“I’LL NEVER TELL”

“My feet are numb.  I can’t move my damned toes, and my shoulder aches.  I never thought I’d get over the thrill of being crammed into a capsule and strapped to the wing of a plane, but I am over it.”

“The turbulence this afternoon was rough.  I kept craning my neck to see if I could see that the bolts holding this contraption on were solid but I couldn’t look up, just down, down, down at the countryside below.  Funny, the French people wave.  The bloody English never do. Sure, they can see the stars and stripes on the tail, but still they don’t wave.  When we came in low last week near Hastings I swear I could read the newspaper the blokes were sharing outside the pub, and still there was not so much as a waved snotrag.  Then we get to Dunkirk and the girls are out there flapping their skirts for us.  I don’t get it.  Some of the shots we took this spring are really swell.  Wish I could show them around Toledo!

Oh, Toledo.  And Fremont.  Oh, man, it just makes my heart ache to even think about it.

I’ll never forget the sendoff Arnie and them gave me the night before I left for basic.  Bennie told me the boys were going to have some kind of spread over at Arnie’s Tap and that everyone from the neighborhood wanted to give me a proper goodbye.  I figured what the heck and since Ava was sure to be there with Lorraine and them, I wouldn’t miss it, so I shined my shoes and put on my best clean shirt and walked over.

I think about it now; I can’t cry anymore.  It’s been too long, and it’s so far away.

Mother and Dad were there and someone had gotten Mother a corsage.  I still remember the smell when she and I danced a slow little two-step; a gardenia, of all things, such a fragile thing and it seemed to almost disappear into her bosom.  I remember holding her proper-like while we danced but all I wanted to do in my heart was bury my face in her lap like a little boy and beg not to have to leave her.  She was so proud of me, I could tell.  I could tell.  I could tell she had been crying and just thinking of it chokes me up so bad.

Dad was at the bar buying drinks, and even the little kids were at a special table drinking orange soda and skipping during the fast dancing.  I remember seeing my cousin Jerry looking at me with wide eyes.  He’s too young to be in this mess and he is lucky he’s back home, but he wants it something fierce.  His hair was slicked back but he had a wild cowlick on top and Aunt Norma kept coming over and spitting in her hand and trying to smooth it down.

And Ava in that dress – wow, what a knockout!  I just tremble all over to think of it.  She came in the door and the bar was so dark and the light from behind her silhouetted her figure so nice….it made me crazy then and it makes me crazy just now.  I don’t know what to feel.  Hunger.  Longing.  Animal thoughts, crazy animal thoughts so that I just dream of consuming her.  I miss her so much I just ache.

Her waist seemed so small in my hands when we danced.  Of course it had to be “Moonlight Serenade.”  That must be the song of every couple this year.  It’s perfect for slow, delicious dancing and I couldn’t get enough of the feel of Ava next to me.  Her parents stood at a nearby table, an amused but approving look on their faces; I never liked her old man Stanley but for the moment, he was proud of me.  Ava’s sister Janice and her best friend Lorraine were dancing with my buddies.  Bennie made time with Lorraine but she wasn’t having it.  She’s a hot sketch, that one, and Bennie just got outclassed, I guess.

So we’re dancing, and Mother made cake, and there was a punch bowl which started out as Seven-up and lime sherbet but somehow got a little stronger as the night wore on.  Pudge Gorbach and Arnie slipped some rum in there because Lorraine and them suddenly seemed interested in us guys.  I was swinging with Ava on a hot Benny Goodman number when I seen Bennie move by fast with Lorraine and his hand was on a place I knew Stanley wouldn’t let me touch Ava, but it was a sentimental time.  Dad was standing at the bar, smiling in a strange, sad way, watching us kids dance, sipping some Canadian whiskey and smoking quietly.  I’ll always wonder what he was thinking.  I remember his hand passed up to his eyes.  He took out his handkerchief and blotted his face.  He and Mother were pretty darned scared for me.

I’ll never forget when the music suddenly stopped.  There was a loud knock on the front door of Arnie’s.  Why knock?  The door’s open, come on in!  A loud knock.  Everyone stopped dancing, and talking.  Mother and Dad’s eyes met and Mom turned away to hide some tears.  Slowly the door opened and there are three guys standing in the doorway, one man in front, and two behind him, dressed in full military uniform.  My first thought was Jesus, I’m in trouble and I haven’t even started, and they walked slowly in.

I didn’t recognize them at first in their uniforms.  They had their Class A’s on and their shoes were like glass.  The creases in their pants were razor sharp and I looked up at the name on the man in front and it said “Eberflus.”  I about started crying.  It was my uncle George in his WW I uniform.  He’d been in France in 1918 and two of his buddies came with him to give me a proper send off.  Strohmeyer and Finkelstein, the only Jew in the neighborhood and here they are in parade dress at Arnie’s Tap.  You could’ve heard a pin drop.

I was fuckin’ speechless.  Pardon my French, but I was.  It was so quiet in there except in the background you could hear the ladies sniffling and someone let out a soft sob as the three guys came up to me, slowly marching in lockstep.  Uncle George raised his arm to salute me.  I didn’t even know how to salute back yet, I hadn’t learned a damned thing about the Army but I knew I was supposed to return the salute.

“Make us proud, Franky.  Remember who you are, and make us proud Americans.”  I saluted back.

Yes, sir, I said – my voice was catching in my throat I was so choked up.  The men behind him were standing at attention and I wondered what would happen next.  My Dad started singing – he always had such a great voice, oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, then Mom sang God Bless America until someone – Arnie, I guess – said drinks were on the house and we all collapsed in tears and hugs and whiskey and cake and spiked punch.  Ava never looked more gorgeous.  I wanted everything about her, all the time.

I wonder what they’d think if they knew I’d joined up with the spies and snapped photos of things which weren’t meant to be seen.  I wonder what they’d think about Lauren, and Spike, and what happened in London last May.  I only know that to think about telling it makes me ache all over again.”

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