A boy is bent over a notebook. His pen is gripped with a concentration that makes your fingers ache in sympathy. His tongue slips between his lips like a bear nosing for honey. The pages have that rippled look which comes of endless rereading, rewriting, note taking, note making. Words fall to the page through dint of mighty effort.
Sergeant Simeon hushed his men. Even with paddles muffled, the little rubber commando boat hissed as it clove the water. His greatest worry was not sharks, nor even at that moment the Japs in their
camoflaugedcamouflaged platforms overlooking the straits. He feared most disturbing the monkeys that still haunted these beaches. Their howls and screams and hand grenades of hard-flung shit poodung would be as incriminating as any bank's alarm system to a robber bent on evil-doing.
He looks up. Technically rationing has never been lifted, but out here no one counts the days or reads the window stickers any more. The economy rations itself now. All you want is three dollars worth of leaded gasoline and a pack of gum. Any gum, really. Juicy Fruit, Double Mint, Blackjack, anything but bubble gum. It's against your religion to chew pink.
The coast road outside the little service station murmurs death songs with its graveled curves and sharp plunges to the bird-shat Pacific rocks hundreds of feet below. Every sweaty turn of the wheel makes you want to light up. Snipers taught you not to smoke, half a world away, and it's a lesson you haven't managed to unlearn.
"Nice day for it, huh, mister?"
He has the sort of milk-toothed earnestness you buried in the ruins of some Medieval church under a broken rifle stock and a blood-spattered helmet. Or maybe it was a pit dug in the mud by the side of a road scattered with shattered cobbles and treads blown off of German armor.
"You're lucky, kid," you say, putting down a five dollar bill you can barely spare. A president stares up at you with wise eyes only partly obscured by the Occupation stamp. You read once how Lincoln stood under fire, the only sitting president ever to risk enemy bullets. Until the last one.
"Lucky?" The boy laughs. "Ain't nothing here but trees and fish. I got no leaves on me."
"Lucky in your years." It's too hard to explain. He dreams a boy's dreams of war in the words on his page. You can't tell him differently. "Stay home and write. You'll live longer."