By Allison Whittenberg
In war time, you marry a man who is tall and stalwart.
You marry a man with a sullen smirk. You don’t marry a soldier; you marry a partisan. One of the rebels, a hard-core. And for a few days every now and then, life is interesting.
Aussie is your husband and he is also a thief, taking advantage of the kind of bottomless chaos that only war could breed. He is young. He is alive. He is full of pride.
He often disappears for weeks at a time. He sends no word. He spares no words. You have two children. You mother them when you can. You work as a maid to get by. Though you’ve never been to school, you can read, but not very well.
He brings you glory when he comes. Spoils from the War. Glowing jewels. Religious medals. He tells you how many thayers he can get after he larks them. You get excited. A smile spreads across your face like butter. Your eyes reel in marvel as if you’ve never seen such a collection of shiny baubles in your whole entire life. You finger through the pile after he dumps it on the grubbery table. Aussie pulls up a chair and together you ogle every last gem.
“Shit!” you exclaim. “What did you do Aussie, light-hand every last homeowner in the New World?”
He gloats big instead of answering you. You want to see him without his clothes on.
He is a beautiful man. Built tight and showy like one of those Old World Greek statues. And he has thick lips that kiss you sometimes as soft as summer. He has thick lips that kiss sometimes hard and still it is magic.
He doesn’t bother to take off all his clothery; he is only interested in seeing you. Black waves brake with a white slap then a roar. You hold on. He is wild and strong.
The next morning, you wake up next to him. You are a wet leaf soaked by the rain: moldy, plastered to the doss cover. You look over at him, he is waking up too.
You kiss him for a while and for a while he kisses you back, then he pushes you away. He heads to the washiere. He returns in a few moments half changed into his quasi uniform: a tee, blackstrides and hiking boots, not all the way dry from last night.
He says to you, “The take I brought last night ain’t nothing like what I’m fixing on pinching. I’m swinging over by that border city tonight.”
Thinking it is just as well, you shrug. You’ve got to pick up the kids from you mothers. You’ve got to be over at the Ulms by nine to clean their bath, straighten out their closets, make space.
Outside the white snow is falling, falling, falling like sugar. You watch it through the window, piddling away the few moments you have left with Aussie.
Just as Aussie leaves, you ask him when he will return.
He surprises you and says he’ll be back in two days.
You do not cry, but you want to. You don’t tell him how lonely you are. How scared you are. How much you think the war will never end. How much you think you are losing your looks, wasting away, going insane.
All you tell him is that you love him.
And he gloats big.
You ask him to kiss you. One more for the road. He does. He kisses you sweetly; he puts his heart in it.
A. Whittenberg is a Philadelphia native who has a global perspective. If she wasn’t an author she’d be a private detective or a jazz singer. She loves reading about history and true crime. Her other novels include Sweet Thang, Hollywood and Maine, Life is Fine, Tutored and The Sane Asylum.