Michael was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army that morning. The Captain at the base had handed him a Letter of Commendation and a Purple Heart along with his discharge papers. Michael shoved the Purple Heart into his breast pocket absently. It meant little to him at the moment other than the fact that he was alive to receive it. When the Germans bombed his platoon in a night air raid over Holland, there had been few survivors. Michael had survived less one eye, but he was alive.
Michael Hampton's lengthy stride gave way to a gentle hop as he stepped from the sidewalk to the street. He walked towards a cab, which was waiting in the taxi stand, and waved him into gear. Tipping his head back to meet with the summer sun, he smiled; enjoying the warmth that poured out onto his face. The sudden memory of blood-scented dirt caused a painful grimace to form at the corners of his lips. He shrugged away the haunting feelings with a slow shiver. He was too happy to dwell on the horrors of the war that day.
At thirty-eight, he had been the oldest in his platoon. Somehow he couldn't help but feel guilty for managing to live while watching young boys die in the trenches around him. His vivid memories of Angela and the new love they shared gave him his fierce will to fight to live. Four months ago he met his angel, Angela Forzani, while walking in the park. One month later he was shipped overseas. He could still hear her sweet voice in his ear, softly crying. "Just one kiss before you go."
He moved past the front door of the car, peered inside at the crusty face of the cab driver, then opened the door and slid into the back seat. "Where to?" A voice mumbled through cigar clenched lips.
"553 Constant Road." Michael answered absently. He was going to surprise Angela with his sudden appearance and a marriage proposal. If her letters were any indication, she was still very much in love with him. She would accept. Neither one of them were getting any younger. There would be no long engagement, Michael thought with an assured grin, we will elope tonight.
"Say Mista', you just get out?" The cabby turned his head and spit out the open window. "of the war, I mean." He put a finger up to his eye.
"Oh yes, the patch " He felt the frayed edges of the black eye patch with his forefinger. "I just got my discharge papers this morning. I'm pretty much all that's left of my troop " he paused for a moment, breathing deeply. "Two friends of mine are still in hospital; they're pretty badly wounded. One lost both legs, the other, a real nice fellow by the name of Percy, is in very bad shape." His voice grew quiet. "They don't expect he'll live."
Riding in silence, he watched the familiar sites of town with a new, one-eyed perspective. He still was not used to the patch the doctors used to cover the flesh-torn mess of his right eye but at least he was able to walk away. His friends were not so lucky. He fidgeted against the dirty brown seat, pulling at a loose thread that held a gaping hole at bay. Will Angela still want me? He asked himself quietly. Yes, he answered, closing his eye.
Michael slumped back and fingered the small diamond ring in his pants pocket nervously as if it were a worry stone. He found it in a tiny jewelry store in Rome. It was in every way like Angela; simple with an elegant grace.
He leaned his head sideways onto the window, remembering the first time they made love. She was shy and uncertain. She was approaching forty and still a virgin. He held her, in her frightened nakedness, and made love to her all night long, teaching her the subtleties of passion.
He grinned, remembering every lean curve of Angela's body. Every fine line on her brow. The way she smiled when one of her first grade students hugged her. The way she smiled when he made love to her. A wartime whirlwind romance was not uncommon, but he often wondered why he had to meet her now when he had so little time to be with her; love had such bad timing. It really didn't matter now though. He was back, and pretty much in one piece. Now, he would ask her to be his wife, and he knew she would say yes.
"It's the next street after this stop sign. Just take a right." Michael leaned up towards the driver excitedly.
"Yeah, I had an aunt that lived down here once. I was just a kid, but I remember. There's a huge apple tree on the corner. I used to throw rotten apples at my friends. We were kinda punks." He snorted.
"It's the white clapboard two story on the left." Michael fumbled in his pocket for his wallet.
"Looks like a buck and a half." The cabby turned around and gave Michael a toothy grin.
Michael handed him two crisp one-dollar bills. "Keep the change." Then he jumped out of the taxi, slamming the door behind him with a forceful push.
He stood in front of Angela's house, shaking with anticipation, trying to compose his thoughts. He glanced at his watch. It was nearly noon. Since June she had been on her summer break from teaching at Northridge Elementary. Though he knew she might not be home when he arrived, he desperately hoped to find her apron-clad in the kitchen or puttering away in the garden in the backyard.
"Angela " he said in a hushed whisper as if he were saying a prayer.
Michael walked solemnly towards the front porch, taking several steps and stopped suddenly at the bottom of the wooden planked stairs. There was a quiet, peaceful ambiance to Angela, which even embodied her house. The large front porch was open and welcoming, trimmed with flower baskets that were dripping with petunias, which hung heavily off the porch railing. Everything was just the way he remembered it. The rose bushes next to the front steps were blooming now though, and their fresh scent was wafting up through the hot summer air, filling him with a dizzying feeling. He wiped the sweat from the palms of his hands on his shirt and reached into his pocket for the small gem. Michael looked up to the sky and whispered to the heavens, wish me luck.
Smiling and bursting with excitement, Michael bounded up the front steps of the porch and knocked loudly on the screen door. Silence answered back. He knocked again but this time he called out.
"Angela? Angela, it's me. Michael. I'm home." Silence again, disappointingly still silence which carried his voice into the house, bouncing it back to him in a hollow echo.
His brow furrowed into rows of deep thought, then he opened the door quietly and stepped inside. "Hello?" Michael called out again to the emptiness, but there was no reply. He stood in the middle of Angela's living room, quietly surveying the décor of the woman he loved. Everything about her was soft and simple and refined. He stepped over to the delicately carved shelves that lined her walls in three tiers and reached up to a small glass angel, touching it lightly, reverently. Where is my angel? he thought desperately.
Michael walked through the dining room, then into the kitchen and peered out the large window over the sink. Angela was not in the house or out in the garden. Was she shopping perhaps? Or maybe walking through the park? Wherever she was, he would simply wait. He'd waited this long, surely he could wait a little longer. He would sit on the couch and maybe take a nap and hoped to dream once again of his Angela.
Michael turned to leave the kitchen, but a small plate lying broken on the floor next to the icebox held his gaze frozen.
"Angela?" He yelled out cautiously.
He turned and walked in a panic towards the living room, passing the winding stairway that led to the second floor. He stopped abruptly, upon hearing a sound from the top of the stairs. A muffled sound, the sound of crying. Michael ran up the stairs taking three at a time and flew down the hall to her bedroom door. It was closed.
"Angela?" Michael turned the doorknob and opened the door. "Angela, are you " He stood in the open doorway and he saw her. Angela was lying on her bed, under a pink chenille bedspread. Her eyes were closed. Her skin, pale and glistening with dampness. Michael approached her gently. "Angie? Are you awake?" He took another step closer to her bed. "It's me Angie, Michael." He smiled.
She turned her head to him and opened her eyes weakly. "Michael?" Angela smiled, then crimped her face in a painful grimace. "They said you were dead. Your sister got a letter from the Army said you were killed the bombs oh, your eye " She reached her hand out to him limply.
"It's nothing." Michael said, touching his patch. "I still have one good one." He grinned, his face filling with excitement.
Michael sat down on the edge of her bed. His mind flashed to the last time he'd been in her room in her bed, but he was quickly brought back to the immediate situation. Angela looked funny. Odd. "Angela, are you sick or something?"
"Sick Michael?" She laughed weakly. "You could say that I missed you I needed you so much " Angela closed her eyes. "They said you were dead God forgive me."
"I missed you to my love." Michael leaned over and kissed her forehead. "I don't know what happened. Most of the troop did die, I guess they made a mistake I mean, telling people I was dead my poor sister, and you. What a shock that must have been, but see I am very much alive! Anyway " He reached into his pocket and pulled out the diamond ring. "I know you're not feeling that well, but maybe this would make you feel better." He reached over, took her cool hand in his and placed the ring on her finger. "Will you marry me?"
A puddle of tears formed in the corner of Angela's brown eyes. "Marry you? I think it's too late ."
"Oh I haven't done this right at all, have I. I will get down on bended knee " Michael quickly rose from the bed walked around to the side she was lying on and bent down on both knees. He turned his head to the right, trying to conjure up the most wonderfully perfect words to say to his angel when he noticed a dark stain running down the side of the pink bedspread. He reached out slowly and touched the warm, moist spot. He pulled his hand away and turned it over. Blood. "Angela!" He screamed, then he pulled the blankets from her body. She lay still in a pool of her own blood, which seemed to have a source, somewhere at her middle.
"I'm sorry Michael "
"My God, Angela, I'll call the doctor."
"No Michael, it's too late. The baby is gone now." Angela turned towards him and forced her eyes open.
"Yes, I was three months but then I heard you were dead you'd never be coming back I couldn't have a baby and not be married. This town is too small for that they would have fired me. I would have had nothing only poverty for my child." She began to cry. "I didn't realize I often miss my courses." Michael looked away in embarrassment. "Last week, we thought you were dead your sister, she told me to see this man said he'd take care of it all." She spoke haltingly, her breathing labored and breathy.
"You've lost too much blood, Angie. I have to call the doctor. I have to get you to the hospital right away." He bent down and wrapped her in the bloody bedspread.
"I'm dying Michael."
"Nooo! Damnit Angie, I won't let you do this!" Michael bent his head up in a silent prayer. "I understand what you did Angie, and we can have more babies after we get married." He cried into her shoulder. "I love you so much "
"Please Michael kiss me once "
Michael laid her body gently on the bed and kissed her. Angela smiled, then mouthed the words "I'm sorry", as she closed her eyes.
He gathered her body up in his arms, walked down the stairs and out into the heat of mid day, the smell of blood and dirt rising up over the roses sweet perfume.
© 1998 Jackie Ashton, All Rights Reserved
Jackie Ashton is a published freelance writer living in Canada; with works appearing on e-zines such as Moondance, The Inditer, A Writers Choice Literary Journal and Dusktodawn | Culture Zine. She is also involved with several online workshops and is writing a novel. firstname.lastname@example.org
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