Wednesday, October 22, 2008
A Soldier's Fortune
I remember doing a booksigning for this story on Veterans Day 2002. The booksigning was at the Nautilus Museum in Groton, Connecticut. I remember looking out at my audience, and sitting among them was my family: my son, my daughter-in-law, and my three year old granddaughter. I also saw an empty chair which would have been occupied by my late husband who had passed on only two months before. I got up to read the excerpt that I had planned for the occasion. I chose the Epilogue mainly because the scene takes place in front of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. and thought it would be appropriate for the occasion. I started out okay, but then emotions overtook me and my good friend then Ellie finished the passage.
I thought I'd share it here.
"Skeletal branches arched up toward a steely sky. Lian knew beneath the cold ground, seeds of continuing life would eventually produce the promised flowers of spring. A crisp breeze blew through her mid-length hair.
On either side of her stood five figures reflected by a ribbon of dark granite. Her eyes panned the glossy surface. So many names, she though, far too many names.
Shivers ran through her, caused by not the cold but form something else that stirred deep inside. On her right, Pop sat in a wheelchair. In his uncertainty, he kept his hands folded in his lap. The protective lambskin collar of his thick green corduroy jacket was pulled up to his ears. He hadn't spoken much since leaving the hotel.
Sean stood on her left. He also hadn't said much since getting up that morning. Now lost in thought, dressed in jeans, a dark brown bomber jacket, he kept close to her side. Unsure of what to do with his own hands, he awkwardly held a charcoal pencil and paper that had been given to him by the local park attendant.
"Here's the panel," Harry whispered, reverently.
"Yeah, now we just have to look for the line," Sean replied.
Lia held her breath, feeling a rush of anticipation surge through. She glanced at Brad. A younger version of his father, his face showing uncertainty, confusion and something else she couldn't quite discern. Brad turned, met his mother's gaze. "I'm a generation from this," he quietly commented.
Lia nodded, forcing down a fear and the image of having to search the Wall for her son's name, instead of the name of a dead brother-in-law.
"There is is," Harry pointed out, drawing close to the reflective surface. His voice was soft, respectfully remorseful.
Sean drew in a breath, joined Harry and for a long moment studied the inscription. Resignedly, as if finally able to accept the truth about his brother, he lifted the pensil and pressed it firmly against the unyielding surface then rubbed across the paper with the pensil. Through broad even strokes, dark slate letters emerged.
RUSSELL SCOTT MCINTYRE.
Lia repeated the name silently. Russell Scott McIntyre had fought a war where more than thirty years later no one could say who the actual winners were.
She felt a delicate whisper-like touch pressing into her palm. Comfort followed as Tuyet's fingers intertwined with hers.
Soft murmurs drifted from the other visitors who lives had in some way become entangled in a similar pain, a similar resignation, a similar acceptance that allowed them to eventually heal.
Suddenly, Eliah pushed himself up out of his wheelchair, and approached the Wall. From one pocket, he drew an object. Lia, at first could not make it out except that it had been wrapped in plain white tissue paper.
As Eliah unfolded the mysterious package, she saw that they were some of his prized arrowheads, ones he had treasured for more years than she could remember. Then he drew from his other pocket a string of beads, the only finds to originate from the rescue dig, which although some would regard as unsuccessful as far as finding tangible treasures, they all had found so much more--each other.
To give himself support, Eliah placed on hand below the letters of Russell's name, then eased himself down toward the ground where he placed his offerings of arrowheads and beads.
Sean watched, said nothing. After a moment, he placed a hand beneath Eliah's elbow, and helped him back to his feet.
Lia, Tuyet, Harry, and Brad moved toward the two men, forming a semi-circle of comfort.
They had all been there in Vietnam Lia felt, in some manner. She traced the letters of her brother-in-law's name.
How strange, she thought. Cold in appearance, yet it felt warm to the touch. She stared at the cross pattern, which had once declared Russell an MIA. She traced the diamond shaped lines that had been etched there years later, confirming his death.
Sean's hand covered hers, then drew it away from the stone surface. Lovingly, he looked at her. She met his gaze, and felt grateful for the life that now stretched before them as well as the memories that would eventually heal all wounds.
A Soldier's Fortune can be ordered through TREBLE HEART BOOKS.