Elaine Gendron and Arthur Doyle were one of those couples who moved up the date of their marriage once the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Until then, Elaine’s parents had said that Elaine, at age 19, and Arthur, who was 20, should wait at least another year before they got married. But once the war began, and once it became obvious that Arthur might soon be drafted, Elaine’s parents realized that they could no longer stand in the way of their daughter marrying a young man who was old enough to fight (and possibly die) for his country.


This turn of events was particularly gratifying to Arthur because he had been insisting all along that he was mature enough and hard working enough to support a wife. Elaine, of course, agreed with him. She also felt that her parents were being unfair to Arthur since he had shown the character and grit to fend for himself during the darkest days of the Great Depression.


Arthur dropped out of high school at age 16 because he had found two jobs, one delivering groceries during the day, and another washing dishes at a restaurant in the evening, that helped to support his family. A few months later, his mother, a sickly woman, passed away, and within a matter of weeks, his father, who barely made a living cutting wood, left for Connecticut, claiming that he was bound to find a better paying job there than if he had remained in Sherburne, a town in that part of New Hampshire aptly referred to as the North Country.


In truth, Arthur’s father used his wife’s death as an excuse to abandon his family. Suddenly, Arthur was thrust into the role of looking after himself and his three younger brothers. He did have an older sister, but she, having married the day she turned 18, was in no position to provide much help. The family’s situation became so dire that Arthur and two of his brothers agreed to move in with an aunt and uncle who owned a small farm in southern New Hampshire. The oldest of his three younger brothers went off to Vermont, where he became an apprentice to an uncle, a cobbler.


The aunt and uncle Arthur and his brothers lived with treated the three nephews as little more than cheap labor. The pay the boys received consisted largely of their board and room, plus a weekly allowance that, split three ways, was less than what Arthur had earned from his part-time job delivering groceries. Work days on the farm were long, living conditions primitive, and both Arthur’s uncle, who was surly and ill tempered, and his wife, a closet drinker, grumbled and frowned each time Arthur or one of his brothers took a second serving of mashed potatoes or an extra bowl of watery soup.


Shortly after he turned l7, Arthur was able to escape his uncle’s farm by joining the Civilian Conservation Corps, the New Deal program that sent unemployed young men into places like the White Mountain National Forest to build hiking trails and camping areas. Arthur regretted leaving his brothers behind, but he promised to send them money whenever he could.


Arthur was working out of the CCC camp in Franconia Notch when he spent a weekend visiting with his sister and her husband in Sherburne, and while there, he stopped in at Nora’s, a pastry shop and ice cream parlor where Elaine was a waitress. It was a busy Friday night at Nora’s, but Arthur, who ordered an ice cream sundae, managed a brief conversation with Elaine, who was working behind the lunch counter. Even though Elaine was waiting on other customers, she soon learned about Arthur’s work with the CCC, and Arthur found out that she was still in high school and where she lived.


Arthur had yet to finish his sundae when he asked Elaine if he could walk her home after Nora’s closed. He claimed, stretching the truth slightly, that he was walking in that direction anyway since it was near his sister’s house. Elaine responded with a smile that made it hard for Arthur to determine whether she was open to the idea or if she thought his request so preposterous that it wasn’t worth an answer, so the next time she passed by he told her that he intended to stay right there and wait for her until Nora’s closed.


Hearing that, Elaine stopped, and with the same sly smile on her face, she informed Arthur that Nora didn’t like customers taking up a stool at the counter once they finished what they had been served. In that case, Arthur said, he would order another sundae if he had to, and maybe another one after that if necessary. Elaine had to rush off just then to clear some dishes away, but when she returned, with her voice lowered and speaking out of the side of her mouth, she told him, "Order a coffee instead." Then, in one quick motion, she turned, drew a cup of coffee from the large urn behind the counter and placed it in front of Arthur.


"Don’t drink it too fast," she said. "Just having it in front of you is enough to keep her from saying anything."


Twice before Nora’s closed, business had slowed enough so that Elaine, while taking dishes away and wiping down the counter, was able to exchange a few more words with Arthur. By the time she finished work—and agreed to walk home with him—she had learned more about the circumstances that forced him to quit school, as well as the difficulties he and his brothers were forced to contend with after his mother died. All that was enough for Elaine to see that Arthur, strong and resolute, was more like her father than any of the boys in her high school class.


Thus, her readiness to grant him a decorous good night kiss. That kiss, simple and unadorned and without discernible passion, was treated by both Elaine and Arthur as if it were a vow to forsake all others.



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After a year with the CCC, Arthur was able to move back to Sherburne because Elaine’s Uncle Pete, a millwright at the Black Diamond Paper Company, helped to get Arthur hired as a millwright’s helper. Arthur, just a few weeks short of his nineteenth birthday, moved into a room on Main Street above Young’s Laundry, and while he wasn’t earning enough to take on the support of his younger brothers, he sent them spending money and made sure they had clothes for school and jackets and boots for winter.


Elaine was now in her last year of high school, and though her parents generally approved of Arthur, they still didn’t allow her to date on school nights. Since Elaine worked at Nora’s on Friday nights, the courtship of Elaine and Arthur consisted mostly of his waiting for her at Nora’s on Friday night to walk her home and then a date on Saturday night.


Their Saturday night date began with dinner at Terry’s Clam Shack and then a movie at the Strand, where they sat in the farthest corner of the back row of the balcony because only there, under cover of darkness, could they find the privacy to make their way from hand holding and chaste kisses to longer, more fervent embraces. Within a few months after they met, they became quite adept at draping Arthur’s top coat over themselves so they could fumble their way past buttons and zippers and undergarments to arrive at each other’s bare flesh.


Once she finished high school, Elaine became a sales clerk and worked at the soda fountain at Claude Hutchinson’s drug store on Mason Street, only a few blocks away from where she lived. Arthur’s courtship of Elaine continued as before, but with occasional nights, if Arthur could afford it, when they went bowling. More often, though, Arthur and Elaine sat in the living room with Elaine’s parents, listening to the radio or now and then playing a game of monopoly with Elaine’s younger brother, Henry.


Arthur would have preferred to spend more time with Elaine alone, but he enjoyed those evenings in which Elaine’s mother worked at her knitting and the only drama revolved around whether Elaine’s father, tinkering endlessly with his radio, managed to get a clear signal from New York City, and sometimes, depending on weather conditions, from stations as far away as Albany or Buffalo or Pittsburgh.


Those quiet evenings at Elaine’s house were a revelation to Arthur. What a contrast they were to his noisy, much more chaotic household, where the never-ending tussles and horseplay among his brothers served as the backdrop to his mother’s frequent pleas for heaven to send money for next month’s rent, and his father, with his booming voice, offered up complaints about all those forces, from heartless bosses to inclement weather to economic uncertainty, that kept him from earning enough money to support his family.


Very soon after he met Elaine, Arthur promised himself that he and Elaine, once married, would have a household as clean and well ordered and tranquil as that of Elaine’s parents. Most of all, it would be free of the odor that had been permanently locked into his own house, that mix of boiled cabbage and potatoes, as well as laundry, in winter, that was never quite dry draped over radiators that were never quite warm. Whenever he and Elaine talked about their future together, he reminded her that never, under any circumstances, not even if they were starving, should she stink up their house with the smell of boiled cabbage.


Only three months passed between the attack on Pearl Harbor and Elaine and Arthur’s marriage. The wedding was a small one, mostly because Arthur didn’t see any need to invite anyone but his three brothers and his sister and her husband from his side of the family. Elaine, therefore, limited the guests from her family to her mother and her two sisters and her father and his two brothers, along with their respective families. She also decided against buying a wedding gown since it struck her as too extravagant to spend so much money on a piece of clothing that was going to be worn only once.


At the wedding reception, which consisted of a buffet lunch at the home of Elaine’s parents, her father toasted the new couple by saying that he welcomed Arthur into the family not as a son-in-law but as a second son. That seemed to catch Arthur by surprise, and standing there, with one arm around Elaine’s waist, he was unable to conceal the tears that welled up in his eyes. He tried first to blink the tears away, but when that didn’t work, he tried to get rid of them with a quick shake of his head, and finally, when his two youngest brothers began giggling, Arthur openly wiped the tears away and at the same time took a playful slap at the brother who was standing closest to him. That caused all the other guests to let out a laugh, and then, when Elaine threw her arms around him and gave him a long passionate kiss, everyone cheered and Elaine’s two uncles let out with a series of loud, piercing celebratory whistles.


After a two-day visit to Montreal, Arthur and Elaine returned to their apartment on the first floor of a three-story tenement, not far from Elaine’s parents. Elaine and Arthur then spent hours removing thick layers of wallpaper from the kitchen, bathroom, living room and one of the two bedrooms. After they patched every hole and crack in the walls and ceiling, they hung new wallpaper and painted the ceilings and woodwork, all of which was done at their own expense.


Since they could afford furniture for only the kitchen, bedroom and living room, the second bedroom was set aside as a storage space for the paint and wallpaper they used to refurbish the rest of the apartment. Between themselves they referred to this second bedroom room as the kids’ room because they assumed it would be used by their first born, and maybe even a second child. But after that, oh after that, according to Arthur, they would be moving to a larger house, an enormous house, one with loads of bedrooms for all the children they were going to have. Elaine usually ended up throwing a playful punch at Arthur whenever he talked about having six or seven kids, and he, just as routinely, responded by wrapping his arms around her—as she knew he would—and carrying her off to the bedroom to make love.


That Elaine didn’t get pregnant in those early months of their marriage was surprising since Arthur, with Elaine’s concurrence, felt they should fit in as much sex as possible before he was drafted. It took Elaine a week or so to become accustomed to the full intimacy of the marriage bed—the first week, in fact, she went into the bathroom to change into her night gown—but soon she and Arthur were having sex in the kitchen, sex in the living room, sex before falling asleep, sex when they woke up and sex even when they had paint spattered all over themselves or were in the middle of hanging wall paper .


Afterwards, Arthur would playfully accuse Elaine of being so eager to make love that she didn’t give him enough time to put on a condom. Elaine, in the same light- hearted vein, blamed Arthur for turning her into the wanton, lustful woman she had become. She used to mention now and again that they should really try to avoid sex on days when she was most likely to become pregnant, but neither she nor Arthur took such pronouncements seriously since they knew that nothing was going to deter them from feasting on each other.


In the few months before Arthur was drafted, friends and relatives would often remark on how Elaine and Arthur still looked like a couple of teen-agers. Elaine was just a bit over five feet tall and so slim that Arthur could almost fit his hands around her waist. She had dark curly hair, the faintest trace of freckles across her tiny, well-shaped nose and her smile, which never seemed to go away, was like that of someone who had just run into a long lost friend. There was the same buoyant spirit in her every move, whether she was behind the fountain at Hutchinson’s Drug quickly and deftly blending a cherry coke or scurrying through the aisles of the store to find the exact type of corn plaster that was sure to help a customer with sore feet.


Arthur was seven, maybe eight inches, taller than Elaine, but he was so thin and his skin was stretched so tightly across his prominent cheek bones and somewhat beaky nose that he looked as if he was truly undernourished. He was sensitive, perhaps too much so, about how skinny (a word he hated) he was. He devoted himself, therefore, to a daily regimen of exercise that helped him to develop a rather impressive physique, one he was more than willing to display by wearing his shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbow, all the better to reveal his muscular forearms. The same impulse probably accounted for his walk, a rolling, swaying gait that translated into an outright swagger. He also wore his cap cocked to one side of his head, almost draped over his ear.


After he had begun working at Black Diamond Paper, he would go directly from his job to the local Y three nights a week for a session of weight lifting and boxing. At the Y, he was considered a bit of a showoff (but grudgingly admired) for the quickness and timing with which he worked the speed bag, along with the punching power he unleashed in occasional sparring sessions. Arthur’s claim that he weighed 150 pounds was a running joke among his gym mates.


Once they were married, Elaine made Arthur give up boxing, but he wasn’t afraid to use his fists if provoked. Notably, there was a day when one of the millwrights, Joe Duguay, was harassing some other millwrights who, like Arthur, were strongly pro-union. When Duguay’s insults became too personal, Arthur demanded that he apologize for what he had said. Duguay responded by telling Arthur to go fuck himself, and Arthur’s reply to that was to challenge Duguay to settle their dispute, right after work, in the far corner of the mill’s parking lot.


Duguay outweighed Arthur by at least ten pounds, but Arthur had learned from an old-time boxer at the Y how to feint and jab and stand on his toes and move from side to side rather than just stand there and throw punches. His deft moves made it possible not only to elude Duguay’s round-house punches, but he managed twice to slip inside and land a flurry of blows that left his opponent stunned and bleeding from his nose and a cut lip. That caused Duguay to swing even more wildly, and Arthur, slapping those punches aside, got him in a clinch and told him he should give up before he suffered any more damage. That coincided with another millwright pulling Duguay aside before Arthur could land any more punches. When word went through the mill (and around Sherburne generally) about the little guy who gave Joe Duguay a beating, Arthur gained a reputation as someone you wouldn’t want to push around. Elaine’s father liked to tell everyone that his daughter was lucky to have married a man who had some spunk in him.


Arthur was able, in the early months of the war, to show Elaine (and her parents) what an excellent wage earner he was. With many men leaving the paper mill to earn higher pay at the shipyards in Boston and Portsmouth, Arthur had all the overtime work he wanted. While he put in sixteen hour days, Elaine worked her day time shift at Hutchinson’s Drug and put considerable effort into her incessant cleaning of their apartment, her cooking, her laundry (with only a scrub board) and her ironing. Arthur used to joke about being the only laborer in the Black Diamond mill complex with a crease in his work pants.


When Arthur was drafted near the end of 1942, Elaine’s parents expected that she might move back in with them. A number of women whose spouses went off to war had done just that because it enabled them to save money they could put towards buying a house once the war was over. Elaine wanted no part of such an arrangement. She knew how much it meant to Arthur to keep the home they had created together. She felt similarly about continuing the practice she and Arthur had established of inviting her parents and her brother and Arthur’s sister and her husband for dinner every Sunday. That was something she continued to do even after Arthur was drafted. It was always a tight squeeze fitting everyone around the table in Elaine and Arthur’s small kitchen, but Elaine could never forget that look on Arthur’s face, the pride that was plain for everyone to see, when he took his place at the head of the table in their own apartment, however modest it might be.



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Elaine wrote to Arthur every day during the time he was away. His letters home, more sporadic, hinted at heavy fighting, but she was certain that her prayers were going to help Arthur survive the war. Every morning, on her way to open Hutchinson’s Drug, she attended the 7 o’clock mass at St. Aidan’s, and after mass lit a candle for Arthur’s safe return, and each night, before getting into bed, she would kneel before the crucifix that hung on the wall of their bedroom to recite the rosary.


Elaine was able to judge from listening to news broadcasts that Arthur’s outfit was involved in the Battle of the Bulge, but after American forces had regained the offensive against the German army and reports began to surface about the possible end of the war in Europe, she could only think—even in the midst of her praying—of what life would be like once Arthur got home.


Then, one morning in the middle of March, just as she was leaving for work, a Western Union messenger knocked on her door and handed her a telegram from the War Department. Arthur had been wounded in action, but there was no information yet on his condition. While awaiting further word, Elaine stopped by St. Aidan’s both morning and night, lighting a candle each time and saying a rosary before leaving the church. Elaine also enlisted her parents, her aunts and uncles and cousins, even Claude Hutchinson and regular customers at Hutchinson Drug, to join her in praying for Arthur to recover from his wound.


Elaine felt everyone’s prayers were answered when she received word three days later that Arthur was recuperating at a hospital in France. Two days later, she learned that Arthur’s right leg had been amputated just below the knee, but that news was offset by her relief that he was alive and would probably be home soon, maybe even in a matter of weeks. She was also encouraged when Claude Hutchinson’s brother, who was a surgeon at the medical center in Portland, assured her that there had been tremendous advances in the care of amputees. Men coming home from the war, he told her, were going to be fitted with artificial legs made of plastic and new, lighter metals, which would make it possible to live very active lives.


Judging from the few cryptic notes Elaine received from Arthur, he didn’t sound as if he was at all thankful for having survived the war. In her letters to him, Elaine tried to sound sympathetic, but she so looked forward to seeing him again that she downplayed what he was saying when he referred to himself as being half the man he once was and how he was probably going to end up on a street corner with a tin cup in his hand, waiting for people to throw a few coins his way.


The same day Elaine received the letter in which Arthur talked of how he might become nothing more than a beggar, she wrote to tell him the good news—her words—she had just received from James Gilmartin, the personnel director of the Black Diamond Paper Company. In a hand written note, Mr. Gilmartin, assured Elaine that Arthur would always have a job with the company, no ifs, ands, or buts, as he pointedly added, even underlining that very phrase. In replying to the news about the Gilmartin letter, Arthur told Elaine that he wasn’t sure he wanted to go back to work again, at Black Diamond or anywhere else. He signed it, Your Cripple.


Elaine was too busy preparing for Arthur’s return to take seriously what he had said about not caring whether there was a job waiting for him. She knew by then that Arthur would be getting back to Sherburne in early June, and in anticipation of that, she painted their bedroom and living room and hung new curtains in both rooms. She was also planning the welcome home party she would throw the night he arrived. The party, alas, seemed as if it might never happen because once she told Arthur about it, he wrote and asked her to cancel the event. He also informed her that he wanted no one except her to meet him at the train station.


In her reply, Elaine came up with a compromise. Fine, she wrote back, about the train station. She would be there by herself, but she wanted him to know that his sister and her husband were waiting anxiously to see him and that two of his brothers, one of whom was about to go into the Navy, were planning to come to Sherburne to welcome him home. Also, she added, if she had his family over to see him, she said, wouldn’t it be an insult not to invite her parents and her brother, who now had a fiancee, and her Uncle Pete, who had been so helpful to him, as well as his wife and his two sons and their spouses?


Arthur gave in to Elaine’s request with a one-line note in which he wrote, "You win." By the time the party was over, Elaine realized that it would have been better if she had put it off for a few days, maybe even a few weeks.


The first hint of that came at the train station. Elaine thought she was prepared for the sight of Arthur on crutches, but as soon as the train arrived and passengers began to disembark, tears began to flow from her eyes. Worse still, it seemed as if all the passengers had left the train and there were was still no sign of Arthur. She was telling herself that maybe Arthur had missed the train when he and the conductor appeared, at last, in the doorway of the railway car. The gasping sound Elaine made when she saw Arthur—it was, in fact, more like a scream—was loud enough so that the conductor, who had his back to her, snapped his head around. She then clamped her hand across her mouth, but she kept shaking her head at the sight of Arthur on crutches, and with his pant leg pinned up at his right knee. His sunken cheeks, as well as the deeply etched lines on either side of his mouth that became even more pronounced when he tried to smile.


Arthur, still awkward on his crutches, first seemed preoccupied with making sure that the conductor helped him to get his overseas cap adjusted so that it was practically resting against his right ear. Then, after handing the conductor one of his crutches, Arthur slowly made his way down the stairs of the train, by supporting himself with one crutch under his right arm while gripping firmly with his other hand the hand rail of the passenger car. He also fidgeted for a moment at the bottom of the stairs while waiting for the conductor to retrieve his suitcase and hand him his other crutch.


All that delayed Arthur from embracing Elaine, who was still wiping tears from her eyes. Then, when he did put his arms around her, his crutches got in the way of the heartfelt hug Elaine was expecting. She also couldn’t help but notice, as she was planting kisses on Arthur’s face, the strong smell of liquor on his breath.


There was another mixup when Arthur and Elaine and the cab driver all seemed to get in each other’s way while trying to get Arthur into the cab, but when Arthur and Elaine were finally settled into the back seat, he asked her if she could please try to stop crying now that he was home. She did so, using both her hands to wipe away all traces of tears from her face and promising him that from now on she would only smile. Arthur’s thank you was without a trace of feeling.


"You see now why I didn’t want people at the station?" Arthur told her, as the cab pulled away. "Imagine if I had tripped when I was coming down those stairs. Wouldn’t that be something? The war hero returns and the first thing he does is fall flat on his ass."


Elaine responded by burying her head in Arthur’s chest and making soothing noises and telling him he shouldn’t have to worry because now he was home.


"Yeah, home," he said, "but let’s hope I make it up those steps from the sidewalk to the front porch."


When they arrived at Elaine and Arthur’s apartment house, the cab driver, jumping from his cab, offered to help Arthur, but Arthur shooed him away.


"Just take the suitcase," he told the cab driver."


He then used both crutches to get over to the bottom of the stairs, where he handed one crutch to the cab driver. That allowed him to grab onto the stair rail with his right hand and, supporting himself with the crutch under his left arm, he ascended the six stairs leading from the sidewalk up to the porch by hopping, literally, from one step to the next. At the top of the stairs, he hung on to the stair rail (and took a moment to catch his breath), while waiting for the cab driver to bring him his suitcase and his other crutch. Then, after Elaine paid the cab driver, she stepped aside so that it was Arthur in the lead as they headed towards the front door of their apartment.


On the way, Arthur paused, and turning towards Elaine, he said, "One small favor—once we get inside, make sure you get me a drink right away, one with a little kick in it."


Elaine was relieved that Arthur seemed pleased—at least he was grinning—when the cluster of people crowded into the kitchen, yelled out in unison, "Welcome home, Arthur." Elaine, standing by Arthur’s side, then helped clear a path for him so he could reach a spot near the kitchen sink. There, he was able to prop himself up against the counter and balance himself with one crutch under his left arm so that his right hand was free to hold the drink Elaine thrust into it the moment he had settled himself. That set the stage for Elaine’s Uncle Pete to deliver a welcome home toast in which he said at least three times how grateful everyone was for all the sacrifices Arthur and everyone else had made in teaching Adolf Hitler a lesson.


Arthur didn’t respond right away, but a moment later, raising his glass to acknowledge Uncle Pete’s gracious words, he said the one thing he wanted to do now that he had made it home was to sit in his easy chair in his living room and relax. The young people there greeted Arthur’s remark with a loud cheer while everyone moved out of Arthur’s way so that he could get from the kitchen to the big upholstered chair in the far corner of the living room.


Arthur, once seated in his chair, made appropriate remarks to each person who filed pass him while he also shook hands and returned kisses and became acquainted with the girl friends who accompanied his two brothers and Elaine’s younger brother. Until then, the gathering was cordial enough, but Uncle Pete, not satisfied with his salute to Arthur and America’s fighting men, asked Arthur to tell them something about the battles he had been through.


"No," Arthur said, "not tonight. What’s over is over and no amount of talking about it is going to change anything. Let’s just hope those Jap bastards realize they can’t win this thing so we’ll get that over with too."


Arthur’s comment was greeted with murmurs of approval from the assembled guests, followed by an uneasy silence that lasted only a few seconds before Elaine stepped in and began herding her guests into a line that led towards the food she had laid out on the kitchen table. While everyone else ate, Arthur, who said he wasn’t hungry, sipped at his drink and then asked for another. Not much time passed either between his putting out one cigarette and lighting another.


There was small talk, and an attempt to bring Arthur up to date about friends and relatives who were away at war, but Arthur, without saying so, made everyone feel that he was too tired just then to care much about what people were telling him. Once everyone had finished eating, the women began helping Elaine put the remaining food away and wash dishes while Uncle Pete and his two sons took a few minutes to tell Arthur about recent events at Black Diamond Paper. Arthur didn’t show much interest in that, either, and when Elaine returned to the living room, everyone seemed to take that as a signal for the gathering to break up, but not before another round of hurried kisses and handshakes between Arthur and the guests.


There was a hassock in front of the chair Arthur sat in, and after everyone had left, he placed his left foot on it. That left room for Elaine to sit in the space where his right leg would have been. She was holding onto one of Arthur’s hands, telling him all over again how much she missed him and how she had prayed night and day for his safe return when he interrupted her.


"You want to make me feel that I’ve made it home safe and sound?" he said. "See that fifth of Canadian Club on the coffee table? Why don’t you put it right here, right by my chair?"


Elaine immediately brought him the bottle. She also took his ash tray away and returned with a clean one.


When she returned, Arthur, holding up the bottle of liquor said, "The best pain medicine in the world."


Then, after taking a swallow, and wincing slightly as the liquor went down his throat, he adjusted himself so that now he was slouched down in the lower half of his chair. Elaine, having returned to her spot on the hassock, said that she didn’t know that he was in pain, but if she had, she wouldn’t have put him through the party.


Arthur, raising his voice, said, "No, oh no, not a bit of pain. They cut the leg off, you see, and then they stitch it up. And the next day, when you wake up, you feel like going out dancing."


Elaine apologized immediately for forcing too much on him in one night. She should have known better, she added.


"You have a lot more to learn," he said, as he lit another cigarette.


There was a pause while Arthur took an initial puff on the cigarette and let out a plume of smoke. Then, after another moment of silence, he said, "All right, you wanna hear what happened?"


Elaine shook her head. "Please," she said, "some other time. I can tell you’re tired."


"Well, let’s get it out of the way. Then if anybody asks, you’ll be able to tell them."


After another a quick swallow from the bottle, Arthur began his account of the battle in which he had been wounded.


"The guys in front of me got it full force," he said, his voice sounding remarkably flat and free of emotion. "The only reason I’m here is that they shielded me from the worst of it."


Elaine pressed the palms of her hands into her eyes to stop, momentarily, the flow of tears.


"I’ll never forget one poor bastard," he said. "Phillips was his name. He was from Tennessee. He went flying into the air, I mean, flying. It was like he did a cartwheel in mid air. Just before he was drafted Phillips’s wife had a little girl. That’s all Phillips ever talked about, getting home to see his baby. I hope there was enough left to him so they could ship a coffin home to his wife. Some of the stuff I saw I might forget, but I’ll always remember Phillips flying through the air. As for me, I don’t know how long it took before I came to, but when I did, there was a ringing in my ears, almost like I had an alarm clock going off inside my head."


Elaine’s shoulders were heaving as she tried to hold back the moans rising from her chest, but Arthur, after another puff on his cigarette, resumed the methodical telling of his tale.


"When I was lying there, half covered with dirt, I looked down and saw that my foot was twisted over to one side. I remember thinking how I looked like a base runner who was trying to slide into third base. I just kept staring at it, wondering whether I was supposed to pick it up and straighten it out. Just then the medic came. He didn’t touch the foot or my leg, not that I can remember anyway. He gave me morphine, lots of it. The next thing I knew I was in a field hospital and they were wheeling me into an operating room. When I woke up, there was a nurse sitting by my bed, waiting to tell me what had happened. How would you like that job? You sit by a patient’s bed and when he wakes up you’re the one who tells him, ‘Sorry buddy, but while you were asleep, we cut half your leg off."


The tears rolling down Elaine’s cheeks were now falling onto her dress. That’s when Arthur paused, and lifting himself slightly, he reached into his rear pocket for a handkerchief, which he handed to her. She used it to wipe the tears away and breathed in deeply until she stopped crying, except for the gasps that now and then made her body shake.


"Sorry to tell you this, but tears aren’t going to change anything," he said. "I found that out the day I looked down and saw part of my leg was missing. That’s when you begin to understand that once certain things happen, they’re over and done with. You don’t get to grow a new leg, not in this life."


"I didn’t have to know any of this," she said. "I wasn’t the one who asked."


"I want you to know," he said.


That’s when, leaning forward so that her head rested on Arthur’s chest, Elaine said that she was going to bed. Did he want her to help him, she asked.


"I’ll be along," he said. "I just want to relax for a little while." Then he took another drink from the bottle of whisky.


Elaine lay in bed for half an hour, weeping silently, before she finally fell off to sleep. Having waited almost three years for Arthur to return to her bed, she ended up spending yet another night alone.



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In the morning, when Elaine found Arthur sleeping in his chair, she nudged his shoulder. He awoke with a start and Elaine, after wishing him a cheerful good morning, leaned over to give him a kiss.


"I bet you’d feel a lot better if you had come to bed," she said. "You’d smell better, too."


"I need coffee," he said, "right away. Black, no sugar."


In the time it took Elaine to bring him his coffee, Arthur had lit his first cigarette of the day. She took it as good news of a sort that there was some liquor left in the bottle of Canadian Club next to his chair, but she saw that Arthur’s hand shook when he lifted the cup of coffee to his lips. Moments later, when she was back in the kitchen, Arthur, on his crutches, passed by on his way into the bathroom. Through the bathroom door, she asked what he wanted for breakfast, but he didn’t answer. Only when he came out of the bathroom and was heading towards the bedroom did he mumble something about how tired he was. When he reached the bedroom, he threw his crutches with some force against the wall on the other side of the room and then fell face forward on the bed.


Hearing the noise from the bedroom, Elaine went into the living room, and peeking around the corner of the door, she saw that Arthur was lying on the bed but that his crutches were on the other side of the room. She wanted to put the crutches closer to him, but not wanting to disturb him, she returned to the kitchen to eat her breakfast. However, before leaving for work she tiptoed back into the bedroom, where she picked up the crutches and placed them next to the bed. She also bent over to give Arthur a kiss, but he was sleeping too soundly to respond.


Elaine put off calling Arthur because she didn’t want to disturb him, but throughout the day she was uneasy about what condition she would find him in when she returned home. Thus, her relief when she walked through the door and found Arthur, looking rested and refreshed and clean shaven, sitting at the kitchen table reading a newspaper. He had shed his uniform and was wearing a pair of tan trousers (the right pant leg pinned up at the knee), a white shirt with an open collar and the dark blue cardigan sweater that Elaine had given him for Christmas just before they were married. He looked up when she entered and for the first time since he had emerged from the train, he greeted her with a genuine smile.


"You look surprised," he said.


Before she could stop herself, Elaine said, "But how did you—


"Get cleaned up and dressed?" Arthur said. "Well, one thing they did for us at the hospital in France was teach us how to tend to what the nurses called our personal needs."


Arthur then used his crutches to get to his feet and shuffle over to that spot where he could prop himself up against the counter next to the kitchen sink. There, putting his crutches aside, he opened his arms so that Elaine, having rushed across the kitchen, received the kind of kiss she expected from him when he alighted from the train.


For a moment it seemed as if Elaine might begin weeping again, but Arthur, pulling away from her, reached up and carefully, with his two thumbs, brushed the tears away from each of her eyes.


"This is so crazy," Elaine said, with a catch in her throat. "I end up crying as much when I’m happy as when I’m upset."


After pulling Elaine close again, Arthur mumbled an apology for having drunk too much the night before.


"No," she said, "it was my fault. I should have realized that we needed some time to ourselves. And that damned Uncle Pete—I love him, but sometimes he talks too much."


"I don’t mind telling people what I went through," Arthur said, "but I’ll do it when I want to, and in my own way. One thing I want people to know—war isn’t like what you see at the movies. That’s just bullshit put out by the Army so people will think everyone who went off to war is some kind of hero. Believe me, most of the heroes aren’t coming home."


Moments later Elaine pulled herself away from Arthur and began preparing dinner, pork chops smothered in onions, which was Arthur’s favorite meal. Arthur went back to his chair at the kitchen table, where there was a pack of cigarettes, an ash tray filled with cigarette butts and a half-filled glass of liquor. He finished that glass, and drank another before dinner, but any concern Elaine may have had about his drinking faded away once they began eating and he asked her questions about mutual friends and relatives and what plans these people were making now that there were signs the war might be ending.


Later, when Elaine was clearing the table and washing the dishes, Arthur returned to his easy chair in the living room. Next to the chair was a newly opened bottle of Canadian Club, which Arthur sipped from while he was on the phone with his sister. He was at the tail end of that conversation, telling his sister how uncomfortable he felt with his crutches, when Elaine, having finished washing the dishes, entered the living room.


"Right now, the important thing," he said, "is to get to the VA hospital in Boston where they’ll give me an artificial leg. Until that happens, until I get rid of these crutches, I don’t feel much like seeing people. It’s funny, you know. I’m home, but I don’t feel that I can leave the goddamned war behind. To tell you the truth, I feel shitty that I’m here while other guys are still fighting and dying. Maybe, when this thing is over with, and everyone else gets home, I’ll begin to feel that I’m really home, too."


He had just hung up from talking with his sister when Elaine said, "You really mean that, that you don’t feel as if you’re really back home?"


"Yeah, it’s great being here, but this leg—and the war—that’s unfinished business. I’m still waiting for them to put me back together again and I’m still waiting for the Japs to surrender. Maybe then I’ll begin to feel like the guy I used to be."


When Arthur saw that Elaine was reaching up to wipe a tear from her eye, he said. "No, please, not again. All I’m saying is that I can’t sit here and wish things away. That’s why I’m not ready yet to get out and see people. The minute they look at me all they really see are these goddamned crutches. That and the empty pant leg. Plus, the crutches make it hard to get around. So if people ask about me, say I’m feeling okay, but tell them I need time to rest and get my strength back. In case you didn’t notice, I lost ten pounds or so, mostly because that hospital food was so lousy it left me yearning for K-rations."


This time, Elaine, taking two deep breaths, was able to hold back tears while listening to Arthur complain about not having heard yet from the VA hospital in Boston. And even when he got there, he told her, he would have to spend at least a couple of weeks learning how to walk on his artificial leg.


He also intended to put up quite a squawk, he told her, if the VA didn’t keep its promise to give him a car that was specially equipped for him to drive. The artificial leg, the car, and maybe a few months to rest and relax, when all that was out of the way, he told her, he might begin to think—emphasizing the word, think—about going back to work.


Elaine, saying she was tired, announced that she was going to bed. Arthur, who had just taken a long pull from his bottle of Canadian Club, announced that he would join her, or rather, he said, correcting himself, he would like her to join him.


"In other words, I’d like to undress and get into bed before you," he said. "The leg, it isn’t anything I want you to see, not yet anyway."


Elaine first, and then Arthur, couldn’t help but let out a tiny laugh at that since this was the reverse of the first week of their marriage, when Elaine, because of her innate modesty, wasn’t comfortable with taking her clothes off in front of Arthur.


Indeed, on this night of "reversals," it was Elaine who took the initiative in their lovemaking, and Arthur, who was uncharacteristically subdued, and in the end, unable to perform.


"Booze," he said, when he gave up, twisting away, so that Elaine, who was on top of him, had slid off and moved to her side of the bed.


"No, just tired," she said. "We have to learn not to rush things."


Arthur had just finished breakfast the next morning when he received a call from the VA Hospital. The woman on the phone said that two amputees had postponed their appointments and that opened a slot up for Arthur. How soon could he come to Boston?


Arthur said, "It’s too late for today’s train, but I’ll be on my way tomorrow for sure."


He then asked the caller—her name was Betty Moran—how long he would have to stay in Boston.


She replied by asking him about the condition of his leg and his state of health. After hearing him, she said, "I can’t be too specific before I’ve seen you, but we want you to be here for as long as it takes to fit you with a prosthesis and for you to be comfortable with it. But I’ll give you this guarantee right now: however long that takes, when you walk out of here—and you will walk out of here, don’t you worry about that—you’ll be in top-notch condition."


"You make it sound like I’m going to be training for a title bout," he said.


"If you’ve got a title bout scheduled, this is the place you want to be. As for anything else you want or need, we take care of that also."


Arthur surprised himself when he said. "How about jitterbugging? That’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but I never got the hang of it. That should be a test for you—teaching a guy with one leg how to jitterbug."


Arthur’s experience with Army nurses made him think that Betty Moran, like others, would treat his remark as something to be dismissed. But Betty, matching Arthur’s tone, said, "You are one lucky man, Mr. Doyle. Not only are you talking to your therapist, but since I’m the person around here who teaches our advanced jitterbugging class, you better bring your dancing shoes with you."


Arthur was so pleased that he wouldn’t have to wait any longer to get his artificial leg—and so cheered by his brief exchange with Betty Moran—that he restricted himself that night to two drinks before dinner. Thus, he was able, when Elaine joined him in bed that night, to reclaim his conjugal rights in a quick, almost savage coupling.



section break



"Ah, so here’s the guy who’s going to make me prove that I’m half the dancer I claim to be."


It was Arthur’s first morning in the VA hospital and he was sitting on the edge of his bed, with his back to the door, but just as he turned to see who had entered the room, Betty Moran, carrying a clipboard, arrived at his bedside. Then, with a quick, somewhat comic shaking of her hips, she looked as if she was about to break into a dance.


"Betty Moran," she said, with a girlish giggle, as she reached out to shake Arthur’s hand. "Your nurse, therapist and dance instructor, all wrapped into one."


She then told Arthur how sorry she was that he had to come all the way from northern New Hampshire, but Arthur let her know that he didn’t mind at all traveling almost two hundred miles to get a new leg, adding that he would gladly go halfway across the country as long as he could get back on his feet and return to normal living.


That led Betty to ask him about what kind of work he had done before going off to war. Arthur first told her about his job at the Black Diamond Paper Company, and then, when Betty asked how long he had been married, he gave a brief account of how he fell in love with Elaine the moment he met her.


"Lucky for me, she felt the same way," he said. "On our second date—we barely knew each other—I told her that I was going to marry her. She thought I was joking because she was still in high school. But not long after that, when she finished school, she was as anxious as I was to get married. Only her parents thought we were too young. Then, whaddya know—the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor. That’s it, we said. First things first, let’s get this wedding over with."


"Well," Betty said, "we’re going to make sure you don’t have to spend a day longer away from Elaine than necessary. But now, before anything else, let’s take a look at that leg."


When Betty pulled aside the sheet Arthur had draped across his right leg, she was pleased at what she saw. She also complimented him for waiting until he got back to the states to be fitted for an artificial limb.


"Unfortunately, we see guys all the time who’ve tried to rush things," she said. "They insisted on getting a prosthesis before the stump fully healed and that ended up backfiring on them because they developed skin irritation and a lot of other problems. Then they had to wait even longer before they can tolerate a prosthesis. But let’s not get into that. Let’s see first what we’ve got here."


Then, deftly and quickly and with a touch so light that Arthur barely felt her, she ran her fingers over his stump and judged his muscles to be a bit "knotted up," but not as badly as some amputees she had treated. In that same matter-of-fact way, she began outlining the regimen of therapy Arthur would have to undergo while warning him that the exercises she was going to put him through were quite demanding.


"You’re going to wonder what in God’s name I’m up to," she said, "but we’ll be doing a lot of work on your shoulders and arms and mid section because upper body strength helps with your balance and prevents falls. We’re also going to be building up your cardiovascular capacity. That’s important because walking with a prosthesis requires a lot of energy. And while we’re at it, I’d say from looking at you that you could put on a few pounds. Don’t be afraid to snack between meals. Milk shakes, desserts, second helpings, you’re going to need plenty of calories to make up for what you’ll burn off during our exercise sessions. But most of all you’re going to learn to stretch your leg muscles, particularly in the leg that’s been amputated."


She then took from her clipboard a drawing that showed the major muscles of the leg, and pointing to the illustrations, she said that muscles, unless stretched, tend to contract and that impedes the range of motion. Daily stretching exercises, she added, should become as much a part of his day as brushing his teeth.


"Notice, please, that I used the word daily," she said. "That means every day, no exceptions allowed, no time off for good behavior, none of this, ‘Well, I stretched three days in a row, so I’m entitled to a day off.’"


"Yes m’am," Arthur said, snapping off a salute, but, in truth, he had only been half listening to what Betty had said because he had never seen a young woman who looked so wholesome and so strong. Betty’s broad shoulders, the underlying muscle structure of her forearms, her shapely but sturdy legs, all of these things told Arthur that she possessed the strength needed to support, or carry if necessary, patients who were missing a limb. But what Arthur found most intriguing, in addition to Betty’s unstinting smile (which revealed remarkably straight white teeth), were her eyes, which were deep blue, almost violet. The eyes lent her a touch of glamor, as did her rich, auburn colored hair and the way she had shaped it into two thick braids that she had doubled up and folded into a stylish bun. Later, she would tell Arthur that she had borrowed her hair style from ballet dancers because, like them, she explained, she couldn’t have her hair "flopping all over the place," while she was working with her patients.


"Okay, chop, chop, let’s get started," Betty said, clapping her hands together, almost as if she sensed that Arthur’s thoughts were not entirely focused on what she had been saying. "And one more item, maybe this morning you didn’t feel like getting dressed before I arrived, but from now on, when I get here, I expect to find you dressed and ready to go."


Betty never again needed to remind Arthur that he should be prepared to begin his therapy the moment she walked through the door. Typically, she began each day by helping Arthur stretch out the muscles in his legs. They would then go to a gymnasium where Betty put Arthur through a series of upper body exercises. He started with simple chin ups and then moved over to using machines with pulleys and ropes and weights that he had to lift and pull in different directions. He performed some of these exercises while seated, but others while he was on one crutch, with Betty supporting him. That first day, when Arthur had finished his exercise session and Betty was helping him towel away the perspiration that covered his body, she complimented him on his stamina and his balance.


"You’re in fairly good shape, considering what you’ve been through," she said. "You also have good muscle tone to begin with."


Arthur responded to that by telling her about the boxing he had done at the Y in Sherburne before the war and how he had shown enough promise so that a local fight manager wanted to enter him into an amateur tournament.


"I would have done it if Elaine hadn’t put a stop to it," he said. "She was afraid I might get hurt. She even worried about whether I might hurt the guy I was fighting."


He then drew a laugh from Betty when he said that only a year or so after Elaine made him give up boxing because she worried about his safety and that of the person he would be fighting, he was chasing German soldiers across Europe, trying to kill them before they killed him.


Betty granted Arthur time for a rest period after lunch, but she usually put him through a lighter workout around 3 p.m. or so. If her schedule allowed, she also accompanied him when he went off, after that, to the hospital’s snack bar for a thick chocolate frappe, as well as a healthy serving of apple pie. (Betty restricted herself to a cup of coffee, no sugar, no cream.) Otherwise, Betty was strict and demanding in overseeing Arthur’s exercise sessions, and, Arthur, sweating and straining, responded by calling her Sergeant Barnes, his drill instructor at Fort Benning, Georgia. Sergeant Barnes, he told Betty, was known for the pleasure he took in leading trainees on marches so long that half the company would collapse along the way.


From then on, Betty often mimicked what a drill sergeant might have sounded like when she barked commands at Arthur, urging him to put more effort into his exercises and mockingly applauding him if she was satisfied with his performance. Every now and then, Betty would join in for a short spell on the exercises, taunting and teasing him and claiming that if she really tried, she could outperform him.


The VA Hospital had guidelines governing the relationship between patients and their caretakers, but during and after the war, when the hospital was filled with veterans who needed extensive treatment, nobody was about to stop Betty from giving Arthur a congratulatory hug when he beat his personal best for chin ups. Neither did it seem to matter if, at the end of Arthur’s workouts, she gave him a back massage, even though back massages, as she told him, in a whispered aside, were not part of the therapy regimen for patients with amputated limbs.


"Patient morale," Betty would say, "The powers that be tell us that’s a vital part of our, quote, mission, unquote." She had a chance to demonstrate her own commitment to improving patient morale shortly after that, when Arthur told her how much he yearned for a stiff drink.


"People who run this place should realize that a belt or two of Canadian Club before bedtime can help people like me to sleep more soundly," he said.


The next morning, when Betty arrived in Arthur’s room, she was carrying two clean white towels. Then, with a broad smile on her face, she extracted from the folds of the towels a pint of Canadian Club. She put a finger against her lips to indicate that Arthur should remain silent while she created a hiding place for the whisky by putting it behind towels on the top shelf of his clothes closet


"I hope you don’t get into trouble over this," he said.


"Nobody’s going to get into trouble as long as you take it easy," she said. "A swig or two at bedtime. No more."


When reaching into his wallet to repay her for the liquor, he promised to heed her advice. He also reached out and squeezed her hand and thanked her for all she had done for him. From then on, he stopped calling her Sergeant Barnes and began instead to refer to her as Wonder Woman because he felt there was a parallel between the comic book heroine who battled villains of every kind and the ease with which Betty was helping him to repair his body.


Each day he was impressed all over again by Betty’s unruffled manner, whether she was stretching the muscles in his leg, or delivering, even before he asked her, a second pint of Canadian Club. Even when she participated, albeit for a short duration, in the strengthening exercises herself, she did so with such ease that not a strand of hair broke loose from the neatly coiled bun at the nape of her neck.


In their chats at the snack bar, and twice when she joined him for lunch, Arthur also discovered that they had fathers who could not be counted on to provide for their families. But while Arthur was still angry at his father, who had remarried and was now living in Florida, Betty laughingly referred to her father as "the world’s happiest drunk."


"Poor Daddy," she said, "God bless his soul. He’d arrive home, three sheets to the wind," "My mother and my two sisters and I would be beside ourselves, of course, because once again he had left too much of his paycheck in some bar. But it was hard to remain upset with him because before you knew it he’d be sitting at the old upright in our living room, and there we were, my mother, who loved him dearly, and the three of us, who were just as crazy about him, singing right along with him while he played a medley of old-fashioned love songs."


Betty seemed to find it as easy to slough off her two broken engagements. She told Arthur that she had been deeply in love—or thought she was, she quickly added—with her high school boyfriend, but when he went into the Air Force and began pilot training, he decided they should wait until the war was over before they got married.


"Oh, what a smoothie he was," she said. "He didn’t want to make me a young widow, he said, but if I remained faithful, we would get together again when he came home. Thank God I didn’t fall for that line of baloney because he was still flying missions over Germany when he married a girl in England. I guess it’s a lot harder to break up with your girlfriend when she’s about to have your baby."


The second broken engagement was easier on her, she said, because she sensed that her boyfriend felt the war gave him a good reason to put off marriage. Then, just as he was about to go overseas, he wrote to tell her that he had considered off and on entering the priesthood, but now he had decided, once the war was over, to enter a religious order, one that sent missionaries to foreign countries.


"How’s that for a winning streak?" Betty said. "One guy was lying through his teeth when he said he was worried that I would end up as a young widow. And the other one, well, I always had my suspicions about him, if you get what I mean. But it was still a shock to learn that he cared more about saving souls in some godforsaken hell hole than marrying me."


When Arthur asked if her "winning streak" made her feel as if she might give up on men, she told him that people in her line of work couldn’t let themselves be thrown off by a few "bumps and bruises."


"I tell myself that I should try to have as much gumption as the people I’m treating," she said. "Boyfriends come, boyfriends go, but what really matters to me is making sure the guys I’m trying to help get back to being the guys they were before the war. We owe you that."


What Betty had said so impressed Arthur that the next day, when they were in the snack bar together, he had a catch in his throat when he told her how grateful he was for the help she had given him.


"I want you to know something," he said, "you’re the first person I’ve met who doesn’t pity me. Other people mean well, but they can’t help it. They look at me and all they see is a guy on crutches who has his pants pinned up at the knee. My welcome home party, everyone was so cheerful, but I knew what they were really thinking. ‘That poor bastard, I’m sure glad I’m not in his shoes.’ You know how that left me feeling? Like I was better off not seeing people at all. I’ll be honest with you, I worry too much about tripping and falling and needing help to get back on my feet. But, hey, with you, I’m ready to do whatever you say, and if I fall flat on my face, I know you’ll get me back up, no fuss, no muss."


Betty first thanked Arthur for what he had said. Then, reaching over and holding his hands in hers, she said, "I told you the first time we talked that I don’t do things halfway. You’re doing okay so far, and that’s very satisfying to me. But, let’s remember, I’m here to make sure you get everything you’ve got coming to you. Besides, didn’t I promise to get you back out on the dance floor? "


"You know what?" he said. "You’re a saint, an absolute saint."


"Now, you’re pushing it," she said, with a laugh. Then, pulling her hands away from Arthur’s and rising up from her chair, she added, "And don’t think saying nice things about me will make me go easier on you tomorrow morning."



section break



In his phone calls to Elaine, Arthur talked mostly of his exercise routines and what progress he was making, and Elaine, in response, told him he was beginning to sound more like himself. Yes, he said, he was feeling stronger and he was more confident now that he would be able to adjust to walking with a prosthesis. She was overjoyed when, after two weeks or so, he told her that he had already put on four pounds. Without mentioning Betty specifically, he also talked of how helpful the hospital staff were and how much it meant to him to be among men who, like himself, were trying to recover from wounds and injuries suffered in combat.


"You know the first thing I learned about this place?" he told Elaine. "You don’t stand out here if you’re missing an arm or a leg. You begin to realize that you’re lucky if that’s your only problem. That’s been a big help to me. That and the people who care for us. They’re here to help, period, amen. The nurses, the doctors, the attendants, they understand what we’ve been through. We owe you, they say. They tell us that over and over."


Out of caution—and because he had no desire to leave the VA Hospital just yet—Arthur decided, along with Betty, that he was going to wait until his stump had completely healed, or "shrunk," before he tried to walk with a prosthesis. He was hoping that would also give him time to put on the weight he had lost during the war.


By then, after almost three weeks had passed, Arthur and Betty were so comfortable with each other that one day, he let out a groan as Betty was applying lotion to his amputated limb.


"Sorry," she said, with a laugh, "did I go up too high? That’s another form of therapy altogether, useful perhaps, but there are rules against that in this place."


Arthur responded by reaching out and grabbing Betty’s hand. "You know what they say about rules?" he said. "They’re only made to be broken."


Betty pulled her hand away from his and raised it, as if she was about to slap his face, but she didn’t follow through. She had a grin on her face when she said, "I’ll grant you this much, my friend. Maybe some of the rules around here should be reviewed from time to time."


That exchange took place the day before Arthur’s prosthesis arrived and Betty had begun teaching him to walk with it. The first two days he wore his prosthesis he used a walker, followed by two days when he learned to walk with the support of a cane. A day later, still with a cane, he took his first tentative steps up and down a flight of stairs, with Betty standing by to lend him support if he faltered. Finally, a week after he had begun wearing the prosthesis, he completed his first walk without a cane, fifty steps that he took by supporting himself, only slightly, on the two waist-high parallel bars on either side of him.


When Arthur began his walk, he could hear, at the other end of the cavernous gym, out of his sight line, someone dribbling a basketball. It was a slow, steady dribble, sounding very much as if someone was learning how to dribble all over again. Arthur, quickly picking up on it, began planting his left foot down so that it coincided with the thump, thump, thump of the basketball hitting the floor. In that moment when he first experienced the exhilaration of walking almost on his own, he imagined himself again as the young Army recruit maintaining the cadence of march established by the stentorian growl of Sergeant Barnes.


Only this time, instead of marching towards the distant and seemingly endless horizon of a dusty training field in Georgia, he could see, waiting for him at end of the parallel bars, the smiling face of Betty Moran. Arthur had kept his eyes focused on his feet when he began his walk, but as his confidence grew, he looked up, and then, five steps or so short of his goal, he took his right hand off one of the bars momentarily and raised his fist in triumph. Betty, in response, let out a congratulatory squeal, and when he reached the end of his walk, she threw her arms around him. Arthur, without giving it a thought, pulled her closer and kissed her on the lips, which caused Betty to draw back but only to take a quick look around to see if anyone could see them. Satisfied that they were alone in that end of the gym, she then gave him a kiss that was even more ardent than his.


But it was Betty, a moment later, who stepped away, saying,"That’s it for now," as she smoothed down her uniform and appeared, as she did so, as if she were collecting herself. Arthur, wiping a thin sheen of perspiration from his brow, exhaled, somewhat like a runner who had just completed an exhausting race.


"After that," he said, "I think I deserve a rest."


Betty agreed, and both of them, said nothing more, as Arthur, using his cane now, headed back towards his room. There, Betty helped Arthur remove his prosthesis and carefully checked his stump. When doing so, she looked up at him, and with a perfectly serious expression on her face—so serious she seemed to be mocking seriousness—she said, "I have nothing definite to report at this time, Mr. Doyle, but I’m told there might be some changes made to those rules I told you about."


A scant moment later, she was once again the ever efficient nurse/therapist, when she checked her watch and hurriedly left the room, saying she was running late for her next patient. The next day Betty suggested that she and Arthur were now ready to take a longer walk. She wanted him to walk without a cane if possible, but he insisted on carrying the cane with him in the event he needed it. That precaution hardly seemed necessary because Arthur was doing so well when they reached the limit of the unit occupied by amputees that Betty encouraged him to continue down a longer corridor.


With Betty leading the way, Arthur took a series of lefts and rights and passed through the hospital’s reception area to a darkened hallway where Betty pressed a button to summon an elevator that was used to carry foodstuffs and other supplies. The elevator brought them down two levels, to a corridor lined with doorways that had labels on them indicating this was where the hospital housed its mechanical equipment. They hadn’t gone far before they came to door that said, Housekeeping. There, Betty stopped and reached into her pocket for a key.


"Quick, in here," she said, as she unlocked the door and motioned with a nod of her head for Arthur to enter the room.


The moment Betty and Arthur were inside the room—it contained stacks of mattresses—they were in each other’s arms. She then managed, without loosening her embrace of Arthur, to nudge him a few steps backwards, towards a stack of mattresses. That allowed her to reach out with one arm and pull a mattress on top of the pile onto the floor. Thick wrapping paper covered the mattress, but neither Betty, nor Arthur, were distracted by the paper crinkling and cracking beneath them the first time they made love.



section break



Betty and Arthur managed only one more visit to the housekeeping department’s store room, but their lovemaking on that occasion was overshadowed by Arthur pleading with Betty to find some reason why his stay at the hospital should be extended. Couldn’t he stay longer to practice his walking, he asked, or until he had gained more weight and was back to his full strength? And didn’t it take more than a week before anyone could tell whether his prosthesis was a proper fit?


Betty, politely but firmly, fended off Arthur’s request, explaining that she was obliged both by hospital policy—and by her own conscience—not to submit false information on a patient’s condition.


"I might cut a few corners here and there," she said, "but I’ve never written a report in which I said that a patient should stay here when I knew he had completed his rehab. There are too many other fellows waiting to get in here."


"Are you telling me I should trip and fall a few times if I want to stay here any longer?" Arthur said.


"Don’t be silly," she said. "You’re one of our best patients. How can I say that you’re wobbly on your feet when you’re not? That’s something you should be thankful for. Also, you have a job waiting for you. That’s not true for everyone who leaves this place."


"I still feel that I’m being pushed out the door," Arthur said.


"Oh cut it out," Betty said, making no effort to hide her irritation with Arthur. "Nobody’s pushing you out the door. You’re walking out the door on your own, which is exactly what we promised you you’d be able to do when you came here. Second, we’re not going away. We’re still here if you develop a problem. And although it isn’t easy for you to get here, you should come to us instead of seeing your local doctor. He may know medicine inside out, but it’s doubtful that he’s up to date on amputee care."


Arthur seemed to have accepted Betty’s verdict, or at least he said little during their walk back to the amputee ward. But when they reached his room, he said, "So I take it, as far as you’re concerned, that I’m free to leave."


"The paper work’s been submitted," she said. "It’s just a matter of letting the office know if you want to check out tomorrow or the next day. Definitely by the day after tomorrow, though, because they want you out before the weekend."


"Well, don’t think you’ve seen the last of me," he said.


Without saying anything, she gave him a quick peck on the cheek, but then, when Arthur tried to pull her closer, she spun away from him.


"Sorry, I don’t like to keep my next patient waiting," she said, as she headed out the door.


Betty’s business-like demeanor when she told Arthur he would have to leave so displeased him that he went to the hospital’s registration office and arranged to leave the next morning. He assumed, however, that there would be a quiet moment before then when he and Betty would be able to wish each other a proper goodbye. But Betty didn’t return to his room that day and the next morning, just as Arthur was getting dressed, a nurse he didn’t know came in to deliver a message from Betty. During the night, Betty’s aunt had suffered a stroke, and Betty was now at Boston City Hospital, at her aunt’s bedside.


"She doesn’t know if she’ll make it in today, but she hopes to get here if her aunt’s condition improves," the nurse said. "What the chances are of that she couldn’t say."


A half hour later, Arthur was having breakfast when the nurse who brought him the first message returned. She told him that Betty had called with a new message. She couldn’t leave her aunt, but she wanted him to know how sorry she was that she wouldn’t be able to see him off.


Arthur thanked the nurse for bringing him the message, but it rankled him that Betty had relied on a go-between rather than call him herself. That’s when he began to wonder if she might have fabricated the story about her aunt to avoid saying goodbye to him. Though he had no evidence of that, he refused to believe she couldn’t find a spare moment to call him. By the time he had finished breakfast, he was angry enough about the perceived snub by Betty to leave the hospital right away, even though his train wouldn’t leave until afternoon.


It took him only a moment when he was back in his room to finish packing, and then, as a final act, he used a leather belt to tie his crutches to the outside of his suitcase. To him, those crutches were a souvenir, visible evidence of how far he had come since he arrived at the VA hospital. From now on, he would use only a cane.



section break



Because of his hurried departure from the VA Hospital, Arthur arrived at Boston’s North Station at 11 a.m. more than three hours before his train left. Facing that wait, he headed for a cocktail lounge at the far end of the terminal. Along the way, he stopped at a phone booth and looked through a directory to find Betty’s phone number. He knew that calling her made no sense, but he wanted to see if she was indeed at her aunt’s bedside. Finding a listing for B. T. Moran, he called and waited patiently as the phone rang for a full minute. That gave him some tiny assurance that perhaps she really was at the hospital with her aunt.


Arthur then made his way to the cocktail lounge, where the bartender, a friendly giant of a man, was particularly solicitous towards him. When the crutches attached to the side of Arthur’s suitcase, seemed to get in his way as he mounted a bar stool, the bartender came out from behind the bar and offered to move the suitcase to an out of the way place near the end of the bar.


The bartender also appeared to have been waiting for someone to talk to, and since his one customer walked with a stiff-legged gait and carried a cane, he asked him, while pouring a shot of Canadian Club, if he was recovering from knee surgery. The bartender then pointed over his shoulder with his thumb, noting that Massachusetts General Hospital, was only a few blocks away. Quite often, he added, he had customers who were on their way home after having been treated at the hospital.


Arthur’s instinct was to tell the bartender that no, he hadn’t had knee surgery and leave it at that. He also considered saying that he wished it was simply knee surgery he had had to contend with, but saying that, he knew, would make it necessary to say more. Then, in an instant, and without giving it any thought, Arthur did something for the first time that eventually became a habit with him: He rapped his cane three times against his artificial limb.


"Ever hear of the Ardennes forest?" Arthur said. "Or maybe you know it better as the Battle of the Bulge."


The bartender tried to say something that sounded like an apology, but Arthur, talking right over him, said, "Third Army, Eighty-Sixth Infantry Division—Patton’s army. Wouldn’t you know it? I made it through the worst of the fighting without a scratch. But even though we had those Nazi bastards on the run, they didn’t give up without putting up a fight. My buddy got the worst of it, but I was close enough so that now I’ve got this piece of plastic instead of a real live leg."


"You’re not paying for a drink in this place, not while I’m on duty," said the bartender, pouring another shot of Canadian Club and placing it in front of Arthur.


By the time Arthur was ready to board the train for Sherburne, he had had several more drinks on the house while providing the bartender with additional details about the heroics of Patton’s army, his days in the CCC, as well as the wonderful care he had received from the VA. At the bartender’s urging, Arthur ate a hamburger and some French fries for lunch, along with two cups of black coffee, and that helped make him sober enough so that he didn’t need the help of a customer who offered to accompany him to his train. But because he had spent so much of the last three hours detailing the manifold contributions of the Third Army to ending the war in Europe, and because making his way across the tiled floor of the station required him to be careful and to concentrate on each step—and because, when passing a bank of telephone booths, he became upset all over again with Betty for not calling him to say good bye—Arthur was already on the train, and the train was beginning to leave the station, when he realized that he hadn’t yet called Elaine to tell her that he was on his way home.


At first, Arthur felt Elaine would enjoy being surprised, but by the time he arrived back in Sherburne, somewhat more sober because he had slept for most of the trip, he realized it might be too much of a shock for her if he simply walked through the door. That caused him, when he got into a cab at the station, to direct the driver to the Olde Town Inn. Arthur wanted to use the pay phone in the hotel’s lobby to call Elaine, but first he ducked into the cocktail lounge and downed a shot of Canadian Club. Refreshed by the drink, he then went to the pay phone, but when Elaine came to the phone he simply said, "Look out your kitchen window in about five minutes. There’s going to be a surprise waiting for you." Then, he hung up.


Arthur added yet more drama to his second homecoming by having the cab driver drop him off two blocks short of his apartment house. That enabled Elaine, who had gone out to her front porch, to see him walking up the street. He was walking slowly, but he was using a cane instead of crutches and he didn’t seem burdened by the suitcase—with crutches attached—that he was carrying in his right hand.


Elaine seemed to get from her porch to the sidewalk without her feet touching the steps in between and she ran so fast towards Arthur that she nearly knocked him over when she reached him and threw her arms around him. Flustered by Arthur’s sudden appearance, Elaine’s words ran together as she both scolded him for surprising her while telling him again and again how happy she was to see him walking up the street. At the same time she was kissing him, wiping tears from her eyes and warning him that because he hadn’t told her he was coming home she didn’t have time to prepare the welcome home meal he deserved.


"Hey," Arthur said, "the way you’re acting, you’d think I was a war hero or something."


Arthur, in turn, embraced Elaine with such fervor that it was as if he were demonstrating to her—and to anyone who was looking on—that he had the ability to stand, unaided, while hugging his wife.


This, for Elaine, was Arthur’s real homecoming. Yes, he was using a cane, and his walk was lacking its familiar swagger, but there was strength and feeling in his embrace and his smile was the smile she remembered from when he had gone off to war. She could even see, with just a quick glance, that his face had filled out a bit so that he no longer had the drawn, gaunt look of someone who was malnourished.


On that warm summer evening, Elaine’s exuberant greeting attracted the attention of many of her neighbors. Some children playing in the street, greeted Arthur as they ran by, and two couples, the Leblancs and the Roys, who had been sitting on their porches, hurried across the street to greet him. After a round of handshakes and hugs, the neighbors joined Elaine and Arthur as they walked towards their apartment. Along the way, Arthur waved and returned greetings shouted out to him by several more of his neighbors. At one point, after Norman Leblanc had taken Arthur’s suitcase from him, Arthur and Elaine took a moment to stop and talk with their next door neighbor, a tiny, elderly woman who was tending her flower garden. The old lady squealed with delight when Arthur leaned across the garden fence to give her a hug and a kiss.


During the short walk to his apartment house, Arthur told the Roys and Leblancs that his stay at the hospital was much better than he expected, mostly because of the camaraderie he found among other wounded veterans. He talked, too, of the dedicated staff members at the hospital and explained how the rigorous exercise program, plus snacks between meals, had helped him put on five pounds in a little over three weeks. Everyone was also pleased to hear that the VA, according to Arthur, would soon give him a car with hand controls so that it could be driven by anyone who had an artificial leg.


When they reached the stairs leading up to Arthur and Elaine’s apartment, there was another round of handshakes as everyone wished each other good night. Then, Elaine, who took Arthur’s suitcase back from Norman Leblanc, followed Arthur, who climbed the stairs unassisted. The entire time they were going up the stairs, Elaine was still wondering out loud how she was going to prepare anything more than a snack for Arthur, given the provisions she had on hand.


In the next three days, Arthur told everyone he met how much he enjoyed being home—this time for good, he added. He and Elaine visited with his sister and her husband one night and the next night they were invited to have dinner with Elaine’s parents. He spent some time the first two days he was home walking around the neighborhood and chatting with old friends and on the third night he was home he stopped in a neighborhood bar, The Silver Dollar, to meet with two of his millwright friends who had just finished work for the day. When Arthur’s companions asked about his war experiences, he sloughed off their requests by repeating what he had told Elaine about war being unlike anything depicted in motion pictures. But he did add, almost as an afterthought, that he pitied the nurse who had the job of sitting by his bed, waiting for him to wake up so she could tell him his leg had been amputated.


That seemed to drain the reunion of its backslapping camaraderie, and a moment later it turned even more somber when one of the millwrights wondered whether Arthur wanted to return to his old job or if he was thinking about joining some other department.


"Are you saying this means I can’t do a day’s work?" he said, pointing towards his leg.


No, no, said his friend, hastily explaining that Arthur on one leg was probably worth more than most people on two.


"I was only thinking" the friend said, "about what you said earlier, about that letter your wife got from Gilmartin."


Arthur’s other friend said, "Does anyone really believe anything Gilmartin says?"


The friend was referring to how most of Black Diamond’s hourly employees despised Gilmartin because they considered him to be more viciously anti-union than any of the company’s executives.


"Oh, who the hell cares about Gilmartin?" Arthur told his friends. "Someday when I’m good and ready I’ll call his bluff."


Arthur wasn’t being completely truthful when he downplayed any concern over his job prospects since he knew from the moment he woke up to find part of his right leg missing that his days as a millwright were over. But, even as he reacquainted himself with relatives and friends, he had a more immediate concern: how to get back to the VA hospital to wish Betty Moran a proper farewell. From the moment he arrived home, he repeatedly inspected his stump, checking for any signs of irritation. Finally, on the fifth night he was home, he was in his bedroom, scrutinizing his stump for the third time that day when he discerned a slight reddening on the outside edge of his leg.


Elaine, who was in the kitchen preparing dinner, heard Arthur yell out her name, followed by a string of obscenities. That sent her running into the bedroom, thinking he had fallen, but when she arrived she found Arthur, sitting on the edge of the bed, pointing to the red spot on his stump. That was the first time she had a sustained and close-up view of his stump, and when she did, she quickly agreed that it looked as if the skin was irritated.


Did she realize, he told her, that this bit of irritation, if not treated properly, could develop into a serious problem, maybe even endanger his ability to use a prosthesis? It was too late in the day, to call the VA, he said, but first thing the next day he was calling the hospital.


"That’s the last thing they told me before I left," he said. "I told them they were sending me home too soon, but no, they knew better. They did say, call us if you see any sign of trouble. Well, there it is—trouble."


The next morning, when Arthur reached Betty, he asked first about her aunt, who, it turned out, had survived but was now paralyzed on one side. He then told her about the reddening of his stump and said that he needed to return to Boston so it could be dealt with.


"Actually, the wise thing to do," Betty told him, "is to put the prosthesis aside for a couple of days or so and then see what your limb looks like. If it clears up, then it’s nothing to worry about, but if it doesn’t, you should come back to us."


"No, absolutely not," he said. "You know how much work I put into getting off those crutches. Well, now that I’m rid of them, I don’t intend to use them again, not now, not ever, not even for a day or two."


"I can understand that," she said. "I was only trying to save you from a long train ride."


"That’s kind of you, but I’ll be on the train this afternoon."


The next morning, when Betty walked into Arthur’s room, she was with a doctor. Both she and the doctor agreed that there was some reddening on the stump, but they felt more padding on his prosthesis could help resolve the issue. They also suggested to him that in these first weeks and months, he might consider every now and then going a day or two without using his prosthesis. The doctor then excused himself, saying that Betty could be of more use to Arthur than he could.


Betty had greeted Arthur warmly when she arrived at his room, but because the doctor was with her, she had only shaken his hand. Now, though, with the doctor gone, Arthur, who was seated on the edge of his bed, reached out to Betty. She moved towards him, but only to place her hands on each of his shoulders, doing so in a manner that clearly indicated she had no intention of getting any closer to him.


"Sorry," she said, "not now and not here."


"What’s going on with you?" he said. "You were the one who said I shouldn’t hesitate to come back if I developed a problem."


"And aren’t we tending to you? Haven’t we got someone coming in to look at your prosthesis and adjust it? I’ll tell you what—since I’m really busy and have to run, why not give me a call tonight. I’m listed in the directory as B.T. Moran."


Then, after leaning forward to give him a quick kiss, she turned and left.


Because Betty’s phone was tied up for most of the night it took until 10 o’clock for Arthur to get through to her. Betty even had to stifle a yawn as she explained that she was moments away from going to bed, but she took time to explain that her roommate tended to take over the phone because she was juggling calls from the three different men she was dating.


"Look, I don’t care about your roommate and her boyfriends," Arthur said. "First, I barely get here and you and the doctor say there’s nothing wrong with my leg. Then, you had someone else make a few adjustments. The next thing I know someone from the office comes by and tells me I’m scheduled to leave tomorrow morning. Chrissakes, I get the feeling you people think I’m wasting your time."


Betty apologized for not being able to check back with him during the day and told him how disappointed she was that he was leaving so soon. She reminded him that with each passing day the hospital was receiving more patients and that put a lot of pressure on administrators to free up rooms whenever possible.


"I thought I’d get to see you before I have to leave," he said.


Betty paused for a moment, and then said, "What time does your train leave?"


"A little bit after 2 o’clock, but apparently they want me out of here before 11 o’clock tomorrow morning."


"I’ll tell you what," Betty said. "I have a bunch of sick days so I’ll call in tomorrow morning and say I’ve come down with a bug. Then, we’ll meet for lunch somewhere near the train station. Call me when you get to the station? Don’t worry, the phone’s free when my roommate’s at work."


When Arthur arrived at the train station, he decided to sacrifice the largesse available from his bartender friend for the privacy he was likely to find at a cocktail lounge farther away from the station itself. But once outdoors he could see that it looked as if it might soon rain so he settled for a tavern directly across the street from the station. The tavern had a neon sign in the window saying, Ladies Invited, and inside, photos of hockey players covered the walls, which indicated that this was a gathering place for hockey fans who flocked to the nearby Boston Garden, home of the Boston Bruins. But on a weekday morning in early summer, with the hockey season several months away, the bartender seemed surprised that he had a customer.


Not only was the tavern empty, but heavy curtains covered the lower half of the windows facing the street, and the only light seemed to come from a large sign advertising Ballantine Ale behind the bar and tiny lamps in each of the several booths lining the wall across from the bar. Once Arthur had picked out a booth and ordered a drink, he went to the bar’s pay phone to call Betty and tell her where she could find him.


Less than twenty minutes later, Betty arrived by cab. When she walked in the front door, the bar tender, who had been reading a newspaper, seemed surprised to find himself with yet another customer, this one an attractive woman. Arthur himself, was struck by Betty’s very different hair style. She had loosened the bun she usually wore but her long lustrous hair was held back from covering her ears by two shiny barrettes.


"Hey," he said, reaching up with his hands to touch her hair. "You look different."


"It’s how I look when I’m out of uniform," she said. Then, after greeting him with a quick kiss, Betty let Arthur know that she wasn’t particularly impressed with the meeting place he had chosen.


"Gosh," she said, "this place makes me feel like I’m in a cave."


"That’s the idea," Arthur said. "I like it because it looks like we have it all to ourselves."


Betty, rather than pursue the matter, took off the raincoat she was wearing and settled into the booth Arthur had chosen.


"I have to say that I was surprised to see you return so soon," she said.


"I only did what I was told. I saw a red spot, I called the nurse who knows about these things. She told me to come back so I took the next train."


"Well, I think the nurse also said you might see reddening from time to time. But let’s not quibble over that. How did it feel to be back home and get around without crutches?"


Betty was pleased to hear Arthur’s account of his homecoming and how, because it was a warm night, his neighbors had come out to greet him. He went on to say how much he enjoyed seeing friends and neighbors again, but when Betty asked him if he had decided yet when he was going back to work, he ignored the question and asked her instead what she wanted to drink. Since she hadn’t yet eaten lunch, Betty said, she would settle for a glass of ginger ale. After Arthur called over to the bartender to bring a glass of ginger ale and another shot of Canadian Club, there was a lull in the conversation which was broken when Arthur asked Betty how her aunt was doing.


Betty said her aunt’s biggest problem was trying to decide if she could continue to live by herself now that she was limited in what she could do. There was another pause in the conversation when the bartender arrived with their drinks, but after he left, Arthur said, "I’m still a long way from going back to work. Maybe I’ll begin to think about it when I’m sure that everything’s all right with my leg. Right now, though, I’ve been told that every now and then I might need to use crutches again."


"Oh Arthur, you’re not the first amputee who wonders if a bit of reddening might lead to a more serious problem. It’s quite common in fact, but most people don’t get upset if they have to put their prosthesis aside for a day or two."


"You know what? Instead of any more talk about how I’m adjusting to having only one leg, why don’t we get around to that jitterbugging lesson you promised me? I think this is just the place for it."


Before Betty could respond, Arthur got up from the booth they were sitting in and went over to the juke box, where he quickly made a selection and put some coins in the machine. The first tune he picked out was Sentimental Journey, a song that had become an instant hit because it captured so well the emotions of so many people during the war who yearned to return home.


When he came back to the booth, Arthur, extending his right hand, and bowing his head slightly, asked Betty, in a mock formalized style, if he might have the next dance.


"Why, of course," said Betty, getting up from the booth and reaching out with her hand as if she was a society belle attending her coming out ball. The jitterbugging, of course, was anything but that. Instead, this seemed more like a chance for both of them to hold each other close and to move, slowly and haltingly, in a circumscribed circle within the small space bounded by a platform for an upright piano. A sign on the wall contained the photo of a pianist/singer who appeared on Friday and Saturday nights.


"You know," Betty said, "this doesn’t seem like the kind of song we can jitterbug to."


"I thought we’d start with a slow number and work up from there," Arthur said. "You know, a little warm-up period to get the juices flowing before we move on to something more serious."


He smiled, when he said that, and Betty, pouting her lips and tossing her head, said, "Because I’m such an innocent little girl, I have no idea what you’re talking about."


A moment later, when he tried to pull her closer still, Betty, moving back slightly, said, "If Daddy were still with us, that’s the kind of song he’d love to sing."


"I could find something a little faster if you think I’m ready for jitterbugging," Arthur said.


"No," she said, "I think you’re right. We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves."


When the song ended, and there was a pause in the music before the next record cued up, Arthur returned to talking about what it felt like being back in Sherburne.


"That song reminds me of how everyone in my outfit never talked about anything except going home. The way we talked you’d think we all came from places that were heaven on earth. I was no different from the rest, but when I got back, it took me only a couple of days to realize that Sherburne isn’t the liveliest place on earth. It’s a small town. Nothing much happens there. It’s a great place if you like long winters and lots of snow. People who ski love the place. But now that I’m back there I’ll probably sit around and drink myself silly."


"That’s another song my father would have loved," Betty said, as Dick Haymes began singing about having inexplicably come down with a severe case of spring fever. Then, as they resumed dancing, Betty began humming the song’s refrain and Arthur, talking over her, said a bit more about what it felt like to be back in Sherburne.


"What I’m saying is that I might be able to do more for myself by leaving the place."


Betty suddenly stopped humming.


"You’re not being serious," she said. "That’s where you have a job waiting for you."


"I think I’m ready for living in a place that’s got a little more excitement."


"Okay, one question—with or without Elaine?"


When Arthur didn’t answer right away, Betty stopped dancing and Arthur, instinctively tightening his hold on her, said, "You’ve got the rest of the day off, and there’s nothing that says I have to get back to Sherburne tonight, and there’s a hotel right above the train station—


"No, Arthur, and before you go any further, I’ve got some news for you. I’m not going to be at the VA hospital much longer. In fact, I’m not going to be in Boston much longer."


Elaine pulled back slightly, but Arthur kept his arms wrapped around her waist.


"A while ago, an old boyfriend, a Navy officer, was back in town. We went out a few times and quickly discovered how much we have in common now that we’re both a little older. He’s going to make a career out of the Navy, and he’s just been transferred to a ship that’s based in San Diego, a perfect place for someone like me, who hates New England winters. So I put in for a transfer to the VA Hospital in San Diego and just this week I learned that it’s been granted."


The second song had just ended and the only sound in the lounge now was the clanking of beer bottles as the bartender stocked the refrigerator case nearby.


"You can’t do this to me," Arthur said.


"Sorry, Arthur, but the war is just about over, at least for me it is. I’m through entertaining the troops."


With that, she turned her head and tried to walk away from him, but Arthur still held her tightly.


"Please," she said, "let go of me."


She waited a few seconds after that, but when it appeared that Arthur had no intention of loosening his hold on her, Betty drove an elbow into his ribs. Because the blow caught Arthur by surprise, and because it was so forceful, Betty was able to free herself from Arthur’s grasp. In a matter of seconds she hurried back to the booth where she and Arthur had been sitting and picked up her raincoat. Then, with a few long strides, she reached the doorway of the bar, and without looking back or saying good bye, she left, slamming the door on her way out.


Arthur was about to follow her, but it had begun raining now, raining very hard, so when he got to the doorway and looked out, he saw that Betty, holding her raincoat over her head was dashing across the street, dodging oncoming traffic in order to get to the other side.


Arthur quickly decided it didn’t make any sense for him to try to catch up with her. He could just imagine himself getting halfway across the street before he slipped on the rain-slicked roadway and took a terrible fall. No, better now that he remain cocooned within the dimly lit bar, where he could have another drink or two before it was time to board his train.


This time, though, rather than sitting in a booth, Arthur hoisted himself onto a bar stool and once he began recounting to the bartender how wonderful it was to see the fearsome Nazi army scurrying back to Germany, drinks were on the house. The bartender even ordered a lunch to be brought into Arthur from a nearby Italian restaurant of some renown.


The bartender could only nod in approval and offer his sympathy when he heard Arthur’s story about how painful it was, now that he was back home—and minus a leg—to find that the girlfriend who promised to be faithful to him had taken up with someone who had been classified as 4F because of a punctured eardrum.



section break



Elaine made it seem as if she were sharing a secret when she told relatives and friends, usually in a whispered aside, that it was going to take time for men who had been in combat to adjust to civilian life. That was as close as she came to explaining why Arthur could be found most afternoons—and sometimes early evenings—sitting in the bar at the VFW Post.


She was more guarded, all but silent in fact, about outbursts from Arthur that caught her by surprise. One in particular took place when she suggested that he should contact the nice man at Black Diamond Paper who had written to her after Arthur was wounded.


"He should know that you’ve come back."


"You stay out of this," Arthur said, raising his voice. "I’ve told you before, I’ll think about going back to work—notice, I said think about it—when I’m good and ready. But right now, I’m not going nowhere until I’m absolutely sure about this." And with that, he rapped his cane twice against his artificial limb.


A moment later, he added, "People who don’t know any better think it’s easy walking around with this thing. I’d explain to you why it isn’t, but I’m not sure you’d understand."


Elaine knew enough after that exchange to avoid any mention from then on to bring up Arthur’s plans for returning to work. But as careful as she was not to say anything critical of his daily routine, it was difficult to avoid saying or doing something that caused him to respond with an angry outburst. There was the night, for instance, when she was too hungry to wait until Arthur got home from the VFW to eat her dinner. Then, once she finished, she put the remainder of the meal—a chicken and mushroom dish into the oven to stay warm.


When Arthur came home and she served him his dinner, he immediately sliced off a piece of chicken, and reaching across the kitchen table, he waved it in front of Elaine’s face.


"What’s this?" he said. "Do you really expect me to eat this piece of cardboard?"


Before Elaine could answer, Arthur, with a backward flip of his hand, shoved the plate halfway across the table.


"And where the hell did you get the idea that I like my supper warmed over? Not from me. So, here’s the new set up. When I get home, no matter what time it is, I expect a meal that’s just been cooked, not one that’s been sitting in the oven for a couple of hours."


He then rose from the table and went into the living room, stopping on the way to get the fifth of Canadian Club he kept in a kitchen cabinet. Then, he sat in his easy chair, smoking and taking sips, direct from the bottle.


After that night, and her apology, which Arthur never really acknowledged, Elaine made sure she had all the ingredients for a meal laid out, and some even precooked, so that it didn’t take her long to prepare dinner for the two of them whenever Arthur got home. Those meals, for the most part, were eaten in silence except for Elaine reporting to Arthur tidbits of news she picked up from the steady stream of customers who dropped into Hutchinson Drug each day. Arthur might ask an occasional question, but his conversation most of the time consisted of his frustration that the war in the Pacific hadn’t yet come to an end. He could never mention the war in the Pacific without directing a slew of obscenities at the Japanese military for not knowing enough to surrender.


Most nights, Arthur spent some time after dinner sitting on the porch, always of course with a cigarette in his hand. Later, he usually settled into the easy chair in the living room, reading the newspaper or a magazine or listening to the radio while usually, but not always, taking an occasional sip from his ever-present bottle of Canadian Club. He was always considerate enough to keep the radio turned down low because Elaine wasted little time, once she finished the dishes, in going to bed. Since she was responsible for opening Hutchinson Drug at 8 a.m. each day, she tried to squeeze in whatever sleep she could before Arthur, would come to bed, ready and eager to make love.


The overture to these sessions was sounded by Arthur taking off his clothes and shedding himself of his prosthesis so that it clattered when it landed on the floor. He would then steady himself by placing one hand on the edge of the bureau, as he hopped on one foot the short distance to the bed. If Elaine wasn’t awake by then, she surely was when he landed on the bed with a solid thump. A few more moments were taken up in a perfunctory exchange of kisses and the necessary rearrangement of their respective positions, and then, with those preliminaries out of the way, Arthur would begin their lovemaking with such force that Elaine was sure their upstairs neighbors, and maybe even the people in the house next door, could hear the rhythmic squeaking of their bed springs, as well as their bed’s headboard banging up against the wall.


Elaine could not recall that their lovemaking before the war, spirited as it was, caused as much of a ruckus. She wondered, too, why their frolicsome approach to foreplay had been supplanted, at least on Arthur’s part, with a grim and purposeful sense of mission.


He also ignored with a brusque remark—"I don’t take showers with my rain coat on."—when Elaine suggested that he use condoms. Likewise, he was brusque in dismissing Elaine’s suggestion that it might be wise to wait until he returned to work before she got pregnant?


Now and then, Arthur would ease up slightly when Elaine said they were making too much noise, but soon the bed would be rocking back and forth again and the grunting sounds Arthur made would increase in pitch and volume until, after one final and vigorous thrust, he would let out a loud groan, and then, a moment later, roll off Elaine and onto his side of the bed. But instead of the murmurs and caresses that they had once exchanged after sex, Arthur would throw an arm over Elaine and, pulling her close, ruffle her hair and give her a series of kisses before he fell off to sleep. Elaine always felt that Arthur’s post-coital show of affection was much like what a dog owner might lavish on a pet that had performed a clever trick.


Other nights, maybe once or twice a week, Arthur never made it into the bedroom from his chair in the living room. There were times, too, when he needed Elaine to help him get his prosthesis off and to undress. Those were the nights when he might make a gesture, mostly futile, towards making love, but more often than not fell asleep as soon as Elaine helped him into bed.


Any number of times Elaine thought it might be possible, in the afterglow of sex, to ask him if he was going to let his wound disrupt all the plans they had made when they were first married, but whenever she was on the verge of posing this question, she drew back. She was not about to anger him by sounding as if she was forcing him to return to work. More than that, though, it took only a fleeting glimpse of Arthur’s stump to tell her why he was short tempered and moody. Perhaps the VA doctors thought his stump had healed, at least in a medical sense, but to her it still looked like a raw wound.



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Elaine had just started to prepare dinner the night she heard the news bulletin reporting that Japan had accepted the terms of surrender. Wanting immediately to the share the news with Arthur, she immediately left her kitchen and began hurrying down Mason Street, heading towards the VFW post. Already other people were coming from their houses shouting to each other about the news that had just come over the radio. When Elaine reached Main Street, she found that such a large crowd had gathered to celebrate the end of the war that it took her a few minutes to walk the short distance to the VFW post.


The moment she entered the hall, breathing hard but with an enormous smile on her face, Arthur spotted her, and without his cane, he came over to her, wrapped his arms around her and lifted her off the floor. Then, pivoting on his artificial leg, he whirled her around twice before putting her down. That prompted a round of applause from everyone at the bar, but it was cut short by the bartender, who announced that, yes, a celebration was in order, but he wasn’t going to serve another drink until everyone joined him in singing God Bless America.


Instantly, everyone at the VFW, led by the bartender, began to sing, and when they had finished (and while several of them were still brushing tears away from their eyes), Arthur grabbed the large American flag that stood at the far corner of the bar. He then announced that he and Elaine were heading to Main Street to celebrate with everyone else in town. Was anyone else going to join them? Already, through the open windows of the VFW, the sounds of people cheering, along with the ringing of church bells and the beeping of automobile horns could be heard, and that in itself, along with Arthur’s rallying cry, caused a contingent from the VFW to form behind Arthur and Elaine.


It was the first time since Arthur had returned from the VA hospital that he was seen in public without his cane, having handed it to Elaine so that he could grip the flag pole with both his hands. He was limping, and Elaine, with Arthur’s cane tucked under her arm, was gripping his elbow, offering him some support, as he, emulating the growling, gravelly voice of Sergeant Barnes, sounded the cadence while leading the delegation from the VFW to the heart of Sherburne’s downtown, the intersection of Main and Mason Streets. On one side of the street, was the U. S. Post Office, an impressive edifice with a broad sweep of granite steps leading up to its front door, and diagonally across from it was Sherburne’s City Hall, which had an even longer set of granite steps leading up to its enormous arch-like entrance.


With Elaine providing support, Arthur, along with his comrades from the VFW, made their way through the crowd of celebrants to reach the top of the steps of the Post Office, where they could look out on a vast gathering of people who were cheering and yelling and exchanging hugs and kisses and discreetly at first, but then less so, drinking bottles of beer and liquor.


Soon, members of the American Legion band came marching up the street and then, having paused in their music making, they positioned themselves on the steps of the post office and began to play the national anthem. That quieted the crowd for a moment, though car horns were still sounding up and down Main Street. Then, when the band began playing a medley of patriotic songs and marches, it was Arthur, still holding the flag, who waved it back and forth in time to the music.


It was a night when Arthur had been so caught up in the celebration that he went to bed more sober than usual. His lovemaking, too, was less frantic than other nights, and later, in their long and languorous embrace, Elaine and Arthur began a good-natured game of trying to outdo each other in coming up with the most gruesome forms of punishment they wanted personally to mete out to the Nazi leadership, including Hitler’s generals, as well as every last member of the Japanese high command. Much to Arthur’s delight and amusement, Elaine showed herself to be highly imaginative in suggesting punishment that ranged across various forms of sexual debasement, both before and after mandatory castration.


Eventually, their lust for revenge intermingled with speculation about what the end of the war would mean for people they knew and for themselves, with Elaine wondering when she would be able to rid herself of the tub type washing machine she had recently inherited from her aunt. She also spoke longingly of getting a new refrigerator and maybe even a new kitchen range before Arthur interrupted her fantasizing about new appliances to say how disappointed he would be if they had less than six children.


"Six?" Elaine said, "why is that the magic number?"


"Simple. The way I see it, with six kids, we have the best chance of getting a good mix of boys and girls. Less than that, and we could end up having only one kind."


For a moment, Elaine wondered if Arthur had given her an opening to ask just how they could afford to have all these children unless he went back to work. Quickly, though, she dismissed that thought, and asked him instead whether they shouldn’t begin getting ready to accommodate all these children by beginning, at least, to renovate their second bedroom. That, Arthur agreed, as he was falling off to sleep, would be the project he started on the very next day.


Arthur was well intentioned about the bedroom project, but he made little progress because he and other members of the VFW were working with city officials on plans for Sherburne’s VJ Day celebration. The formal surrender of Japan was going to take place on the Sunday before Labor Day, which meant the ceremonies commemorating the end of the war would lead right into the observance of Labor Day, which was always treated as a major holiday in a community where so many people were union members.


VJ Day, in a sense, was Arthur’s coming out party. Dressed in his uniform, with his Purple Heart medal pinned to his Eisenhower jacket, Arthur and three other soldiers who arrived home after suffering serious wounds, were seated in a convertible, with the top down, that followed along behind the cars carrying Sherburne’s Gold Star mothers in a parade that wended its way to monuments honoring veterans of the Spanish American War and World War I. At each site, Arthur, his cane tucked under his left arm, and his comrades stood at attention and saluted as taps were sounded and wreaths placed in front of the monuments by the commander of the VFW post and the mayor of Sherburne.


There was a modesty in the way Arthur responded to the applause along the parade route with a demure half wave, half salute of his hand, but at one point, as he passed by Elaine and her parents, he did blow a kiss towards them. That caused Elaine to step out into the street to blow a kiss back at him, and when she did, there was a round of applause from the crowd of onlookers standing nearby.


The stoic expression on Arthur’s face never wavered, not even when the parade reached City Hall, where it halted so that the mayor, mounting a reviewing stand draped with red, white and blue bunting, read a proclamation expressing the city’s heartfelt thanks to all the brave men of Sherburne who had gone off to war. Arthur, his eyes trained straight ahead, did little more than give a quick nod of his head when the mayor, departing from his text and gesturing with his outstretched arm towards Arthur and his three friends, thanked each of them by name for their part in helping to defeat the greatest evil the world had ever known.


Arthur was notably sober, or more sober at least than most of his comrades, the entire two days of the celebration, through the two band concerts, the baseball game between Sherburne’s town team and its great rival, Halstead, as well as the races and games held for children and a vaudeville show. On Sunday night, at a dance staged by the VFW, Arthur, without his cane, and Elaine, participated in the grand march that led off the festivities, but he begged off, with a quick rap of his cane against his artificial leg, when friends urged him and Elaine to join in on the dancing itself.


The next night, still in his uniform, he also restricted himself to quiet applause rather than the whistles and cries of triumph, when the two-day celebration culminated in a gigantic bonfire at which both the effigies of Hitler and General Tojo were tossed on top of the flames.



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In the two weeks following VJ Day, Arthur, as promised, turned his attention to the bedroom project, first scraping away layers of wallpaper and then stripping almost as many layers of old paint from the woodwork around the door and windows and the mopboard along the floor. After patching and smoothing the walls, he painted the woodwork and the ceiling, but he was relegated to serving as Elaine’s assistant when it came to hanging new wallpaper since she had a better eye than he did for matching the wallpaper pattern. During that two weeks, he made only two visits to the VFW, and on three occasions, he showed up at Hutchinson Drug at 5 o’clock to walk Elaine home


A week after VJ Day, Arthur also suggested to Elaine that they go back to hosting their Sunday dinners. Arthur’s sister and her husband had recently moved to Portsmouth, but their places were taken by Elaine’s brother’s fiancee and Elaine’s aunt, whose husband had died the year before. The following week, just as Arthur was about to finish the refurbishment of the second bedroom, he called the Black Diamond personnel office and set up a meeting with James Gilmartin. He said nothing to Elaine about his impending visit to Gilmartin because he wanted to surprise her, much as he had when she looked out from her porch to see him walking up the street without the use of his crutches.


Gilmartin, tall and skinny, and with a wizened face and rimless glasses, was known for the eerie smile on his face whenever he reminded Black Diamond employees how fortunate they were that the mill’s owners, the Cromwell family, provided them with well-paying jobs. But the day Arthur walked into his office Gilmartin’s smile seemed more genuine than usual. He literally leaped out of his chair, and hurrying across his office, he grasped Arthur’s hand in his and began to shake it vigorously while thanking him, and all his comrades, for having fought so bravely to defend this country’s precious freedoms.


Gilmartin was still spouting platitudes about the spirit of the American fighting man as he led Arthur outside his office and into the personnel department, where he clapped his hands to get the attention of the half-dozen employees who were sitting at their desks.


"Some of you may already know Arthur," Gilmartin said, to the employees who formed a semicircle circle in front of him and Arthur, "and you’ve probably heard, too, of his gallantry in action and the sacrifice he made on our behalf. So I’m sure I’m speaking for everyone here, and for everyone at Black Diamond—and I mean by that everyone from Mr. Cromwell himself to all the men and women in all our mills—when I express our thanks to him for his outstanding service to our country. Arthur, from all of us at Black Diamond, welcome home and well done."


The employees of the personnel department then stepped forward to shake hands with Arthur and exchange a few words with him before Gilmartin escorted him back into his office. Arthur expected that Gilmartin would now begin to discuss what kind of job Black Diamond was ready to offer him, but first Gilmartin, his smile undiminished, said, "Tell your wife that I appreciated the note she sent me a few weeks back. It was awfully nice of her to keep me up to date on what you’ve had to go through. I had no idea, until she wrote and told me about it, that it took so much time, and such hard work, getting fitted for an artificial leg."


Arthur managed to ignore the news about Elaine getting in touch with Gilmartin because he wondered if he should explain why he needed an artificial leg and maybe elaborate on that by recounting what it felt like to look down and see your leg sticking out sideways from your body. But before Arthur was able to say anything, Gilmartin talked of how Willard Cromwell, president of Black Diamond, had decreed, as soon as the war started, that all Black Diamond employees who served in the armed forces would find their jobs waiting for them when they returned.


Gilmartin paused after he said that, almost as though he expected Arthur to express thanks for such beneficence, but Arthur decided instead to get to the point of his visit, which was to let Gilmartin know that he would be unable to return to his job as a millwright. In saying that, Arthur spoke slowly and practically swallowed his words, but he spoke out more clearly when he then said that in view of his war injury he hoped the company would find him a clerical job. He thought a timekeeper’s job might be one possibility.


Gilmartin, who seemed surprised by Arthur’s request, took a moment to clear his throat before opening a folder that was lying in front of him. Then he said, "I’m glad you realize, as I indicated to your wife, that you would most likely have some difficulty going back to your old job. So, with that in mind, we think we’ve found something that’s a perfect fit for you. You know that guard shack near the main gate of the pulp division? Years ago we gave the job of opening and closing the gate there and keeping a log on truck traffic to Jimmy Deslisle, the fellow with a shriveled left arm. Well, since Jimmy’s about to retire, we figured you could take over for him."


"And what if I don’t see myself as the perfect fit for sitting there all day, pushing a button that opens and closes the gate?" Arthur said. Then, rapping his cane against his artificial leg, he added, "I’m a little bit lame, but what’s wrong with my suggestion about a timekeeper’s job?"


Gilmartin, responding quickly, told Arthur that he was sorry, but time keepers at Black Diamond were required to be high school graduates.


Gesturing towards the folder on his desk, Gilmartin added, "I see that you completed only two years of high school. Now, have you thought of going back to get your diploma? As I understand it, a number of GI’s, once they get home, are going to do just that."


"I may not have finished high school," Arthur said, as he got to his feet, "but I think I can find my way to the Sherburne Enterprise, which is where I’m going now that I’ve talked with you. I bet they’d like to hear about how Black Diamond’s treating a wounded vet."


"I’m not refusing to give you a job," Gilmartin said, as Arthur headed towards the door.


Then, just before leaving Gilmartin’s office, he turned and said, "It’s your choice my friend. Either I get the job I’m looking for or you’ll be reading about it in the paper."


Arthur didn’t go to the VFW that day because he wanted to be home when Elaine returned from work. He was that anxious to share with her the outcome of his visit with Gilmartin. He did wait, though, until they sat down to dinner before telling her that he had discovered two new things that day.


"First, your friend, Gilmartin, is an even bigger asshole than I thought he was," he said. "And second, that little trick of yours, going behind my back to get in touch with him, didn’t work out so well."


Arthur then mimicked the look of surprise on Elaine’s face when he said, "Yeah, the letter you sent Gilmartin. He told me to thank you for it because he didn’t know what a rigmarole it was getting fitted for an artificial leg. He must have thought you just strapped a replacement on and then went out dancing."


"I only wanted to make sure he knew why you hadn’t been in touch with him," Elaine, said, speaking softly, but not sounding the least bit apologetic for what she had done.


"Oh, that part worked," Arthur said. "He said he was delighted to have heard from you. But Gilmartin and I didn’t really hit it off. That’s why I’ve got another visit to make tomorrow. No, not to Gilmartin. I plan to visit the people who put out the Enterprise. I’m sure they’ll be interested in hearing that Black Diamond during the war said, ‘Don’t worry about your job. We’re saving it for you,’ and then after the war, changed their tune."


"I don’t believe the company will go back on its promise," she said.


"I’m not bullshitting you. The minute I told Gilmartin I was interested in a time keeper’s job, he said I wasn’t qualified because I didn’t graduate from high school. Oh, but I didn’t have to worry—he was saving a job especially for me. Guess what the job is? He wants me to sit in the little shack outside the pulp mill, opening and closing the gate for trucks. He thinks a guy with one leg is just the person to replace the guy who’s got the job now, someone with a shriveled left arm. That’s the way Gilmartin put it. ‘Jimmy Delisle, the guy with a shriveled arm is about to retire,’ he said, ‘so we thought you’d be a perfect fit to replace him.’ Perfect fit, my ass. Hey, but maybe now that you and Gilmartin are such great pen pals, you could put in a good word for me."


"I sent him a letter," Elaine said. "I never talked to him."


There was still no indication from Elaine that she had done anything wrong in contacting Gilmartin, but she had put her fork down and stopped eating while Arthur took several more bites before he continued.


"I think people want vets to be treated with some respect. Don’t you? They aren’t going to like hearing that Black Diamond isn’t keeping its word to a wounded veteran," he said.


"He did offer you a job," Elaine said. "You can’t deny that."


"I’m not going to argue with you," Arthur said, "not if you’re going to take his side."


For the rest of the evening there was an uneasy silence, with Arthur sitting in the living room, first reading a newspaper and then listening to the radio, all the while sipping Canadian Club, this time from a glass and not from the bottle. Elaine went off to bed early, where she read through one of the movie magazines she followed so closely, before falling off to sleep. She guessed correctly that this was one of those nights when Arthur would end up falling asleep in his easy chair.


The next morning Elaine tiptoed through the living room, carrying her clothes with her into the bathroom so she was able to get dressed and leave for work without waking Arthur up. She was going to call him at mid-morning to find out if he was up and ask him again if he really wanted to follow through on his threat to visit the Enterprise, but before she reached Arthur, he called her.


"I won," he told her. "I knew Gilmartin didn’t have the balls to stand up to me. He just called to say that ‘upstairs,’—Willard Cromwell in other words—decided that in my case the company was going to waive the requirement that timekeepers be high school graduates."


When Elaine told him how happy she was at the news, Arthur’s response was to tell her that the next time he got in a fight, he’d appreciate if she was on his side. Elaine sidestepped Arthur’s remark by congratulating him, but she was too busy just then—the store was filled with customers, she said—to say much more.


"Hey, don’t you want to know what Gilmartin said. He kept telling me how sorry he was that there had been any misunderstanding."


"You won," she said. "What difference does it make?"



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In those years right after the war, most veterans couldn’t wait to shed their uniforms, but there were a few, Arthur invariably among them, who, fully uniformed, were willing participants in various parades and civic ceremonies. Even if it was the parade honoring the high school basketball team for having won the state championship or the torchlight procession that kicked off Sherburne’s winter carnival, there was always an honor guard from the VFW, and right behind it the cars carrying the town’s Gold Star Mothers, and right behind them the car carrying disabled veterans, including, of course, Arthur.


A year or so after the war ended, when the bodies of men killed in action were being shipped back to Sherburne, Arthur marched from the VFW Post to the Boston and Maine station to perform military honors for the returning servicemen. Always in step, and always with his eyes trained straight ahead, he looked every bit the kind of soldier who would have passed muster with Sergeant Barnes except for his cane and the slightly awkward gait that came from having one leg that consisted in good part of metal and plastic.


Bystanders would pause (and some would wipe tears from their eyes) when the VFW members, a bass drum beating out a cadence, marched past. At the station, Arthur and his colleagues would drape a flag across the coffin of their fallen comrade, and after firing a volley of rifle shots and the sounding of taps, they would march—the bass drum again beating out its mournful cadence—behind the hearse that delivered the coffin to one of the town’s funeral homes.


Arthur had also been elected to a position in the command structure of the Sherburne VFW post. That made him eligible to attend regional and national conventions of the organization. At the first state convention he attended, in Manchester, Arthur had no objection to the non-stop drinking that was a tradition at these VFW gatherings, but he didn’t join those colleagues whose idea of a good time was to drop water-filled balloons from their hotel windows onto passersby below. Instead, when his companions began their hell raising, Arthur went off to the cocktail lounge of a nearby hotel where he became acquainted with Celeste.


Arthur had never known anyone like Celeste. He wasn’t even familiar with the name, which served as a convenient way to begin a conversation with her after he had bought her a drink. But as intrigued as he was with her—she was tall and slim and beautifully dressed—he was careful not to reveal his own name or much else about himself. On the spot, therefore, he came up with an alias, Glenn, and a fictitious occupation, sales representative for a distributor of auto parts. As for his cane and artificial leg, he told Celeste that he had been wounded in the war, but preferred not to talk about it, news Celeste greeted with an expression of sympathy that included her kissing the tips of her fingers and placing them gently on Arthur’s cheek.


Arthur’s use of an alias was hardly necessary since Celeste seemed to be more interested in telling him about herself. At present, as she explained, she was working as a sales lady in Manchester’s most exclusive dress shop, but she spoke with great fondness of the war years, which she had spent with her sailor husband in Portland, Maine. Specifically, after her second martini, she focused on her appreciation for the loosened sexual mores of wartime Portland.


"My husband used to go nuts if I looked at another man," she told Arthur, "but he felt it was his God-given right to chase after anyone who wore a skirt. No fairsees, as we used to say when we were kids. So here’s what I learned from the war: being a girl doesn’t mean you can’t have just as much fun as the boys. And you know what? Now that the war’s over with—and I got rid of my two-timing husband—I intend to go right on having fun."


Celeste and Arthur spent two nights together, and when they parted, she assured Glenn that she would always be available if his business brought him to Manchester again, but she warned him to call her well in advance of his visit because there were not many nights, as she put it, when she was sitting home all alone.


A few months later Arthur was in the VFW delegation that attended the organization’s national convention in New York. Even before he left Sherburne, Arthur spent considerable time imagining all the cocktail lounges in New York where he was bound to run into women who, like Celeste, felt they were entitled to have as much fun as men.


Arthur had two sexual encounters in New York, neither of which measured up to the erotic adventures he had envisioned. His hopes were high when, in the first cocktail lounge he visited, he met a long-legged blonde whose hair hung over one eye, much in the manner of the Hollywood actress, Veronica Lake, but his excitement began to fade when the luxury apartment the blonde had talked about turned out to be a grimy hotel room. Likewise, the purring sounds she had made in the cocktail lounge when she ran her hand along his inner thigh led to nothing more than her demand for a twenty dollar bill—a user’s fee, she called it—before she granted him a brief interlude of robotic sex.


The next day, in the hotel’s cocktail lounge, Arthur met a dark-haired, dark-eyed woman in her mid-thirties who didn’t disclose her name, or much else about her background, but who wore an overseas cap with a Marine insignia and a first lieutenant’s gold bar. The cap she talked about freely. It belonged to her husband, who had been killed on Iwo Jima, and she told Arthur that she intended to wear it every moment of every day for the rest of her life, except for when she was taking a shower. She also called Arthur by her husband’s name and though she invited him to her hotel room soon after they met, she refused to leave the hotel’s cocktail lounge until the pianist twice played her husband’s favorite song, "Long Ago and Far Away." True to her word, the war widow kept her husband’s cap on even after she had taken her clothes off and she also tried, without much success, to hold it onto her head, while she and Arthur were having sex.


That summer Arthur also took over from a World War I veteran the job of organizing the Sherburne VFW Post’s annual trip to Boston to attend a Red Sox game. The trip had always been done in one day, with the bus leaving Sherburne early on a Sunday morning and then departing Boston as soon as the Red Sox game ended. Under Arthur’s direction, the trip became a two-day affair, with the bus leaving Sherburne on Saturday morning. Then, because Arthur arranged for the group to stay at the YMCA in Boston on Saturday night, they were were able to attend another Red Sox game on Sunday afternoon.


After Arthur got his friends checked into the Y, he excused himself, saying he was off to meet a friend from his Army days. But within half an hour, Arthur was sitting in a cocktail lounge in downtown Boston, two bar stools away from a blonde who was slightly overweight, but had a carefully coiffed hairdo and makeup that had been meticulously applied. Arthur wasted no time in buying her a drink, bourbon and water, and after she nodded her thanks and gave him a friendly smile, he introduced himself and exchanged some small talk with her.


By the time, the two of them had moved to a nearby booth, Glenn, the sales representative for an auto parts distributor, was much better acquainted with Gerri, whose real name, she said, was Geraldine, but who hadn’t used that name in years because it reminded her of Sister Geraldine, a grammar school nun she despised.


Gerri conveyed a certain gentility in the dainty way she sipped her drink and the seeming elegance with which she drew slowly on her cigarette and held it aloft after each puff, but after two more bourbons (easy on the water), there was nothing delicate about the language she used, nor her comportment, after she and Arthur had checked into a nearby hotel.


The two-game weekend proved so popular that within a month Arthur organized another trip to Boston. This time, after going to the Red Sox game, and then getting his VFW friends checked into the Y, he told them he was going off to meet a fellow amputee whom he came to know when they were both at the VA Hospital.


Arthur returned to the same bar where he met Gerri, and once more by sending over a drink, this time a martini, he became acquainted with Loretta, who was more attractive than Gerri and more outgoing. She took little time in telling Arthur that her former husband had been a relief pitcher with the Red Sox. She also disclosed, laughing heartily when she did so, that her husband’s won-and-lost record, so dismal the Red Sox had recently released him, perfectly matched his performance in bed.


After the third martini, Loretta and Arthur left the cocktail lounge and went directly to the same hotel Arthur had used on his previous visit. On the way, Loretta, with a note of surprise in her voice, said that this would be the first time she ever went to bed with a man who had only one leg. The next morning, when she was bidding Arthur farewell, she told him that, based on his performance, she might make it a habit from now on to sleep only with men who were missing a leg. All the way back to Sherburne, Arthur considered, but ultimately rejected, telling his companions of the testimonial he had received from Loretta.


Arthur didn’t wait until the next baseball season to organize another trip to a sporting event. Twice that winter he arranged weekend bus trips to Montreal to see the fabled Montreal Canadiens of that era play the Boston Bruins. On those trips, Arthur didn’t need to come up with excuses for going off by himself since he and everyone else who made the trip rushed off right after the game to the bars and night clubs in Montreal’s notorious red-light district on St. Catherine Street.


In Montreal, he met Lorraine on his first trip and Carol on the second. Neither was as attractive as the other women he had met on his out of town trips, but he considered any such encounter a success if there were no demands for money in exchange for sex.


That spring, Arthur also recruited enough VFW members to charter a bus for an overnight trip to Portland, Maine, where they cheered on a boxer from Sherburne, a former marine, who was moving up in the rankings of welterweight fighters in New England. In Portland, Arthur had a more difficult time separating himself from his hometown companions because there was such a short window of time between when the fight ended and the city’s bars closed. But he didn’t let that deter him from becoming friendly with Joyce, the pianist-singer in the hotel’s cocktail lounge, nor did it bother him that some of his friends from the VFW probably spotted him leaving the hotel with Joyce after the bar closed for the night.


Because the Sherburne fighter won his bout in Portland by a quick knockout, he earned the chance to fight for the New England welterweight championship in Boston, and a victory there, it was said, might mean a title bout later in the year. Such talk made it easy for Arthur to recruit a bus load of fight fans to travel to Boston so they could cheer on their hometown hero.


On his other trips to Boston, Arthur had thought about checking a telephone directory to see if there was still a listing for B. T. Moran, but he always decided against trying to reach her because he wasn’t sure what to say if he found that Betty was still living in Boston. Did he want to see her again, or would this be his chance to let her know how angry he was at the way she had run out on him?


That day, soon after Arthur and the other fight fans from Sherburne arrived in Boston and checked into their hotel, Arthur took a short walk by himself. In doing so, he went past the bar where he and Betty had had their fateful last meeting. Then, moments later, on his way back to his hotel he walked past a telephone booth outside the hotel.


This time Arthur couldn’t stop himself. It was three hours before the fights began, more than enough time to find out if Betty still lived in Boston. Quickly flipping through the pages of the telephone booth’s phone directory, he found a page that contained any number of Morans, and there, near the top of the page was a listing for B. T. Moran. His excitement at spotting the listing for Betty was such that he failed to notice the directory, its pages somewhat tattered, was probably out of date. All he could think of when depositing coins and dialing the number was the possibility that he might soon be talking with Betty. And who knows, maybe before the night was over, they would probably be together again? Alas, his fantasy of being reunited with Betty came to an abrupt end after the second ring of the phone, when a man with a deep voice answered.


No, the deep-voiced man said, he didn’t know any Betty Moran, and furthermore he didn’t like being bothered by wrong numbers. Pay more attention when you’re dialing the phone, said the voice on the other end of the phone. Arthur’s response to that was a loud fuck you. He then slammed the phone down so hard that he cracked its mouthpiece.


Arthur might have found it easier to put the abortive phone call behind him by the time, later that night, when he met Jo Anne, except that Jo Anne was also a nurse and her auburn-colored hair was pinned up behind her ears with two flashy barrettes, just as Betty’s had been the last time Arthur saw her. That in itself proved a distraction to Arthur because his thoughts kept drifting back to the day Betty had bolted from the dingy cave-like bar in a pelting rain storm, and had run across two lanes of oncoming traffic, so anxious was she to get away from him.


Arthur’s usually buoyant mood on these trips was further weighed down from having just witnessed the beating administered to the boxer from Sherburne, but he was also trying to figure out how he could explain to Elaine that he had lost $75 from two bets he had made on the Sherburne boxer to win the fight.


Jo Anne, whose cheerful disposition also reminded Arthur of Betty, tried to brighten Arthur’s mood by recounting the antics of her large Italian family, including her two uncles who, though Prohibition had ended, still ran a bootleg business selling gallon jugs of their home-brewed wine. Arthur was slightly more amused when Jo Anne told him about male patients, particularly randy old men, who thought they could get somewhere with her by bunching up their bedclothes so it looked as if they had enormous erections.


Jo Anne was elucidating still further on the ways nurses handled male patients who tried to make a play for them when Arthur suddenly placed his hands over hers, and looking into her eyes, he told her that she struck him as a marvelous girl, one that he would have liked to spend more time with, but, sorry, not tonight. Having said that much, he reached into his pocket for a $20 bill, and slapping it on the table, he told her to use the money to pay their bar bill. Then he quickly got up from the booth they were sitting in and walked back to his hotel room alone.


Arthur waited two days to tell Elaine that he had lost money on the fight in Boston, and when he did, she greeted the news with a sigh and a remark about the insanity of a sport that called for two men to beat each other senseless.


"Why not take your paycheck and throw it in the trash?" she said.


She continued in that same vein, even raising her voice a notch when she switched to another grievance she had with Arthur, his failure to finish the refurbishment of their second bedroom.


"One simple bedroom," she said, "and it’s dragged on forever."


Mention of the bedroom caught Arthur by surprise. By his standards, he had finished the project. What else was he supposed to do after he painted it and helped her put up new wallpaper, he asked.


"But look at it," Elaine said, walking over to the doorway to the bedroom. "It’s a mess."


Her description wasn’t exactly accurate since the room was as clean and neat as the rest of the apartment, but it had become a home gymnasium rather than a bedroom. In the middle of the room was a table with a padded cover that Arthur used for his daily stretching exercises. On the floor near the table, there were a variety of dumbbells and on a board bolted into one wall there were two pulleys with ropes holding some weights. Also, across the doorway leading into the room, Arthur had installed a metal rod that he used to do pull ups.


Arthur, having followed Elaine into the bedroom, said, "It doesn’t look very messy to me, not unless you have something against a guy trying to stay in shape."


As if to demonstrate what he meant, he reached down, grabbed a dumbbell in each hand and began curling them up towards his chest. Then, in a more frenzied manner, he added something to the exercise by twisting the dumbbells when he brought them up and lifting them over his head.


"One thing I learned at the VA, you can do loads of things with dumbbells to keep yourself in shape."


Arthur said, as he put the dumbbells back down on the floor."


He looked as if he were about to move onto the pulleys with weights, but before he did, Elaine reminded him that there was no longer room for a bed.


"That was the idea," she said, as she turned and began walking back towards the kitchen. "This was supposed to be the second bedroom."


Arthur began to follow her out, but on the way he stopped at the door, and grabbing the metal bar, he performed several chin ups.


When he did return to the kitchen, Elaine was facing away from him, looking out the kitchen window. Only after he began explaining to her how he intended to fit both a bed and his exercise equipment into the room did he notice that she was crying.


"Hey," Arthur said, walking towards her, "I’ll put a bed in there tomorrow if it means that much to you."


But when he tried to place his arms around Elaine’s shoulders she twisted away from him. That left Arthur standing there, looking as if he wasn’t sure whether he should try again to comfort her—about what, he still had no idea—or simply walk away. Elaine resolved the matter by placing her hand over her mouth, which seemed to stifle, for the moment at least, her sobbing. Then, squaring her shoulders and clearing her throat, she explained to him, in a very matter of fact way, why she was upset.


A week ago, she said, she had seen a gynecologist from the Dartmouth medical center who made a monthly visit to the hospital in Sherburne. Elaine’s doctor had arranged the appointment, hoping the specialist would be able to find out why Elaine was having such a difficult time becoming pregnant. The Dartmouth doctor had examined her, from stem to stern, as Elaine put it, and had also run some tests. The day before he had called to tell her that he could see no physical reason why she hadn’t yet become pregnant.


"Well, isn’t that good news?" Arthur said. "I think he’s saying that we keep on trying and sooner or later we’ll hit the jackpot."


"That wasn’t all he told me," she said. "He also wanted me to know that some women, though they are perfectly healthy in every respect, simply can’t get pregnant. It’s not a common condition, he said, but it happens. You know me, when I heard that, it sounded like he was telling me that I might never have a baby."


"Oh, chrissakes, this guy’s a bullshitter. He’s a big, important specialist, but since he doesn’t have any answers, he gives you some crap about women who never get pregnant no matter how hard they try. Who ever heard of such a thing? You know what I say? Let’s stick with the first part of what he told you. There’s nothing wrong with you. We just haven’t connected yet, which to me means we just have to try a little harder."


Arthur gave her a little grin after that, and Elaine turned and curled in towards him, burying her head on his chest. No more than three minutes passed before she and Arthur were in bed, apparently intent on proving the specialist wrong. Arthur, in particular, seemed to be trying in this one coupling, to prove that he could make Elaine pregnant. And Elaine for her part, let loose with a series of yelps and cries that, along with Arthur’s deeper, more guttural sounds—and the usual banging of the bed’s headboard against the wall—served to usher in a period of sexual activity as frenzied as they had experienced during their first few months of marriage.


Not that Elaine had ever been remiss in satisfying Arthur’s demands for sex, but she now made a special effort to accommodate herself to Arthur’s work schedule, which required him two out of ever three weeks to work either the four to midnight shift or one from midnight to 8 o’clock in the morning. If Arthur went into work at 4 p.m., Elaine would take a nap after she ate dinner so that she was awake and ready to make love when he returned home after midnight. When he was on the midnight shift, and went off after dinner to take a nap, Elaine would wake him up around 10 o’clock so that they could have what Arthur called a "quickie" before he left for work.


Then, in late May, not long after Elaine had seen the specialist from Dartmouth, Arthur asked her when she would next be at her peak period of fertility. By Elaine’s calculations that would be the second week in June. Once he heard that, Arthur put in for a week’s vacation precisely when Elaine would be ovulating and arranged at the same time to rent a cottage for that week at Old Orchard Beach, Maine.


"Oh, what a moron you are," Elaine said. Then, giggling, she added, "Don’t you think everyone’s going to wonder why we’re spending a week at the beach when the water’s still freezing cold and a windy day can make you feel like it’s February?"


"Let them talk," he said. "We can either tell them to mind their own business, or we’ll say, you know, we’re not going to spend much time at the beach because we’ve got something else in mind."


But neither the week at Old Orchard, nor all the love making sessions in between yielded the desired results, not even when supplemented by Elaine’s novenas and prayers. By that fall, Elaine had become so consumed with charting the times when she was most fertile that she would meet Arthur at the door when he returned from work and lead him, literally by the hand, to their bed because she felt they should have sex at that very moment or risk missing out on her absolute peak period of ovulation.


Each month when her menstrual period arrived on schedule, Elaine, with some disappointment, would tell Arthur, "My friend dropped by again," and Arthur, giving her a kiss and holding her tight, would murmur in her ear that there was no need to worry. We’re young, he’d tell her, we have plenty of time yet.


That did little to brighten Elaine’s mood since she could never rid herself of the feeling that as long as she and Arthur were childless their lives were on hold. The few times she mentioned to Arthur that maybe they should begin to look for a house to buy, he would brush the suggestion aside by saying there was no need for them to move until they had a baby.


Even their social life, allowing for Arthur’s work schedule, seemed not that different from what it had been when they were newlyweds. Depending on Arthur’s work schedule, they now went on Friday night to Camilli’s for spaghetti and meat balls instead of Terry’s Clam Shack, and they were old enough now to stop by later at the Old Town Inn for drinks with other young couples they knew.


They had also switched their movie night. Now they went on Sunday nights and took their seats in the orchestra with all the other adults. Tuesday nights, in the week when Arthur worked the day shift, he had a meeting at the VFW, and Thursday nights, in winter, Elaine bowled in the bowling league for wives of Black Diamond employees.


The one new element in their social calendar consisted of the weddings that were being held practically every week. Friends, relatives, coworkers, everyone who hadn’t married before the war was rushing to catch up, and often, within a year, babies began to arrive and that meant there were christening parties. Elaine grew to dislike these gatherings, in particular, because there was always an aunt or some other relative who would sidle up to her, and ask whether it wasn’t time for her and Arthur to join the baby boom. Elaine thought herself lucky to be suffering from a flu that kept her in bed when there was a christening party for the baby her brother and his wife had had after being married less than a year.


Arthur had been home for almost three years when Elaine’s doctor told her it was probably a good idea to run some tests on Arthur. Uncertain about how Arthur might react to that news, Elaine told the doctor, as she had before, about the frequency with which she and Arthur made love. She also mentioned how physically fit Arthur was, and even used the word, amazing, when describing his stamina as a lover.


"Look, it’s up to you and your husband," the doctor told Elaine, "but after all this time, it’s something you should discuss with him."


Elaine nodded her head in agreement, but put off saying anything to Arthur because she expected any month that the testing of Arthur’s sperm might become a moot point. Then, by the fall of that year, the doctor told Elaine that it would be irresponsible for him not to find out if her problem in getting pregnant could be traced, as he put it, to the "quality" of her husband’s semen.


Elaine knew already that Arthur didn’t care much for her doctor, who could sound rather pompous, so she wasn’t surprised by his reaction when she told him the doctor wanted to test him.


"Tests? What kind of tests?" he said.


"You know," she said, with a little grin on her face, "or didn’t anyone ever tell you why it takes two people to make a baby? Mothers have the baby, but the father has to plant the seed and if—"


"I know all about that," he said, cutting her off. Then, raising his voice, he added, "Your doctor’s nuts if he thinks I’m not capable of planting plenty of seeds."


"I’ve told him over and over that anyone as fit as you are shouldn’t have any trouble making babies."


"Well, tell him again. And you can also tell him that he’s one lucky guy if his plumbing works half as well as mine does. Or maybe he thinks that a guy with one leg might be missing something in another area, too."


Elaine didn’t think that was worth an answer. She also realized that it was best not to press the issue with Arthur, not when he began to ask her, moments after they made love, if his performance indicated that his "plumbing" was lacking in any way. Instead, she told the doctor that Arthur wasn’t sure just yet about being tested.


The doctor, rather than press the point, advised her not to put pressure on herself. All bodily functions, he said, work better if people are relaxed and at peace with themselves.


Elaine left his office, thinking that what her doctor had said about trying to relax during sex didn’t vary that much from what she had found when combing through the outdated medical textbooks that belonged to Claude Hutchinson. Elaine ignored the advice in one text that claimed spicy foods could damage a vital component of semen, but she saw no harm in following the recommendation, from the same doctor, that she remain on her back after sex and then, raising her legs towards the ceiling, "peddled" a bicycle vigorously for two full minutes. But her focus remained on the need not to tense up, even if Arthur seemed more and more to hurry through the sex act.


In one of the text books she consulted, the author wrote that nature required males to spread their seed as widely as possible, and as often as possible, because it was the male’s job to impregnate the maximum number of females in order to propagate the species. Thus, this author maintained, males were only fulfilling the duty assigned to them by nature when they performed the sex act with the same urgency they displayed when running to catch a train.


As amused as Elaine was by the idea of a man having sex in the way he might chase after a train, she tried to get Arthur not to rush so when they were making love. But she was no more successful at that than she had been at getting him to mute the grunting sound he made when thrusting into her.


That image of a man having sex as if he ran after a departing train was fresh in her mind when she noticed one night that while she and Arthur were having sex, he turned his head so that he was looking at the clock on the night stand next to his side of the bed. That night and the next day, the more she thought about it, the more convinced she became that Arthur, while making love to her, looked like someone who midway through the work day kept checking the clock to see how much longer it would be before quitting time.


Elaine’s first instinct was to move the clock, placing it out of Arthur’s field of vision. But since she didn’t have a ready explanation for moving the clock, she decided that their bedroom needed to be "freshened up." Over the next week, she put up new curtains, bought a new bed spread and also new lamps for the night stands on either side of their bed. The new lamps, not so incidentally, both with a larger base, left no room for the alarm clock that had always been on the night stand next to Arthur’s bed.


Elaine also bought a new clock, an electric one that replaced the wind up clock they had had since they were first married. The new clock, with numerals that glowed in the dark, needed to be placed close to an electrical outlet, which meant it was on top of the bureau, across from their bed. Now, she told herself, if Arthur was interested in checking the time that elapsed from insertion to orgasm, he would need eyes in the back of his head.


That evening, when Arthur returned from work, Elaine asked him to take a look at the bedroom. She waited for a moment before she followed him into the room, and when she did, she found that he had unplugged the alarm clock and was holding it in his hand.


"How long since I’ve been home from the war?" he said to her. Then, without waiting for an answer, he asked her another question. "Was it so long ago that you forgot I came home with one leg missing? Now, what the fuck am I supposed to do if I’m here by myself when the alarm goes off? Do you expect me to hop on one leg from the bed to where I can turn if off?"


And with that, he threw the alarm clock at the wall so hard that it shattered into several pieces. Then, quietly, but with a noticeable menace in his voice, he said, "So now you’re going to get a new alarm clock, and maybe you’ll remember to put it somewhere that’s easy for me to reach."



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Not long after that, Arthur had left the VFW post on a chilly night in November and was on his way to his car when he passed a young woman who had just come out of Denny’s, a bar two doors away from the VFW. Earlier that day it had begun to rain, but now, with the temperature falling, the rain had become a mix of sleet and snow. The woman, in a very short skirt and a waist length jacket of imitation fur, was trying to protect herself from the inclement weather by hunching her shoulders and trying with both hands to hold her jacket together.


Arthur himself had just raised the collar of his jacket and pulled the visor of his cap down lower on his forehead, and as he passed by the young woman he made a brrring sound and added a comment about the damned winter weather arriving too soon. Both the sound effects and the comment served as a prelude to his then offering her a ride. His act of kindness was sincere, but it wasn’t as though he hadn’t noticed that the woman—her name was Mona Bouchard—had long, shapely legs and curly blonde hair that fell halfway down her back. He was also aware that at this hour, with stores on the street closed for the night, there was little chance that anyone would see him offering a ride to a woman who had just left the least respectable of all the bars in northern New Hampshire.


Arthur didn’t know it at the time, but Mona, only 22 and already twice married, came from a farm family, the Campbells, who were infamous on its male side for repeated run-ins with the law and on its female side for sexual promiscuity. Thus, the sizable number of children, only a few of them legitimate, who romped among the abandoned cars and discarded tires and automobile parts that littered the front yard of the Campbell family’s farm in nearby Brookfield.


He was unaware, too, that even among the Campbells, Mona’s behavior had caused her to be evicted from the family farm at age 18 by the patriarch of the clan, her grandfather, Mossy. The eviction had taken place in the fall of 1945, when the government had yet to begin repatriating German soldiers from a prisoner of war camp not far from the Campbell family’s farm. Because the POWs had been so well behaved, military officials decided that a number of them could be lent out to help farmers with the potato harvest. The harvest was in full swing at the Campbell family farm, with everyone from toddlers to the elderly out in the fields digging up potatoes, when Mossy went to a shed at the far end of the potato field for more burlap bags, There, he discovered, nestled within a pile of burlap bags, Mona having sex with one of the German soldiers.


Mossy wasn’t easily offended by the sexual habits of his extended family, but he could not countenance his granddaughter offering herself up to an enemy solider. Moreover, everyone in the family was under orders—no exceptions allowed—to help harvest the potato crop. Less than an hour after her grandfather had found her and the German POW, Mona, with a tiny suitcase holding all her belongings, was standing by the side of the highway, hitching a ride into Sherburne.


No doubt Arthur would have had nothing but contempt for the only female in northern New Hampshire who had made herself available to a soldier of the Third Reich, but the night he ran into Mona his only concern was trying to warm a woman who was so chilled that her teeth were chattering when she got into his car. Lacking a blanket, and knowing the car’s heater would take some time to throw off any heat, Arthur himself became a source of warmth, gallantly offering her his jacket and even making sure that he placed it properly around her shoulders. Mona, grateful for his kindness, reciprocated by wiggling her way across the car seat so that she was already cuddled up against him when he began driving her home.


The trip to the ramshackle house where Mona and her husband and her two children lived took less than ten minutes, enough time for her to thank Arthur several more times while also cursing the owner of Denny’s for asking her to leave the bar.


"It wasn’t even my fault," she said, "but Denny decided I was the troublemaker because the guy who bought me a drink took a punch at another guy who also wanted to buy me a drink."


During that short drive, Arthur also learned that Mona had two small boys who practically drove her crazy and that her husband, Ronnie, should try to understand why, after putting up with her unruly children all day, she needed some time for herself. By then the car heater was throwing off enough heat so that Mona was able to loosen Arthur’s jacket. That made it possible for her to move even closer to Arthur, which gave her a keener appreciation—as she ran her hand across his midsection—of his muscular build.


"Is your old man expecting you home?" Arthur said, as they approached Mona’s house.


"Oh, he’s expecting me, but I’m in no hurry," she said. "Besides, I know what I’ll find when I get there. The kids are supposed to be in bed, but I bet Ronnie’s sitting in his easy chair, half shit-faced and the two brats are running around raising hell. He does that just to spite me. We have this deal, I put up with the boys during the day, but at night I get some time to myself. He thinks it’s funny that when I get home, I end up having to put the kids to bed. I’ve warned him. He tries that trick once too often and I might not come home at all."


Then, after lighting a cigarette, Mona said, "The oldest kid belongs to my first husband. I know that for sure because he has the same nasty temper as his father. The other one, well, that happened when I was leaving my husband, when I was seeing another guy and Ronnie at the same time. Ronnie’s no bargain, but he has a steady job and he didn’t try to weasel out of it when I told him I was knocked up."


All of that was interesting to Arthur, but it struck him that this might be a night when Ronnie Bouchard was sober enough to look out the window to see who had driven his wife home. And since by then, Mona was showering him with ardent kisses and had made a move towards unbuckling his belt, he said, "Whoa, Nellie. I don’t want to discourage you, but whaddya say we go to some place that’s a bit more private?"


"I know just the place," Mona said. She then directed him down a street that led to the back end of the A & P’s store parking lot.


"Over there," she told Arthur, pointing to an area where the parking lot seemed to trail off into a wooded area. "Nobody notices it, but see, there’s a place that looks like a pathway. Drive in there and we’ll find all the privacy we need."


When Arthur got there, he saw that the pathway was wide enough for a car, and that by driving just a short distance, he had come to an area surrounded by thick underbrush and covered by a canopy of trees. With the snow falling hard enough now to begin sticking to the car’s windshield, and with the car heater humming, Arthur felt that he and Mona were sealed off from the rest of the world, and so this time, when Mona began unbuckling his belt, he didn’t stop her when she offered—as a thank you gift, she said—to perform oral sex on him. From that night on, the out-of-town trips Arthur so enjoyed were not as necessary as they once were.



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Arthur was careful at first to meet Mona at a spot some distance from her house and well out of public view, but she never liked his plan, which required her to walk several blocks away, to a less well-lit street corner, where Arthur, sitting in his car would be waiting for her.


On the weeks when Arthur worked the day shift, he would see Mona on Tuesday nights, when he always had a meeting at the VFW, but one which he would leave by 9 o’clock or so. That gave them just enough time to go to their hideaway near the A&P parking lot. That same week he could also see Mona on Wednesday nights, when Elaine worked late because it was Claude Hutchinson’s bridge night. On Wednesday nights, Mona and Arthur had enough time to travel to a roadhouse, Moose River Lodge, seven miles north of Sherburne, for a quick dinner before they went to a nearby motel for an hour or two or what Arthur jokingly referred to as "rest and relaxation." He coined the term when Mona said that sex, not necessarily with her husband, was the only thing that helped her "relax" after a day of caring for two children.


Mona and Arthur had known each other for four months when Mona complained about having to walk one snowy night to the meeting place with Arthur.


"Look, why not pick me up outside my house. I know what time you’re coming."


"But what about your husband?" he said. "What if he sees us?"


"Oh fuck him," she said. "What’s he got to complain about? He knows damn well that when I leave the house I’m not going off to a sewing circle. He gets pissed off from time to time and when he does, he says he might leave me, but he’s not going anywhere."


On one of those Wednesday nights when Elaine was working—it was in the middle of March—Arthur drove, as he had twice before, to a spot two houses away from Mona’s. The previous times Mona did indeed come out of her house moments after he arrived, but this particular night Arthur had been waiting for a full five minutes and still there was no sign of her. That made him wonder if Ronnie Bouchard might not be as compliant as he usually was with Mona’s nighttime gallivanting.


Growing impatient, he reached into his glove compartment for the pint of Canadian Club he kept there and took a long swallow. Then, after another two minutes passed without any sign of Mona, he took another swig of whiskey and impulsively tooted on his car horn twice.


A moment later, Mona ran from her house, and when she arrived at his car, she was clearly upset.


"Holy Christ," she said, "let’s get out of here. He’s on the warpath tonight."


Her blouse was only half buttoned and her skirt was still unzipped so as Arthur sped away. Then, while straightening her clothing out, she explained to Arthur why her husband may have been more upset with her than he usually was.


She giggled when she said, "I think Ronnie’s just beginning to realize that a tall skinny guy like him, who’s blonde and has light skin, might not be responsible for my youngest, who has dark hair and dark eyes."


Arthur was already going well beyond the speed limit as he drove away from Mona’s house, but he also decided, since precious minutes had elapsed while he was waiting for Mona, that he would take a short cut to Moose Hunter’s Lodge. That would mean driving down Mason Street, with its collection of small shops, including Hutchinson Drug. He realized there was a slight risk that Elaine might see him, but he assured himself that Elaine was usually too busy to keep a close eye on passing traffic.


That evening, however, just after 6 o’clock, there was a lull in business and Elaine took a moment to have a cup of coffee. It had been an uncharacteristically warm day for the middle of March, so with the cup of coffee in her hand, she had walked over to the store’s front window to see if the sun, shining brilliantly all afternoon, had made a dent in the dirt-encrusted snow banks lining the sidewalks on either side of Mason Street. When she did so, she spotted Arthur’s car going by. Or was it? She wasn’t sure since there was a young woman with long blonde hair sitting in the front seat. Moreover, reflection from a street light on the front window of Hutchinson Drug also interfered just enough with her view to make her wonder if it was simply a car similar to Arthur’s.


Mostly, though, she was trying to convince herself that it couldn’t have been Arthur who had driven past because it would have been stupid for him—if he was with another woman—to think that he wouldn’t be seen, probably by one of his neighbors. No, she told herself, that car must have belonged to someone else because whatever Arthur’s faults, he was not stupid.


Nevertheless, when she turned away from the window her ears were buzzing and she took a moment to lean against the fountain and breathe in deeply. Then, though the fountain fixtures were already gleaming, she decided they needed a more thorough cleaning. She took each of the fixtures from the containers holding sauces for sundaes and after emptying them she immersed them in hot, soapy water, scarcely flinching when the water practically scalded her hands. Once she had rinsed and dried the containers, she refilled them and returned them to their proper places.


That done, she still felt some discomfort. It wasn’t anything physical, not dizziness exactly, but a feeling, new to her, of having lost control of her imagination. Yes, the car that had passed by was a black four-door Chevrolet sedan. That she didn’t doubt. But this was a week when Arthur was on the day shift, and since she wasn’t at home to make his dinner, he would usually drop by the VFW for a drink or two after he left work and then move on to George’s Diner for the Wednesday night special, fried scallops.


Maybe, she thought, he had changed his mind and had gone home first, perhaps to freshen up before he went to dinner, but when she called home, there was no answer. She then thought of calling the VFW, but decided against that because everyone knew that bartenders at the VFW were under orders to say, "He just left," if they received a call from a wife looking for her husband. But even if she had called the VFW, and even if the bartender, suffering from a fit of forgetfulness, had yelled out Arthur’s name, what was she supposed to say if he came to the phone? Oh, I’m just checking to see if my eyes were playing tricks on me when I saw you drive past the drug store with a blonde sitting in your front seat?


Still troubled by the fleeting image of Arthur’s car passing by, she could think of nothing better to do than busy herself with another of the projects she took on whenever she had a free moment. First she moved the two trays of glasses and sundae dishes stacked on the shelf behind the lunch counter to the top of the lunch counter itself. With the glasses and dishes out of the way, she was able to polish the large mirror that served as the backdrop to the lunch counter. She had to stop twice to wait on a customer who came in to buy magazines and another time for someone who picked up a prescription.


Having done that much, she went to the back room to get a step ladder so she could finish the top half of the mirror, and then, while she was at it, she climbed a bit higher to remove the three white glass globes covering the light fixtures at the top of the mirror. Three times, she climbed the ladder, removed a globe, brought it down and washed it, and three times, she climbed the ladder and reattached the globes to the light fixtures. Again, she had to fit this in while waiting on two more customers, one of whom complimented her for having already started her spring cleaning.


The entire time she kept telling herself that it was foolish of her to think she could tell who was driving a car that she had seen for no more than a second or two.


She was on the ladder, reattaching the last of the globes she had washed when she began to think that if Arthur was having an affair, perhaps she might do likewise. But the notion of finding a lover struck her as so absurd that she almost started laughing, which she didn’t want to do while perched on the step ladder.


Moments later—she was off the ladder by now—she returned to that idea about having an affair because she thought it would be worth it just to see the expression on Arthur’s face when he learned that she was cheating on him. The only question in her mind was whether she would announce it to him herself or arrange for him to find out on his own.


Oh, she could just see him, however he found out, yelling and screaming and using terrible language, but she would wait patiently, allowing him to have his say before she quietly informed him that she was only doing to him what he had done to her. Ah, that, she thought, might even be the moment when Arthur begged her for forgiveness and vowed, tearfully, never to stray again.


The idea of Arthur, trying to win her back, was so pleasing to her that she took a moment to review candidates she might consider if she were to have an affair. But that, too, was a thought she found laughable because she realized that finding a candidate to commit adultery with was more difficult than she imagined.


There wasn’t a neighbor she cared much about and she wanted nothing to do with any of Arthur’s VFW friends. Some of her male customers at Hutchinson Drug, several of them quite old, were always telling her that Arthur was a lucky man to have her, but she couldn’t take any of those comments seriously. There was Claude Hutchinson, too, mild mannered and gentlemanly if a bit fussy, but she couldn’t imagine herself ever cuddling up to Claude Hutchinson, whose pot belly caused his white pharmacist’s jacket to bulge out so that its buttons were ready to pop.


No, the possibility of taking Claude Hutchinson as a lover, or anyone else she could think of for that matter, made her rethink the notion of getting even with Arthur. Besides, she reminded herself, she wasn’t yet one hundred percent sure that Arthur was seeing another woman.


With two hours to go before she could close the store, Elaine repositioned the display of boxed chocolates she had created the day before and waited on the occasional customer while also making her rounds of the store, putting together a list of items on its shelves that needed to be restocked. She also took a break and had a cup of coffee with her friend, Teresa Hickey, whom she had known since they had been in kindergarten together.


As always, the two of them swapped gossip, Teresa contributing items she picked up from her hair salon while Elaine passed on, a bit more discreetly, information she had gleaned from customers at Hutchinson Drug. But for several minutes, while Elaine put aside any thoughts about Arthur, she and Teresa also explored the question of how Bette Davis, who they didn’t consider all that glamorous, had managed to become a Hollywood star.


In the end, it was Teresa’s opinion, based on her years of reading Hollywood gossip columns, that the "casting couch" had more to do with who gained fame and fortune in the motion picture industry than talent or looks even, and that went, she added, with a giggle, for both females and males. Elaine said she didn’t like to think that, and Teresa, bidding her good night, told Elaine she should stop being so naive.


That bit of advice from Teresa only reminded Elaine that she was probably fooling herself if she didn’t think that was Arthur’s car she saw earlier in the evening. That caused her to call home once again to find out if Arthur was there. When there was no answer, she decided, at ten minutes after nine, to close the store rather than wait until 9:30. She was aware that some customer the next day might complain to Claude Hutchinson about coming to the store at twenty after nine only to find it already closed, but she knew Claude. He would understand when she told him that she closed early because she had a headache, one so painful that it made her nauseous. Indeed, that wasn’t a lie at all, except for the nauseous part.


Elaine decided that the moment she got home the first thing she would do would be to call the VFW and demand that the bartender, for once in his life, give an honest answer, when she asked if Arthur was there. But she had just entered her apartment, and had yet to take off her coat, when the phone rang. The caller began by identifying himself as officer Peter Ramsey of the Sherburne Police Department. That Elaine heard distinctly, but she wasn’t sure if Officer Ramsey said there had been an accident or an incident because he then told her that Arthur Doyle had just been brought by ambulance to Sacred Heart Hospital.


That caused Elaine’s legs to go weak and left her speechless, but she was standing next to the living room sofa so she was able to reach out and steady herself. The police officer, sensing that Elaine had been stunned by what he told her, offered to send a patrol car to take her to the hospital.


No, no, Elaine told the officer, she could get there sooner on her own. She hung up on him and immediately called her brother who lived only four blocks away, but when she blurted out that she needed to get to the hospital right away because Arthur had been taken there, her brother began questioning her. Why was Arthur in the hospital, he asked? Didn’t she have any idea what had happened to him?


"I don’t know, I don’t know," she yelled into the phone, "and right now that doesn’t matter. I just want to get there. Now, not later. Let’s go!"


Her brother assured her that he would pick her up right away, but Elaine, rather than wait, began running towards her brother’s house and flagged him down as he was backing out of his driveway. Of that night, and Elaine’s many memories of it, some vivid, others hopelessly jumbled, the one that always stood out for her was how foolish she felt on that ride to the hospital when she couldn’t tell her brother whether the police officer who had called her said there had been an accident or an incident.


When Elaine and her brother arrived at the hospital, there was not one but two ambulances backed up to the loading dock of the emergency ward and surrounding the ambulances were a bevy of police cars. The entire area was lit up by the blinking red and blue lights of the police vehicles.


Inside the hospital, Elaine saw police officers and nurses, some speaking on phones, others scurrying in one direction or another. At one end of the room, a doctor dressed in his surgical outfit, was talking to another doctor, who had just arrived and was shedding his coat.


She wanted to walk over to the doctors and ask them about Arthur, but before she could do that two nurses, one of whom had gone to school with Elaine, came over to her. The nurse who knew Elaine gave her a quick hug and then led her and her brother into a small waiting room off the emergency ward.


In the waiting room, the nurse who looked like a supervisor spoke first. In a very soft voice, she told Elaine that Arthur right now was in the operating room. He had lost a great deal of blood, but the doctors were now working on him. Then, before she could say anything more, a doctor appeared at the door, accompanied by the Sherburne police chief, Roland Therrien.


The doctor, with his surgical mask hanging below his neck, had apparently come straight from the operating room. Walking towards the nurses and Elaine and her brother, the doctor reached out to shake Elaine’s hand and introduce himself as Dr. Jake McKelvey. But then he seemed to be speaking to the nurses, as well as Elaine, when he said, "We've got the bullet out from his shoulder, and that’s always a big first step when we’re treating someone who’s been wounded."


"Bullet?" Elaine said. "I thought there was an accident."


Elaine saw one of the nurses put her hand to her mouth, obviously surprised that Elaine didn’t know what had happened to her husband. Dr. McKelvey, likewise, seemed puzzled but he recovered quickly enough to say, "As to the details, m’am, I’ll leave that to the police."


That’s when Roland Therrien, who had been standing off to one side, stepped forward and in the flat, mechanical voice police use when they make public announcements, he said that at 8:10 the Sherburne Police had received a call about a shooting incident in the parking lot of the Moose River Lodge in East Brookfield.


"Upon arrival, the responding officers found two victims, a Mrs. Mona Bouchard, and a Mr. Arthur Doyle, both suffering from gunshot wounds," he said. "Both victims were in the front seat of an automobile registered to Mr. Doyle. Our officers immediately summoned ambulances to transport both victims to Sacred Heart Hospital."


There was a slight pause, and Chief Therrien’s voice seemed to falter when he said, "Mrs. Bouchard was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital."


Chief Therrien took a deep breath before he continued, and when he did, he announced that at 8:45, Ronald Bouchard, the husband of Mona Bouchard, had turned himself into the Sherburne police.


"Mr. Bouchard told the sergeant on duty that he was the individual who had fired the shots into Mr. Doyle’s car. Mr. Bouchard then turned over to the desk sergeant a .38 caliber pistol. Mr. Bouchard has been arrested and is now being held in the Sherburne Police Department jail."


The only response to Chief Therrien’s report came from Elaine.


"I want to see my husband," she said, her voice louder than usual. "When can I see him?"


Dr. McKelvey said he didn’t think that would be possible for several hours yet. Then, directing his comments towards Elaine’s brother, he said, "The best thing for her would be to get some rest. She can stay here, but I doubt very much that Mr. Doyle is going to be able to see anyone for some time yet."


Elaine’s brother nodded, indicating that he agreed with what the doctor had said, but Elaine, directing her remarks to the doctor, said, "I’m not going to do much resting until I can see my husband. So if I go home, or stay here, it really isn’t going to make much of a difference."


For a moment nobody in the room said anything, but then, Elaine’s brother, placing an arm around her shoulders, tried to lead her away, suggesting to her that she should come to his house.


"No," Elaine said, twisting away from her brother. "I’m staying here."


"Suit yourself," her brother said. Then, unable to curb himself, he added, "I’ll be honest with you. It doesn’t sound to me, from what I’ve just heard, that I’d want to lose a night’s sleep over all this."


"If that’s how you feel, fine," she said. "Go home. Get some rest. But no wife leaves the hospital when her husband’s still on the operating table."


Elaine’s brother then made a move towards giving her a hug, but since she had already turned her back on him, he left the room. One of the nurses who had earlier spoken with Elaine appeared just then with a pillow and blanket and told Elaine to follow her. Chief Therrien and Dr. McKelvey, as they left the room, had a brief conversation with Elaine’s brother, while the nurse with the blanket and pillow led Elaine to an out of the way spot in the hospital waiting room, an alcove where she would have some privacy. The nurse also helped Elaine get settled on a sofa and assured her that she was unlikely to be bothered by anyone for the rest of the night.


Elaine was unable to sleep, with her thoughts skittering from her momentary glimpse of Arthur’s car traveling past Hutchinson Drug to what Chief Therrien had said. Images of the nights’s events, shifting speedily and without logical progression, came to rest on that woman with the long blonde hair who had been sitting in the front seat of Arthur’s car, half turned so that she was facing Arthur. It puzzled Elaine that she didn’t know the woman, that the name, Mona Bouchard, meant nothing to her. And how did it happen, she kept asking herself, that this stranger was occupying a place that, until then, had belonged exclusively to her?


Unable to answer that question or to piece together how Arthur had met this woman, she reverted to one that seemed more vital to her: Did Arthur think he could drive by Hutchinson Drug without being seen, or did he intentionally take that route? And if so, why? Was he flaunting his infidelity, showing off in a sense? Or had he been so preoccupied that he figured he could drive by Hutchinson Drug without being noticed?


Still pondering that question and still unable to find coherence between what little she knew and all that she imagined, she finally dozed off, only to be awakened at 3 a.m. by a nurse who wanted to update her on Arthur’s condition. He was out of the operating room, the nurse said, and was now considered to be in stable condition.


Elaine responded immediately with a flurry of questions. Was Arthur going to survive? How badly wounded was he? When could she see him? The nurse, somewhat officiously, told Elaine that hospital rules prohibited nurses from saying anything more than what doctors authorized them to say. Your husband’s condition, the nurse repeated, is stable. Then, in a comment that seemingly violated hospital rules, the nurse added, "Look, stable isn’t that bad, not when someone’s suffered a gunshot wound."


Once awake, Elaine had trouble falling back to sleep, even though she had convinced herself by then that whatever had happened didn’t matter as much to her as whether Arthur survived. She thought of the days after she received the telegram saying that he was wounded and the frustration of not knowing the extent of his wounds and then, instantly, it came to her. Rather than trying to piece together an incident that seemed like some crazy nightmare, why shouldn’t she turn to prayer? She scolded herself for wasting the night in useless worry and speculation when Arthur so desperately needed God’s help.


She reached down to find her purse and took from it her rosary beads, and then, asking God to forgive her for forgetting Him when she, and Arthur especially, were so much in need of His help, she began reciting the rosary. As fervently as she prayed, however, she had barely finished the third decade of the rosary before falling off to asleep. Just before 7 a.m., a nurse came by, and nudging her on the shoulder, she told Elaine that her mother was on the phone. The nurse then led Elaine to a phone near the nurse’s station.


Elaine’s mother began by telling her she should go home and get some rest, and Elaine responded to that by repeating, word for word, what she had told her brother only a few hours before.


"So you’re really going to stay there until you can see him?" her mother said.


"And why not?" Elaine said.


Her mother didn’t answer right away, and when she did, she said she didn’t know what Elaine hoped to accomplish by staying at the hospital. A few seconds later she more bluntly stated what she had been intending to say all along.


"It’s up to you," her mother said, "but if even half of what I’ve heard is true, I can’t see why you’d want to spend another minute at that hospital. And to tell you the truth, I can’t see why you want to spend another minute of your life worrying about him."


"It sounds like tongues are already wagging," Elaine said.


"That surprises you?"


"No, but I can’t do anything to stop people from spreading dirt. That’s what everyone loves to do at a time like this."


"Maybe you haven’t got the full story yet," her mother said. "This isn’t something that just started last night. It’s been going on—-


"You even have the juicy details."


"You bet. This woman had two kids from two different men before she was twenty-one years old. Here’s something else—your brother got it from the police when he was leaving the hospital. The husband told the police that Arthur had the gall to drive to the Bouchards’ house to pick her up. He even sounded his horn because this woman—I almost called her something else—didn’t come out right away. The police said that the horn was what pushed the husband over the edge."


"Look, this isn’t going to go away if I leave here and sleep in my own bed. Maybe some people think that I should abandon Arthur, but I don’t care what you, or any other busybody thinks I should do. I’m sticking with what I was taught about marriage—you take a vow to stay together through thick and thin, through ups and downs. You don’t walk away if things aren’t going the way you’d like them to."


Her mother had begun to answer when Elaine abruptly hung up on her, but that part about Arthur blowing his horn to summon Mona Bouchard, that struck her as true. Arthur often sounded his horn when he was waiting for her. She had even complained about that to him, telling him it was ill-mannered to beep his horn just because she was delayed for a moment or two.


Elaine returned to the sofa, and folding the blanket and pillow she had used, brought them back to the nurse’s station. There, the nurse said again that Arthur was doing as well as could be expected. That news was delivered in an impersonal tone, but then the nurse, in a whispered aside, said that maybe Elaine would be able to see Arthur sometime later in the day.


Elaine was cheered enough by that news to go to the hospital cafeteria, where she had a cup of coffee and a muffin and pretended not to notice two women who were trying to look as if they weren’t stealing glances at her, though they were. She could well imagine them chattering about what it must feel like to be married to someone who was immersed in the kind of scandal that rarely, if ever, occurred in Sherburne. She was tempted to walk over to the women and inform them that all she cared about just then was her husband’s chances of survival, not his alleged philandering. But looking at her watch, she realized that she needed to call Claude Hutchinson and tell him that she would be unable to open the store.


Elaine then went to the hospital lobby where she used a pay phone to call Claude. Her conversation with him was brief because he sounded as if he couldn’t wait to get off the phone. He was just running out the door, he told her, which indicated to Elaine that Claude already knew she was unavailable to open the store that day. He then added, almost as an afterthought, that he was sorry to have heard what had happened to Arthur. Then, signing off—and having failed, Elaine noticed, to ask her about Arthur’s condition—he told her she should take as much time off as she thought necessary. Her next call, to the personnel office at Black Diamond Paper, was likewise brief because here again she sensed that the young woman she spoke to already knew why Arthur Doyle would not be into work that day.


Back in her quiet corner of the waiting room she idly turned pages of magazines aimed at homemakers, only half paying attention to tips on how to make casseroles more interesting or what household items could be adapted to serve as Christmas tree ornaments. Just before 11 o’clock, she took out her rosary beads again and this time managed to say the entire rosary before a nurse came by to tell her that she could see Arthur.


The nurse, quickly correcting herself, then said, "When I say you can see him, I don’t mean you can visit. This will be more like a chance for you to look in on him."


She followed the nurse, who walked rapidly through a maze of corridors and up two flights of stairs. She and the nurse then arrived at a nurse’s station, but unlike parts of the hospital where there were nurses and visitors and doctors coming and going in the corridors, there didn’t seem to be anyone on this floor except for the nurse seated behind a desk.


The nurse with Elaine led her to a room at the end of the corridor, where she opened the door slowly.


"Doctor’s orders, you stay right here until I talk to your husband," the nurse told Elaine.


From where Elaine stood, it looked as if Arthur was sleeping. He was lying on his back, with his eyes closed, and his left arm, indeed, his left shoulder and most of his left side, was heavily bandaged. His hand and arm were extended outward slightly and suspended several inches off the bed by a traction device attached to a rack above his bed.


The nurse, approaching Arthur’s bed, gently tapped him on his right shoulder. He opened his eyes, and when he did, whatever she said to him, caused him to turn his and look towards the doorway. When he did, Elaine lifted her hand and gave a small wave. Arthur, in response, tried to raise his right arm, as if to wave back, but lacking the strength, his hand flopped back down. Then he closed his eyes.


Elaine wanted to move closer to the bed, to say something to him, but the nurse hurried back to where she was standing and put her hand out, preventing Elaine from getting any closer to Arthur’s bed. The nurse also grabbed Elaine’s hand and gave it a slight pull, indicating even more firmly that the visit was over. It looked by then as if Arthur had already gone back to sleep.


Outside the room, the nurse told Elaine that Arthur was sedated and that if she had tried to talk to him, it was unlikely he would be able to follow what she said.


"Maybe tomorrow," the nurse said, "the doctor will allow a real visit."


Elaine thought herself lucky to get a cab right outside the door of the hospital, without running into anyone she knew. She was surprised, once she was back in her apartment, that she was hungry enough to eat a bowl of soup. She had yet to finish the soup when her phone rang for the first time. Elaine didn’t answer that call, nor did she answer the call that came only a few minutes later. She then went off to take a bath, and twice, while she was in the bathtub, she heard the phone ring. It also rang when she had finished with her bath and was preparing to take a nap. That time, just before she got into bed, she waited until the ringing stopped and then took the receiver off the hook.


The next thing she knew it was six o’clock at night. She immediately got out of bed and put in a call to the hospital and the nurse who answered told her that Arthur’s condition had been upgraded from stable to fair. Does that mean I can visit him now, she asked? No, the nurse said, that’s still up to the doctor.


Elaine made a tuna fish sandwich but could eat only half of it. She felt she should call Arthur’s sister, whom she had always liked, but just as she picked up the phone she changed her mind. She didn’t want to talk to anyone until she had spoken with Arthur. Unlike her mother, she was not going to accept as true a second-hand account of something that came from a third party.


She kept the phone off the hook while she washed some clothes and did some dusting and then, just before 11 o’clock, she called the hospital. When she heard that Arthur was resting comfortably, she went to bed. In the morning, when she called, she was relieved to hear the nurse say that Arthur had slept through the night and that maybe she would be able to see him for a brief time that afternoon.


She took another long bath, and lying there—the phone was still off the hook—she kept asking herself what caused Arthur to become involved with another woman and again and again she arrived at the same answer: if they had had children by now, Arthur would have remained faithful to her. She was certain of that. Likewise, she was convinced that Arthur’s wound and the horror of war had damaged him in ways that were hard for her or anyone else to fathom. But more than that, Arthur to her was still her husband, still the man the loved, and still the man, she was sure, who loved her.


At noon, Elaine went by cab to the hospital. She used the side entrance to the hospital rather the main reception area, where she was more than likely to run into some friend or acquaintance. She wasn’t yet ready to meet people she knew. Just as Arthur needed time to recover from his wounds, she told herself, she, too, needed a few days, or maybe a few weeks, before she would be able to engage in any chitchat with her neighbors or to greet her customers at Hutchinson Drug with a perky good morning and a comment about the weather.


In the hospital, she found the stairway leading to the floor that seemed to be occupied solely by Arthur, but when she got there, the nurse sitting at the nursing station said she would have to wait to see Arthur. Right now, the nurse told her, Dr. McKelvey was in Arthur’s room, checking on him. No, there was nothing wrong, the nurse said. It was a routine visit. The nurse had another message for Elaine, Arthur’s sister had called.


"We don’t like to get involved in family affairs," the nurse said, "but your sister-in-law sounded like she was beside herself. She wants very badly to talk with you."


Since the nurse couldn’t say how long Dr. McKelvey would be in Arthur’s room, Elaine decided to return the call to Arthur’s sister, but wanting privacy, she refused the nurse’s offer to call from the phone near the nurse’s station and went instead to a pay phone at the end of the corridor.


Arthur’s sister began by apologizing to Elaine, telling her that what Arthur had done was despicable. She said she was so angry that she didn’t know whether she ever wanted to see him again. Arthur’s brother, who was still in the Navy, felt the same way, she said, as did his two other brothers.


"I can understand how people feel," Elaine said, "but right now, I’m waiting until I get the story straight from Arthur. At times like this most people tend to exaggerate. As for me, I feel the way I did when I heard that Arthur had lost his leg. Thank God, I told myself, thank God, he’s alive. Then, when he got home, and I saw his pant leg pinned up, I cried like a baby. And that’s when Arthur told me to cut it out. What’s done is done, he said, you can’t erase it, so I remind myself that this is a guy who was practically dead when they dragged him off the battle field, and yet he fought his way back. Who knows what might come out of this?"


Arthur’s sister tried to respond to Elaine, but she began crying so hard that Elaine could barely make out what she was saying when she tried to tell her she had been a good wife and didn’t deserve to be treated like this. But then, sobbing too hard to continue, Arthur’s sister hung up.


Elaine returned to the nurse’s station where she asked the nurse what the doctors were saying about Arthur’s condition. The nurse, exercising great caution, said the doctors felt that Arthur was making satisfactory progress. Just then, the doctor and nurse who had been in Arthur’s room finished their visit, and when they arrived at the nurse’s station, the doctor greeted Elaine by asking whether she had been able to get any rest.


"All that I’ve needed," she said. "but I’d rest better if I could get in to see my husband."


"Ah well, he’s still a little groggy, but I can see that he’s a battler," the doctor said. "He was in pretty tough shape when he got here, but we were able to stabilize him and now we’ll wait and see how it goes, post surgery. I’m more optimistic now than when I first saw him, I’ll tell you that. I just finished telling him what a lucky guy he is. That bullet didn’t miss by much a vital artery leading to the heart."


Elaine thanked the doctor and when he left, she and the nurse continued on to Arthur’s room. On their way, walking down a corridor that was silent except for the squeaking sound made by the nurse’s rubber soled shoes, Elaine asked the nurse if this section of the hospital was set aside for people who were seriously ill.


"It’s like any other ward," the nurse said, "but we use it only when we’re short of beds. Right now we’ve got plenty of empty beds, but I guess they want your husband in a quiet place while he’s recovering."


Again, when they reached Arthur’s room, the nurse made Elaine wait by the door, and again, since Arthur was lying there, with his eyes closed, the nurse reached over and tapped him on his right shoulder.


When Arthur opened his eyes, he looked up towards the nurse, who said, "I’ve got a visitor for you." Arthur then turned his head away and said something to the nurse. Right after he did that, the nurse quickly moved away from Arthur’s bedside and returned to where Elaine was waiting.


"He says he’s tired and wants to rest," the nurse told Elaine.


"You mean he doesn’t want to see me?" Elaine said.


"He’s been through a lot," the nurse told her. "Maybe you should go to the cafeteria and have a cup of coffee. He might feel better later on, or you could wait until tomorrow."


"No," Elaine said, as she brushed past the nurse and went around to the side of the bed that put her directly in Arthur’s line of vision. The nurse, trying to reassert her authority, said, "Three minutes, no more than that, doctor’s orders." By then, Elaine had already grabbed Arthur’s right hand.


"Hey," she said, "the doctors say you’re going to be all right."


Arthur didn’t answer Elaine right away, but he tightened his grip on her hand, and after a moment, he pulled it up to his lips and kissed it. Seconds later, in a voice that was scratchy and hoarse, he said, "I’m sorry, more sorry than you can ever imagine. Sorry and ashamed."


He was about to say something else, but just shook his head because he had begun to cry.


Elaine reached over to the box of tissues on Arthur’s night stand, and still holding his right hand, she used her left hand to wipe away the tears from Arthur’s eyes.


"I just talked to your doctor," she said. "He said that you’ll be out of here in no time."


As much as thirty seconds passed before either of them spoke again and then it was Arthur, after clearing his throat, who said, "What else can I tell you besides how sorry I am?"


"You don’t have to say anything," Elaine said. "Besides, under the rules they have here, we’re not supposed to do much talking. Otherwise, they’ll ask me to leave."


"Does that mean I can’t ask you how you’re doing?"


"I’m fine. I’m taking a few days off so I can spend time with you, if the people who run this place ever let me."


"Can I tell you again how sorry I am?"


"Oh, shush. Right now, your job is to get better. Forget everything else. You’re a lucky guy, you know. The doctor said an inch or two to the right and—"


"Bingo, good-bye."


"Maybe for anyone else," she said, "but you’re luckier than most people."


Then, with a little laugh, he added, "Yeah, I’m lucky this time it was my left side. I’d be pretty lopsided if I had a bum shoulder and a missing leg on the same side."


"You’ve been through worse," she said. "That’s what I told your sister. Remember, I said, this is a guy who’s gone through things the rest of us can’t even imagine. He came back from that. He’ll come back from this."


A moment later, when the nurse arrived to say their time was up, she found that Arthur had hooked his right arm around Elaine and both of them were kissing with the kind of passion reserved for people who were meeting again after a long absence.



section break



Elaine left the hospital feeling quite pleased with her brief visit, particularly after Arthur’s nurse, who had seemed irritated with her at first, told her she was "a miracle worker."


"Earlier today, he was down, really down," the nurse said, "but once he saw you, he came back to life. You’re obviously the medicine he needed."


Elaine’s brightened mood lasted only until she got out of the cab that brought her home from the hospital. There, parked in front of her apartment house was her brother’s car, and sitting next to her brother was her mother. She made an immediate decision to ignore them, so she pretended, as soon as she left the car, that she hadn’t seen them. But just as she reached the door of her own apartment and put her key into the lock, her brother called out to her. When she turned towards him, she saw that he and her mother were hurrying towards the stairs that led up to her porch.


Elaine, waiting for them, made no move towards entering her apartment. If they had anything to say to her—and it was obvious that they did—they would have to talk with her there, on the porch. It didn’t bother her that this was a cool day either, chilly enough so that when they arrived, Elaine’s brother, who had a thin jacket on, hunched up his shoulders and put his hands in his pockets. Elaine’s mother, more warmly dressed, was the first to speak, and as she herself promised, what she had to say was short and sweet.


"Since you don’t answer the phone, we came here to tell you that you should leave him," she said. "And the sooner, the better. People think you’re a damn fool for even visiting him."


"I told you before that I don’t care what people think. Other people don’t get to decide how I should live my life. I do."


"This thing, from what I’ve heard, has been going on a long time," Elaine’s brother said. "It’s a wonder something like this didn’t happen before now."


"You make it sound like he deserved just what he got."


"Did he give you his side of the story yet?" her mother asked. "I’d love to hear him talk his way out of this mess."


"No, he hasn’t," Elaine said, "and I haven’t asked him either, because that doesn’t matter as much to me as it does to you and the people you’re talking to. I have a very good idea what happened. Nobody has to spell it out for me. I also know it isn’t going to change anything if we keep telling each other that what Arthur did is unforgivable. He knows that better than any of us."


"Your father’s fit to be tied," her mother said. "The relatives, I don’t know yet. I think most of them are too embarrassed to call."


"And both of you—you even think there’s something wrong if I go to the hospital to visit him."


"Look, we’re only telling you what’s best for you," her mother said. "We know you went through something like this when you got the telegram saying he was wounded. But this is different."


"So different that you think I should just walk away from him."


"That would be my choice," her mother said.


"Sorry, but I remember the nuns teaching us that marriage was a sacrament."


"That’s why the church gives annulments," her mother said.


"No, an annulment says that you were never married. Well, I was and I still am and I’m not going to pretend that the man I’ve lived with all these years isn’t really my husband."


Elaine’s mother didn’t answer, but Elaine’s brother, lifting his eyebrows and tilting his head towards his car, seemed to indicate to his mother that it wasn’t any use trying to change Elaine’s mind.


"If you don’t mind, I’d like to have a little time to myself," Elaine said. "I haven’t had lunch yet and after that I plan to take a nap. My nights have been a little restless lately."


Elaine’s brother was now blowing on his hands to warm them. Then, with a distinct nod of his head, he more clearly signaled to his mother that it was time to leave. His mother, with a weary sigh, turned and began walking away, but as she did, she told Elaine that she should try sleeping pills.


Then, stopping and turning towards Elaine, she added, "Pills can leave you feeling logy, but at this point, the important thing is for you to get some rest. That might help you come to your senses."


Elaine, without saying good bye, turned away, and unlocking the door, entered her apartment. She made herself some scrambled eggs and toast and then, after going through some mail she hadn’t looked at for two days, she lay down and took a nap. An hour or so later she was awakened by the phone ringing. She made no attempt to answer it, but whoever was calling let the phone ring for at least a full minute. Finally, to relieve herself of that bothersome ring, Elaine got up and answered the phone. It was Arthur’s sister, who apologized for not being able to finish the earlier call.


"Here’s something else I should have told you," Arthur’s sister said. "You have every right to leave him. You shouldn’t have to put up with him any longer, not after what I’ve been hearing. You may think I’m being a busybody and that I should mind my own business, but you should know that I’m on your side, not his."


Elaine thanked her, but said she was tired and didn’t care to talk just now. But she took a moment to tell Arthur’s sister that she wasn’t the kind of person who forgot her marriage vows.


"I just told my mother the same thing," she said. "Once this is over Arthur and I will decide how we’re going to handle this. But that’s a long way off. He has to get back on his feet first. Don’t worry. We’ll work it out."


Elaine didn’t bother to say good bye when she hung up the phone because she was quite certain that her mother was behind the call from Arthur’s sister.


By the next day, when she arrived at the hospital, her mother’s visit and the phone call from Arthur’s sister didn’t seem to matter very much once the nurse at the nurse’s station told her that Arthur’s condition continued to improve. The nurse, though she still walked with her to Arthur’s room, then stood aside and allowed her to enter on her own.


"Ten minutes today," the nurse said.


Arthur, sitting up in bed, didn’t hesitate at reaching out with his right arm and pulling Elaine towards him, and she, in turn, planted a kiss on his lips, but when she began to draw away, he pulled her closer, this time for a long, lingering kiss. As much as Elaine welcomed this show of affection, it was awkward for her physically since she had to bend over to kiss Arthur while being careful not to put her full weight on his chest. Finally, after a moment, when she pried herself loose from him and was standing by the bed, still holding onto his hand, Arthur said he had something to tell her.


"Uh, oh, this doesn’t sound good," she said.


"It isn’t," he said, "but it’s something I have to say because it looks like I’m going to survive this thing."


"Well, isn’t that good news?"


"Yes, but what comes next? That’s the hard part."


"I just hope you haven’t been talking to my mother."


"No, this is me talking. This is me without any advice from anyone else. It’s me who thinks it’s best for you if we take some time off from each other. I say that because I think a lot of people are saying that I got exactly what was coming to me. Nobody has told me that, not yet, but I know what they’re thinking. You make your bed, you sleep in it, right?"


"I hope you’re kidding," Elaine said.


"No, the more I think about it, the more I’ve decided it’s best for you to make a life for yourself. You don’t need me messing things up and dragging you through the mud."


"Stop it. You’re talking crazy."


"No. I’m not crazy. Look, as long as I’m around, people are always going to wonder why you haven’t left me. Every time they see us, it’s going to remind people of what happened. That’s just the way it is in a small town. I can hear them now. See that guy? He lost a leg in the war, but his crooked arm, that comes from something altogether different. And then, the same story that’s been told a thousand times, is going to be told all over again."


"I can take it if you can."


"You say that, but you don’t want to live with this all your life. And if we ever had kids, they’d hear about it, too."


Elaine took a moment to get a chair from the corner of Arthur’s room and drag it closer to his bed. She again took his hand in hers and then, when Arthur tugged on it, she leaned forward and pulled herself closer.


"Temporary insanity. That’s the only defense I have to offer," he said.


She smiled when she said, "Temporary?"


"I’d like to think so."


"Let me tell you something," she said. "I remember—you remember, too, I’m sure—when you came home from the war. What’s done is done, you said. That was your way of saying you can’t wish things away, no matter how hard you try. Truer words were never spoken. You got wounded. You dealt with it. This happened. It’s over. No looking back. We go on from here. And to hell with what people say about us."


A moment later, Arthur, looking over at Elaine, began humming a song, and then, haltingly, and with his voice still a bit hoarse, he sang the first line of the song.


"Gonna take a sentimental journey. Gonna set my heart at ease. Gonna take a sentimental journey, to renew old memories."


"Wow, that must be some medication they’re giving you," Elaine interjected.


"Seven, that’s the time we leave at seven," he sang. "I’ll be waitin’ up for heaven, countin’ every mile of railroad track that takes me back. Oh, gonna take a sentimental journey—"


"When did you start thinking you were Sinatra?"


That caused Arthur to tail off, but then he said, "I love that song. It reminds me of when the war was coming to an end and we all began to think we’d be going home soon. Home, getting home. That’s all everyone talked about. Home was like heaven. Once we got there, everything was going to be just great again."


"It’s a wonderful song," Elaine said, "I haven’t heard it for a while."


"Let me tell you one thing I regret," Arthur said.


"Only one?"


"Well, one to start with. I never should have let this leg stop us from dancing. So what if I was a little bit gimpy?"


"When you’re better, the first thing we’ll do is go out dancing," Elaine said.


There was a brief pause, almost as though neither of them had any idea what direction their conversation should take in the few minutes remaining to them. It was Arthur, a moment later, who said, "I hope you’re eating and taking care of yourself. And I hope you’re not going to let the talk around town get to you."


"It isn’t. The Enterprise was already printed for the week when this happened so there was nothing in the paper, but I guess the Manchester paper got hold of it. I can’t imagine what the Enterprise is going to say when it comes out. Not that it matters since by now everyone in town has their own version of what happened. You know something? I haven’t answered the phone even though it’s rung a lot. I talked with my mother twice and I can’t say that I enjoyed it either time. I talked with your sister, too. That wasn’t as bad, but I have this idea that my mother gave your sister a call, because what they said sounded so much alike. Frankly, they’re wasting their time because I don’t see things the way they do. Yeah, something bad happened, but you survived. Thank God for that. What else is there to say?"


"You’re a saint," he said. "I’m not."


Elaine heard the nurse arriving in time to pull herself up so that she was only sitting next to Arthur, holding his hand, when the nurse entered the room.


Glancing at her watch, the nurse said, "I’d say you folks have had enough time for today."



section break



The next morning, Elaine was awakened at 7:30, by the ringing of her phone. Fearing it was a nurse or doctor calling to say that Arthur had suffered some reverse, she scrambled out of bed and ran towards the phone. When she answered, she was relieved to hear Arthur’s voice. He first asked how she was doing, but Elaine, in a panicky voice, answered by asking him why he was calling. Oh, he was fine, he said, but he had just been told that he was being transferred to the Veterans Administration hospital in Lanesville.


"No," Elaine said, "they can’t do that. Who made that decision? Why wasn’t I told about this?"


"Calm down, calm down," Arthur said, "I’m telling you about it, okay? Another thing, the hospital in Lanesville is new, it just opened a couple of months ago. It’s a great place from what I’ve heard. Christ, it’s only a couple of hours away, by train. It’s not like they’re sending me to Nebraska."


"I want someone to explain what’s going on," she said.


"Well, talk to Sister Olivette. She runs this place. What she decides, goes, and that’s it, take it or leave it. You oughta see her. She’s like a little bulldozer. About an hour ago she came in and told me that my doctors okayed the transfer."


"We’ll see about that," Elaine said. "I’m on my way to see you right now."


As soon as she hung up, Elaine called a cab and, in the few minutes before the cab arrived, she got dressed. Arriving at the hospital, she went immediately to Arthur’s room, where she found a nurse preparing him for the trip to Lanesville.


Elaine took barely a moment to greet Arthur and give him a cursory kiss before asking the nurse when the transfer was going to take place. She also asked where she could find Sister Olivette.


"Her office is in the corridor in back of the reception desk," she said. She then told Elaine that the ambulance was already on its way from Lanesville.


Elaine, leaving immediately, had no difficulty finding her way to Sister Olivette’s office, but when she got there, a secretary asked her to wait because Sister was on the phone. Less than a minute later, the door to the office opened and Sister Olivette, maybe five feet tall, but with broad shoulders, was standing in the doorway.


"Mrs. Doyle," she said, "in here if you please."


Elaine suddenly felt as if she were a student who had been sent to the principal’s office to be disciplined. Nevertheless, she followed Sister Olivette into the office and took a seat in front of her desk. The office had two windows, but the blinds were closed and the only light came from the lamp on Sister Olivette’s desk.


Foregoing any pleasantries, Sister Olivette briskly and efficiently announced to Elaine that the medical staff had agreed it would be best for Arthur if he was transferred to the VA hospital.


"But why can’t he be treated here?" Elaine said.


"At Sacred Heart, we tend to the sick and dying, but we retain the right to decide which patients we treat once their condition is stabilized and they need long-term care. Your husband’s doctors said he had improved enough to make the trip to Lanesville, so I’ve decided they can tend to his needs there as well as we can here—maybe even better, considering what I’ve heard about the place."


"You haven’t really answered my question," Elaine said, her voice more assertive.


Sister Olivette, sitting upright behind her desk, with her hands folded across her midsection, and the light from her desk lamp reflecting on her rimless glasses, simply repeated that the best place for Arthur right now was the VA Hospital.


"We cared for him," she told Elaine. "Dr. McKelvey saved his life. You can’t ask for anything more than that from us."


"I appreciate that. But why are you in such a hurry to get rid of him. Maybe if he could stay here a few more days, he might be well enough by then so that he could come home. Then I could take care of him. You should understand that right now it means a lot to me, and to him, too, for us to be together. Can’t you see that?"


"When I told your husband about the transfer, he didn’t seem to have any objections," Sister Olivette said. "In fact, he seemed to think it was a good idea."


"You still haven’t told me why you’re moving him."


"I don’t think I have to repeat myself."


"You can’t wait to get rid of him, can you?" Elaine said, as she got up from her chair. Then, leaning forward, with her hands on Sister Olivette’s desk, she added, "You know that it would be better if he was here, close to me. But that doesn’t matter to you, does it, Sister? I get the impression that you’ve decided to kick Arthur out of your hospital because you don’t like the reason why he ended up here."


"It’s hard to answer somebody who claims to know what I’m thinking."


When she said that, she ran her finger between her chin and the edge of her wimple, almost as if it was suddenly pinching too tightly the flesh beneath her jaw. She also looked away from Elaine, towards the window.


"All I’m asking is that you be honest with me, Sister. If the situation with Arthur was different, if he was just another veteran recovering from a bad accident, would you be transferring him to Lanesville?"


Turning back towards Elaine, Sister Olivette said, "We extend care to those who need it, but we allocate care as we see fit, depending on the circumstances. We’re a small hospital and we don’t always have as many beds as we need. So we’re fortunate, when we’ve reached our capacity, that the VA hospital can absorb patients who are eligible to be cared for there."


"Why can’t you just say you’re kicking him out?" Elaine said, her voice growing louder. "First, you put him on a floor you don’t usually use, like he’s someone with a terrible disease. I also know that right now this hospital has empty beds. You know what, Sister? If you’re going to run a hospital, you really should be more truthful. Or to put it another way, follow the Bible—thou shalt not lie."


Elaine then turned and marched out of Sister Olivette’s office. On her way out, perhaps for the first time in her life, she deliberately slammed a door behind her when she left a room.


When Elaine arrived back in Arthur’s room, she found that he had already been moved. She ran down the two flights of stairs leading to the floor where the emergency room of the hospital was located and went to the entrance used by ambulances. There, she found Arthur on a gurney, wrapped in a blanket, and with a knitted hat pulled down over his ears. There were two nurses with Arthur, one standing in front of the gurney, the other standing next to the traction device attached to Arthur’s left arm, which was supported by a pole with wheels on it.


"You really can’t wait to get him out of here, can you?" Elaine said to the older of the two nurses.


"We were told the ambulance would be arriving within the next ten minutes, but that was 15 minutes ago," the nurse said.


"It’s like the army," Arthur said, "hurry up and wait."


"I just had a little talk with Sister Olivette," Elaine told Arthur. "We discovered that we don’t like each other."


"Don’t let yourself get upset," Arthur said. "I’m the reason why they have VA hospitals. Hell, I got a lifetime pass to any one of those places."


There was a quiet moment and the younger of the two nurses opened the door of the emergency room and looked out.


"It looks like snow," she said. "We had a couple of days when it looked like spring, then bang, it’s winter again."


"Are they sending you with him?" Elaine said to the older nurse.


"No," she said. "They send their own nurse. Don’t worry, she’ll make sure he’s all right."


A minute later the young nurse, looking out the door once again, announced that she had spotted the ambulance. Elaine, walking over to the door, saw the ambulance, a red light on its roof revolving slowly, turn off the highway and begin traveling up the long curved, sloping driveway that led to the hospital.


As the ambulance drew nearer to the hospital, the older nurse positioned Arthur’s gurney so that it could be pushed out the door. A moment later, pushing a button, she caused the door to open, and seconds after that, she began pulling Arthur’s gurney out the door, while the other nurse, carefully rolled the traction device holding Arthur’s arm.


As soon as the ambulance driver backed the ambulance into place, the nurse from Lanesville got out and came over to the older nurse from Sacred Heart with a document for her to sign. She was friendly and smiling as she introduced herself to Arthur and Elaine .


"Don’t worry," she told Elaine. "We’re going to take good care of him. We’re one of the newest hospitals in the VA system and we have equipment as good, if not better, than some of the big hospitals in Boston."


The nurse from Lanesville then got into the ambulance, where she was waiting to attach Arthur’s arm to a traction device. The two nurses from Sacred Heart were standing outside the ambulance when Elaine, surprising everyone, squeezing past them, climbed into the ambulance.


"Sorry," said the nurse from Lanesville, "but only medical personnel are allowed inside the ambulance.


"One minute," Elaine said, "just give me a minute to say good bye."


The nurse, without answering, got out of the ambulance, and joined the nurses from Sacred Heart. A brisk wind was blowing, and the younger of the two nurses from Sacred Heart, though she was wearing a jacket, was shivering and had pulled her hands up into the sleeves of her jacket. The nurse from Lanesville, who was wearing a heavier jacket and a hat and gloves, wrapped an arm around the nurse and held her close, trying to offer her some warmth and protection from the wind.


"I think they want to get going," Arthur told Elaine. Her answer was to grab his right hand and kiss it.


"I wouldn’t mind this so much," she said, "if I didn’t feel as though they were running you out of town."


"Maybe they are," Arthur said, with a grin. "But to be honest with you, I’d like to get this show on the road. If they aren’t going to let me stay here, Lanesville is the place for me to go."


Then, when Elaine wiped some tears away from her eyes, Arthur said, "Let me tell you again how sorry I am. I didn’t mean to cause you any harm."


Her response to that was to plant several kisses on Arthur’s face.


The nurse from Lanesville, poking her head into the ambulance, said, "Mrs. Doyle, we’re on a tight schedule. We’ve got two more transfers scheduled today, and with the weather we’re having, we really need to get going. Snow was already beginning to fall when we came through Pinkham Notch."


Only after Arthur promised Elaine that he would call her the moment he arrived in Lanesville—-and Elaine responded with another flurry of kisses—did she climb out of the ambulance. The nurse from Lanesville then got back into the ambulance. Then, after making a few adjustments to the traction device holding Arthur’s arm—and after waving good bye to Elaine and the nurse—she closed the back door of the ambulance. The thump of that door was the signal the ambulance driver had been waiting for and slowly the ambulance began driving away.


Elaine followed along for a few steps, but once the ambulance picked up speed, she stopped and stood there, watching it as it continued down the long looping turn that brought it to the highway. She remained standing there, even after the ambulance had left the hospital’s driveway and the only thing visible was the red light on its roof flickering through the branches of the trees that lined the highway. End of Story


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