Sunday, September 6, 2009


The sound of falling acorns on the roof took him back to that night at her house. Bobby Edward remembered it. He remembered her phone call past midnight. He remembered her hysteria, hours before he last saw her. He remembered Marianne his wife screaming at him as he hurried out the door of their house. Whore, whore, whore—damned whore. He remembered the look on the young girl’s face. The yellow light on the porch of her rented house was dim, throwing shadows around her cheeks. She had seen a ghost. The ghost of a person without a head standing by her bed. She was alone in the house. Her roommates, both French girls, were away for the weekend. He remembered her almond-shaped eyes, elongated, liquid brown, staring at him as still as painted.  He kissed them, and she let him. It was his first and also last kiss. She had the most beautiful eyes for a Vietnamese girl. Twenty-three years old, half his age. He had never dared even hold her hands. She was his teacher. She taught Vietnamese at a language school on K Street in Washington, D.C. Six students in her class. Five of them came from the Agency for International Development; he was the only Army man, freshly assigned by the military to participate in a pacification program still in its formative stage in South Vietnam.

*   *   *    *
He tried not to think by keeping his eyes on the curvy road, the wind whistling past his car’s rolled-down window. He thought he smelled  perfume. He flipped up the visor. Now the sun fell in his eyes, and the sky blazed in spun gold. He blinked. Her almond-shaped eyes brown as liquid maple sugar. His stomach warmed. Yes, he was twice her age. He’d told her that and it numbed his feelings the way Novocaine numbed one’s gums. At a corner of the intersection stood a church with a white steeple. The red light gave him time to gaze at the red-brick church, its steep spire, and his mind went blank.
He took a deep breath. The fragrance was gone. Why must he deny what he felt about her? Why must he put it out each time it came flaming up from the bottom of his heart? He hadn’t felt this warm, intoxicating sensation in a long time.
Once when he was a young man, at a Christmas party, he had felt such an intoxication. He was twenty, a second lieutenant, having just finished the basic training that summer at the Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia. He was to go on to finish college and, before his graduation, return to the OCS for advanced training. Both his college degree and the completion of the OCS advanced course would give him a commission. He’d chosen American History as his college major, for growing up he was a history buff, fascinated by the American Civil War. The first time he ever felt truly sad was the time he read a letter written by a Confederate soldier who said he would give up all of Virginia to see his wife and his two-year-old son again.
After dinner at the Christmas party, he was chatting with another young man who went to the OCS, and it was at his parents’ house in Fredericksburg, near Quantico, that they celebrated his graduation. When they gathered around the dining table, the mother brought out the cake and everyone in chorus said wow. Heaped from the top were white orchids and red roses, creamy, lustrous, tumbled down the side. They called it a Twelfth Night cake, even though it was Christmas Eve. In one half of the cake, before it was baked, the host had buried a pea and in the other half a bean. Now the cake was cut in two halves and the half with a pea was served to the girls and the half with the bean to the boys. As she served each girl a slice of the cake, the mother said, “The princess and the pea, may you find it in yours.” The boy who found the bean would become king for the night, and the girl who found the pea would become his queen. On the third bite Bobby bit into something hard. He stopped and felt it with his tongue, then, just then, the girls were squealing from a corner of the room.
Marianne found the pea!”
A red-haired girl was ushered out from the corner, pinching the pea with her fingers.
“Who found the bean? Any one of the gentlemen?”
Timid, blushing, Bobby held out his hand with the bean sitting on his palm. The girl came forward, her eyes riveted on his. She was tall, big-boned, her hair flowing to her waist shone reddish in the brilliant gold lights from the chandelier. He met her gaze as they stood face to face. Her eyes were longish and pale blue, paler than his. Her gaze held an abandon and he felt wanted.
Her name was Marianne McGillis, a freshman from a small town in New Hampshire. She traveled with her cousin who dated the boy soon to be a commissioned officer. That evening she played the piano to the applause of the crowd. Beethoven, Brahms, Verdi. Then she pounded away Up on the Housetop and the crowd tapped their feet and clapped their hands. She swayed her head, her fingers danced on the keyboard, and she winked at him leaning against the door a few feet away as she sang,
Give her a dollie that laughs and cries,
One that will open and shut her eyes.
In the ho, ho, ho, faded away the tinkling piano and the crowd applauded. Marianne sang The Twelve Days of Christmas.  Slow, raspy, and her cousin resting her head on her boyfriend’s shoulder joined in and her voice was clear, gliding above Marianne’s scratchy voice and the crowd hummed along. . . .
On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five golden rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtledoves,
And a partridge in a pear tree.
Every time Marianne sang the words “My true love gave to me,” her eyes would  casually meet his. He had butterflies in his stomach and now, twenty-six years later, he felt that flutter again warming him like the first sip of coffee in the morning.

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