It had been a long week without any letters here at Tripler Hospital in Honolulu. He had to admit he had mixed feelings about going home on a medical leave; it meant time with Adele, but his airmen needed him back, too. He took a copy of Tarzan and the Ant Men by Edgar Rice Burroughs from his duffel bag and left the confines of his hospital room, making a beeline down the hall for the exit to the front lawn outside the gaudy pink building. He flicked his last cigarette butt and watched it skid along the concrete as he yanked out a lawn chair, put on his sunglasses, and sat, his mind a blank.
He reached in his shirt pocket for the letter from Adele about his father’s death. He tried to find any thread of feeling, but he felt none. Not yet, anyway. Images of Mary Elizabeth, Sam, LinChing and Sister Mary scrolled through his thoughts, but he dismissed them all. Fleetingly, he wondered if he would ever feel anything anymore. Every day he sat in the sunshine here, reading or doing nothing. Another week of this and he’d start flapping his arms to get himself home. His wound itched. He flexed his muscles and wiggled his arm. All around him nurses hurried by.
“Not disturbing you, Lt. Colonel, am I?” boomed a distinctive voice.
Rodger turned his head to see Kyle. His hand shot out and met the other hand in a solid grip.
“Good to see you again, Uncle Kyle.”
“Yes, you, too. Congratulations on your promotion and medals. Pretty soon, you’ll have more than your old man.” He released Rodger’s hand.
The noise of an outgoing transport drowned out Kyle’s words and Rodger nodded as if he had heard him, although he had missed part of what his uncle had said.
“Well, so you’re a fan of Burroughs?” Kyle gestured to the book. “He lives here in Honolulu. At hotel Niumalu. Major in the Business Men’s Military Training Corps. Has a son stationed at Hickham. The man is the oldest war correspondent in military history.”
Rodger flipped the book over to expose the cover. “I’ve read every one of his Tarzan series. This one’s the best.” He half-smiled. “Even the hundredth time.”
“You’re looking healthy.”
“I’m in the pink, so to say,” he rolled his eyes and waggled his fingers at the hospital buildings.
“There are two stories about that coral color. General Richardson liked the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki so much he designed this complex after it. The other is Colonel Wood looked out at the red dirt of Moanalua Ridge and told the architect that the color better be as close to dirt as possible because that’s what it would look like when they got through building. Personally,” Kyle scanned the landscape, “I think it’s charming.”
“As charming as a hospital can be, Uncle Kyle.” Rodger shrugged.
“What do you say to a beer?”
“Swell.” Rodger ran his fingers through his newly cut hair, aware that they sat exposed to a bevy of white uniformed personnel. Kyle was a man of many resources, though.
“A man might die of thirst around here,” Rodger said with a regretful shake of the head. “All they have is juice or water.”
“Go pack. I sprung you.”
Rodger jumped to his feet, stabbing the air with a thumbs-up. “I’ll meet you out front.”
An orderly brought him his belongings, and then stood by solicitously. Rodger inched his bandaged shoulder into his coat, dismissing the orderly. “Thanks, I don’t need any help.”
The man hesitated. Rodger paused, his hand on the strap of his bag, and stared unblinking at the man. The orderly backed out of the room. Rodger hefted the bag onto his shoulder, his gaze sweeping the hospital grounds through a closed window.
He walked to the end of the hall and cracked the door. He poked his head through the opening and waved to the men side by side in beds lining the walls. The last bed on the north wall had been stripped of its sheets.
“Hey, guys, it’s been swell! Hate to take all the poker winnings, but you know how it is! See ya later.”
Several men called after him, wishing him luck.
Rodger stopped a nurse rounding the corner. “What happened to Lt. Green?”
The nurse shrugged as she jammed her hands into the front pockets of her uniform.
“Sorry, Major. I don’t know.”
Rodger’s jaw tightened. “You know, goddamn it, you know. I know.” He spun on his heel, then looked over his shoulder. “And it’s Lt. Colonel Brown.” He stormed out the front door to the parking lot where his uncle sat mindlessly tapping the steering wheel.
Rodger slung his duffel bag in the back of the jeep. Kyle recoiled from Rodger as he thudded into his seat.
“What’s got you so riled up?”
“Why the hell can’t I get an honest answer from anyone around here?”
Kyle laid a restraining hand on Rodger’s shoulder. “Every place has its own rules, Rodger. You can’t always buck the system.”
“How much does it cost to give an honest answer?”
“Sometimes your life.”
Rodger grunted. “Where are we going? Know any good bars?”
“To my place. We’re under martial law, curfews and blackouts, island currency. Shortages of nearly everything. Even Sears is out of pins and thumb tacks.” Kyle, in an uncharacteristic agitated gesture, waved at the barracks along the Palm Circle Drive. “Turning those into offices; the biggest one is the US Army Forces. Should’ve seen this place after it was strafed. Palm trees shattered. Unbelievable. Look at it now, beautified.”
Rodger mentally chided himself for his oversight. He just felt so comfortable in wartime conditions.
Kyle shifted gears, slowing to show his pass and return the salute from the guard on duty as he eased through the gate. “But I can give you a good, cold beer.”
“God, I’m thirsty.”
They parked and walked to his quarters. It might have been a vacation bungalow but for the blacked out windows and gas mask on top of a table by the entrance.
“You’re lookin’ down in the mouth, son.” Kyle propped the ice box door open and extracted two bottles of beer, handing one to Rodger. “Not that I blame you. Sorry about your dad.” Kyle raised his bottle and Rodger did likewise. “Glad to have you with me.”
“Thanks.” He clinked bottles. “Here’s to us.”
Like his wound, questions itched to be scratched. His uncle had always been forthright, and Rodger felt he could freely speak his mind. “You and he were good friends, weren’t you?” The first sip exploded deliciously in his mouth and he leisurely let the cooling liquid slide down his throat.
“From day one. Knew your dad when he was an engineman with Burlington and when he became a sergeant in the Army.”
“My dad?” Rodger choked on a swallow of beer. “World War I?”
Kyle frowned. “Didn’t you know? Hell, he got four medals.”
“I’ll be damned!” Rodger boomed. He eyed his uncle.
Kyle ticked off four fingers. “Good conduct, expert horseman, expert marksmanship, and the silver star.”
“What’d he get the silver star for?” Rodger drank more beer, savoring this moment of satisfaction before his bitterness returned.
“He pulled his squad leader and two other guys to safety. Don’t know all that much about it, just what I’ve learned from Fred Hewling. Your Dad wasn’t much of a talker, especially about himself.”
“Fred Hewling?” Rodger had always thought of Fred as his dad’s best friend. “Grew up with his kids.” Rodger traced a bead of water down the bottle with his finger. “A hero. My father the hero.” Rodger snorted. “And I thought he was hen-pecked.”
Kyle scratched his ear. “Son, there are three kinds of heroes.” He tapped his bottle in time with his words. “Quiet. Showy. Scared.” He swigged his beer. “The showy ones gotta tell all, be all. The first ones to volunteer. That sort.” He paused. “The scared, most of us intelligent men,” he raised his glass in a salute, “are forced to act honorably.” Kyle looked squarely at Rodger. “Your father was the quiet kind. Did what had to be done and went about his business.”
“So why he’d never tell me about his days of glory?” Rodger threw his hand up in the air. “No, let me guess. A married man is not a hero, away from his family, fighting a war.”
“Listen, Rodger, Madeline didn’t want your father to be a military man. We were always uprooted and moved from one end of the country to the other. She figured the kind of life she had as a kid wasn’t what she wanted for her own children. She only wanted what was the best for all of you. Don’t be too hard on her, son. She means well.”
“She’s vain and witless.”
“No, Rodger, Madeline is not stupid. I can understand your resentment; sometimes I wondered myself what the hell she was thinking raising you, but your mother is not stupid. Vain, maybe.” He tipped his bottle and drank with a smile.
“Dad should have married a woman like Ada.” Rodger watched Kyle. He detected a hint of embarrassment in the old man. He wondered if Ada would ever say anything to him about Kyle. “But I guess it’s better in some ways he didn’t.”
Kyle cleared his throat. “There aren’t many women around like Adele, either. I think you’ve got yourself one hell of a wife, Rodger.”
“Yeah. She’s all right. We’re good friends to boot. And she knows planes.” Rodger grinned. “She’s like a wool sweater. Warm but itchy and you always know you’ve got it on.”
Kyle slapped his beer bottle down. “You…um…might take in consideration…ah…Adele being nine months. I remember when your Aunt Louise was pregnant and…”
“You didn’t get any?” Rodger quipped.
Rodger couldn’t suppress a smirk. “Yeah.” He didn’t mention how forthright Adele could be, especially in her letters. “I know what to expect.”
Kyle feigned a yawn. “God, I hate this early morning business at Pearl Harbor. We’re still investigating the bombing. Though,” Kyle rubbed the back of his hand across his forehead, “it had to have happened.”
“Did you know about it beforehand?” Rodger hoped to get an honest answer from his uncle, though he did not expect one from the Army intelligence officer.
Kyle stood up, scraping his chair on the linoleum. “We better get some shut‑eye. You can go with me in the morning to Pearl.”
“All right. I’d like to take a look at the planes.” Rodger worked his shoulder and moaned. Kyle pointed to the bedroom, but Rodger indicated the couch with a stab of his thumb. “Much easier to brace myself against the back. You go ahead.”
Kyle threw down a sheet and blanket, then plumped a pillow, causing Rodger to laugh aloud as he came out of the bathroom. “Thanks, Uncle Kyle. Don’t worry about me, I’m fine.”
Early the next morning, Kyle woke him at 5:30. “Hey, son, up and at ’em. Have some coffee and breakfast. I’ve got some business and I’ll be back in an hour.”
Stiffly, Rodger eased himself up and shook off sleep.
“Best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time.”
“Good, good,” Kyle replied, on his way out the door.
Rodger stretched, then eased himself up to his feet. He had never been big on breakfast. He buttered a piece of toast, and poured himself coffee, eating over the sink. He yawned, stretching until the pain pulling at his shoulder made him stop. O-six hundred and already sweat trickled down his neck. His wound twitched.
He gulped down the coffee and went in the bathroom. His movements were so damned restricted by the bandages, and everything took so long. He pulled at his whiskered cheek and closed his eyes to imagine being home. With Adele. His temples pulsated and the images wavered. He forced the air from his lungs and opened his eyes. With a wry smile at his reflection, he began to shave.
When Kyle returned, he found Rodger sitting on the couch, resting his arm on the pillows and folded blankets.
Kyle waved at the door. “All right. Let’s go.”
It might have been any Army base. The buildings had been patched, the green lawns mowed and manicured, the streets paved and kept clean. Then the harbor came into sight, where the Missouri lay crippled on her side. The thought of the dead and wounded hit him with an unexpected blow.
Kyle drove to the staff building and parked in a reserved spot. He pointed across the lawn to a huge metal building. “You’re cleared to go over there. I’ll get you when I’m done.”
Rodger hopped out of the jeep and walked the short distance to the hangar. He strolled down the line. Tiger Moths. Trainers. The replacements. But the thought that fewer than eighty of the original 231 planes had been left saddened him. He searched the skies, alert for sounds. Nothing. He thought of his own men flying their daily missions and willed them home. Safely.
“Rodger! All done,” Kyle’s voice floated across the yard.
They drove back to Kyle’s quarters and packed for the trip home the next day. Rodger put Mary Elizabeth’s doll at the bottom of his knapsack then piled his other clothes on top of it. He frequently checked his pocket for the ivory bead, surreptitiously pulling it out and examining it when he was sure not to be seen. He pushed aside her memory and thought of Adele.
His hands ached to touch her again, to bury himself in the warmth of her love. And she would understand so much without explanations.
He smiled to himself. Ada would be happy to see him, too. He’d have time to sit and talk with her like before.
Kyle plopped his solid body into a chair. “It’s not going to be happy times back home, Rodger. But,” he reached for a cigar, “God seems to have a way of balancing life, doesn’t He?”
“A birth for a death?” Rodger blew out a short laugh. “Funny, I was thinking the same thing.” He accepted a cigar and light. “Another funny thing—I don’t care if it’s a boy or a girl.”
“Hope for a son.” Kyle screwed up his face. “Girls are sweet when they’re little, but…”
Rodger chuckled and tapped Kyle on the shoulder in mock seriousness. “Carrie and Madeline will be overjoyed to see us. Aren’t you looking forward to a reunion with your sisters?”
“Hmph! More like a firing squad.” Kyle puffed his cheeks and blew out smoke rings. “Everything’s my fault. Always has been.”
Rodger stood up. “Might as well fortify ourselves then. Last meal and all that.”
“Right you are, old boy.” Kyle pulled two beers from the icebox and a left-over ham that he sliced neatly and put onto a plate before Rodger. They drank more than they ate, and spoke in monosyllables the next morning as they gathered belongings to leave.
Hung‑over on the next day’s flight, time stretched mercilessly as the C‑47 transport’s engines droned on and on. Rodger would have liked to ask questions of the pilot and crew about this new Skytrain R4D, but during the long flight home, he never quite had the energy to swim out of his lethargy.
Neither he nor Kyle spoke much until they landed in San Francisco. They hustled their gear, pulling rank to get through the lines. Finally, after what seemed hours and endless repetitions of filling out forms, they boarded a train bound for Chicago.
They sat side by side in the front section of the train. Three days and they couldn’t get a sleeper car. It was a going to be a long ride home. Shoulder to shoulder, jostled back and forth, Rodger tried to block out the ceaseless clack of the wheels on the rail. He slept. Kyle paced the corridor, stopping once in a while to chat with an enlisted man.
The second day of traveling, in spite of the rumbling voices and smoky car, Rodger slept most of the time. When he awoke, the collage of greens and browns and reds of the countryside flashing across the windows mesmerized him. He drifted, aware of the ache across his left side. He vaguely remembered eating with his uncle. Most of the time, Kyle’s seat was empty. Rodger smiled. Kyle played poker.
At last the train pulled into Chicago. Rodger stood, glancing at his watch. Fourteen‑hundred. Right on time. People began to press in on him, moving him along the corridor behind Kyle. Kyle leaped from the steps, pushing through the crowd.
Rodger struggled with his baggage, using it as a shield for his left side. He spotted Ada.
“Hey! Ada!” he cried, waving his good hand.
He searched for Adele, but could not see her in the swarming crowd, not until she cried out his name and he looked up to see her rushing toward him.
Rodger sucked in his next words as Rachel and Heather ran to him, encircling him with a thousand arms, pulling at him, shouting his name.
“Wait a minute, girls,” Rodger stared at them. How they had changed! His head throbbed. His eyeballs hurt. “I mean, young ladies,” he said softly.
Rachel let go and smiled at him. “Bet you didn’t recognize me, huh?” Hands on her hips, she twisted her lithe body so that she blocked Heather from Rodger.
Heather’s fawn eyes stayed on Rodger’s face. He grinned back at her. “Look at you! You’re not a baby any more.”
Adele finally reached him. Rodger set his baggage down. “You look,” he faltered, then threw his arm around her neck, crushing her into him, “so wonderful, Adele.”
She blushed, then arched back to look up at him. Rivulets of tears coursed down her cheeks. He pulled her close, pitching sideways to get around her stomach to kiss her.
Suddenly, they were laughing. Everyone around them was laughing. Rachel and Heather held hands and giggled. Adele sought and clasped Rodger’s hand. Ada dabbed her eyes. Kyle stood close to Ada, grinning. But his head moved back and forth over the faces of the crowd.
Never catch his uncle off guard, thought Rodger. Not even now.
Rodger went to Ada with Adele in tow. Ada stepped up to him and flung her arms around him. With Adele’s hand still in his, he hugged Ada, crushing them all together. “You’re lookin’ good, Ada. Real good.” He patted her back, reluctant to move away with the rest.
“I bought Chinese silk for you and had it shipped to your address. I thought you might like that. Hope you don’t mind.” He felt the others pulling at him, “I also put in some things for Adele, and the girls.”
Ada gave him another quick kiss and let go of him.
In a bunch, like a giant caterpillar, they lurched to the car. Once inside they huddled close to one another, as if to keep the warmth among them. Heather sat up front, between Ada and Kyle. Rachel, Rodger, and Adele sandwiched together on the back seat. Everyone talked at once. Then they all grew silent.
“How long, Rodger, before your shoulder is healed?” Adele’s voice trembled. Her foot touched his foot, his knee rested against hers, their thighs glued together.
Rodger squeezed her shaking hand. “Two minutes and fifty seconds.” He tugged on her hand, then leaned over and kissed her, slipping his tongue quickly over hers. “There, I’m good as new.”
She lightly slapped his right shoulder. “Can’t you ever give me a straight answer?”
He placed her hand in his lap, so that she could feel his hardness through the material, seeking her face in the dim light.
She nuzzled his neck, biting his ear. “Later,” she whispered.
The chatter started again, until they got home. Ada eased the Chevy into the driveway and beeped the horn, exclaiming merrily, “I wish we had fireworks!”
They hopped out the back seat, gathering around Rodger.
Rodger put his left hand on top of Rachel’s head and waggled it so that her long hair flipped back and forth. “We’ll declare it a national holiday.”
“Rodger’s day!” squeaked Heather. “Our own holiday!”
“Goose!” scolded Rachel. She took Rodger’s hand gently into hers. “Mother’s been so worried about you. Now everything will be better.”
Like attached weights, all the responsibilities of being a son and husband and brother returned. He stopped himself from swearing out loud.
“We’ll do what we can, Tagalong.”
Heather jumped up and down as Rodger, Kyle and Ada hauled the baggage out of the trunk.
“You girls help Uncle Kyle take in his baggage. I’ll leave mine out here by Mother’s car.”
Heather dragged Rodger’s knapsack over to the garage as Rachel battled Kyle’s duffle bag. Rodger turned again to Adele. “Do you mind? I’d like to see Mother alone. Uncle Kyle told me about my dad, and I want to discuss it with Mother. ”
“Rodger, please, there’s so much going on. She’s been in a flurry getting ready all week.”
Adele sighed. “All right. I’ll settle the girls. I’m sure Kyle will have his hands full with Carrie.” Adele puffed out her cheeks and made the whites of her eyes show, making Rodger laugh.
Rodger caught up with Ada by the porch, with Adele following.
“I’d like to spend some time alone with you. Maybe tomorrow?”
Ada waved as Rachel led the others to her house, through the front door. She turned to Rodger. “I’d like that, if you have time.”
Adele pecked Ada on the cheek. “We’ll stop by after the doctor’s in the morning.”
Ada stayed Rodger with a slight pull of his hand, and he bent to hear her words.
“I’m glad you’re home. I’ve worried about you.” Then as he straightened, but before he could speak, she encircled his face, rubbing his cheeks between her two hands. “So good to have you home. So good.”
Rodger pressed his cheek against her hand. “I thought a lot about you, too. Not that it showed in my letters.”
“I understand, Rodger.” Ada dropped her hands. “Like I told your father, I know how to read between the lines.”
“Was he…” Rodger jerked upright, “…oh, you know, happy? Did he have a lot of pain?”
“No.” Ada hesitated, then continued with conviction. “He spent his last afternoon with me.” She gestured behind her to the dark patio. “We sat in the sunshine and talked. About you. And a lot of things.” She clasped Rodger’s hand in hers. “He went quickly. Adele and I were at his side.”
“I’m glad it was you.” Rodger kissed her hand, gripped it tightly in his. “I guess I better go on. Adele’s just to the porch. I can be at the door before she can.”
Ada chuckled, releasing his hand. “I’ll be home all day tomorrow. Come over anytime.”
Rodger dashed to the porch, leaped up the steps, and opened the door for Adele. “Such gallantry,” she said, stopping to kiss him. She walked into the house, calling the girls to her. “Upstairs, now. I’ll go up with you.”
Kyle edged around Carrie, but she cornered him. “Not a word from you! Really, I do worry about you!”
Carrie spied Rodger. “Oh, my goodness! Rodgie, it’s so good to see you!” She advanced on him.
Rodger braced himself. As she moved to engulf him, he stepped back, his hand over his wound.
“My shoulder. Still tender.”
Deflated, she slapped her hand across her heart.
“Oh, how could I have forgotten?”
Rodger patted her arm reassuringly. “No, no, it’s an easy thing to do.” Seeing Kyle pour himself a drink from John’s liquor cabinet, Rodger nodded to him. “Scotch.”
Aunt Carrie clucked. “Tch, tch. You would be much better off without alcohol. Have something to eat. There’s still plenty left from the funeral.”
Madeline walked out of the kitchen and approached Rodger.
“Rodger,” she placed a hand on his forearm. “I’m so glad you’re home. It isn’t the happiest time for us, but now that we’re together…” her voice quivered. She crinkled the uniform beneath her hand. “Are you hungry?”
He looked down sideways at her.
But seeing her now, so frail and older than he remembered, he softened, though his bitterness towards her lay just beneath the surface. He patted her hand.
Aunt Carrie sniffed as Kyle shot the drink past her into Rodger’s outstretched hand. She shifted sideways so that, once more, she could concentrate on Kyle.
“It’s disgraceful how you let mother’s grave go unattended! Why just the other day I was saying to Mildred…”
Rodger lowered his voice, bending slightly so that he spoke into his mother’s ear. “Let’s talk in the other room.”
As they left the room, Madeline said with a little wave of her hand. “Please excuse us. We…we’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Rodger took three steps into the hall. Madeline followed, with Carrie’s voice trailing after her. Rodger went into the kitchen, turning so that he had his mother cornered.
Rodger sipped the scotch. It burned sweet down his throat. He stared down into his mother’s eyes.
“Get me his medals.”
Madeline bristled. “You’ve no right to speak-”
“You had no right,” Rodger snarled. He felt the back of his neck flush.
His mother’s face spotted red with anger. “I did what I thought best.”
He backed her up to the wall. “You’ve made a few errors in judgment.”
She placed her hand against his chest and shoved, then flicked his shoulder with her fingertips. “So have you.”
Madeline turned abruptly and went upstairs to her bedroom. Rodger returned to the living room, heading straight for the liquor cabinet. Glancing over to Kyle, he caught his aunt’s anxious face but ignored the curiosity in her eyes, pouring more scotch for himself. Kyle raised his glass to show that he had taken care of his own drink. Adele came downstairs and sat heavily beside Rodger on the couch.
Want to read more? Read online for free>> Or buy your own copy of Forcing the Hand of God: paperback or hardcover on Amazon.com or ebook (multiple formats available) on Smashwords.com.