Romance / Nursing Home / A locket / 880w
After I got back, an’ I put my helmet up in the attic to never ever look at it again, I ran out of things to do real quick. Ma and Pa were dead ‘fore I left for France and they were still dead, turnt out, when I walked back into town. Gary an’ Missy were gone somewhere and there wasn’t no one could tell me where, so it weren’t like I had any family or anythin’. I was just glad to be out a’ the trench with all my hands an’ feet still attached, mos’ly. Made it easier to pick up shifts at the mill an’ sit up right on the stools at Bailey’s.
But God fixed up somethin’ for me to do an’ that was the Spanish flu. It snuck out a’ Chicago ‘fore we realized what was happenin’, and our little podunk town got hit hard. The old folks’ home, nobody really wanted t’help out there, but so many of’em got sick, so I said fuck it, I can follow a lieutenant’s orders, I can follow a doctor’s orders. I volunteered. Took my tags, just in case. Fuck it.
Becca was the head nurse but you wouldn’t a’ known it lookin’ at her, more like a Candy Striper kinda face, just a kid. But let me tell you, the firs’ time she hollered at me to stop standin’ around and get to changin’ the bedpans, I saw why everyone took her real serious. Ran a tight ship, but was kinder than Jesus himself to her patients. Half those old sick rascals were in love with her, and it weren’t too long ‘fore I was, too.
I was twenty, still a dumb kid, and I got it in my mind that if I pretended, and I mean pretended real good, to have the flu, then she’d press her hand on my forehead, and she’d smile as she spooned me medicine, and she might even take my pulse and feel it thump thump thumping like it always did when she looked my way. I don’t think she liked me much, me being a soldier. She didn’t approve a’ the war. But it ain’t like the war asked my opinion.
So I spent a day lyin’ on an empty cot and moanin’ and tryin’ hard to break a sweat, but the only thing I got was a real nasty look from Daisy. She had a mean mug that could curdle milk, and I sure as hell didn’t want her takin’ my pulse. But I did hear some a’ the other nurses talkin’, gossipin’, ‘bout Becca and the locket she wore. ‘Parently her sweetheart was still over there, an’ she had his picture in that locket.
Well I’ll be damned if I didn’t get sick with the real fuckin’ thing not too long after. Head started feelin’ woozy, and I spewed all over the floor, then I shat myself like a baby (or one a’ those oldsters). Real good. That was how she found me, ‘course. Miserable sonuvabitch in my own shit. She got two other nurses and they cleaned me up. The Spanish flu sucks the life out a’ you, is my excuse. I was deadweight. In the army they would a’ just shot me like they did a few guys in my platoon who got typhus.
Becca didn’t come ‘round much, she was busy. I started havin’ the dreams again, with the smoke an’ the blasted-off arms an’ the feet black as tar, just lyin’ there. I snuck a bottle a’ laudanum, I think it was, off a cart. It’s good, laudanum. I forgot most everythin’ for a little while. ‘Parently I forgot Becca wasn’t my girl, ‘cause I told her I loved her one night while she was checkin’ my temperature and she slapped me an’ told me it didn’t matter if I was sick or even if I was a proud man who’d served his country, if I got fresh again I’d be in for it. Then she took my laudanum.
It was a bad couple a’ weeks after that.
When I got better it felt like I’d crawled out a’ the trenches all over again. Felt sick over the ones who hadn’t made it. For about a month I volunteered again diggin’ graves outside the city, and that was where I met Becca again, at her sweetheart’s funeral. All in black, she looked like a woman, not a girl. Suddenly I knew why I kept on survivin’.
We got married in 1922. I asked if she’d wear her nurse’s uniform for the ceremony, but she gave me a swat and a little smile and said you gettin’ fresh again, Mike? I just told her it was what she usually wore when she was savin’ people, so.
We have a baby on the way. I hope she’ll be a lil’ girl who likes horses and candyfloss, and won’t ever know nothin’ about rationin’ or waitin’ for news that’s days late.
I know Becca thinks about him still, but why wouldn’t she? Plenty a’ people I’ll never forget. She keeps that locket in a drawer, in the vanity, in the house I built for us. An’ I keep my tags there, too. They keep company, like we do.
I’ve been very lucky to not have war impact my life as directly as this. But I don’t think the experience of veterans has changed much, over the years. I can’t imagine how anyone could cope without the help of another person (and even then, not become utterly dependent on that person).
I also have crazy respect for nurses. I hope that if this story reflects reality for anyone, that they’re happy.