Thursday, August 15, 2013

1945: home fire burning

by horace p sternwall

editorial consultant and executive producer: Dan Leo

illustrations by roy dismas and rhoda penmarq

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

dave always took his time hanging up his coat and loosening his tie. helen had just finished putting the salt and pepper shakers and the butter on the table when he finally came into the kitchen.

the ketchup! she almost always forgot the ketchup when they were having burgers. she hurried over to the tiny pantry to get it.

"you're looking well tonight, my love. and you too, sunshine." dave always addressed jane as "my love" and helen as "sunshine" when he arrived home - almost never at any other time.

he sat down at the table. helen put the bottle of ketchup on the table.

"so did you have a good day, dave?" jane asked. she kept her attention on the hamburgers in the frying pan.

"great. nothing happened." dave was the chief of police in midville.

"just the way you like it, right?"

"exactly." dave took the newspaper he had brought in with him and opened it up and spread it on the table right over his plate and silverware - a practice helen thought somewhat unhygienic but of course never commented on.

"i don't know why i read this thing - i could write it myself." it was the local paper, not one of the detroit or cleveland papers.

jane flipped the burgers in the pan. "helen and i were just discussing the end of the war."

"great. i'm sure you got it all settled."

"so what do you think?" jane continued. "do you think the war is really over, or is it going to start up again with russia or somebody?"

"huh?" dave looked up from the paper. "what are you talking about?"

"helen says al wilson says there is going to be war with russia."

"al wilson! that idiot! if he says something will happen you know it won't."

"that's exactly what i said." jane laughed. "so we actually agree on something for once."

dave and jane both laughed. helen was a bit annoyed. she liked mr wilson, her supervisor at the plant. she found him a kindly soul, though a little full of himself, and one of the few people who would ever listen to her or take her seriously.

"what about you, sunshine?" dave addressed helen. "you think there is going to be war with russia?"

"i don't know anything about it," helen replied evenly. "i was just saying that was what mister wilson and some of the other people at the plant were saying."

"don't get me wrong, " dave told her. "the war can last forever as far as i'm concerned. like i've said many times - "

yes, thought helen, you have said it many times.

" - the streets have never been so clear of bums and riff raff. you just wait until they let all these guys out of the army and navy at once, there'll be hell to pay. "

"yeah, you'll have to start earning your pay," jane told him. she turned the gas off under the burgers.

"find a good reason to keep them in, everybody will be happy, " dave went on. "especially me."

"you know," said helen. "i don't think i agree. i think when the men and boys get back from the front" - she slightly emphasized "from the front" but dave gave no indication that this penetrated his consciousness or bothered him - "i think they will be so glad to be home and so tired from fighting the japanese and the germans that they will be no trouble at all."

dave laughed again. he laughed at everything helen ever said. (and never got mad at anything she said.) "that's quite a speech, sunshine. you should run for city council." he turned a page of the paper. "you might be easier to deal with than some of the characters on it now."

"you want to pick that paper up?" jane asked him. "if you want some food on your plate."

"yeah, i guess i'll take some food on my plate."

"well, whether these guys coming back are bums or not, like i was telling helen, they'll be taking all the jobs, so the girls like her better start thinking about getting married." jane's job was as a nurse - usually the front desk nurse - at the local hospital, so she was not worried about a man replacing her.

"mm. but there'll be more guys coming back for her to marry, too." dave pushed himself and his chair out of jane's way as she started putting the burgers on the plates.

"you raring to go to marry one of these heroes and keep him out of trouble?" dave asked helen. she had her back to him. she had turned the gas off under the potatoes and green beans and was getting a spoon out of a drawer to serve then with.

helen was a little flustered by the question. she always had a hard time answering dave if she had not had time to think of a reply because he had asked the same thing before. his whole way of thinking was barely comprehensible to her - and jane was almost as bad sometimes.

"i don't know, " she replied. she tried to smile. "i don't know that i ever thought of marriage as keeping someone out of trouble."

dave and jane both had a good laugh at this.

"really?" dave asked. "not even bill brock?" and he laughed even harder. jane just smiled, and raised her eyebrows, almost sympathetically.

i am not going to get red, helen thought, as she looked at dave's foolish face and tried to find an answer. i am not going to get red.

she turned as red as a fire truck.

all right, she thought, i may blush but i am not going to burst into tears.

she had the saucepan full of green beans in her hand and she concentrated on not spilling it.

bill brock! she wondered for the ten thousandth time what had happened to him and where he was.

10. "serious business"