In the blue monochrome of night modulating to daylight, the substance of the man at the kitchen table was black, the glow of his cigarette a red star, cold as Jupiter. The star rose and fell in a slow, regular curve. When the man exhaled, the pale diffusion of his smoke, like the steam rising from his cup, was barely visible. The exhalations were not audible, no more plosive than breathing, and they barely disturbed the upward curl of steam when the clouds met. Occasionally the cup, a white china cup in a matching saucer, rose with the glowing cigarette, cigarette and cup handle delicately balanced in a practiced hand.
Every few minutes, the black shape jerked forward slightly in the convulsions of a dry cough: once, twice, again, and perhaps once more, each sound like the bark of a fox, high and metallic, not so much resisted as reduced to its necessary economy of sound and pain.
Andrew Thomas Phelan sat alone in the evening light, his back against the comfortable cold of the gravestone. He rested his neck on the edge of the stone, staring unconsciously into the burgundy depths of the red maple in front of him. He was smoking a cigarette, a Camel. In 1938, it was a man's cigarette. Old enough to enlist, old enough to smoke. He was eighteen.
His hair was crow-black and gleaming. His body was trim, thin but not so thin that his elbows and knees would look like Tinkertoy joints. Once he beat up a punk who called him Popeye because his forearms were as thick as his flexed biceps. There was more to it than that, of course, a crack about squaws. He wasn't a roughneck, after all. Marie wouldn't have liked that.
He didn't pretend he was talking to Marie. She would have liked him to pray, but he hadn't done much praying in the six years she had been gone. He had prayed that night, while she lay in the next room crying and coughing blood, her mother's sister ministering to her. He offered to die for her that night. She wouldn't have liked that, but he didn't care, then or now. Neither did God, if there was One. Father August, when he talked with him about it after the funeral, had an explanation.
"God accepted the spirit of your sacrifice, Andrew, but His actions cannot be governed by our desires."
"But why make me live and make her die?"
"Make you live? How strangely you put things. I wonder sometimes where you people learn English. God did not 'make' you live; He let you live."
"And He let Mama die."
"Yes. And I don't like the judgment in your tone, young man; but yes, He let her die. Not because He didn't care about her, but because for reasons of His own, it was the best thing. Isn't it selfish of you to want her to continue to suffer? Do you think she is worse off now than she was a week ago?"
"I think God could have taken her suffering away without taking her life."
"I use her continued suffering as an example, Andrew, and you attack my example rather than considering my meaning. We cannot know God's reasons for taking her to His bosom. I can surmise, and you can refute my suppositions, but the mystery of God's reason will remain obscure."
"If I don't want to live without her, why should I have to?"
"To want to die is a sin, Andrew. Not a serious sin, and not one requiring a penance, especially under the circumstances, but it is a sin of pride and despair."
"How can it be pride? Despair means giving up, right?"
"Yes. It is prideful to place your judgment above God's. Only God can give, and take, life."
"Doesn't God ever make mistakes?"
"Of course not."
"Well, how about the tree in the Garden of Eden? God put it there, and if he hadn't, Adam wouldn't've eaten from it, and none of that would've happened. That was a mistake. And the Flood: that was cleaning up after a mistake. And Saul"
"That's enough!" Father August spoke sharply and stood up. "You are unhappy, and your grief tempts you into blasphemy." He walked away from the boy, his skirts whisking briskly like Marie's would when she prepared dinner behind him while he sat reading at the kitchen table. Father August turned and regarded him sternly. "Your mother would not have been pleased to hear you question God's will."
Andrew did not look down respectfully as the priest scolded him. He stared, instead, away from the man, intent upon the cabinets across the room. Father August understood that he was making no progress. Looking about the room, his eyes fell on Marie Phelan's knickknack shelf. A delicate blown-glass hummingbird, scarcely half an inch tall, was the centerpiece. The priest crossed to the shelf and took up the hummingbird in one big hand, holding it between middle finger and thumb, the extended wingtips indenting the palps. That got Andrew's attention.
"Andrew, child, life is a delicate and precious thing. We hang in God's hands like the sparrows Jesus spoke of and St. Francis spoke to. It is God's gift, and we live while waiting for God to take us back to Him. Some He takes back early, sometimes because they are so good they earn their eternal life quickly. Life is temporary, but it is God's choice when it must end. We are God's children, and life is his first gift to each of us."
"They call people who take their gifts back 'Indian givers.'"
The hummingbird slipped. Father August snatched at it with his other hand and caught it, but not without snapping off a wing. He glared angrily at the fragments of glass as if they too had offended God. Then he set them down with precise gentleness.
"You will say one hundred paternosters and pray for forgiveness. Do not let your soul stand in jeopardy, Andrew. You will come to confession Friday and tell me how you have progressed in humility."
Andrew knew he had said too much. He looked down, not in shame, but to brace himself for what might follow. What kind of father kills his children? he thought, and he waited for Father August to read the thought and strike him down. Father August or God. Father August left.
He sat comfortably against the stone of his mother's grave. His real mother, who smelled different from Anna, who wore long skirts and and stared his father down. Not like Anna. Anna moved with the delicacy of an unwelcome dog. He had run away to find the dark flannel-shirted relatives he'd seen only once, at Marie's wake, men and women from Loon Lake, Chusuncook. He made it nearly to Portland.
Anna and his father wanted him to call Anna "Mother"; he resisted even when his father's punishment became absentmindedly brutal, knuckles backhanded on a temple, a fist bruising his arm. After they married, he took to calling himself "Tom," taking his middle name. He told Sophie Bowdin and his friends it was "simpler." Then one night he told Sophie that it was because Andrew was his father's middle name.
He was eighteen, not very tall, but an inch taller than his father. Back from boot camp, he realized with astonishment that he looked down to meet his father's eyes. He was civil to his father's wife, and together he and David Phelan avoided the physical contact that might have ruined what little good they had left. The Army had taught him not to let any man hit him again; he hadn't said the words, but they must have been visible behind his eyes when he looked his father in the face. Once when he was roughhousing with Michael, the youngest, he looked up to see the old man watching him speculatively.
The Phelans ate at a long bunkhouse table big enough to seat all the kids. Patrick and Edward, twins about a year behind Tom, were already talking of enlisting right after they hit eighteenin fourteen months. As eldest, Tom sat to his father's right, and his stepmother, Anna, sat across from him, next to the baby. His favorite sister, Sharon, was seven; she was feeding the baby.
"Sophie wants to come to Fort Benning with me," he announced at dinner two days before his furlough ended. "We're going to get married."
"They won't let no buck private have a wife, will they? Where'll she live?" his father replied, breaking a biscuit between his thumbs and reaching for his table knife. Anna continued to work on her potatoes, crushing them methodically with her fork, folding butter, pepper and salt into the doughy mash, the fork leaving crosshatches on the surface. She did not look up, but she sighed a volume of disapproval. Neither David nor Anna liked Sophia Bowdin.
"She can live off base pretty cheap, and we'll see each other pretty often. Once I make sergeant, we can get married housing for sure."
"Well, what if FDR gets us into the war in Europe?"
"That isn't going to happen, Dad."
"You think so, huh?"
"I think so."
"Well it might," Anna said, as if responding to a question about the weather. Tom ignored her. Firmly he segmented off a piece of hamburger patty with his fork. Snapping it up, he spoke through his chewing.
"Ok, then, we could get into a war. I could get run over by a train. Or drown. We want to get married."
"What's your rush, kiddo?" the old man said, cocking an eye and one side of his mouth. "You been where you shouldn't?"
"Shut up. It's a reasonable question. If he's been sampling her goods, and now she's got one in the oven, then I guess he'll have to marry her. I can't see no better reason, save sheer contrariness."
"I love her, Dad."
"Then you lack your daddy's good taste, boy."
"F'Cripes' sakes, what have you got against her? You've been down on her before you even met her."
"Her daddy was a revenuer, for one thing. What's lower than a man who makes his living by betraying his neighbors? And they're frogs. Frog Catholics."
"They're American, and ex-Catholics, f'cryin' out loud. Like us. Mama was a Catholic," he added, scanning the room to meet his brothers' and sisters' eyesthose not riveted on their plates. Nine-year-old Stephen's hair was as black as Tom's, his expression adoring.
David gave him a long look. "You can't 'ex' a frog Catholic. Her old man was born in France. Her mother's name was Labarge. Canucks, probably."
"And we have ancestors from Ireland. So what?"
"An Irishman's a white man."
"And a Frenchman's not?"
"You know what I mean."
"I guess I don't." Tom bit back what came to mind. His father chewed his biscuit, staring speculatively at his son. Tom decided, and he met the old man's eye.
"I guess I'm only half a white man, at that. So what's the difference?"
"You're right at that. My half. Maybe you should marry the bitch."
Anna flinched. Tom stood up.
"Take that back."
"Back? You mean my permission to marry her?" The old man grinned up at his son.
"You know what I mean."
The malicious grin faded. "Or you'll what?"
Tom was silent. They faced each other, the old man seated, the young standing, ten seconds, longer, while the children, attentive to their food, shot furtive glances back and forth. Tom broke the silence. He reached down and scooped up the meat on his plate, staining his hand with grey-brown gravy. "You white people make eating too complicated." He raised the meat to his mouth and took a bite, then dropped the rest on his plate. "I'll be going." He walked away from the table and out the kitchen door. After a minute or so, the roar of his motorcycle burst into the room, then modulated as he killed the choke and dopplered away.
Next day, the motorcycle fell off a sawhorse while he was working on it. The day after that, he should have been on a train; instead he was in a hospital. They had to remove half his stomach, he would tell his children years later. That was why he never wore an ounce of fat the rest of his life. Sophia worked in a five'n'dime; she spent as much time sitting with him as she could.
Tom loved her hair, long strawberry blonde curls like one of those pictures in the King Arthur illustrations. She sat and read to him, the classics, while he mended. Her voice had the rise and fall of a stage actress in it. In the good parts, she would hold the book high like a hymnal and glance at him between the paragraphs. He liked Dumas, Melville, and Thomas Hardy. She wouldn't read Hardy after Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Too nasty. He wondered what she'd think of his private reading: James T. Farrell, Vardis Fisher, and Erskine Caldwell, Frank Yerby and Frederic Prokosch. He lay still under her ministering.
Impatient at last with the course of his recovery, he fled back to Fort Benning. They met at the Portland depot to say goodbye.
"I can't come back for at least three months."
"I'll be waiting, Andrew."
"Will you write to me?"
He laughed. "Not every day. You'll wear out your fingers!"
"I don't mind." She was six inches shorter than Tom, and she gazed up into his face like Irene Dunne in Showboat. She loved the movies.
"I love you, Sophie."
"I love you, Andrew," she replied, holding his eyes with hers. Then she dropped the lids, as if falling asleep, and relaxed her mouth invitingly. He kissed her chastely, lip to lip only, then drew her to him and held her head against his chest.
"Let's get married when I come next time," he said, her hair rustling against his cheek as he spoke.
"All right," she whispered.
The train whistle broke the spell. He stepped away. Pat and Eddie were standing discreetly to one side, and he waved at them as he hefted up his duffle, wincing at the clench of fresh scar tissue on his belly.
"Take it easy, Andy," Pat yelled, waving madly as Tom made his brisk way to the steps of the passenger car.
"Watch Sharon for me, Pats!" Tom shouted back. Tossing his gear onto the train, he grabbed a handrail and pulled himself gingerly aboard, then turned to wave to Sophia Bowdin once more. Had it not been for the lines of pain delicate in his face, the picture would have been perfect. Sophie could not see the lines.
They were married six months later, a civil ceremony. Her father was there, an elegant man with pince-nez and a gambler's mustache, but not her mother. Tom's father had refused to come, so Anna was absent as well. Edward was best man after winning a hard-fought arm wrestle with Pat. The rest of the Phelan kids were there, and some of Sophie's sisters and brothers. They honeymooned in a hotel at Old Orchard Beach, where the marriage was consummated in a clumsy, painful rush that left him shamed and her bleeding. He stayed four days; then she went back to her parents, he to Georgia. A month later he was back. He had, as he predicted, made sergeant quickly, and he was back to bring her with him to the base.
While they were sitting on the couch, her sister Lucy, a senior, stared at them, then whispered something in Linda's ear that made the younger girl gasp and blush, throwing her hands over her mouth.
"What!" Sophie snapped.
"Nothing," Lucy said sullenly.
"What did you say?" Sophie demanded again. The two girls glared at each other, then Lucy smiled.
"I just said, 'I bet I know what you'll be doing tonight.'" Then she pressed her index fingertips together and made them writhe lewdly.
"Lucy, you slut! You get out of here! I'm telling Mom!"
Lucy's smug face communicated the futility of that threat, but she ran from the room, dragging Linda along.
That night he began with seduction, moved to entreaty, shifted at last to force, taking her as gently as he could in the face of her stiff passivity. As he lay beside her quiet body afterward, he wondered if Lucy had heard.
They went together in her father's Buick to Marie's grave south of Biddeford, where he left flowers. He hadn't told her much about his mother. It was a private place. Sophie's family had moved to Maine after Marie died; Sophie had never met her.
"It doesn't say her real name," Sophie observed.
"You mean her maiden name."
"Yes. I think she'd want it."
"I dunno," he said at last.
"I'm sure that's what she would have wanted."
"She didn't have any family to speak of."
"She must be sad,"Sophie murmured, "looking down on this stone. I'm sure she'd have wanted her real name on it. I'm sure of that."
They set up housekeeping in a duplex on base. He was stationed at Fort Benning for two years. Sophie filled her days with radio and magazines and cards with the girls. About once a month, she lay invalid for several days. She complained of headaches. They got her glasses. They slept in twin beds. "They want me to go for officer training," he announced one night over dinner. "I dunno. We could use the extra money. With the baby and all."
"Officer? You want to be an officer?"
"I dunno. It'd mean some changes. We'd have to move to officers' quarters."
"And you'll have to lord it over your buddies, ordering them around. And me, being looked down their noses at by their snippy high-class wives, with their maids and fancy wines. They treat me wors'n a nigger."
"I don't have a lot of friends here. My friends back home."
"I can just see it. I wouldn't have any friends. They wouldn't even speak to me, probably. And what about the baby? How would they treat him?"
"Some of the officers came up from the ranks."
"They're the worst ones. They have to be, to fit in. That Lieutenant Masters, for instance. His wife snubs me in the PX every time, even though we go to the same church. She pretends she doesn't see me, so I won't speak to her."
"Not everybody's like that, hon."
"It will be awful," she concluded, breaking a fragment of meat with her fork. She chewed quietly, gazing at her plate. They ate for a while in silence.
"Captain Havlichek thinks I'd make a good officer. And Major Walters is all for it. Siddons too." He did not look up as he spoke.
"I don't trust them."
He looked up. "What do you mean?"
"I just don't trust them. That Siddons. He makes me sick. He thinks enlisted wives are just dying to throw themselves at him. Every time I see him, he undresses me with his eyes." She paused. "I'd be afraid of what might happen, with you gone. Him coming round to see how I'm doing."
"I'd only be gone six weeks. What might happen?"
"You'd be surprised what can happen to a woman at Fort Benning."
At last he got it. "Sophie, you're two months pregnant, and I wouldn't be leaving for a couple months; there's paperwork, and a waiting period. Nobody's going to mess with a woman four/five months pregnant."
"You'd be surprised. My mother told me about a man, James R. Randall, she knew about. He raped a pregnant woman and left her for dead in the woods west of the beach. Naked. They found her wandering along a back road, naked and half crazy."
"When was this?"
"I don't know. When I was little."
"You didn't live in Old Orchard Beach when you were little. I lived there all my life, and I never heard of it."
"Well, it wasn't in the papers, for Heaven's sake."
"I never heard of anybody named Randall."
"Maybe it was up in Vermont. I don't know. I was little. But the Mohawks used to rape pregnant women."
"Siddons is no Mohawk."
"Exactly. They don't have Indian officers. Not even part Indian. Did you think about that? What if they're just leading you on? Maybe they just want you to go to officer training so you can flunk out. To break your spirit."
"I think I can do it."
"Sure, but what if they flunk you on purpose? What if they pick on you and make it impossible for you to make it? Then you come back here and the enlisted men hate you because you went off to be an officer and the officers despise you because you didn't make it."
He fooled with the peas on his plate, stirring them so they caught in the mashed potatoes. He said nothing for a long time, nor did he meet her earnest eyes, which he could feel on him.
He took his cigarettes from his shirt.
"I wish you wouldn't. At the table."
He put them back. He fooled with his food, then laid his fork carefully beside the plate.
"I guess you're right," he said at last. "It's a bad idea." He got up, fumbling at the cigarette pack again. "I'm going to sit outside."
She began to eat again. When he reached for the door, she said, "We could use the money. A lieutenant's salary, with the baby and all."
She lost the baby. The miscarriage came in the fifth month. When she came home from the hospital, Tom had hired a colored woman to nurse her until she was fully recovered. Albertha was friendly at first, but after a few days she hardly spoke to him. They met only briefly, twice a day, in the morning when she arrived and passing at the door when he came home.
After two weeks, he came home to find Sophie alone, sitting in a living room chair, a Reader's Digest in her lap.
"I fired her. I don't need her around, eating our food and bossing me."
"Are you sure you're well enough?"
"I'll be all right."
She was not pregnant again for a year. Six months to term, Tom got his orders; his unit was going to France. Sophie went home to stay with her family. Tom was gone for three years, but he got two furloughs, coming home TDY from London when little Tommy was ten months old, and again when he was two.
Sophie's mother wanted to name the baby Frances Xavier. They compromised on Thomas Aquinas. "Aquinas," Tom wrote in a postcard to Pat. "What kind of a name is Aquinas for a kid!"
His first night back, they borrowed her father's car and went to the Starlight, down in Kennebunkport, to dance to the music of Stan Getz. Linda watched the baby. She loved mothering him.
They returned late. No one was up. They sat on the porch. He smoked. She was wearing her hair like Ann Sheridan. It looked like red mink, he thought. He had his arm along the back of the porch swing; he kissed her after he finished the cigarette. She protested the taste of smoke. He kissed her again, slipping a hand between her thighs. She struggled away.
"Stop that! I'm not one of your French floozies!"
"What? What are you talking about?"
"Oh Andrew, don't you think I know what you soldiers are like? Don't you think I know what goes on, you hungry men in French cafes, with those abandoned French women lounging around, willing to do anything for some nylons and a little money."
"Christ, Sophie, I haven't been messing with women!"
"There's no need to swear. And keep your voice down."
"I'd like to have you trust me. Jeez."
"It's not you. Men can't help it." She squirmed a little on the wooden slats. "Facing death every day."
"It's not like that. I've been on the front, but most of the time you sit in tents bored stiff."
"What really gets me is the dirty draft dodgers. That Philip Crosman with his 1-Y and his greasy smile. I catch him watching me when I hang up the clothes. He hangs over the fence drooling like a dirty dog."
"He's been bothering you?"
"It's just the way he looks at me. I know what he wants."
"I'll talk to him."
"Don't do that. It'll just start trouble."
"I want him to stay away from my wife."
"But if you get him mad, then he'll do something after you're gone. I hate this war! If only it would end."
He kissed her neck.
"Stop," she said, half seriously. She twisted away. She faced him. "Andrew, war has changed you. I hardly know you."
"I'm your husband," he said. "I love you. Let's go inside."
"All right," she said, smiling coyly. As they passed through the door, he placed a hand on her hip; she lifted it to her waist.
When she was in bed, he came to her in the dark. She shuddered, as if with cold, when he lifted the covers and slipped in beside her. He kissed her, pressing against her leg with his pelvis, then stroking her thigh with his, sliding the nightgown up almost to her hips. She still had her panties on.
He hooked fingers in the waistband and drew the panties down. She lay still. He struggled to pull them past her hips; then they were free and he slipped them down to her ankles. This required him to get to his knees and lean toward her feet. Finished, he bent and kissed her thigh, moon white in the moonlight.
"Andrew!" she whispered.
He lay upon her before she could protest further, his aching groin floating on the soft flesh of her thighs. She held her legs together; her hands were gathered on her chest like a body's in a casket. He kissed her and intruded a knee between her legs. They stiffened.
"Sophie. I have to go back to New York in two days."
"I love you."
She exhaled through her nose and her mouth softened under his. Slowly, by degrees, her legs relaxed. When he entered her, she whispered, "It hurts." He stopped.
"What can I do?"
"Just do it," she said. He took her crossed hands in his and spread them away from her breasts, trying to kiss them through the fabric of her nightgown. She was wearing her bra.
"Take it off," he said, raising himself from her motionless body.
"Take off your bra. Take off your nightgown."
"If it's just for me, then let's do it my way."
He sat facing away from her. Waiting. He sat still through the shift and rustle of her movements. The nightgown fell beside the bed. He heard the bra fall to the floor. Her stillness told him she was done. He turned to her. She lay with the sheet gathered in her fists, clutched at her neck. He pulled the fabric free and lowered the sheet, exposing her nakedness slowly. The blue light through the window gave her skin a skim milk look. He did not look at the black triangle at the center of her body, but she put a hand across her groin and gathered her breasts under the other arm, a prone September Morn. He forced her legs open and thrust into her flesh. She lay like death under him. Rocking into her, his head on her shoulder, he thrust a hand under her pelvis and lifted her to meet his flesh. At first she was tight and slick, and she breathed silently. After a minute or so, her breathing came deeper, rougher, and she opened inside, still motionless except for the heaving of her ribs.
He bit her neck hungrily, little nibbling bites she flinched away from. His strokes communicated frustration and violence and at last she raised one arm and put it around him, her breath unreadable sobs. He came with an angry convulsion, at once relieved and furious, flooded with self-disgust as soon as the last pulse faded. He rolled away at once.
She lay still, catching her breath. Then she sat up, saying, "Can I have my nightgown?" Without looking at her, he reached it up and over to her. She rolled from the bed, clutching the nightgown to her naked body. Then she gasped with disgust and thrust a handful of the nightgown between her legs while she scuttled to the closet. The arrangement of the door allowed her to use it as a screen while she replaced her nightgown with a clean one. Lying on his back, he watched her hands appear like a flamenco dancer's above the door when she dropped the new nightgown over her head, then saw a flash of white flank as she wriggled into it. She walked briskly to the dresser, pulled new panties from it, and stepped into them. She returned to their bed.
She did not get up, except for necessities, all the next day. The girls brought the baby to her when it needed its bottle. A raped woman is more likely to quicken, David Phelan had told his sons one night over a beer at the kitchen table. Sophie had Richard nine months after that night, their second son.
It was many years after the war that the boys found the German bayonet in the attic. Tommy thought it was neat, and he and Ricky took it down to show their dad. Tom never talked about the war. They played with him sometimes, wrestling on the floor. He took them to the shooting range a few times, and they marveled that their dad was a marksman. Neato! Basking a little in their admiration, he had shown them how good he was with a throwing knife. That had been a hunting knife. This was an honest-to-God bayonet, a Nazi bayonet, f'Cripes' sake. The blade was two straight edges tapered to an arrowhead point. The shaft was dished on both sides. The blade made a horrifying snick when it clicked home in the metal sheath.
"Dad! Where'd you get this?"
Tom looked up from the engine of their car, a rag in one hand. Spark plugs lay in a neat row on the fender. When Tom saw what Tommy was holding, he said, "Where did you get that?"
"It was wrapped in an old tee-shirt in your trunk. We were looking for stuff to play war."
"You can't play with that, hon."
"I know that," Tommy replied in an injured tone. "We just wondered where you got it."
"In France. Let me have it. It's dangerous." Taking the sheath in one hand and the handle in the other, he pulled the blade half free. It gleamed in the sunlight, the metal a curious greenish black.
"Why is it grooved, Dad? To balance it better? For throwing?" Ricky asked.
"It's not a throwing knife, dummy," Tommy said, withering his brother with a sneer. "It's a bayonet. For stabbing!" Ricky was eight and a dope.
Tom slid a finger along the groove. Then he snapped the blade back into the sheath. "The Nazis made that blade. The groove was so the blood could pour out when they stabbed you. Without the groove, the bayonet would plug its own hole."
"Oh, jeez," the boys murmured, eyes wide. Tommy imagined vicious Nazis thinking of ways to make stabbing a man more effective. Henceforth, for weeks, playing war would entail some discussion of weapon enhancement.
"I better put this away."
"Where'd you get it, Dad?"
"In France, I said. I took it off a Nazi."
The boys shuddered with delight. "Didja have t'kill him, Dad?" Tommy asked, when Tom volunteered no details.
"Yeah." He had been looking at the bayonet. He looked into his sons' faces. He did not like what he saw. "Go play," he said, gesturing with the sheathed weapon toward the backyard where their little sister Babs was swinging on the playset.
"Ah, tell us, Dad," Ricky whined.
"It's not something you talk about. Go play." When they stayed, standing still, hopefully, in front of him, he said again, more firmly, "Go on."
Tom didn't tell them about the Luger in the same trunk where they'd found the bayonet. He had forgotten them, and the boys had not been forbidden access to the trunk. There were better places for such things. His desk. For now, he shoved the sheathed bayonet into his back pocket. When he went inside, he put it on top of the refrigerator for safekeeping.
The next morning, when he woke, as he often did, around three, his coughing past any chance of more sleep, and he went downstairs without a glance at Sophie's still shape in the other bed, he remembered the gun and made a note to himself to take it to work. He'd be gone before the kids were up. A cigarette eased the tickle in his throat. Coughing every so often, he made a pot of coffee. When he got the grounds from the cupboard above the fridge, he saw the bayonet again, the black hilt an unfamiliar shadow. He sat at the table in the dark, listening to the rhythm of the percolator.
He thought of Marie. He had not been back to her grave for years, not since the war ended. It was a long way back to Maine. He thought of the maple over her grave, and he lit another cigarette. When he got up for more coffee, his glance fell again on the bayonet. The hilt was wrapped in some fabric like electrician's tape, black and dull and a little sticky. He sat alone with the hot coffee and the burning cigarette and remembered the day he got the bayonet.
The German's face was one of those beautiful, delicate Nordic faces, full-lipped below blonde hair that fell across one eye, delicate-skinned. He and Freddiewhat was Freddie's last name? Salomon, that was itsurprised him on a recon mission. Freddie was fifty yards away. There was open ground between them, so he didn't come running when he heard the scuffle. It was textbook hand-to-hand, just like they taught you in drill. They clashed rifles once, like quarterstaffs in Robin Hood, then he shifted the angle of his rifle and stabbed once, into the German's chest. Throwing aside his weapon convulsively, the boy fell at once, prostrate, gasping and then, to Tom's horror, weeping. He clutched at the hissing wound, crying and moaning.
Tom heard Freddie behind him, moving cautiously. Looking down on the German, weeping and dying at his feet, Tom thrust again with the bloody end of his rifle, almost curiously, into the boys abdomen, just above the pelvic bridge. The German squealed then, and fainted. Tom thrust again, then a fourth time, and then he stirred the wound with his bayonet, watching the blood gush and pool, oblivious to the now-involuntary, unconscious spasms of the dying boy.
Then Freddie was looking around him at the dead body, at the puncture in the chest, at the carnage below the belt, the blood and urine stains on the grey uniform, the rictus on the blonde face. "Jesus Christ," Freddie breathed from beside Tom Phelan. "Jesus Christ."
He remembered the cold stone, a pleasure on a summer night. He remembered sitting with Marie, the hard edge of the stone a little painful where it touched the back of his neck. And the red maple, bright and sweet. He inhaled. He coughed in the lifting dark.