over at his neighbor then back at Eli then back to his neighbor again where he freezes his gaze for a few moments. Eli has concluded from his behavior Parker is worried that the black-haired man may be listening to their conversation and that the babbling has been leading up to some confession or secret he wants to share with Eli. He decides to take his cue and states just loudly enough to be heard over the rails, “I think there may be something bothering you. You know Jim, anything you want to confide in me will be held with the strictest confidence. And I will not judge you in any way.”
Parker looks back at Eli and silently but distinctly mouths the words, “I’ve never trusted ...” as he gives a slight sideways nod and rolls his eyes toward his neighbor then rolls them back to Eli.
Eli nods his head in agreement. Parker then turns his head to his fix on his neighbor for a few more moments. He has not moved, flinched or blinked. He finally decides it’s safe to talk and continues, “There is something bothering me. I didn’t really give it much thought when I enlisted but the closer we get to the actual war the more this nags me.” Parker pauses and just stares at Eli for a minute. Eli remains silent and patiently waits. Then Parker resumes, “You had your father when you were growing up, right?”
“Oh, I understand, you lost your father. I’m sorry Jim. Yes, I had a father as a child. I’m fortunate enough to still have him. What would you like to know?”
“Well, here is the deal. I never knew my dad. In fact I never saw him. He was already gone when I was born. He was twenty-five and I wasn’t even a year old when he died in France in the Great War. Now, here I am going off to war and I have a two-year-old son. I really didn’t think about dying when I signed up but now I can’t get my son off my mind. I know what it’s like not having a dad. Tell me what I missed. I don’t mean playing catch or something. I mean emotional or spiritual effects your dad gave you that I may have missed. What do you consider your most treasured benefit from being with your dad?”
I am amazed, Eli thinks to himself, I have misjudged Parker. I haven’t credited Parker with any deep thoughts. He then says aloud, “You know Jim, if you would have asked me that just a few days ago I don’t know what I would have said. All my life my father has been giving me advice.”
Parker interrupts, “You mean advice like the early bird gets the worm?”
“Well, kind of, but it’s all his or his mother’s or his father’s thoughts on life or God or nature. They’re never the generally known proverbs. Anyway, all my teen years he’s giving me these little speeches and most of the time I didn’t have any idea what he’s talking about. I thought he was crazy. But in just the last day there were some of those crazy things he said that have turned out to be prophetic. To me, he has suddenly become a genius! I can’t wait to get back so I can tell him that I get it now. I have never fully appreciated him but I wish he knew that now I do.”
“Can you give me an example?”
“I can’t because of ...,” Eli says. He doesn’t know if the guy next to Parker is asleep or listening so he finishes the sentence silently by nodding toward the man next to Parker. Parker gives Eli an affirmation nod back. “But I can tell you that if I look back on my life and remove my father, there would be a huge void. I guess my assessment would be that I am who I am, was formed by forty-percent my father, forty-percent my mother and twenty-percent everyone one else in my life.”
“Well, yours sounds like he is a great guy. But what if he was an asshole? What kind of impact do you think that would that have made?”
“I know some guys whose dads were like that. Then you turn out like...,” and again Eli finishes by nodding toward Parker’s neighbor. He and Parker both laugh then Eli continues, “But seriously, my forty-forty-twenty ratio example would just apply to me. I think the ratios in anyone’s life would be determined by the most influential people around them. They could be good or bad. A person could have a good father and possibly be more influenced by some strong-willed other relative or acquaintance who lived a life of crime or even other evil tendencies.”
“That makes sense, Bailey. You are a pretty smart guy, but I’ll deny I ever said that.”
“Well, I may not be smart but I am observant and I draw thoughtful conclusions based on those observations,” Eli concedes. “That is something I learned from my father. But to get back to you, your concern was about your son and something happening to you in Germany. You didn’t have a father and I’ll deny saying this but you turned out pretty good.” They both laugh. “I would consider you my friend and my standards for friendships are pretty high. Yeah, you have this thing where you are always picking on someone…”
Parker interrupts, “I never really thought about that. Do you think I should try not to do that?”
“You didn’t let me finish, Parker. I was going to say that actually you are never mean about it and always do it in a good natured and funny way. It’s just your sense of humor. I would not change it Parker. It makes you who you are and everyone knows you do it to be amusing. You have this gift where you can call someone an asshole and they will laugh with you. When I am talking with you, my demeanor changes to become antagonistic. I actually enjoy our banter. But, I know for sure that if you have my back I will be safe. It means a lot about a man’s character if those around him can trust him with their lives and you have that Parker. If you would not make it back to your son for sure it would be a great loss to him. The really sad part is he would never know it because then he wouldn’t get to know you.”
“That is nice of you to say, asshole,” Parker acknowledges and again they both chuckle. “You are right though, I never knew my father other than what people have told me about him. But that is not knowing him because all I know is what he did and that they say he was a good guy. That means nothing about who he really was. My uncle Alva, his brother, was the closest thing to a father to me. He was good to me but still he wasn’t always around like my dad would have been. Uncle Alva was always handing out the good natured sarcasm so I guess you are right about getting your personality percentages from different people. Could you do something for me, Eli?”
“Sure, Jim, what’s that?”
“If I don’t make it back, could you go find my son in ten or fifteen years when he is old enough to understand and tell him what you just told me? That would be something no one else could tell him. I also want him to know that I thought defeating the Krauts and the Japs was necessary for his future well-being and that is what was on my mind when I enlisted. Dying was not specifically on my mind and I really didn’t want him to grow up without me. Tell him I didn’t have my dad so I understand what he is going through.” As Parker says this, a tear wells in his eye and he wipes it with the back of his hand as it starts to roll down his cheek.
“Oh, for Chris’ sake, what is this? Crybaby day?!” the neighbor bellows loudly with a low raspy voice as he is wide awake now and looking directly at Parker. He then continues, “We’re gonna lose this war for sure with you pansy ass girls. How ya gonna kill any fuckin’ Krauts with your eyes all full of tears, crybaby?”
Eli counters without any thought, “Shut up, Booth. You’re the pansy ass pussy that has to take a nap. I don’t see anyone else taking naps in this car.” Eli states this as if it were a fact because Booth can’t see the rest of the car and couldn’t contradict him. “At least we can make the trip to New York with our eyes open.” Eli realizes his remark was infantile but then immediately rethinks that it fits any conversation with Booth perfectly. He feels badly though that he hadn’t kept one eye on Booth in the last few minutes as he notices Parker, red faced, looking around to see if anyone is looking.
Booth ignores the napping comment and continues, “If you two are going to go queer lovey dovey on me I’m gonna to stop hangin’ out with you.”
Eli blasts back at a volume even louder than that of Booth, “Who asked you to hang out with us? I’d be happy if you didn’t. In fact, I have always wondered why you are always around.” Eli looks into Booth’s eyes but Booth looks toward the aisle instantly.
“It’s because you two are always cussing each other out,” Booth replies at a normal conversational volume as it is now him looking around as if to avoid any eye contact. “I have fun watching you two go at it.”
Eli retorts, “I’m going to be going at you in about a minute. But it will be physical instead of verbal.” Rage is coming on in Eli with intensity increasing with each word he speaks. He continues, “The more you talk the more pissed off I’m...”
“Whoa, whoa, Bailey. I didn’t mean anything,” Booth replies then continues, “Get off your high horse now. I was just funnin’ ya.“
Parker jumps in, “Let it go, Eli. Don’t get all worked up. He’s not worth breaking your knuckles over.”
Booth exclaims, “Eli?! I didn’t even know your name was Eli and now your girlfriend calls you Eli and wants to save you from hurting your hand. Jim and Eli sittin’ in a tree k-i-s…”
Booth has pushed Eli beyond his boiling point. He jumps up and is over Booth who immediately is trying to use his duffel for protection. He slides down in his seat as low as he can get while laughing sadistically. Eli seizes the pack with his right hand and, without looking, hurls it to the aisle of the car. He puts his left foot on the edge of Booth’s chair, leans down, grabs Booth’s head with his left hand on top and right hand under his jaw then lifts him off his chair so he is looking directly into his eyes from about three inches away. With his mouth firmly slammed shut Booth’s laughing has stopped and his eyes are wide open in shock. With an unyielding demeanor Eli growls, “I know what you are and you don’t intimidate me one iota.” He then throws Booth’s head down, hitting the back of the seat with a thud like it was a medicine ball. Eli maintains his icy glare into Booth’s eyes and commands “Grab your shit and move to the next car.”
As Booth is drawing his left leg over Eli’s feet, Eli raises his foot causing Booth to trip and fall into the lap of the guy in the seat across the aisle. The guy yells loudly as he pushes Booth against the back of the Eli’s seat, “Hey, asshole. Get off me. Where did you learn to walk?” Eli laughs then he watches Parker’s eyes as they follow Booth out of the back of the car while wrestling with his duffel.
Eli’s rage had dissipated as fast as it came on. Parker’s eyes return to Eli and as if nothing has happened he calmly says, “Jim, I would be happy to tell your son how I trusted you with my life. Even if nothing bad happens to you and I hope it doesn’t. But if something does happen I think you should give me the information on both sets of grandparents that will allow me to track him down. Your wife may move but it is less likely that the grandparents will, even years from now.”
Parker is astonished, “All that going on and you go right back to where we were without missing a beat?! You were ready to kill him and just like that it’s as if it never happened.”
Eli calmly remarks, “He’s gone and I’m done with him so I have no reason to carry that rage.”
“He seems so dark and evil to me. Doesn’t he scare you?”
“Not at all. When I was in eighth grade there was this guy that was not much different from Booth. I think that Booth may be about the same age mentally as an eighth grader right now. He’s just a school-yard bully.”
“So you weren’t scared of him, either?”
“Well, at first, yes. He moved to Fayette at the start of fourth grade. His name was Ian. He started right off pushing everyone around. He was always a big kid, too. For years he was always picking on everyone. More fat than muscle, but still too big for me to mess with. There was this other kind of wimpy kid named Phillip that had always lived in Fayette and he was always kind of a loner. I had tried to talk with him but I couldn’t really get him to participate in a conversation so I gave up on him, probably in the third grade.
“Anyway, Phillip somehow became Ian’s stooge. Anytime Ian would start a bullying session, Phillip would be standing there yelling for Ian like he was his cheerleader. It always seemed like an unlikely match, but for some unknown reason Ian wouldn’t bully Phillip and he’d let him hang around.
I understood the relationship from Phillip’s side because Ian was his protector and no one would pick on him, but Ian certainly didn’t need Phillip. At one time I thought maybe if I was nice to Ian I could change him. He just wouldn’t let me in so, I gave up after a couple tries.
It went on like that for years then in the summer between seventh and eighth grades my lifelong friend. Jerry, and I worked for my uncle on his farm. It was lots of hard, physical work. I remember my mother complaining about how much I ate. I added a lot of muscle. The hardest was loading bales on the wagon then into the barn and that really bulked me up. I never saw Ian all summer but when eighth grade started Ian resumed right where he left off the previous year. So he was strutting around the playground, acting all tough, pushing or hitting one kid after another and I was sitting on the fence rail watching. Ian was about fifty feet away and glanced my direction. He froze for a second then got this determined look on his face and started marching toward me with his fists clenched.
Well, I guess I wasn’t feeling like a pansy anymore and Ian’s expression on his face like he was going to kick my ass made that same feeling of rage you just saw kicked in. With each step he took towards me the rage became stronger. By the time he was about five feet away it was like I was not in control of my body anymore and like lightning speed I leaped off the rail. I got to him in an instant. I bent over, grabbed his legs at both knees and pulled them out from under him. The back of his head hit the gravel pretty hard and it left him dazed for a moment. I got on him with my legs straddling him and sat on his belly then pounded his face a few times.”
“Was that the end of his bullying?” Parker asked.
“Well, it stopped his bullying around me. He was definitely afraid of me after that. When he would see me he always headed the other way. I did have kids tell me that he would pick on them when I wasn’t around.”
“Were they asking for protection from you?” Parker asked.
“Some hinted at it but they all knew I was a nice guy and would never go looking for trouble. I’m a live-and-let-live kind of guy, even around assholes. They also knew I would never give any ground to anyone though.”
“What about Ian’s stooge? Was he afraid of you after that?”
“Oh, yeah, that was kind of funny. As I was getting up from Ian I glanced up and Phillip was standing about three feet from me. I stared him right in the face as I stood up and evidently he could still see my rage. I didn’t intend to do anything to him but evidently he didn’t know that because I scared the piss out of him, literally! He turned white as a sheet and visibly soaked his pants. Of course there was a crowd around now. He was frozen for a moment then looked down at his pants. Then he looked up, saw everyone staring at him and took off running.”
“I’ll bet it took a while for Phillip to live that down. Did he continue to be Ian’s stooge after that?”
“No, Ian wouldn’t have anything to do with him. Actually, even though he was still an asshole, Ian did a lot less harassment of everyone. But Phillip’s story ended up being kind of tragic. As I said, before Ian, Phillip had always been a loner but after this incident he was really withdrawn. He wouldn’t talk to anyone. Teachers couldn’t even get him to talk. Not in front of the class anyway. He had no friends. I felt sorry for him and wanted to talk to him but as soon as I looked at him he would run. I couldn’t get close enough to talk. He quit school after ninth grade and I never saw him again. My beating of Ian made everyone respect me but if I could get a redo I would have avoided Ian that day just because I regret what happened to Phillip. Anyway, back to the point of all this. I think Booth is just another Ian.”
“I don’t know. I’m not sure if you have Booth pegged right,” Parker observes. “To me, he is so sinister. I think he’s more than just a bully, he’s actually evil.”
“He didn’t hesitate leaving when I told him to get out of here. I guess my dark side trumps his.”
A few moments pass with no conversation, then Eli notices Parker is sliding left and right in his seat.
“You are acting weird, Jim. Even weird for you. What are you doing?”
Parker responds, “Well my butt has been itching for the last twenty minutes and with all this gear on I can’t scratch it. It is driving me crazy. I need to get up and walk.”
“Well, luckily I don’t think we have far to go, but I will start another conversation to occupy your mind. How long have you been married?”
“Almost three years,” Parker says.
“How did you meet?”
“Well, it was a very strange way to meet anyone. It was about eight years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday. It all started with a peanut on the sidewalk. I was seventeen and walking down the sidewalk in Birmingham with my friend Schultzie. Since we were young we were always daring each other to do stupid shit. I spied that peanut on the sidewalk and says, ‘I dare you to eat that peanut.’ Just like that Schultzie picked it up and popped it in his mouth. ‘What kind of a stupid dare was that?’ he says. ‘That was too easy.’ I says, ‘Well you know this neighborhood. At night the bums always pee on the sidewalk here. I’ve even seen them cover one nostril, lean over and blow their snot out right on the sidewalk here too. For sure that peanut had remnants of pee and snot on it.’ Just like that Schultzie pukes on the sidewalk. I almost bust my gut laughing. He stood up when he finished puking and looks at me. Then I says, ‘Oh, yeah, then there’s puke on the sidewalk too.’”
Eli laughs loudly and admits, “I just got a mental picture of that and it is really funny. Especially the puke on the sidewalk line. Perfect timing!”
“Yeah, I’m laughin’ up a storm and Schultzie was already as green as an Alabama tree frog, and when I said that he puked again. After a minute he came out of it then got pissed. He says, ‘Me pukin’ is not funny,’ and hits my arm as hard as he could. I didn’t care ‘cause it was just so funny how he suddenly puked. So I says, ‘Well, at least you got rid of the peanut. Can we go now?’
“We continued down the sidewalk and pretty soon there was a guy up ahead on a tall stepladder working on the streetlamp. Schultzie says, ‘I dare you to walk under the ladder.’ So I says, ‘What kind of a dare is that?’ Schultzie says, ‘Cause it’s supposed to be bad luck if you walk under a ladder.’ I says, ‘Well, I’d sooner walk under a ladder than I’d eat a peanut off this peed-snotted-puked-sidewalk.’
He says, ‘Shut up about the pee and snot already. Are you going to walk under the ladder or not?’ I said, ‘Sure, just watch me,’ and I walked up to the stepladder. Next thing I know I’m lying on the ground and I am coming to with this beautiful girl knelt down over me brushing broken glass from my hair. I says, ‘What happened?’ and she says, ‘You should know better than to walk under a ladder. The workman dropped the globe from the streetlight on your head.’ I looked at Schultzie and we both started laughing. I looked back at her and says, ‘Who are you?’ ‘I’m Linda,’ she says, ‘and what’s so funny?’ I was pointing at Schultzie and told her, ‘He just got done saying its bad luck to walk under a ladder that’s why it was funny.’ Then she said, ‘That’s not funny, it’s stupid.’ Then me and Schultzie laughed some more. So that’s the story of how I met Linda.”
“This is weird, Jim. I had told you that most of the things my father told me made no sense. Then in two successive days I see examples of one his axioms that I didn’t understand.”
“Now I am the one that doesn’t understand. What are you talking about? What’s an axiom?”
“It’s kind of like a statement of a rule for how something works. In this case how fate works. My father stated this one as ‘The paths of two objects already in motion will be nudged to intersect by the ripple of a pebble that Fate caused to drop at a precise moment.’ In this case he is referring to motion through time and he explained it like this. ‘At birth humans are set on a path and Fate guides the turns in this path through life by the nudging with the tiniest of happenings. It is that plus freedom of choice plus intuition that will make your life turn out the way it does. It is your intuition that tells you whether this is a safe or dangerous turn in your path. It is your freedom of choice to select or resist the turns prescribed by Fate.’ Anyway the event of that peanut falling from someone’s hand to the sidewalk was one of these events that caused you to meet your wife. I met the girl at the ballroom last night because of a pencil falling, and I she will be my wife as soon as I get back.”
“All that is a little tough for my mind to get a grip on, Eli,” Parker confesses. “Let me think about it for a minute.” A few moments pass as Eli can almost see the gears turning in Parkers mind. Parker’s face squints a little as he can see that something is coming to light. Then Parker announces his discovery, “I was the one that made you meet that girl last night, not a falling pencil.”
“Yes, that part is true. But the circumstances that caused me to be in Atlantic City yesterday were set in motion months ago by a pencil that fell from its perch above my ear while I was working in a shoe store back in my hometown.”
“Wait a minute! A pencil in a shoe store?! Okay, I gotta hear this story. Tell me what you are talking about.”
“Oh, but this is a really long story, Jim.”
“I don’t care, what difference does it make? Tell me!”
Eli remains silent while he ponders complying with Parker’s order then says, “Hey, do you feel that? I think we are slowing down. It’s about time. I can’t wait to get out. We are packed in here like sardines.”
“Yes, I feel that and yes, I can’t wait either but quit trying to change the subject. I’ll give you a list of reasons why you have to tell me. One, we’re just sitting in this car. Two, you’ve got nothing better to do. Three, I don’t believe you. Four, if you want me to, you’ll have to tell me. Five, you’re full of shit. Six, you’re ugly. Seven, my butt itches, I can’t scratch it and I need the distraction. Eight, …..”
“Alright, alright, stop. I give!” Eli laughingly exclaims as he caves in. He decides to leave out the band and quilting stand fabrication and for the second time in as many days he relates the story of the Great Amos & Andy Pencil Fiasco. A few months ago this experience was the worst thing that had ever happened to Eli. In fact, up until yesterday he had blocked it out of his mind. But now he willingly shares his story. As soon as he gets to the part about Mrs. Hanson stuck in the chair it gets the same response from Parker as it did from Mayme. As she is flinging Eli and Jerry around the store Parker is laughing loudly and then Eli notices the guys in the seats to his left have all leaned in and are also laughing. The guy on the outside is yelling at the other two to, “Shut up, I can’t hear the story!” Eli looks at the soldiers next door and pauses his chronicle of the events of that fateful day.
For a moment, he considers stopping the tale because of the eavesdroppers but the eager and happy looks on their faces caused that thought to immediately pass. Instead he allows for the laughter to subside at those moments when the volume might interrupt his listeners’ attention. This abridged but more honest version ends with Mrs. Hanson popping out of the tubing and flying through the doorway. Laughter being contagious, everyone within earshot is guffawing. Now, in relating an experience he had previously been ashamed of, he was feeling pretty proud of himself, and after the laughter has diminished he smugly announces, “That is widely known in Iowa as the Great Amos & Andy Pencil Fiasco. Mrs. Hanson has a lot of friends and to avoid being ridden out of town on a rail I immediately took off to Des Moines to enlist. That’s how I come to be sitting in this rail car at this moment.” Everyone laughs again as they slowly retreat to their previous positions while obviously discussing Eli’s anecdote.
“Well, you are certainly the hit of the party,” Parker observes after he and Eli are alone again. “That was funny. Is it really true or did you do some embellishment?”
“Well, it certainly wasn’t funny when it happened, and every bit of it was true. I was in a lot of trouble with the store owner. I assumed Mr. Hanson would be coming for me loaded for bear.”
“Have you asked your mom or dad if he ever came gunning for you?”
“I felt so terrible that until yesterday I had successfully avoided thinking about The Fiasco,” Eli admits then continues, “so in my letters I have never mentioned it and when I went home on leave nobody talked about it. I don’t know if that means it’s all blown over or if my family thinks it is too bad to bring it up.”
“Well, for blocking it out of your mind you certainly told it like it was fresh in your memory. I still think you must have made it up.”
“A truthful story will reveal no hesitation in its narration,” Eli asserts as if it is some adage from old. “Besides that, I just told the whole thing to Mayme last night, so it is fresh in my memory.”
“I take it Mayme is the woman I sent you over to see at the ballroom.”
“I guess I didn’t tell you but, yes, Mayme is her name. She had told me a story that reminded me of Mrs. Hanson so I told her about The Fiasco.”
“Well, thanks for telling your story. I do get what you are talking about. I’ll be trying to think if your dad’s axiom applies to anything else in my life now that I know about it.” A few moments pass then Parker asks, “I saw you pointing at me when you were with her. What did you say about me?”
“I told her you were one of the rare complete ass holes,” Eli chuckles then adds, “I shouldn’t tell you this because it might go to your head but I told her you were my only friend in the group that I was with. Oh, and she told me to thank you for sending me over to her.”
“Yeah, well, I guess it turns out I had a role to play in the grand scheme of things,” Parker says, then with a grin, “even if it was for a shit-head.”
The train has come to a crawling speed as a sergeant enters the car from the opposite end from Eli and announces loudly, “Heads up! Eyes and ears forward!” He pauses for a moment then continues, “When the train comes to a stop, stay put! Don’t move until I come to get you.” The sergeant then proceeds through the car, kicking the booted feet that are in the aisle as he goes through the car, passes Eli and exits the rear.
“I’m ready to get out of here,” Parker declares. “But, this ride certainly went better because of our conversation. So thanks for that.”
“When the war is all over and if you ever get to Iowa I want you to meet my family.”
“How would I find you?” Parker asks.
“That’s an easy one. Just get to Fayette, it’s a small town so just walk up to anyone and ask about Eli Bailey. Be ready to block any punches though,” Eli jests.
“Thanks also for promising to speak to my son about me.”
Eli turns to Parker and says, “For sure I will come to Birmingham when we get back home. Not to see your son but to see you because nothing is going happen to you.” He pauses for a moment, then continues, “We don’t have any complete assholes in Iowa so if I want to see one I will have to come there.”
“Yeah, well don’t bother to come ‘cause they don’t allow no corncob hicks in Alabama,” Parker jabs back as the train has just rolled to a stop. A couple minutes pass in the almost silent car as there are very few discussions taking place. The car makes a jerk and the train seems to start moving the other direction. “That is weird, why would we be going the other way now?” Parker wonders.
They both fall silent as the train gains a little momentum but then the acceleration stops and they are slowly rolling backwards. The vision of Mayme with outstretched hand returns to him. Eli wonders how long he will be at war and if this vision will diminish over time. It brings him heartache but at the same time he thinks he would suffer more if it would fade. His thoughts return to the dance and how much fun he had with Mayme.
A couple minutes of silence pass then Parker moans, “Are we ever going to get out of here?”
Eli chastises, “Be careful about wishing time away. Remember we aren’t going to a picnic here. I am sure sometime in the very near future you will be wishing we were peacefully sitting here and all you had to worry about was scratching your butt.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Thanks for reminding me. In fact I am going to close my eyes right now and enjoy the itch.”
Eli also shuts his eyes and retrieves the image of Mayme again. His thoughts linger on non-specific memories of the night before. Random images of Mayme appear as if he is thumbing through a photo album. The image of her looking up at him while sitting at the table holding his cap out appears and he chooses to hold that one. Eli’s meandering thoughts are interrupted as the train jerks to halt again.
Quite a few minutes pass as the whole car remains in conversational respite. Eli opens his eyes as the sergeant bellows from right next to him, “Attention! Everybody wake up and listen.” This causes a simultaneous sound of bodies rustling throughout the car as he startles almost everyone. The sergeant then thunders as he walks to the other end of the car kicking feet out of the way, “Everyone! Gather your gear, follow me through this door and exit the car. After you are out you will see a line of men to your left. Fall in and proceed to the awaiting ferry boats.” He then steps back into the gap between the cars and watches as the men funnel by.
Eli straps his helmet on, rises and, as with everyone else, grabs the only things not already strapped to him, his duffel bag and rifle. He slings the rifle over his shoulder and makes his way through the car. He passes the sergeant, who, with his back to the door of the rearward car, is watching everyone pass through.
Eli steps down and out onto the concrete platform. He is looking to the right to see how long the train is and almost runs into a post. He turns left and runs a few paces to fall into the line of men. He recognizes Booth a few men ahead of him even with his back turned to him. The line of men comes to a sudden stop so he feels free to pause and begins a slow right turn to survey his surroundings which brings him nose to nose with Parker who yells, “Hey, let’s get going, Bailey.” Eli does an about-face and jogs a few steps to catch up with the line of men, who in a moment have already moved ten feet. Shortly, he enters a building and sees a sign that says “Weehawken”. Eli has never heard of that name and wonders if it is the name of the town or the terminal.
The line of soldiers he is in continues moving slowly but does not stop again as it proceeds straight through the building so he does not get a chance to look around at all. Still under the roof of the building they march aboard a large ferry. There is a stairway to the upper deck but the men split and take either side as the lower deck still has available room. Booth has chosen to go left so Eli leads Parker to the right side. As the space on this deck fills each man stops and drops his duffel, as do Parker and Eli. It is standing-room-only: there are no benches or chairs. Although Eli has a few men between him and the outside railing he can still see another ferry as it pulls into the adjacent berth. Like watching dominoes fall Eli can see the men sit down on their duffels as the sighting of one triggers the next. Parker sits but Eli has chosen to stand. Parker insists, “Hey, Eli! Take a load off and sit down,”
“I just gained unfettered visual observation. If I sit I’ll lose it.”
“Well, okay then. Whad’ya see that’s so great?”
Eli teases, “Well, okay then, I see something I’ve never seen before.” Eli decides to not tell Parker what he sees just to irritate him.
Parker is looking up at Eli in anticipation, then threatens, “You better tell me what you see or I’ll stand up. Then there will be two of us standing up looking out there. Everyone will think there is something worth seeing and then they are all going to stand and you will be all fettered up again.”
Eli laughs and then concedes, “I can’t argue with your logic Parker. I can see the Hudson River and Manhattan. I have never seen them before. There are ships everywhere. Big ships! This is a busy river.”
“That’s not good enough to make me get up.”
Eli can also see the Empire State Building but doesn’t mention that to Parker. Instead he says, “Well good, because I don’t want you up. Really, Parker, there isn’t that much to see but it is just in my nature to always absorb my surroundings. I’m always thinking I’m going to miss something.” As he finishes that sentence Eli can hear the engine rev up. “Wow, they loaded fast,” Eli says but Parker seems to be somewhere else and doesn’t respond. Slowly the ferry pulls away from its slip and Eli watches the ferry terminal diminish as view of the horizon increases. Eli turns to face his friend, “Hey Parker,” he says loud enough to be heard over the engines.
Parker looks up, “What?”
“I’m going to go over to the railing. If I leave my gear here will you watch it for me? I just want to take in the sights.”
“Go ahead. Knock yourself out. I’m not going anywhere until we all do.”
Eli looks down as he weaves his way
through the men sitting on duffel bags. When he reaches the edge he looks at
the brass railing for a moment before placing both hands on it. He raises his
All the traffic of the Hudson River has disappeared. Eli is facing the ocean, standing where two railings meet to form a corner on an upper deck of a ship. He has his left hand resting on the port railing and his right hand on the railing that overlooks the main bow deck. The sun warms him in spite of the brisk March mid-Atlantic breeze in his face. He looks up and back over his left shoulder. Right next to him is a lifeboat hanging from two metal poles. John Ericsson is painted on the side of the lifeboat below the gunwale. He then turns around completely and while using a tight grip of his left hand on the forward railing leans backward over the ocean side railing to attain a view of the side of the ship to the aft. There are three decks above him. This ship’s overall design and appearance is very similar to the passenger cruise ships of that period. Eli pulls himself back to vertical stance and is met, nose to nose, with the face of a soldier who warns, “Kinda risky leaning over the edge backwards like that, isn’t it?”
“I had a good grasp of the railing,” Eli matter-of-factly retorts then, not waiting for a reply, steps around him to walk along the forward railing over the main deck. There are hundreds of olive-drab-dressed soldiers sitting on and dispersed among big crates and large artillery guns which are lashed to the deck. Most are wearing helmets and all are wearing jackets. He makes his way to a gap in this waist-high solid wall, the top rail of which he had used for his death-defying grip. He pauses there with both hands holding the top rail at each side of the gap and looks over the forward main deck one flight below him.
To the bow of the ship from Eli is probably over a hundred feet. There is a row of deuce and a half trucks down the center of the deck. To each side of that row are jeeps and more deuce-and-a-half trucks. There is no empty space anywhere. Eli sees no Navy personnel. This ship obviously has been converted from civilian use for the sole purpose of troop and equipment transportation. Eli looks down at the near vertical stairs before him then steps down to that deck. He continues his inspection of his surroundings as he carefully steps over sprawled legs and the lashings on every type of battle equipment.
As he studies the lashing system someone yells, “Bailey!” Eli glances toward the source of the shout and sees a group of men between this pair of trucks at the front wheels. Two are seated with legs crossed using the trucks’ front wheels as backrests. The man with his back to Eli is squatted on his haunches. The man opposite and facing Eli is kneeling on one knee. Eli immediately recognizes that man as Booth. He turns to head a different direction but all other options are blocked by clusters of men leaving the only paths available as the one he came on or the one toward Booth. Booth again shouts but this time more loudly, “Bailey.” Eli reluctantly decides to go to Booth’s group as he takes a stride long enough to make it over the knees of two pairs of outstretched legs.
Eli keeps his focus on Booth as he approaches. He stops at the back of the squatted man. Booth greets, “Glad to see you Bailey. Sit down and join us. We are fighting boredom by playing poker and we’re short players.” All the men turn their heads toward Eli as he scans the group. Booth waves his left hand toward the man to Eli’s right leaning against the wheels of the truck. “This is Koutsky.” Koutsky tips his head towards Eli. Booth nods at the man to the immediate right of Eli as he says, “Carter.” Carter tilts his head up then quickly back down. Lastly he nods to the man at Eli’s left and announces, “Corriveau.” Corriveau responds “Hah-ya doin’.” Eli returns a nod to each man in turn.
Koutsky has swept the cards up from the ship’s deck and as he starts to shuffle he chimes in with, “Yeah. Bailey, four guys is not enough. Please sit in.”
Eli asks, “What are you playing? I hate wild card games or anything like that. In fact I’ll only play seven card stud.”
“That’s perfect,” Booth agrees, “cause that’s what we were playing. You have to bring some money into the game though.”
Eli confesses., “I sent most of my money home and then we had that last night out in Atlantic City but I guess I have enough to play a few hands. Okay, Koutsky, deal me in.”
Carter, still on his haunches, tips back to set his butt down, folds his legs in, then lifts himself up with his hands as he shifts toward Koutsky until their knees touch. Eli also crosses his legs in front of him as he sets between Corriveau and Carter. Eli sits at a slight angle toward Corriveau because there isn’t room for his knees if he faces the center of the group. Still looking at Koutsky, Eli asks, “What’s the ante?”
Booth doesn’t let Koutsky answer as he interjects, “It’s a two-bit ante but bets and raises can be as little as a nickel. I went around and bought up all the change I could get so you can buy some from me if you need it. Oh, and we agreed to a dollar maximum bet and a three bump limit.”
“Okay,” Eli settles as he reaches into his left pants pocket, pulls out a small collection of coins and places them neatly into a small pile in front of him. He then takes a quarter and sets it on top of the other quarters on the deck of the ship then continues, “I’ll buy change as I need it.”
Eli is watching intently as Koutsky starts the deal by pushing the top card off the deck with his left thumb into his right hand then pitches the first card to land in front of Carter face down then repeats that process in a clockwise rotation to Eli next. Then the card to Corriveau flies under Booth’s leg but without comment Koutsky continues the deal to Booth then himself. Corriveau yells, “Hey, watch how you throw the cards. You can hit Cahtah and Bailey but can’t see me?”
Koutsky ignores Corriveau’s complaint as he does another round face down then pulls the next card on the deck off towards himself with his right hand as he rolls that card up so he can see it. After looking at it he flips it to Carter face up and announces, “five of hearts.” The next card to Eli he announces, “seven of hearts,” Corriveau gets eight of clubs,” then he says, “queen of spades,” as he flips a card to Booth. Koutsky rolls the next card face up toward himself and he places it on the ship’s deck. Without looking at his hold cards, Koutsky pulls a half dollar from his shirt pocket and announces, “king of hearts bets four-bits.” While pushing down on the center of the coin with his thumb he releases the edge with his forefinger so it makes a loud snap on the deck.
Eli picks up his face-down cards while leaving the seven of hearts face up. He holds his cards high enough so as he looks at his own cards he can see the faces of the other men. His eyes dart around quickly so he doesn’t miss any possible expressions as the men look at their cards. He observes that each of the men are expressionless as they look at their own cards except that Booth looks up at Carter’s face in what may be an innocent glance but, being forever suspicious of Booth, Eli intends to keep an eye on them. Carter calls Koutsky’s bet as he drops two quarters into the pot. Eli has the king of clubs and the five of spades in his hold, which he thinks is unlikely to yield anything good, but still decides to see one more card and puts a half dollar in the pot.
Corriveau and Booth each call the bet and Koutsky deals another round. He tosses the card to Carter and says, “jack of diamonds, no help,” and continues the deal. As the cards fall he announces, “four of diamonds, no help. Five of clubs makes two clubs to Corriveau. Eight of diamonds, no help.”
Eli now has all four suits in as many cards and no pair so he thinks to himself, If everyone checks I’ll stay another round but otherwise I’m out. Eli is watching both men as Booth and Carter receive their cards. They exchange a simultaneous look to each other. They have been subtle enough that Eli doubts anyone else has noticed them but as they have done this twice in two rounds of dealing Eli vows to himself to keep watching them closely.
Koutsky, who is now showing a six of hearts with his king of hearts says, “My king is still high, I’ll bet two-bits.” Carter follows silently by dropping a quarter in the pot.
Eli says, “I’d need ten more cards to fill this hand. I’m out,” as he turns all his cards face down in front of him. Corriveau and Booth each pitch a quarter into the pot.
Koutsky starts the next round with a card to Carter and announces, “nine of clubs, no help.”
“So, Corriveau, are you from Boston?” Eli wonders.
“No, why?” Corriveau asks as he still keeps his attention on the card landing in front of him.
Koutsky announces Corriveau’s card, “queen of diamonds, no help.”
Eli replies, “I’ve heard your accent before. I was just curious.”
“Well, your close Bailey,” Corriveau admits.
After Booth’s third face-up card lands, Koutsky says, “four of spades, no help, and I got the three of hearts, no help, either.” Booth again looks at Carter by just raising his eyes.
Corriveau continues, “Actchully I’m from Sawthbridge, west a Bahstin but I got cousins in Bahstin and spent a lot of time thea. Ya the one with the weid accent. Whe-rah ya from?”
Now everyone except Booth is looking at Eli waiting for his answer. “What is this? The ladies aid?” Booth blurts loudly. “Are we gonna talk or play poker? Koutsky, you’re still high. Make your bet already.”
“Well, I was wondering about Bailey’s accent, too,” Koutsky barks back. “What are you all worked up about anyway? You’re the one that said we are just passing time. If we want to have a ladies aid meeting, we’ll do that and then all of us ladies will shove the cards up your ass.”
Everyone’s eyes are drawn back to Booth waiting for his response. He is just staring at Koutsky with a blank expression obviously at a loss for words. Eli looks back to Corriveau and replies, “I’m from Iowa but I don’t have an accent.”
“Well, at least people know my accent and I know I have one,” Corriveau snaps back with a laugh. “You mean to tell me that no one has ever commented on your accent before?”
“Yeah,” Eli confirms, “a couple of times at Claiborne but everyone there has a southern accent so I just thought my lack of an accent was an accent to them.”
“Well, Bailey,” Corriveau comments, “you do have an accent so from now on when people ask, just tell them you’re from Iowa and maybe someday it’ll be known like a Boston accent is known.”
“Okay,” Koutsky interrupts, “we’d better play cards cause Booth is going to get his britches all in a bunch here. King bets two-bits,” as he snaps the quarter on the deck. Everyone but Eli calls the bet. He then continues his announcements with each card dealt, “Carter gets the ten of spades, three cards to a straight. Corriveau gets the jack of spades, no help. Booth gets the ace of spades, three cards to a flush and I get the nine of hearts, possible flush. We got a new boss, ace bets,” Koutsky says as he waves his hand toward Booth. Eli watches Booth’s eyes turn to Carter so Eli looks at Carter, too. Eli sees Carter scratching his ankle without Carter looking back at Booth. When Eli returns his eyes to Booth he is looking back at Eli and he gives a nasty look that Eli interprets as ‘mind your own business’.
Booth looks away and immediately responds with, “Ace bets a dollar,” as he proudly puts a silver dollar in the pot. “Well, the price of poker just went up,” Koutsky complains. “Booth must have gotten his flush, but I have one of those sucker hands. I have to call,” Koutsky says and he drops a dollar bill in the pot.
Carter boasts, “I’m feeling lucky so I gotta bump ya another dollar, Booth,” as he drops two dollar bills on the pot.
“Shit, you’re killing me,” Corriveau complains. “I’ve got a good hand here and one more card coming. I’ll call,” he moans as he puts in two dollars.
Booth puts in two more dollars as he says, “I’m calling your dollar and raising another dollar, Carter.”
“Cut it out you assholes,” Koutsky demands while Corriveau lets out a loud groan. Then he drops two more dollars in the pot.
“You are really going to hate me now,” Carter observes with a laugh then continues, “I’m bumping another dollar,”
“I can’t even keep up with this,” Corriveau complains. “What the hell do I owe now?’ he asks.
“You owe the pot two dollars,” Booth demands. “And quit your complaining. You guys agreed to the limits.”
“Yeah, we agreed to a three-bump limit too,” Corriveau reminds Booth, then turns to Eli and asks, “Bailey, how many bumps have we had?”
Booth butts in, “What are you asking him for? He’s out.”
“Exactly,” Corriveau concurs. “He has no stake in this so I know I’ll get an honest answer.”
“That’s three bumps,” Eli comments. “Booth bet a dollar, Carter bumped then Booth bumped then Carter bumped.”
“That pot is getting big,” Corriveau observes. “I wonder how much is in there.”
Eli looks over at Carters hand. With each card that is showing he can recall what had happened. “If you all call Carter’s last raise there will be twenty-one dollars and six-bits in the pot,” Eli calculates.
“You mean you been keeping track of the money and you’re not even in?” Corriveau comments in astonishment.
Eli replies, “No, you asked and I just calculated it now.”
“Oh yeah?” Corriveau questioned in disbelief. “Tell me how you calculated it.”
“Holy shit!” Booth yells. “Let’s get on with this already. Are you gonna call or not, Corriveau?”
Now Koutsky butts in with, “Shut up Booth. I wanna hear this. Go on Bailey.”
“Well, okay.” Eli pauses for a moment while he looks at Carter’s hand to recollect all the data in his head. “We had a two-bit ante with five in, that’s a buck and a quarter. A four-bit bet with five callers, that’s two-fifty. A two-bit bet with four callers, that’s a buck. A two-bit bet with four callers, that’s a buck. Then we had a dollar bet with three dollar bumps that’s sixteen bucks for this round if everyone calls for a total of twenty-one seventy-five.”
Everyone is looking at Eli with their jaws hanging open except Booth who just appears disgusted. Then Koutsky says, “Well, I kept up with you Bailey and you are right. So, what are you going to do, Corriveau?”
“Are you kidding?” Corriveau responds as he puts two dollars in the pot, “That’s almost two weeks wages and if I fill I am going to take it.”
“I call,” Booth says as he pitches in a dollar.
Koutsky also puts in a dollar as he comments, “Me too. Let’s get on with this.” Then he deals the final round of face down cards. “Okay, Booth, you’re still high. What are ya gonna do?”
“Well, I’m not going to stop now,” Booth declares as he puts a dollar out.
Koutsky admits, “I didn’t think you were. I have a decent hand. I have to think on this for a minute.” He mutters as he thinks aloud, “I’m sure we are going to have all this bumping going on again. I’ve got about five bucks in and it’ll be nine if I stick around. I guess I’ll cut my losses and drop,” he concedes as he flips his cards over.
“I’m not stopping,” Carter says. “I’m raising another dollar,” He puts two dollars in.
They are waiting on Corriveau who is just gazing at the pile of money and appears to be in deep thought. Booth complains, “Alright, call or fold. Make a choice.”
Corriveau admits, “I am just making up my mind. You might be bluffing. My hand might beat you.”
Koutsky advises, “Well, like I said if both of these two exercise all of their raises it’s going to cost you four bucks. Is it worth that for you to be able to see their cards? On the other hand it looks unlikely that either of them is going to fold so hopefully we’ll get to see them anyway.”
“If all raises are met how much will be in the pot when the betting is over?” Corriveau asks while looking at Eli.
Eli responds after a moment of thought, “Thirty-three seventy-five.” This time no one doubts him.
Corriveau’s mood immediately transforms to excitement as he commits, “Okay I’m in. In fact I am so in I’m calling Booth’s bet and Carter’s raise then raising both of you,” as he puts three dollars in the pot.
“Okay,” Booth responds as he places three dollars in the pot. “I’m calling Carter’s raise and Corriveau’s raise and raising another buck.”
“Okay,” Carter mimics Booth as he places two dollars in the pot. “I’m calling Booth’s raise and Corriveau’s raise.”
“Okay, you two assholes,” Corriveau jokes as he drops another dollar then continues, “I’m calling Booth. Show me your cards.”
“I want to see Carter’s cards first,” Booth says,
Carter immediately puts his hold cards down face up and announces, “Jack high straight.”
Booth concedes, “You got me beat,” and turns all his cards face down.
“That’s not how it works, Booth. You made the original bet and we called you. Show me your cards,” Corriveau angrily demands. Eli thinks Corriveau must suspect Booth’s treachery, too.
Booth complains, “I don’t have to show my cards, I admit defeat.”
“Corriveau is right, Booth show your cards,” Eli insists.
“You keep out of this, Bailey,” Booth shouts, “You didn’t even call me.”
Eli emphatically corrects Booth, “I’m not saying I called you, I’m saying Corriveau is right,”
Now Koutsky chimes in with, “They are right, Booth. Gimme those cards,” Koutsky yells as he grabs Booth’s face down cards and flips them face up out of Booth’s reach.
“What the hell is this, Booth?” Corriveau protests. “You don’t have a flush, you’ve got shit. An ace high hand and you started all that betting and raising?”
Carter starts to sweep in the pot and Corriveau shouts, “Hey, what are you doing Carter? I haven’t shown my hand yet.”
Carter insists, “Show me your hand then. You gotta beat a straight.”
“There is something fishy going on with Carter and Booth but I don’t know what!” Corriveau exclaims.
Koutsky agrees, “Yeah, they’re up to something. What are you doing, Booth?”
“I’m not doing anything,” Booth replies.
“How do you explain betting the moon when you can’t even beat Corriveau’s queens that are showing let alone my triple threes?” Koutsky demands,
“I was just bluffing,” Booth explains, “When you said I had a possible flush I thought I could capitalize on that and maybe I could just buy the pot and push you out. Which I did, but Carter and Corriveau wouldn’t drop.”
Koutsky admits, “Yeah, I guess I can buy that. Okay, let’s see your hand Corriveau.”
“Well, I don’t buy it,” Corriveau protests. “What do you think, Bailey?”
Eli answers, “Well, I think they are running a betting scheme...”
Booth butts in with, “Bailey, you don’t know what you are talking about. Why don’t you…”
Then Booth is interrupted by Koutsky, “Booth, shut the hell up before I jam my fist in your mouth. Can you just once let Bailey talk without interrupting? Go on Bailey, about this scheme.”
Eli continues, “After they received their first up cards I noticed Carter and Booth give each other a look which I thought was suspicious so I watched them after each round of cards. Each time before betting, they looked at each other again. After that fourth face up card Carter scratched his leg while Booth was looking at him. Right away Booth bet a dollar and that is when all the raises started. I don’t think they cheat at the cards that are dealt, but they try to control the size of the pots. Before the game they must have agreed to signal the other one if he has gotten a likely winning hand. They probably planned to share their winnings.”
Eli has been looking at Koutsky while talking but out the corner of his eye he sees Booth start to make a threatening move. Eli instinctively and immediately rises to his feet.
Booth is now lunging forward as he yells, “Bailey, I’m going to…”
Eli is already standing when Booth reaches him. Eli sidesteps slightly to his left as he places both hands on the back of Booth’s head then pushes down and in the direction of Booth’s motion. This causes Booth to lose his balance and fall forward. As Booth goes by Eli slides his right arm under Booth’s right arm and placed his hand behind Booth’s neck. With his left hand he grabs Booth’s left wrist. He does this with one fluid motion and continues by bringing Booth’s left wrist up the center of his back while applying pressure to his neck with his right hand. Booth’s right armpit has become the fulcrum for Eli’s right arm to act as a lever on Booth’s head, giving him a half-Nelson in wrestling terminology. In less than a second Booth has both his arms disabled and is forcibly bent over at the waist. He is silenced by the pressure on his throat with his chin tightly pinned to his chest. Eli has the strength to lift Booth and turns him around so he faces the group. Booth struggles for just a couple moments but Eli applies more pressure so Booth soon realizes he is completely restrained and he relaxes. Eli, however, retains his iron grip on Booth. This has all happened so fast everyone in the group is just starting to rise from their positions. Even the money and cards are, for the most part, undisturbed.
Carter blurts out, “I can see this was a big mistake now but when Booth explained his plan to me it didn’t sound so dishonest. He said we are just making the most of the cards we get dealt. I am really sorry. You guys can have the money. I don’t even want to see Corriveau’s cards.”
“No, I only have three queens,” Corriveau points out as he shows all his cards, “so you won this hand.”
Koutsky responds, “Well, since we have the human adding machine here, Bailey could tell us what each of us has in the pot and we just take our money back. We end the game right now and it’s just like none of this ever happened. No harm, no foul. Except now we all know not to trust Booth. Can you keep Booth hogtied and still figure it out, Bailey?”
“Yeah, I can,” Eli says. “Are you going to behave yourself Booth?” Eli asks as he gives Booth’s head a momentary harder push with his right hand. Booth can’t even nod so he waves his free right hand. Eli eases up slightly on the pressure to Booth’s head and lets his left hand down a few inches but still retains a firm grip. “Spread your hand out there so I can see it, Carter. I need to see the cards so I can replay the events in my head.” Carter gives a puzzled look then complies as he shrugs his shoulders. Eli begins his calculations and in a moment reports, “Okay, I’ve got six bits in. Koutsky has five and a quarter. Everybody else has nine and a quarter.”
Koutsky gathers up the money and counts it out into five piles. When he finishes he hands Carter and Corriveau their money as he states, “That settles you two.” Then as he stuffs money into his front pants pocket he claims, “This is mine.” He grabs Booth’s right hand, turns it palm up and places money into it. While folding Booth’s fingers closed he commands, “Don’t let loose of that cause we’re not going to help chase it down. Okay, Bailey release Booth, then you take your money.”
Eli forcefully releases both hands at once and Booth stumbles forward a step. Booth lets out an incoherent low groaning mumble as he spins around to face Eli. He stops about five inches from Eli’s face then, in low volume he growls, “That’s twice. I’ll get you someday, Bailey.” Booth charges past Eli. Eli watches him until he reaches the back end of the trucks and turns out of sight.
Eli turns back around to the group and Koutsky is holding out three quarters in his palm. “Thanks,” Eli says as he holds out his hand palm up.
“I don’t know what the ‘that’s twice’ was about but I’d watch my back if I was you,” Koutsky suggests as he drops the quarters into Eli hand.
“I’m not afraid of him,” Eli declares. “I can easily handle him.”
“Yeah, I see that you can handle him,” Corriveau concurs. “You had him pinned like lightning. But I have to agree with Koutsky, just don’t go near the railing. He could sneak up on you without you seeing him and push you over the edge.”
“I believe he would do that, too,” Koutsky agrees. “There is something wrong with that guy. Come to think of it, all of us had better stay away from the railing.”
“I-I-I hope you guys don’t think there is something wrong with me,” Carter stammers. “But maybe there is, he recruited me so easily.”
“Well, I’ll tell you, Carter, you aren’t the first person to be duped by that jerk,” Eli asserts. “Back at Camp Claiborne he was forever trying crap like that. He just can’t operate like a stand-up guy. When he called me over here I wanted to avoid him but I had nowhere to turn, the men are elbow to elbow on this ship.”
“Well, then that’s a good reason not to go wandering around the deck,” Corriveau reasons. ”Booth left his cards and there are four of us. There must be something we can play.”
“Five-hundred is a good game,” Eli offers. “At least I enjoy it and it takes four players. We have to partner up.”
“I know that game,” Corriveau remarks. “My cousins and I got through many a winter’s night playing five-hundred. We can while away some of the hours on this ship.”
“Well, okay then. You gotta teach me though,” Koutsky insists. “Let’s get back to our comfy seats here on the deck. Carter, are you in?”
“You bet!” Carter affirms as he lowers himself and folds his legs under him. “But I’ve never played it before either.”
Corriveau decides, “Okay then you’ll be my partner and Bailey will be Koutsky’s partner. We need something to keep score on. Do any of you have some paper and a pencil?”
“Yeah, I think I do,” Carter says as Eli watches him reach inside his jacket.
As Carter does this Eli knows he has a pencil in his pocket. He reaches inside his jacket. He unbuttons his shirt pocket flap and slides his fingers in to grope for a piece of paper. He feels something hard and grips it between his forefinger and third finger. As he begins to pull it out he looks down and watches Mayme’s diary appear. He focuses intently on the black leather cover for a moment. “M.M.R.” is stamped in the center of the leather. Eli imagines Mayme having Roger the machinist at the boat works stamp it for her. Then using both hands he opens it to the first page on which Mayme had made an entry.
Someone says “How many times are you going to pull that book out and read that page?”
Eli looks up from the book and the trucks and the poker game have disappeared and instead he is looking at dirty white canvas inches from his nose. He turns his head to his right and Parker is lying in a bunk at arm’s length away. The bunk is nothing more than heavy canvas laced with a thick gray cord to metal tubing about an inch and a quarter in diameter. The tubing is bent with rounded corners to form a rectangle a little over two feet wide to just enough length to accommodate a man and his gear. There is about two feet between levels of bunks. The weight of the man above Parker has the canvas sagged down so it is less than a foot from Parker. All the gear Parker was carrying on the train is stuffed in the bunk at his feet. His rifle is at his side. Even though Eli is not irritated and furtively welcomes Parkers wit he still responds with, “What’s it to you? Why don’t you mind your own business and leave me alone?”
Parker incredulously mocks, “Leave you alone?! You are on a ship with about eight thousand men. You can reach out, wave your arm around and touch ten guys without getting up. I could leave and take fifty guys with me and you still wouldn’t be alone.”
“You are right Parker, but if there was just one less guy it would make all the difference in the world, fart breath.”
Parker volleys, “Oh, yeah? You’re in a room with hundreds of sweating guys in their skivvies. You got the asshole of the guy above you inches from your nose and you’re going to blame the way this place smells on my breath? My breath is the freshest thing in here. It would serve you right if I did leave cause you’d immediately suffocate.”
“That would be perfect cause this guy’s asshole would mask any odors you left behind and in the couple minutes I’d have left I could read what Mayme wrote. Then I would get to die happy.” With that Eli, Parker, and four or five of the guys in the immediate vicinity all break out laughing.
The guy in the next bunk up says, “Good one, Bailey. You won this round. I needed that, the rain has made this room so sweltering I’m gonna lose my mind.”
A moment passes as their laughter ceases then he grumbles, “I’ve had it. I’m going topside and taking my asshole with me.” He rolls over and swings his legs down.
“That’s great, Kinsel,” Eli snaps back. “I’m surprised you’re willing to claim Parker as yours, but by all means, take him.” This is followed by another round of laughter.
“Fine! I’m going with Kinsel and leaving you here to enjoy the fragrant aroma,” Parker proclaims indignantly. The two of them, standing between their bunks in their skivvies, begin putting on their clothes. As Parker bends over to put his pants on he sticks his butt into Eli’s face. Eli gives it an open hand slap as hard as he can. Parker jerks up making a loud metallic thud when his head hits his bunk railing. Parker’s loud moan is drowned out by the raucous laughter of twenty men.
Parker and Kinsel leave and quiet returns to the bunkroom. Eli, still holding Mayme’s diary, opens it to the first page. Mayme has made an entry in small but beautiful black ink cursive.
Friday, February 26, 1943
Dear Diary, since you are new to me I want you to understand that besides recording my daily events I will also enter my desires. I hope you are better at fulfilling wishes than my last diary. We had to work two hours over today. Really long day and as if that wasn’t bad enough Buttons asked me out again. I am so sick of his leering at me. I am glad it is Friday and that Geraldine and I don’t have to work this weekend. We plan on dancing at the Knick tomorrow. She has Roger to dance with and I don’t have anyone, so here is my first wish. Please bring me a man who would put my desires before his own.
Eli, longing for Mayme’s touch, lightly rubs his fingertips over the page just to touch something she has touched. Eli feels around in his shirt pocket for a pencil. He thinks it must have fallen out when he pulled the book out so he feels around on the canvas under him. He tries to sit up but he can’t sit up since there are only inches between him and the bunk above. He puts the book down on the canvas next to him. While still on his back he swings his right foot out and down. It reaches the floor and while gripping the tubing of the bunk above he lifts and slides himself out as he stands. Eli’s bunk is the second one up from the floor and it still reaches only mid-thigh on Eli. The bottom bunk is about a foot or less from the floor. The third bunk is chest high. The fourth and highest bunk is over his head. Eli’s shirt is already unbuttoned so he takes it off, folds and stuffs it next to his duffel. He is now in just his undershorts and a sleeveless undershirt. He bends at his waist to stick his head in to look for his pencil. He finds the four-inch-long yellow pencil near the back railing of the bunk. He’s thankful he hadn’t felt for it more as he may have knocked if off then who knows where it would have gone.
He checks for Mayme’s diary and it is still on the canvas where he left it. He clenches the pencil crossways in his teeth and using both hands grasps the railing of the bunk above him. He lifts himself to a horizontal position and pulls himself back into his bunk using his left heel. He opens the diary back to Mayme’s page, reads it once more then turns the page. He chooses not to write on the back of her page, so he put his pencil to the top of the next page.
March 7, 1943
I am lying in my bunk on one of the lower decks of this ship. We are packed in here like sardines in a can. No room to move. I have spent almost all my time on deck, which has been pleasant but cool until today. It is raining now, so most of us are in our bunks waiting for it to end. Parker is in the bunk next to me. He is less than a yard away. In fact there are a dozen men within a few feet of me. We are stacked 4 bunks high and the top bunk is just over 6 feet high. I think of you almost all the time. I am eager to get back to you and start our lives. If it wasn’t for the war I never would have met you and now the war separated us. Now I know what is meant by a mixed blessing.
Eli has just reached the bottom of the page and Parker sticks his head in between the bunks close to Eli’s ear. He whispers softly, “You’d better appreciate this. I came all the way back to tell you it has stopped raining. There might be a stampede soon so you had better sneak out of here now.”
Parker disappears as quickly as he appeared. Eli immediately climbs out, dresses and exits before anyone else has noticed. He climbs a couple ladders to get to a deck that he can see daylight. He steps out and walks across the still wet deck to the railing. He looks around to see if there is any sign of Booth. He turns back to the railing and gets a firm grasp with both hands. He looks up at the gray sky. He enjoys the fresh sea air so he closes his eyes and draws in a deep breath through his nose. He holds his breath for a few seconds.
I exclaim aloud with no one near. I finally understand the recurring dream I’ve had throughout most of my life. In Eli’s last transmission to me, he showed me how his soul got transferred to my Uncle Eddy’s body at the moment their flesh came in contact. So now I see that in my dream, it wasn’t me looking at some baby in my future. I was seeing me on the day of my birth through my Uncle Eddy’s eyes. Eli repeated that dream to me throughout my life, so that I would understand how he came to reside in me....
Even though I was unaware of Eli’s presence in my youth, looking back, I now can see Eli’s influences on my life, In particular, dealing with girls. I was always unable to approach girls, Even though girls would often approach me. I was eighteen when I met Renee and had never been on a date with any girl. In fact I had never even been alone with a girl. Now, mind you, I really liked girls so my internal conflict was terrible!
Until I went to the Comanche A&W™ drive-in April 24, 1965. The carhop came to my driver’s window to take my order and I was smitten. On the fourth occasion of seeing Renee Ann Murdock I distinctly heard a voice say, “You will look upon that face for the rest of your life.” Eli knew who I was meant for and made me wait for her. I couldn’t be happier.
This has become a love affair that is approaching fifty-five years.
But that is a whole other story!
 “I Had The Craziest Dream” (1942)
music by Harry Warren
lyrics by Mack Gordon
 “Iowa Corn Song” (1912)
words and music by George Hamilton and Ray W. Lockard
John Orrin Chase
I always did well academically. I was selected for membership in the National Honor Society as a high school junior. After graduation I attended the University of Minnesota Institute of Technology. In my sophomore year I realized this is not where my happiness was to be found. I had always enjoyed working with my hands and now I missed that immensely. There was a manufacturing plant that built utility company trucks across the street from my house. They put up a help wanted sign. These types of workplaces offer advancement by means of bidding on open jobs that come up. I’ll condense the next forty years of work at five companies:
· Auto mechanic
· Tool die maker
· FCC and FAA licensed aircraft technician
· Aircraft jet engine test engineer
· Aircraft test cell computer programmer
· I am now a Delta Airlines retiree.
All of that was self-taught with no technical school education.
What are my credentials for being an author? I guess none but I didn’t have any for the list above when I started either. Oh, and then I had this awesome story my life brought me.
If you want to correspond with me my email is firstname.lastname@example.org