I Shall Be Waiting – #FridayFlash – 3/30/2012

[A/N:  Hope fanfic isn’t against the spirit of Friday Flash. 🙂
I’m a  big fan of an old TV show called “Combat”.  This is my take on how the LeMay family learns
about Caje being attacked and injured in the Combat! episode “The Leader”,
written from his sister Hélène’s viewpoint. I have never quite been able to believe that someone hurt as
badly as Caje was was suddenly “okay”, as Kirby is told at the end of the episode.
Just my opinion. The story has its roots In “Love Doesn’t Hide”, when Nonc Pierre tells
Paul that he has only seen Denis cry twice in his life, and once was when they
found out Paul had been stabbed.  This is what happened. <> = French]

I watch my father and husband dig up the front lawn of the house I grew up in.  For years, Papa complained about how sparsely the grass grew there. This year, finally, it grew in the way he always wanted, and now they’re tearing it up, Papa and Armand, to put in a Victory Garden.

The two of them stop, Papa pushing back his hat and wiping his forehead with a handkerchief.  Not a bandanna, not for Denis LeMay, the way that Nonc Pierre or Papère would, or even my brother Paul, if he was here.  I wish he was.

Maman comes to watch over my shoulder. “It’s too hot”, she says in French, almost to herself.  For a moment, I think she is going to go to the front door and get them to come in, but we see Nonc Pierre and Papère enter through the front gate, and both of us freeze.

The conflict between Papa and Nonc Pierre is very simple. Here you have two strong-minded, stubborn men who both love my brother very much and can’t agree on a single thing about him. For Papa, it is a matter of respect, the respect he doesn’t think he gets from Paulie, especially when it comes to the choices Papa has made for his son’s life. For Nonc Pierre, it is that he thinks Paulie should be independent, to choose his own path.  The latest battle in this family dispute is over Paulie and his best friend Theo going off together to fight in the war against the Nazis.

There’s no question where Nonc Pierre stands; when Martin Gautreaux came home paralyzed and in a wheelchair, he and Marcel Dubois showed up at the Gautreaux house with a load of timber and built a new room for Martin, widening the doors in the house to make it easier for Martin to get around.  Of course, they refused to accept any payment from Martin or his family.  They won’t talk about it, but Maman says that she thinks neither of them can forget the things they saw when they served in World War I. When I wrote Paulie about it, his next letter said that helping Martin probably laid some ghosts for both of them.  I guess he’d understand that better than I can.

It’s not as though Papa objects to the war as such.  Lots of our boys have left to fight and he’s gone with his friends to see their sons off. I know, too, that he has bought Victory Bonds and slipped money to young families whose fathers will never come home again.  He’d give all the money he has; he just doesn’t want to give his son.  Now that I have a son of my own, I have a little more sympathy for his viewpoint – or I would, if he didn’t want to control Paulie.

Sadly, Papa has more ammunition for his fears and for his position in this fight.  Theo Dubois died in action the first day of the invasion, D-Day as they call it. I can’t imagine how Paulie survived that.  He and Theo were like brothers – closer, in fact, if you look at my father and his brother.  I can’t remember Paulie and Theo ever squabbling, or at least not for long.

Since then, Paulie has been wounded a number of times, once seriously, when he and his squad were fighting alongside the British.  At least that’s what the letter from his lieutenant explained. We just found out that he has been wounded again, but we’ve received nothing more as of yet. Papa has grown querulous and easily irritated and we all dread the mail or the sound of footsteps and bicycle bells.

I miss my brother a lot.  He’d have wanted to be the first one to hold my and Armand’s son Philippe. He loves kids, and I hope he gets home to get married and have his own.

When we were kids, Paulie was my defender. He stood up for me when I wanted to do things and Papa put his foot down – he was the only person who could talk Papa around, oddly enough — and no one dared insult me or treat me badly when he was there. He was always my parfait gentil knight.  Of course, he’d laugh so hard if he knew what I was thinking.  Hélène, he’d say, you’ve been reading too many romances. I’m just an ordinary guy – don’t get carried away. And then he’d give me a big hug and go get us both some ice cream or one of Maman’s desserts and we’d sit on the side porch and just talk and laugh.

Papa is ignoring Nonc Pierre. I can tell from Nonc Pierre’s irritated expression and Papère’s resigned look.  Armand doesn’t look too happy either.  Here he comes.  I guess he has decided that to retreat was the better part of valor.  I don’t blame him for that.  Papère has given up aussi; he stops and gives his sons one last look before coming in.

Maman sighs and pours Armand and Papère glasses of lemonade. < Hélène, are they coming in too? >

< Non, Maman … > I pause, watching them.  For a moment, it looks as though they are arguing. Then Nonc Pierre puts his hand on Papa’s shoulder. Papa says something back and then they begin digging up the lawn together.

< Actually, unless they agreed to dig each other’s graves, Maman >, I say, smiling, < it looks as though they’ve made up for now.  Again. >

< Bon. > Papère shook his head. < Before God, I don’t know why they need to fight all t’e time.  When I t’ink how close they used to be …>

Then I see the mailman and something about my stillness catches my husband’s attention.

<What is it, ma chère? > Armand joins me at the window.

< Just M’sieu’ Terrebonne with t’e mail. >

Maman puts her glass down decisively and starts for the door. < Maybe t’ey finally sent us somet’ing about Paulie. >

I reach out and stop her. <Wait, Maman. Papa has it and he and Nonc Pierre are coming in.>

They enter the kitchen, Papa carrying a single envelop, Nonc Pierre behind him with the rest of the post, which he lays on the little table by the sofa.

< Denis, is it –? >

He holds the letter up so we can all see the handwriting. Now, I realize I don’t want to know what it says, and no one else seems to want to either. Finally, Papa rips it open convulsively and takes the enclosure out.

My heart stops as he reads, and suddenly, horribly, he begins to weep.

< Denis? > Maman reaches for him, and the letter falls to the ground. He clings to her and she helps him to the living room, where they sit together, rocking back and forth. < Ah, Denis, what is it? >

I am afraid to pick up the letter, afraid of what it might say, but I do.  Oh, Paulie .. oh, no.

“Dear Mr. LeMay:

I am sorry to have to write you again about your son.

I know this will be difficult for you to read. We were engaged in holding off the enemy and Private LeMay was set to keep watch.  He was attacked by a German patrol and was stabbed in the abdomen. Although we have told his squad mates that he will be all right, the truth is that he is gravely ill and has had to undergo surgery.

He is presently in England being treated and as soon as I have any further details, I will make sure you are informed as soon as it is possible to do so.

Please know that our thoughts and prayers are with you, your family and your son, who is a valued member of my unit.

Sincerely,

Lieutenant Gilbert Hanley

Second Platoon, 361st Infantry, King Company”

Armand holds me and tries to comfort me.  Then Nonc Pierre takes the letter from me and he and Papère read it together.

Papère staggers and Nonc Pierre catches him blindly. There is shock on his face and guilt.  Nonc Pierre, it’s not your fault!  He helps his father to a chair and then sits down himself, off-balance and with a lack of grace that is very unlike him. Maman reaches for the letter and he gives it to her reluctantly. She reads it, turning white with shock, and Papa holds her, as she, too, cries.

After some moments of general silence, punctuated only by our tears, I am shocked to hear a growl. It is Papa.

He stands unsteadily, glaring at Nonc Pierre in absolute fury.  He grabs my unresisting uncle by the shirt and hauls him out of his chair. ”Fils de putain!  Jamais, jamais je ne veux à nouveau vous vous voyez dans ma maison.” Never do I want you in my house again!

We all protest, but he pays us no mind. He pushes his brother to the front door and then pulls his arm back to slug him.  Papère and Armand look at one another, rise as one and try to pull them apart, Andre holding Papa, and Armand supporting Nonc Pierre. All four of them jump when I shout, unable to stand it any more.

Arretez! Papa! Stop it!” I was still crying, but now as much for the never-ending anger between these two men I love so as for my brother. ”Do you think Paul would want the two of you to fight like this?” I turned to my father. ”Papa, Paulie always tried to do what you wanted him to, but he wrote me many times when he was away and said he wanted a part in the war.  Nonc Pierre may have told him stories when he was a boy, but Paulie made up his own mind. You know that, if you are honest.”

Papa lets go of Nonc Pierre and nearly collapses against me. ”I want mon fils home,” he says, emphatically, through his tears. “I want your brot’er safe. Paul! Paul …”

Maman rises slowly. For a moment, she looks confused, like a sleeper awakened from a deep dream. She meets my eyes and I know what she is thinking because it is what is in my mind as well.  This can’t be true. This can’t have happened. She comes and puts her arms around both Papa and me, and then I feel Armand beside me, and Papère.  Only Nonc Pierre stands apart from us. He watches for a moment and then walks slowly through the kitchen, opens the door and steps out onto the side porch.

I pull away and follow him outside. ”Don’t you dare leave, nonc-nonc.” We both called him that, Paulie and me, when we were just p’tits.

He stands and looks at me for the longest time, and gradually his hazel eyes, so like my brother’s, fill with tears. One trickles down his cheek. He swallows hard, face set, trying not to lose control. I stand there with my arms open wide, and he walks to me and hugs me, and then this strong, proud Cajun man cries like a child for my brother, for the nephew he loves like a son.

Much later, after the others leave, and Armand and I take Philippe and go home, I sit on our side porch and think. If I could have been by Paulie’s side, if I could be there now, I would tell him how much I love him and how proud I am of him.  And then I would find a way to bring him home so that he didn’t have to be hurt any more, so that none of us have to be afraid that the day will bring a knock on the door and an Army chaplain with a mouth full of condolences.

I listen to the record Armand put on the player and pray for my brother. Je t’aime, mon frère. Wherever you are, Paulie, je t’aime. Come home well, cher. Come home soon.  I shall be waiting.

.– 30 –

The title comes from a WWII song by Vera Lynn.  You can find the lyrics here: http://www.lyricsdownload.com/vera-lynn-i-shall-be-waiting-lyrics.html

2 thoughts on “I Shall Be Waiting – #FridayFlash – 3/30/2012

  1. Well, I don’t know the show you referred to, but this was a tale of the causalities of war or combat, I can understand how the family felt, that knock on the door is always the one they dread.

    This was quite long to read more like a short story than a flash I think.

  2. Thank you, Helen. And you’re right about the length … I was so desperate to put something up, I grabbed this from my archives and posted it, not realizing how long it was. I’m glad you read it anyway and I appreciate the comment!

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