Dear Writer Friend,
Either use this short story as a prompt or share a sample of your own historical fiction in this blog. Stop back to read the next installment of this story. See whether Betty and Abbie can make Dennis a true friend.
The War That Made Happiness Wait
By Bob Young
In the Spring of 1942, my love life was a wreck. Just six months before, we were having such a rollicking time around Greens Park even though we had very simple jobs and not much money for fun. There were six of us who had found each other as we worked away after high school at a variety of jobs around town. A few of us had known of each other when we went to Grant High School. But our common ground was Connie’s Bar and Grill, as each of us gravitated to this tavern in the working class section of town for respite from the grind of our jobs.
After a year, we gradually developed into a unit, four men and two girls. Both of us girls rotated our crushes among the men. Admittedly, the men were often more interested in every other woman who came into Connie’s rather than us. But Abigail and I always figured we each would end up with one of the guys when they came to their senses and found out how wonderful we really were. But then all our plans and hopes were changed when Pearl Harbor was attacked and we were at war. All four of our men enlisted and by February they were all in the army or the navy. Only because we were known as regulars could we even walk into Connie’s without our reputations being shredded. But it didn’t matter since we were only subjected to the advances of very old men who we easily brushed off.
Most importantly, we figured a real relationship with a man would have to wait for the end of the war. We went into a more foul mood about the war than developing patriotic worry. It would have been different if we lived in New York City. But we were just far enough away in the Hudson Valley of New York State that most of the eligible men were gone or going. The boys still in high school were just boys. The result was that we ended up drinking quite a bit more than we used to as we drank away our disappointment about our singleness. My dark mood started to be noticed at work.
“Betty, are you going to bring that other rack of rolls and bread out of the back and get it on these shelves?”
“I’m sorry Mrs. Lauhoff. I apologize for being a bit off today,” I said sadly.
“You need to take it easy on the number of beers you are drinking on the weekends.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” as I scurried to catch up with my work before the shop opened at 7a.m. Lauhoff Bakery was the high end bake shop in Greens Park.
While I was moving our bread offerings into place, I had already put the fancy sweets out into the glass cases. The sweets and wedding cakes had made the bakery’s renown decades before WWII. I was a lucky girl to be the head clerk in Lauhoff’s. I knew I really had to ease up on my dissolute ways or I would lose everything I had achieved since high school. It was a normal busy day at Lauhoff’s but I was not too busy to notice the sailor with one arm in a sling and a heavily bandaged hand. He didn’t buy anything but was warmly greeted by the staff who had worked there for much longer than I. He was ushered into the second floor offices of the bakery where I had visited only when I was hired. He had stayed for two hours and when he left in his good hand he carried a small box of our signature macaroons.
“Some good news, Betty…,” Mrs. Lauhoff mentioned to me as I put my coat on to go home at the end of the day.
“Oh, Yes, Ma’am…?” I said.
“Dennis Markim is going to return to work for us here. You may have noticed the injured sailor who was here earlier?”
“Dennis worked for us until he enlisted in the navy three years ago. He was on a ship at Pearl Harbor called the Helena. It was badly damaged and he was hurt badly enough that he was medically discharged. He won’t be able to bake for a while until his shoulder and hand heal, but we’re taking him back to do what he can until he’s ready. I want you to do whatever you can to help him feel productive.”
I walked away from work thinking I was now a nurse and a bakery clerk. My mood was not lifted at all by this turn of events. I was headed to Woolworth’s to meet Abbie for a sandwich at their lunch counter. I could hear her before I could see her.
“Just get me my sandwich and malt and keep your snide remarks to yourself,” Abbie announced loudly so that all heads turned in her direction. The pharmacist almost knocked me down as he headed to where Abbie was sitting.
“Please, Young Lady, there’s no need to shout.”
“Mr. Baglien,” Abbie whispered loudly. “Tell your boy to keep his comments about my figure to himself. I just want my sandwich my malt.”
His head snapped in the boy’s direction.
“Darrell, have Sally make Abbie’s ticket,” and he gestured for the high school boy to follow him back into the privacy of the pharmacy office.
As I sat down, Darrell passed us head bowed.
“A compliment from the wrong guy again?” I asked.
“It wasn’t even a compliment. It was stated in terms of what he could do with what I’ve got,” Abbie said completely exasperated. “A compliment would have been nice.”
“Oh, my,” I reacted. “It just rudely makes the point of what a stateside girl sacrifices during this ugly war,” I said commiserating.
“The ‘men’ situation in Greens Park has me thinking about a move to NYC. At least there are on-leave servicemen there.”
“That’s true. I’ll move with me. We can share expenses,” I offered.
“You’re a good egg, Betts. I don’t want to pull you away from kith and kin, but some days I can’t engineer a good mood.”
“Here’s your ham and cheese, Abbie. Sorry about the kid,” the waitress said.
“Just my war jitters, Sal!”
The three of us laughed.
“What can I get you, Betty?”
“Ham and cheese but with a root beer float.”
“Coming right up.”
“Listen to this news, Abbie. Tomorrow I’m nurse to Lauhoff’s returning hero, Dennis Markim, who still is too banged up to work full out. I’ll be his hands until he is fully recovered.”
“Shoulder and mangled hand. He’s a baker but how he’ll do anything for weeks, I’ll never know.”
“But was he wearing pants?” Abbie begged to know.
“Seaman blue and jaunty cap.”
“Was he cute otherwise, the parts that weren’t mangled?”
“A six on your scale…,” and I laughed.
“I weep for you, Betts,” Abbie teased.
“You have to take the long term / short term view. He can bring a beer to his lips at Connie’s this weekend and who knows what else by Thanksgiving.” We laughed.
“All we need is another guy in our club who’s only got eyes for everyone but us,” Abbie complained.
“We just have to find you your own wounded sailor.”
We went on to drown ourselves in root beer floats.
Since, he was technically a baker, Dennis had already been at work for two hours by the time I get to the shop at 6a.m. the next morning. He had modified his bandages so he had a fore finger and a thumb on his bad hand free from restraint. Those digits looked uninjured at first glance. He wouldn’t let me carry anything for him for the first hour. He was all smiles and cheery banter. He claimed that he had gathered the ingredients, mixed, pounded down, and allowed to rise the dough that he had eventually formed into dinner rolls. He had brought them out and dumped them into the appropriate bin. I figured he would be pretty grim that first day facing hard work with barely more than one hand.
“It sure feels good to be back in the bakery,” he said sipping some coffee.
“Don’t you wish you were back on the Helena trying to get her ready to get back in action?”
“I did for a while until I realized I was only going to bug the crap out of them when I could only talk instead of actually work.”
“You’re doing just fine here.”
“Dinner rolls are a long way from getting a floating artillery battalion ready to cut enemy ships to ribbons. I’ve had plenty of time to realize my future is all about working here. I’m fine with that.”
“Greens Park is going to be enough for you?”
“Greens Park is heaven and I’m thrilled I’m alive to enjoy it,” he said brightly smiling easily and comfortably in a way that could only be interpreted as the truth. I could detect no guile in him. He was either on excellent medication or he was just one lucky guy who knew it.
“I’m going to meet a girlfriend at Connie’s for a beer and a burger after work. Want to come along?”
“Connie’s is still there?”
“Sounds like fun.”
I figured I’d keep pushing Dennis into my reality until he ran screaming away from the crazy lady. The day in the bakery rolled along normally. Dennis’ bad hand eventually got too tired to carry much and I was right there to help him as I had been instructed. Dennis took the help without sadness or regret. His day ended and he headed home promising to see me at Connie’s later.
I walked into Connie’s about 4:30p.m. and Abbie and Dennis were at the bar about seven stools apart.
I invited Abbie to join Dennis.
“Dennis, this is my friend.”
“Hi, Abbie,” he said offering her his right, undamaged hand.
“Hi, Dennis,” she said her usually brusque tone moderated by seeing him in the flesh. Her tone seemed to indicate to me that he was more than a 6.
We sat on either side of him and we spent the first beer as we waited for our burgers talking about Greens Park and the town we shared in common. He was about four or five years older than we were but he treated us like equals. We started the second beer and took the first bites of our hamburgers.
“How did you get hurt,” I asked.
“We were fighting a fire caused by the torpedo that had hit the Helena. I was running the nozzle of one of the fire hoses when the fire caught the edge of the ammunition area we were trying to protect and an explosion moved some equipment above me and slammed down on my left hand cutting deeply through two fingers and seriously damaging a third. I was stunned enough that I didn’t retreat from the space when our fire captain tried to pull us back. The fire flared up and burned the shirt right off my left side. A couple of guys pulled me out of there and took me to a place where I could be treated initially. Because the attack was still ongoing, my shipmates couldn’t get me to a real hospital right away. A corpsman kept my hand together and did a rudimentary treatment to my burns.”
“It had to be scary to be hurt with no way to get treated,” I observed.
“The large explosion that resulted from the fire I had been fighting took my mind off of the injury. The officers around us moved us farther from the fire so we were safer and suddenly we had a ring side seat as the Japanese planes finished their last run on the ships and air field.”
“The planes had to be frightening.”
“It was frustrating. I could no longer fight back.”
“I heard you did well at work today. Your injuries are not getting to much in the way,” Abbie said.
“I’ve gotten pretty far in the healing process. Want to see?”
“I wasn’t trying to push you to that,” I said quickly.
“Me either, Dennis. Please don’t feel…,”
“No, no. I don’t feel pushed. I like to get the bandage off as often as possible. I just don’t want to clear the bar. Stand close.”
We were close enough to touch him.
He unwrapped the bandages and he slowly rotated his lefty hand so his pinky space was now visible. We could see the nifty work the surgeon had done to sew the edges of the skin into the knuckle. His next smallest finger was gone and sewn into that knuckle. His middle finger had cuts in several places sewn back together and pink like it should be. His forefinger and thumb looked healed. He rotated the hand so we could see every inch of the damage. We were speechless.
“Hold out your hand,” he said to me.
I slowly put my right hand out palm up, pink and dainty compared to battle hardened and mangled hand he had to give me. He gently set his bad hand on mine. Even mangled it was twice the size of mine. To my surprise it was warm. I somehow expected it to be cold.