Thursday, May 3, 2012

Henry’s Girl

Henry Miller, in his bedroom, had almost finished  packing.  Almost.  If it hadn’t been for first his sister, sidling up and giving him a picture of herself, and extracting a promise from him to mention her to his new army friends at Camp Shelby, followed next by Henry’s mother, sniffling in noisily, with a family photo to give to Henry,  so that he would feel less homesick once he had left, and finally Henry’s father, clearing his throat as he entered Henry’s room and reminding  his son to send a picture home-when Henry was all dressed up in his uniform-Henry would be packed and ready to leave.

The Greyhound bus that would take Henry part of the way from Albany, Oregon to Camp Shelby, Mississippi left at noon.  It seemed like only yesterday that he’d gotten his draft notice, informing him of the day he was to report for basic training.  And now that day had nearly arrived.  Henry placed the two photos inside his wallet and shoved it  into the front pocket of his dungarees.  The front pocket, his mother had insisted, where it would be safe from all of the potential muggers and pickpockets he might encounter along the way-especially in big cities like Kansas City.

Henry  loved his family.  Henry was proud of his family.  That went without saying.  But as he boarded the bus in a flurry of hugs, promises to write and tears that could no longer be held back, he had a secret desire.  It wasn’t a picture of his sister, or even his family that he wished to keep safely in his wallet, ready to show off.  It was a picture of a real live girl.

The first hour of the trip was uneventful.  Henry read The Blitz Grinders comic book he’d brought along, and ate two of the six sandwiches his mother had packed for him.  He dozed for the next hour, the motion of the bus lulling him to sleep  like a rocking chair.   When the Greyhound pulled into the terminal at Boise for a 30 minute leg stretcher, Henry left his seat and with stiff legs climbed down the 3 steps of the bus and followed the travelers ahead of him inside the terminal cafe, choosing to sit on one of the  stools near the counter.  A cheerful voice interrupted his study of the menu.  “Is this seat taken?”  Henry looked up into a pair of questioning brown eyes.  “No.  But it looks like it is now.”  Trying to sound relaxed, Henry’s heart was racing as fast as Seabiscuit rounding the final turn at Santa Anita. 

Her name was Mary Pennington and she was from Long Beach, Washington.  She was on her way to the Naval Air Station in Olathe, Kansas for training with the Navy WAVES.  Henry and Mary made amiable small talk over their coffee for the next 20 minutes until the “All Aboard!” call was sounded.  Mounting the bus steps ahead of Henry, Mary turned and asked shyly  “May I sit with you?  I don’t know anyone else.”  I bet you can guess what Henry's reply was.

For the rest of the trip, as Mary and Henry became better acquainted, an idea was brewing in Henry’s mind, if only he could work up the courage to voice it.  “May I take your picture?”  The question was out before Henry had time to reconsider.  “You see, I don’t have a girl, but I wish I did, and if I had your picture I could pretend and show it off to the other guys, and well, you know…”  His voice trailed off as though both his idea, and his courage had run out of steam.  “Of course.  I’d be flattered!”  Mary replied almost too quickly.  “And I will write to you if you like.  I don’t have a fella, and it would be nice to pretend that I do, you know.  Something to talk about with the other girls.” Henry hardly knew what to say, but he was starting to think quite a lot of Mary.  Digging  into his suitcase, he fished out his camera.  Mary smiled, and Henry took her picture. “Perfect!”   Henry exclaimed happily.  And then  reaching into the front pocket of his dungarees, he pulled out his wallet. 

“Now, would you like to see some pictures of my family?”

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