Rodger eased the car into his driveway and cut the engine. Their house looked at once inviting and strange. He slumped back into the seat. Tired. He was so tired.
The front door lock jammed. Rodger pressed his forehead against the door and sighed, then jiggled the key until the lock slipped. He eyed the kitchen but just thinking of food made him queasy. Later, he muttered.
He stripped off his clothes and lay down on the bed. He rubbed his hand along the ridges of the scar on his shoulder and pictured Adele laughing and crying as she held their newborn. He whispered to her, “I’m healed. It’s only a scar now.” Then he fell into the comfort of deep sleep.
In the dim light of dawn, he awoke with a start filled with a sickening dread of having left part of himself somewhere else. His watch read O-six-hundred-five. He showered and dressed to go see Adele and their new baby daughter.
He had an agonizing moment of disorientation when he came through the front doors of the hospital.
“Christ! These places all smell alike!”
A passing orderly stopped. “Sir?”
“Nothing, nothing,” Rodger waved him on, turning to the receptionist. “What room is Mrs. Brown in?”
“Two‑twenty‑two. Down the hall and to your right.”
As he passed the nursery window, Rodger peered in, squashing his face against the glass. “Baby Brown,” the name tag, prominent on the outside of the bassinet, was the third from the left in the front row. A nurse motioned that she would pick her up. Rodger shook his head, tossed the woman an off‑hand salute, and moved on down to Adele’s room.
Rodger slipped into the room, his hand bracing the door as it closed. Adele lay semi-reclined, propped up by wadded pillows, her eyes shut and her honey‑colored hair spilling over the pillows. She opened her eyes and smiled.
“You just missed the crowd.” She pointed to an array of white and pink flowers.
“Oh, damn, I forgot!” Rodger frowned at the flowers. “I wanted to bring you some, too.”
“But I don’t need any more.” She patted a place on the bed beside her. “Come sit with me for a while.”
He waved in the general direction behind him. “You did one hell of a job in there.” He kissed her forehead. “I was so proud of you.”
“Everything worked out for the best, as it turns out. Dr. Adams had ordered some medication, but my labor went too fast. The nurse said it was better not to have any medication if I wanted to nurse right away.”
Rodger jumped to his feet. “You’re not going to are you?”
Adele folded her hands, placed them squarely over her abdomen. Her face set, eyebrows pinched together.
“Women have done it for centuries, Rodger. It’s perfectly natural.”
Rodger paced in a small circle at the foot of the bed.
“But I won’t be able to help with the night feedings if you do that.”
Adele’s eyebrows shot up. “I would never have thought of that!” She eyed him suspiciously.
“Does this mean you won’t re-enlist?”
Rodger shifted from one foot to the other.
“No.” He looked away from her probing stare.
“I want to help.”
“All right, Rodger. I’ll nurse her for the first three or four days.”
“Why even start?”
“Because. It’s better for both of us.” Adele stared him down. “Ask your mother to explain.”
Rodger made a face at her. Adele laughed, holding out her hand for him to take. He grabbed it and pulled himself down so that he could kiss her on the lips.
“Have you had the baby here with you yet?”
“Yes,” Adele whispered reverently. “She’s so tiny! So perfect!” She kissed his knuckles, one by one. “We have to name her.”
“Yeah. I was just thinking of that.” He rubbed her hand between the two of his. “It’s not easy coming up with a name.”
“I was so sure it was a boy.” Her look held uncertainty.
“Are you sorry?”
“No, are you?” Her grip tightened.
“Uncle Kyle says little girls are nice. But when they grow up…!”
Adele leaned forward; Rodger could hear the sharp intake of a breath. He shook his head.
“Hell, I’m so glad she’s alive!”
Adele relaxed. “Ada said there was some doubt. Did you know?”
Rodger looked away. “I knew.”
“You didn’t show it. Maybe a little when you didn’t eat much.” She squeezed his hand, “I thought you didn’t like my cooking.”
Suddenly, hunger pangs made him aware he was hungry. Ravenous. “When I go see Mother, she’ll feed me. I suppose everyone will be over there.”
“I think so.” Adele shrugged, shaking her head as if arranging her thoughts. She looked pale as she spoke in a wispy voice. “Your mother was telling me there’s a family history of names. Do you have a favorite?”
“No.” Rodger dropped Adele’s hand and stood up. “I hate all that nonsense about family history. We’re all born with new blood in us.”
“How about ‘Joan’?” Adele worked the sheet into a knot. “Or ‘Samantha’?”
Rodger watched the traffic from the window. Something Ada had said a long time ago. Love comes back in many forms. “You said you’d name your daughter after Ellen. Remember?”
“That could be her middle name.”
“How about Jonelle? And no middle name.”
“Jonelle, Jonelle Brown,” Adele repeated the name in a singsong. “But she’s got to have a middle name. Everyone does.”
“She doesn’t have to have anything,” Rodger growled, immediately regretting it. “It’ll help build her character if she’s not like everyone else.”
Adele frowned. She tugged at the blanket, wadding it into a larger knot.
“You know, you can be a bully. The kid doesn’t stand a chance with you as her father.”
“Oh, I don’t know. She beat the first odds just being born.” He touched Adele’s cheek. “She’s got you.”
“Jonelle Brown.” Adele scrunched up her face. “Jonelle Elizabeth Brown?”
“Nah. Sounds too poetic.”
The nurse tapped on the door. “All visitors must leave.”
He bent close and kissed her, prolonging the touch of their lips until the tapping resounded on the door.
He whispered in her ear, “’When I look into your eyes, I fall in love with you.’”
Seeing her smile, he smiled.
“See you later. Get some rest.”
“You, too, Rodger. Eat something tonight. You need to take of yourself.”
“I will.” He hugged her, kissed her again, and slipped out the door where he met the nurse coming down the hall.
“Mr. Brown, would you sign the birth certificate, please?”
Rodger stopped at the desk and took the form. He noted Jonelle’s birth weight, seven pounds, fourteen ounces, and time of arrival, two‑forty five, July 19, 1943. Attending physician was Dr. Adams.
Not quite true, he fumed. What the hell was the nurse’s name? He couldn’t remember. Let it go. On the line for a name, he penned “Jonelle Brown.” The nurse took the form and scanned it.
“What a pretty name! But, sir, you forgot the middle name. This is an official record so it must be complete.”
“I didn’t forget, nurse.” Rodger winked at her and was out the door before she could stop him.
He debated whether or not to go to his mother’s house. So many people would be there. He couldn’t very well call and just ask for Kyle. He’d have to make it through the whole evening with the family before he’d get away for a drink with his uncle and talk about flying. There was a hollow spot inside of him, part of him that needed to fly. He wanted to be back in his arena, the sky. Doing his job. His uncle understood that; he doubted anyone else in his family did.
He stood several minutes by his car staring at the nearly empty parking lot, unwilling to make a choice. This part of the world had forgotten about the war, it seemed, and simply went on living and dying.
“This town could eat a man alive,” he said aloud, flinging himself into the seat of the car. He shook his head, freeing himself of his gloom and drove to his mother’s house.
Madeline greeted him at the door, dressed in a pale blue a-line dress and her make-up perfect. She pulled him into the living room where Aunt Carrie, Rachel, Heather, Ada, and Kyle all sat. It occurred to Rodger that his mother was an attractive woman, and always had been with her clear complexion and sparkling blue eyes, although her face had a fine webbing of lines hinting at her age.
Ada sat encircled by his younger sisters, deep into a merry conversation. Her printed dress, cinched by a snug-fitting belt, reminded him of how she seemed forever the same, just as she looked to him now.
“Hey.” Rodger nodded to Kyle to get him a drink.
“We saw the baby!” squealed Heather, running to him.
“Only through the glass,” corrected Rachel. “And only a little of her face.”
Ada smoothed Heather’s curly hair, the ringlets popping up as her hand passed over each one.
“Did you pick out a name?”
“Jonelle.” Rodger clinked glasses with Kyle.
“Oh, how sweet!” Aunt Carrie lumbered across the room, displacing her brother to be at Rodger’s side. “And her middle name?”
“None. She’s Jonelle Brown.”
“Oh, no! That’ll never do!” Carrie clucked like a distraught hen. “Just think of all the trouble she’ll have with papers and such in school!”
“Oh, honestly, Carrie,” Madeline snapped. “It’s not important!”
Rodger couldn’t respond. His mother had said that.
“I think it’s—” Kyle started, but Carrie cut him off.
“Mind you, she’ll not thank you for this!” she admonished, wagging a finger in Rodger’s face.
Rodger looked over to his mother. “I’m hungry. Do you suppose I could get something to eat?”
“Of course.” Madeline started for the kitchen. “I’ll be just a few minutes.”
“Anything, Mother, would be fine. Make it simple!” he shouted after her.
Ada rose from the couch and came to him. “That’s a lovely choice of a name. How is Adele? Is she resting?”
“Yes. She wanted to name the baby after you.” Rodger winked at her. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his aunt stiffen.
Ada swallowed her chuckle. “Too many of us old birds around as is.” She kissed him on the cheek. “Good night. Drop by tomorrow.”
Ada left, and the conversation closed in again, tightening around him. Rachel pulled at his left arm.
“Rodger, have you heard of Captain Midnight? He’s on station WGN at five-forty-five. Mother lets us listen. You’d like him.”
“He’s a pilot! Just like you!” Heather’s smile exposed the gap where her front teeth were just coming in. “Mother’s going to send off for our very own secret decoder ring.”
Rachel rolled her eyes. “That’s kid’s stuff. But I think you might like the adventure.”
Rachel looked exactly like John had when he used to try and coax them into something.
“Maybe tomorrow night. In fact,” he tweaked Rachel’s nose, “it’s a date.”
Both girls clapped. Madeline called from the kitchen.
“Girls! Rodger! Come to supper.”
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