I told you yesterday that I would put up a short story for you to read from my book of short stories. The book is called “Sunrise, Sunset.”
Here”s the story now. It is called “Homecoming.”
She sat at the old oak bar and sipped her drink, hoping that no one would notice her. That was very unlikely, however. Rose was taller than most women and was always noticed when she stood up. Besides, she was simply beautiful. She had a calming face, regal posture, and an elegant bearing. Men always noticed her, but few were brave enough to ask her to dance.
It was nineteen-forty four and her mother had chased her out of the house with her younger sister. They had been brooding for weeks over the lack of mail from her husband Chester.
“Get out of here,” her mother shouted at them as she tried to do her daily housework.
“Go and have a drink down at “Joey”s and try to cheer up. Worrying about Chester won’t bring his home any sooner.”
They reluctantly put on their long, heavy, wool coats and ventured out into the cold night air. There was still a dusting of snow on the sidewalk as they as they stepped out the front door of the little house and headed downtown to their favorite bar. They had gone there often when the both of them were still single. Bt since Rose’s marriage, they had not ventured into that cozy, smokey, oasis.
They held each other’s hand as they walked up the street like sisters used to. They didn’t talk. They didn’t need to. They weren’t twins, but they were just as close. They had shared the same bedroom in the little brick house that their grandfather had built, sixty years ago, for their entire lives. They had no secrets or unshared dreams.
It had been an exciting night when Rose had come home with the news that she had finally met someone special. She sat on the edge of her bed and told her little sister Dorothy all about him. His name was Chester, and he seemed too good to be true.
They both knew that first impressions weren’t great indicators of things to come, but at least they had something new and exciting to talk about. That had been three years ago now.
This last year had not been an easy one for any of them with the war being in the fourth year and all. Everyone was on edge in America since Pearl Harbor. Everything had changed after that dreadful day.
They were married quickly, before Chester left for parts unknown. It was a small ceremony, matching their two families resources. It didn’t matter though. Everyone who mattered were there. Rose’s mother, her sister, and Chester’s younger brother were all seated in the little office of the judge who would marry them. Times were different back then.
When they kissed at the end of the short ceremony it was a promise of things to come. They hadn’t made love, and they were going to wait until Chester came back, God willing.
Chester was already in the army when they stood before the thin, old judge with his grey hair, wavy hair. The timing of the wedding was determined by the war, not Rose or her mother. Chester was leaving in two days, and there were no guarantees that he would return safely.
All most four years later, Rose and her little sister sat at the bar in Joey’s and wondered what the future held for both of them.
Dorothy was unmarried, and with most men her age away, her chances of marriage in the near future seemed slim indeed. It was the lack of recent letters that had disturbed Rose.
Dorothy and her mother could hear Rose, crying upstairs in their bedroom when she could bear the uncertainty no longer, but they never mentioned it to her.
Their mother often reminded them of her own plight after she had made a bad choice in a husband. She held herself out as woman who had made some bad decisions in her life. Their father, being one of them, had left long ago. The two girls had no idea why he left, only that he was gone.
Rose now found herself without her husband, but for a completely different set of reasons. A mad man and a couple of friends had turned the world upside down. Rose was innocent of any faulty decision making, and yet she felt doomed now.
Her heart would leap into her throat every morning when the mailman would come down their narrow street and walked up the three steps to the front door and the slot that seemed to welcome all the world into their home, good news and bad. But the mail from Chester had stopped.
Now she both dreamed of, and dreaded, the mail coming to her house when she was asleep or awake. No one spoke of it, but the odds of a letter from Chester or from the Army seemed about fifty-fifty.
It was a miserable way for them to have to live. Everyone was constantly reminding each other of how good the families had it at home, compared to their men overseas but it was no consolation.
The war seemed to be going better now, after a pretty rocky start. Everyone was crushed when Pearl Harbor was attacked, but it seemed that the tide had finally turned now. At least that was the story in all the papers.
No one at home much to go on, but the feeling was that the U.S. and her allies would prevail in the end. There was no other option for the world, and everyone knew it.
After the girls left for Joey’s, Rose’s mother sat down in the kitchen to shuck some corn for the might’s dinner when the doorbell rang. She got up slowly. She was over sixty now, and was not as healthy or energetic as she had been just a few years ago.
She shuffled to the front door. She could see a man in a hat standing on the other side through the little fogged windows that let in the morning sunlight early everyday. But she couldn’t make out his face. When she opened the door, and saw who it was, she nearly fainted.
Chester stood over her as she backed up into the room and looked around for something close to sit on. It turned out to be the second step of stairs behind her. She spread out her arms on either side of her for support and began to cry with relief.
“Where is Rose mom?”
“She’s down at Joey’s with Dorothy.”
Chester’s smile faded, as the worst-case scenario played out in his head. Rose’s mother saw Chester’s face fall and knew instantly what he was thinking.
“No honey, it isn’t like that. I sent her down there with Dorothy. We haven’t heard from you in ages and we’ve all been worried to death.”
“I sent letters as often as I could, but it’s not easy getting them out of a war zone.”
“I can’t imagine how awful it’s been Chester, but Rose has been a good girl. We’ve all stayed together waiting for you to come home.”
“It’s been a nightmare mom, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you half of what was going on out there.”
“Put your overcoat back on and get down to Joey’s and let your wife know that you are alright. She’s in a pretty bad state right now.”
Chester put on his heavy army jacket back on and retraced his steps to the front door, “I’ll be back in a few mom.”
Rose’s mother watched her son-in-law walk away and started crying again.
“Thank God he’s back in one piece,” she thought to herself.
Agnes closed the door behind her as Chester walked away from the house. Chester’s heart was beating like it had the first time a Japanese sniper had shot at him.
He tried to imagine what Rose would look like after worrying about him for almost four years. He hoped her mother had been honest about her fidelity. He didn’t know what he would do if he saw her in the arms of another man. He knew it would kill him on the spot.
When he finally reached Joey’s, he was freezing and scared. More than when he had to leap into the Pacific and hit the beach under fire.
He pulled the door open and saw his wife instantly. She was at least four inches taller than all the other women on the dance floor.
His heart jumped into his throat when he saw her dancing. Then he saw who her partner was. He know that face as well as Rose’s. It was Dorothy, thank God.
“May I cut in,” he said as he walked up behind his wife.
As she collapsed into his arms, everything around her began to dissolve and spin. She saw her sister seemingly float away across the room with everyone else in the warm tavern. She felt her legs bend, and then those strong arms caught her and kept her from falling to the floor.
Chester kissed Rose on the mouth and somehow that brought her back to reality. She held him tightly and pulled his head down to hers and kissed him back.
She took his hand and walked him back to where her drink and her sister were now waiting for them. Dorothy was seated, waiting for the two of them to make it across the the crowded dance floor.
Rose only heard bits and pieces of what Chester was saying. She saw his lips moving, but the blood had rushed from her head when she first saw Chester. She was still a bit shaken.
It was a wonder the she hadn’t collapsed onto the floor when she first saw him. Then she remembered that she was, indeed, going down when those two, strong, arms of Chester caught her just as she was about to lose conciousness.
“When did you get home?”
“Just about an hour ago honey. None of us had a chance to get to a phone. We sent letters letting everyone know what day we were getting home, but obviously you never received that one.”
“I haven’t had a letter in over two months,” she said as she started to cry.
She didn’t know whether she was crying out of anger or relief, it didn’t matter anymore. Chester was home now.