An excerpt from:
The Way to War
I missed my ship. I couldn’t believe it; in my excitement, while packing and phoning friends and relatives, but mostly thinking of my time with Johnny, the hours rocketed by without me knowing. Then, already late, my taxi stalled in a traffic accident and by the time I reached the docking area, the lights of the Queen Mary were slipping out of the harbor. It felt like there were marbles in my stomach as I frantically looked for the dock master. I found him, leaning against a weather-worn building and smoking a hand-rolled cigarette, and convinced him to radio ahead to the Ambrose Light dock.
I grabbed the taxi driver who lingered by his cab, waiting for his fare, and yelled for him to get me to the Ambrose Light dock. He took the turns so fast that they sent me flying from one side of the back seat to the other, and I was relieved when I saw the ship’s lights ahead.
About an hour later, the ship docked and dropped a pilot ladder over the side. I ran and grabbed the rope, realizing I had no choice but to abandon my duffel back or miss my chance to go to Europe. The ladder slid across the ship’s hull and I hung on for dear life. A voice above commanded me to remain still––which was exactly what I wanted––and then with a jerk, the ladder began to rise. I didn’t open my eyes until I felt myself placed firmly on deck.
Scattered around deck were several men and women dressed as I was, in full army uniform, and a ranking officer. My combat helmet fell back as I stood, and in the expectant silence, I knew I had to say or do something. Taking off my helmet, I stood at attention, spitting my whipping hair out of my mouth, saluted the officer and said, “Marguerite Hogan reporting for duty.”
It seemed everyone was trying to suppress laughter, but it was difficult to tell amongst the faces of the military and correspondents. A tall woman with long dark hair bent and said to a shorter stout man next to her, “She’s too sweet for war.” The man responded with a laugh.
“That’s Maggie Hogan, and she ain’t no nun.”
I asked the captain about my abandoned duffel. He looked at me with a stern eye and briny face partially hidden underneath a neat white beard. He shook his head slowly, and then pointed his finger to another man. “Ensign, have someone get the correspondent’s duffel, and hurry to it. Welcome aboard, Miss Hogan. The Ensign will show you to your quarters.”
The thing about the ocean that impressed me the most wasn’t the expanse of water reaching out to the horizon, but the clean night sky. After every dinner, I would climb through the frigid evening to the top deck, where I could be alone with the stars.
The Milky Way stretched into the inky ocean, and the constellations were clearer than I had ever seen. I found Orion and the Dippers, Draco and Pleiades, and for some reason thought of Johnny. He popped into my mind and, though it felt like an intrusion at first, I let the thought linger and it comforted me. I wished he were with me, holding me from behind with his cheek nestled against my wool hat. I felt terribly lonely just then.
Once the ocean air had permeated my layers of clothing, I would return to the cabin I shared with Janet Flanner of The New Yorker. She’d pulled rank and claimed the bottom bunk, for her excellent writing and experience. I was a little overawed by her at first, but my blunt take on our surroundings, men, and writing chiseled away at her superiority until we became friendly. We were females on equal footing in a sea of men.
I sat next to her at the dinner table we shared with four male correspondents who spewed their arrogance like a quickly popped, overly shaken bottle of champagne. It sickened Janet and me, but we played our proper female roles for the first couple nights. But the third night we just couldn’t take it anymore.
Janet had dressed in a fine, tight, blue turtleneck, her long, dark hair combed to the side and spilling over her shoulder. She wore red lipstick and blush, making her hazel eyes cast a deeper hue. Her smile was bright and sexy.
I came in my uniform. I liked that it made me look soldierly, and I wanted to impress the captain. I thought he might be good for some information during the voyage, and I noticed that uniforms gave a certain esprit de corps amongst the people who wore them.
I was right. When he came into the room, although his look lingered on Janet, he came to me and graciously accepted my hand with a bright smile. I had a better look at him, and saw that, though he wasn’t good looking, he had a command about him, a tough, no nonsense look in his dark eyes. His high cheekbones were rosy from the cold salt air and his full-length beard made his bleached teeth a focal point of his face. Everyone rose when he entered and he motioned with for us to sit, a gesture that meant, “Let’s dispense with formality.”
The captain sat at the head of the table with Janet to his left. Across from us were the three men, Jake Monroe, Peter Materese, and Gordon Thomas. They were all dressed in dark turtlenecks and smoking pipes stereotypical of correspondents of the day. I knew for certain they would begin the dinner conversation with the egotistical name-dropping that I found so boring. Men who had to parade and swagger about their accomplishments were my biggest turn off.
Jake was a nice looking man, with fair skin and blue eyes but his high-pitched voice irritated me. Peter was the opposite, gruff, burly, and loud. Gordon made me the sickest of all. He was from a well-to-do family and talked through his nose. He was the best looking, but his looks went down the toilet when he opened his mouth.
I was surprised at the fine china laced with gold trim, the glassware from Murano, and the polished silverware. When our drinks arrived, Gordon made himself known.
“Captain, by my calculations we are ahead of schedule.”
“Your calculations are correct,” the captain said politely. “You people should be in Gourock, Scotland, three days from now.”
Gordon nodded his head triumphantly, sipped his drink, and puffed on his pipe. It made me nauseous.
“This is a beautiful setting,” I jumped in to get Gordon out of the limelight.
“Yes, it’s our peacetime voyage setting, but I thought you fine people would enjoy it.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Janet said.
“Typical thing a woman would notice,” Peter said between pursed lips. I didn’t respond, but Janet did.
“I suppose you don’t speak of the beauty because you’d rather enjoy the ugly.”
“I don’t enjoy either in war time. Men are dying,” Peter said.
“The battlefield is a very ugly place,” Jake added.
“Oh, you’ve been to battle, Jake?” Janet knew he hadn’t.
“Speaking from the words of my colleagues is all. Do you have any female friends covering the battles?”
“That’s why we’re here,” I said.
“Women belong at desks, not on the fields of battle.”
Infuriated, my cheeks flushed. “And where does this brilliant piece of wisdom come from?”
“That’s a Jake-ism, Maggie.” Peter laughed and the atmosphere lightened a bit.
The first course, a light fish cake, came out and the quick waiter who poured the wine diffused the tension. I was famished, so I decided to dive into the fish instead of Jake. Everyone ate in silence until Gordon wanted to hear himself speak again.
“Captain, any sign of German U boats?”
The captain shook his head. “I think the strategy of leaving under the night sky thwarts their efforts. That and luck.”
“Sinking this ship would be quite the prize,” Peter added.
“With nine thousand troops on board, I believe you are right,” said the captain. “But I also believe the Germans have all they can handle nearer home. Things haven’t been going well for them.”
“I hope we get there in time.” As soon as I said it, I knew how horrid it sounded. Jake picked up on it quickly.
“Can’t wait to write about kids being slaughtered in battle, Maggie?”
“I didn’t mean it like that. I meant it as a story.”
Gordon smirked. “I hear you treat stories as a way to get famous. That so?”
“Don’t answer him, Maggie. He’s playing his role of omniscient journalist, and his degradation of the female reporter helps camouflage his weaknesses.” Janet smiled and sipped her wine.
To my relief, the captain interfered. “I think there will be plenty of war left to write about when you get there. We’re writing a new history out there, and that will be remarkable for the pen as well.”
“Hear, hear.” Peter raised his glass for a toast, which served as a peace offering. We all raised our glasses and the rest of the dinner went on without incident.
Obviously nothing had changed, even at this late stage in the war. A woman’s right to report on war was still not very popular with our male counterparts or the powers of the military.
Tucked into my bunk later, I asked Janet about their attitude. “Why don’t they want us there?”
“It’s a male thing. I think it threatens their existence, and they get nervous about it.”
“But it shouldn’t. If they’re good writers and reporters, then they should hold their own, like in any profession.” I was thinking out loud rather than trying to convince Janet, who understood completely.
“Exactly. That’s why it’s a man thing. They threaten easy and they have this thing that women should be dainty little creatures that care for them and cater to them and say yes to them. You know coddle, coddle, coddle. Sometimes they’re just so pitiful.”
“I like men.”
“So I’ve heard.”
I propped myself up with my elbow. “What have you heard?” I watched her eyes and they closed slightly, pensively.
“Word has it that you’re loose and get things done by whatever means you have at your disposal.”
“Which means my body.” I was surprised to see it didn’t matter to me. “Janet, I’m as good as any man, and for the sake of myself and women in other fields, I’m going to succeed. And, yeah, I will use everything I’ve got to achieve that. People talk and lie because they’re jealous.”
Janet sat up. “I’m going to tell you something, pretty young lady.” I looked at her eagerly, my eyes coruscating while anticipating her next words. She smiled at my face. “I feel sorry for the men whose lives cross with yours.”
I laid back down. “I do, too.”
I was in a daze, already adrift in the current, during my last few hours in the States. I moved along, getting my affairs together, and before I knew it, I had boarded the Queen Mary. I had watched the ship come in and out of the harbor many times, dreaming of cruising to some far away island with a beautiful woman. Reality hit me as I walked the gangplank with thousands of soldiers, three of them assigned as my bunk mates in a berth so small we had to take shifts to sleep.
The ship was completely transformed into the Gray Ghost. Where an elegant promenade deck had once been there were canons, machine guns, and anti-aircraft rocket launchers. When I stepped on deck and saw all the soldiers, the emptied swimming pools, berths occupying the lounges and drawing rooms, I realized what had been was gone.
It was the first ship I had ever been on that actually went to sea. My experience with ships was limited to lifting cargo from the docks and scaring degenerates by hanging them from the deck railings.
As we pulled away from the dock and veered eastward, a crown of orange emerged from the horizon but we missed the sunrise as we hung off the rails and watched the skyline slip away. We stopped once at Ambrose Light to pick up a passenger who missed the ship. I figured whoever it was must be pretty important, otherwise the Gray Ghost would never have stopped.
I soon learned to love the sway of the ship as it chopped through the waves. It didn’t bother me, but it got to my bunkmate Bobby and two other guys, Stanley and Thomas, who bunked across from us. They all puked their insides out and when they couldn’t puke anymore they heaved air, making them sound like squealing pigs. They began to make me sick, too, so I often cut out and went to the top deck to watch the stars.
I didn’t know much about the stars, but I was impressed with the vastness of the sky, and the billions of fine points of light filling the blackness made me feel so small. Taking in the enormity of nature, I found myself wondering if anything mattered. I began to question going to war simply over a dame who obviously didn’t care for me. I thought we had something, that magic between a man and woman, and I couldn’t believe I was wrong. My mind wandered to other things––adventure and travel. I wanted to see the world, so I tried to let my memories of Maggie slip away like the coastline. But still, the idea of her remained.
Midway through the voyage, the boys got their sea legs. Though they looked like death, they began to join me amidships during the early morning to breathe in the good sea air. We walked towards the bow staring down at the steel floor rather than the moving horizon. When we reached the bridge, we’d linger, lean against the pilot house and have a smoke. Having company felt good, and I sensed the beginning of camaraderie like I’d had on the New York streets, a brotherhood that sprung from the danger ahead.
“I was recruited because I fly gliders,” Bobby from Detroit said.
“How is a glider used in war when airplanes could knock them out of the sky easily?” I asked.
“I don’t know, but they gave me a good deal to do it,” Bobby said. “Money in annuities. So I signed in Detroit and took the train to New York.”
Bobby was shorter than me, with an almost frail frame. His sandy hair and fair complexion made him look like a schoolboy, but he carried himself like he was completely fearless.
Stanley was the opposite in stature: broad shoulders, thick arms and legs, and about six foot four. He was from Kentucky and could shoot the eyes out of squirrel from two hundred yards. He didn’t know anything about annuities, he just wanted to serve his country. “Darn,” he said as we all stopped and leaned over the rail. “After a week in boot camp, the brass came to me and said they liked my shooting. Then they corralled me to their office and told me they needed me to win the war.”
“You shoot good, huh?” Thomas asked, and it was the first time I heard his voice.
“Grew up with a Winchester and moved on to a thirty aught six,” he said with a smile, the wind blowing his jet-black hair into his eyes, the sun soaking into his bronze colored skin. I laughed inwardly, looking at him next to Bobby. Two people couldn’t look more opposite in size.
Thomas worried me. He was quiet and with his distant eyes I couldn’t quite make him. He blended into a room, and his medium height and thin, lanky look betrayed his grace.
“And you?” I asked him. “Why do they want you?”
He leaned against the lifeboat next to him, looking it over before answering. “Explosives.”
We all took notice at that. He was older than us by a few years and had a more disciplined look. “You blow things up?” I asked.
“Yeah. Fires and stuff in the Midwest oilfields and some construction.” He was as cool as a Brooklyn icehouse, and I know my guys back in the neighborhood would have employed him faster than a pigeon on corn for his expertise.
These were my guys, my bunkmates, and my troop, as Crowley said. The more we talked, the more I grew to like them, and we had poker in common. When they got over their seasickness, we spent most of our time playing hands of cards for money and smokes. The best game came while the ship’s screws churned up the Atlantic in rough seas. Several of the ship’s crew joined in and, after several hours, only two of the sailors, Thomas, and I were still in.
We played five-card stud, a game I had grown up playing. Thomas was good, too, the kind of player who bet his hand, knew the cards on the table, and what remained in the deck. The two sailors were chasers, and it would be only a matter of time before Thomas and I had their money, too.
The only problem was that one of the sailors, a red-headed Scotsman who worked the boiler room, was getting very lucky with his cards, even on bad bets. “This is getting too easy. You guys are like kids,” he said, punching Thomas on the shoulder. I knew it was getting to Thomas, because every time the Scot ran his mouth, Thomas flinched and hunched his shoulders.
“King bets five dollars, get you freeloaders out,” the Scot huffed and guffawed. I caught Thomas’s eye. Without having to say a word, we knew the game. It was a bond forged by two players with a knowledge of poker and a dislike for a player. It was a natural understanding Thomas and I had, and we knew it so we went to work dismantling the Scot. My card up was a jack and my hole card was a jack.
“I raise,” I said and threw in ten bucks. Thomas knew I had the power so he raised again to get as much of the sailors’ money into the pot. Like a sucker, the Scot rose again and his buddy called, then we went the three-raise limit. The next card gave the Scot a queen of hearts and me a four. Thomas dealt himself a seven; the other sailor had no business in the game. The Scot bet a hundred bucks, a good portion of his money.
“I raise one hundred,” I said.
“Me too,” Thomas said throwing in two hundred dollars with a blank face.
The Scot looked at both of us, grunted, “I call.”
It forced the other sailor to drop.
The Scot’s next card was another heart, and mine was a four showing a pair. Thomas dealt himself a seven for a pair. He looked at me and saw in my eyes I was still in control.
“Another hundred,” Thomas said.
The Scot looked at him. “I raise.”
“Me too,” I said and smiled. The Scot looked at both of us and called. I think he knew something was amiss. Thomas dealt him another heart, possibly giving him a flush. He dealt me a jack. I had two pair showing, Thomas had dealt himself another seven for three of a kind.
“I check to you,” Thomas said to the Scot. The sailor’s face lit up like he’d just found a pot of gold.
“Everything; I bet everything,” he said, pushing his money and cigarettes into the pot. “Four hundred dollars and forty cigarettes.” Then he sat back with a dopy grin, bobbing his head like a blasted buffoon.
I looked at him and smiled back. “I bet it all,” I said, pushing my pile of five hundred thirty dollars and sixty smokes to the center.
The Scot’s smile disappeared and he sat up, looking at my hand and wondering if I had the other jack. Then Thomas raised another hundred, and the Scot exhaled in a gush. “Jeeze…us Key… rist, what is this?” He looked back and forth at us.
“Poker. A check and a raise,” Thomas said evenly.
The Scot looked to the other sailor. “Lend me the difference. I got them.” The sailor hesitated, then counted out the difference. He looked at us both as he put the money in.
I motioned for Bobby to come near and then I whispered something in his ear. He went to his pocket and peeled off three hundred in twenty-dollar bills and gave it to me.
“I raise two hundred more.” I liked saying it.
The Scot’s mouth dropped, and Thomas folded. The Scot’s face darkened with anger. “You...”
“Hey,” I said quickly, “it’s just friendly poker game.”
“My ass, you two have somethin’ goin’.”
I smiled. Thomas sat impassively. The Scot looked back to his bank, who hesitated again and then gave him two hundred in twenty-dollar bills. He threw it in the pot, saying, “I don’t got the smokes.”
I shrugged and turned over my card: a jack showing a full house. The Scot’s mouth began to twitch as I took the money. Then his hand stopped mine with a crushing grip on my wrist. He squeezed and I felt my blood stop going to my hand.
“You owe me smokes, too. Now take your grimy hand off my wrist.” We locked eyes in a stalemate. Then, like a flash, I had my knife sunk into the wooden table, flush with his wrist. Real fear crossed his face.
“What is going on here?” Crowley appeared in the doorway and everyone froze. “Pero, get that knife back where it belongs, and you,” he pointed at the Scotsman, “get your hands off my soldier.”
We hesitated, looking at each other first, then up to Crowley. He had a look of pure meanness, a look I had seen on some of the mob bosses’ faces. It meant business. I yanked the knife out and the Scot released my hand.
“Now, what happened here?”
“These guys are cheating.”
“That so?” Crowley looked back and forth at Thomas and me.
“No, sir,” Thomas said in military style.
“I won the hand, sir, fair and square,” I said. My military manner had a hollow ring to it.
“Why do you say they cheated?” Crowley asked the Scot.
He looked to his friends, who shrugged. He stuttered something unintelligible, he scratched his red hair. “It was the way they were betting.”
“What do you mean by that? How do you cheat betting?”
“You know, by betting and raising… both guys doing it against someone.” He was really floundering.
Crowley shook his head. “Pero, take your money. No more playing on board ship. You,” he nodded at the Scot, “you better take up another game. Poker is betting and raising for crying out loud.” Crowley left as quickly as he’d shown up. The Scot looked like he wanted to jump me, but his pals dragged him away. I looked at Thomas, who had a tight grin on his face.
“How’d you know?”
“A feeling. I saw it in your eyes.”
I liked this guy. I sensed this was going to be fun as I divvied up the money.
The fun was soon drowning in twenty to thirty foot swells, which tossed the ship like a can of anchovies. Although confined to our bunks, I walked up and down the lower decks just to keep my joints oiled and my muscles loose. I can’t stand just laying around, and no one seemed to mind since the men outnumbered the beds.
During my turn in the bunk, I listened to the raging storm and thought of Maggie. I didn’t want to but, as I lay awake in the late hours, I envisioned our lovemaking, especially our last time during the day. These thoughts turned me on, so I tried to concentrate on her face––her smile and how her forehead furrowed when she was searching for words. I missed her without wanting to, lonely the way only a man going to war can be. I wasn’t sure she loved me, but felt she was close, so I used her for my girl anyway. I didn’t think it harmed anyone, but the more I did it, the more I wanted to, the more I missed her, and the more I wanted to see her again. Loneliness is a strange bedfellow.
Loneliness also brought my mother with it. I thought of her as much as I thought of Maggie and with her, I was even able to bring in some smells. I would see her at the stove, fussing with the meatballs and sauce, and I swear I could smell the tomatoes simmering with basil and parsley right there on the ship.
My dad came to me in a dream one night when the weather was at its worst and several of the guys were puking. I had covered my head with the sheet to block the ubiquitous odor, and was dozing on the edge of wakefulness when the generator kicked off, cloaking the ship in darkness. In this place between wakefulness and sleep, my dad came to me.
He died before I really got to know him, killed in a building collapse when I was nine, but I was left with some warm memories. He was a small man, with thick forearms and fingers––he was a mason who could lay bricks faster than any guy I’ve ever known––teased because he was so good. They called him Brickyard because legend had it he could lay a yard full of bricks in one day. He liked his wine and his favorite food was roast chicken with oregano; he could eat two chickens if he was of a mind. I saw him do it once, after a full day of work in freezing weather. He came home and thawed out with wine, then sat down to eat. His cheeks were rosy from the cold and his hair was disheveled from his knit hat. His wool pants were too long for him and he had to cuff them up about eight inches, but he didn’t care how he looked. He just wanted to be comfortable and warm while he worked.
The night he came to me, he had on his wool pants and flannel shirt, and his cheeks were rosy, just like the night he ate the two chickens. He stood there for a while, and I tried to talk to but nothing came out when I moved my mouth.
He looked at me and said, “Be careful.” Then he turned completely around as if he were doing a little jig and said, very faintly, “Trust your instincts.” He sat down at a round oak table and placed his hands face down on it, looking straight ahead, saying, “Fight like a rabid dog if they get you in a corner.” A cloud of dust enveloped him at the table, and when it cleared, my father and the table were gone. Then I woke, and Thomas was puking below me.
By late afternoon, the storm had subsided and everyone was walking on the decks to breathe the fresh air. It was my turn in the berth again, but I couldn’t get myself to go below, so I made it up to my favorite spot to watch the sea while I drifted to sleep.
I woke to choppy slaps of chilly air on my face. I had slept through the day, and the blue sky had been replaced by millions of blinking stars. I stroked my stomach, feeling tranquil as I listened to canvas flapping somewhere astern and the swish of the waves. A meteor streaked across the sky just as I heard my name whispered.
“Hello, Johnny Stone.”
She stood before me like she’d been dropped off a star. She was wearing a military uniform, but her hair was loose and blowing around her shoulders. I froze, my mouth open in disbelief. I shook myself and started to rise when she stopped me.
“Just stay there for a moment, Johnny, while I look at you.”
I listened, too stunned to do anything else.
“I saw your name on the roster. It took me a few days to pinpoint your berth. Your bunkmates directed me here.”
“Thomas and Bobby?”
“Yes, and Stanley.”
“Yeah, they’re good guys.”
“Funny, I come here at night, too, only I use the stern to watch the stars.” She inched closer. “May I sit next to you?”
I was aching for her to sit, to let me kiss her and hold her. I moved to the side. “Yes.”
She sat, drawing her knees to her chest, and wiggled next to me so we were just touching. “I missed you, Johnny, especially since our day together.”
“I wanted to see you before I left, just in case something happened or we didn’t meet for some time. I tried to see you, Johnny, honest. Everything happened so fast, I even missed the ship in New York.”
“What, it was you at Ambrose Light?”
“Yeah, silly Maggie Hogan embarrassed to the hilt.”
And just like that, she had me smiling. Imagining her unique gracelessness, I turned and hugged her to me. The embrace became a kiss and I knew instantly she had my heart, a good hook right into it. When our lips parted, she rested her head on my chest and gazed upward.
“I love looking into the Milky Way.” She caressed my leg when she spoke. “See the constellations, Johnny? Orion, the Dippers, Draco, and Pleiades? They give me such a wonderful feeling.” She turned to me. “I get the same feeling when I’m with you. I felt it the last day we were together.”
She kissed me again and I lost it. I wanted to make love with her right there, but I pulled away as something nagged at me. She looked up at me and our eyes met. As the cool breeze caressed our hair, I swung her on top of me, her legs straddling mine, and kissed her again, our bodies pressed hard against each other.
Holding each other, we slept for only a few minutes. As the sun crept out of the ocean, we tried to part several times, but kissed again and again, waiting until the last moment when we had to part.
“We hit England tomorrow, so we can have tonight,” she with eager eyes and mischievous smile.
“Okay, we’ll meet here?”
“Yes, I have dinner with the captain and the rest, and after that I’ll be up. About nine, okay?”
“Yeah.” The plan made it easier to part, but my time with Maggie compounded the confusion I had been living with. I knew I had to confront her, but wanted our final moments to be precious.
That night I told the boys they could use my bunk and slipped out. They didn’t question me, and I was glad to avoid making lies and excuses.
It was the most beautiful night, with a light breeze that blew away the warm air, leaving it cool and fresh. The stars had multiplied from the night before, alive with brightness, and the ocean was calm so the ship rocked like a soft melody.
Again, Maggie appeared from nowhere with a wool blanket wrapped around her shoulders. She dropped it to the deck, sat and pulled me to her. I hiked up her skirt and began reveling in our love. Lit by the stars, we moved with the waves and touched each other like the gentle breeze. It was a perfect moment, a moment to take with us across Europe, loving one another like another day wouldn’t come.
When we finished, she sat curled in my arms looking up into the sky. “I know that one,” I said, pointing to a red star in the east. “Mars. My dad showed it to me from the Statue of Liberty one night.”
“It’ll be our star, Johnny.”
“What’s going to happen with us, Maggie?” It wasn’t exactly what I meant to ask, but the words came out on their own.
“I don’t know, baby, I don’t know.” She turned to me. “I have to tell you something. I see other men, but I love you, Johnny. I don’t want to, but I do.”
“Why don’t you want to?” I was confused.
“I don’t want to hurt you, or to have this get messy.”
“Ah, naw, that’s not goin’ to happen. No, never, don’t worry, I got it covered,” I said, but she did have me guessing.
She kissed me. “Thank you, Johnny Stone.”
“You’re welcome, Maggie Hogan.” I pulled her onto me yanking the blanket out from underneath and wrapping it around her. We moved slowly with the same sway as the boat
Moments later, she pulled back and sat up. “But you have to understand, Johnny, I’m still frightened of my duplicities. I mean, I love you, but saw other men to further my career. So, I’m scared of myself, really.”
I really wasn’t expecting what she said particularly at this moment. “Like you did to me with Petrillo?” She brought it up, so I figured I might as well ask.
She grabbed my arm. “Oh no, Johnny, I thought that too, but I know it’s not true. I wish I got to him through someone else. Please don’t think that I meant to use you, I love you, truly.”
I shook my head; she was really something. “I don’t know––”
“Please believe me. This world is a crazy mess, but even though we haven’t known each other long, I think we love each other. I don’t want it to be ephemeral. I want it to be real.”
I saw her lip quiver in the glow of the bow light and held her tighter. “What’s that mean?”
“Short-lived, like a flower, like a rose. I love roses.”
“It’s okay, baby, I’ll live through it with you.”
“Oh, Johnny you just don’t understand. Listen to me!” She turned away and paced towards the stern and then turned and paced back her eyes both on fire and watery. “It’s distance. After tomorrow, you’ll be gone and as the longer we’re apart, the farther we’ll be apart. The distance will be a big problem, I feel it.”
“Maybe you want the distance, maybe you love people who you know will be distanced from you.” I felt her shudder when I said it.
“Why would I do that? It doesn’t make sense.”
Was I ever in new territory with that one. I’d never been in love before––I wanted to spend every minute of forever with her. So what I said was natural and true. “Maybe you’re afraid of love.”
It took her several moments to respond. “I don’t know, Johnny. That’s my honest answer, and I want to always be honest with you.”
She was so beautiful, even her contradictions and duplicities, but especially her honesty. “We just have to keep telling ourselves love can bridge the distance.” I was unsure if I believed it.
“So are you, baby.”
She hugged me again. “You’re not like other men. Tonight at dinner, the other journalists were awful. I don’t understand them.”
“Maybe they’re jealous of your talent.”
“No. They think I don’t belong,” she said.
“It’s a male thing. Maybe it threatens them, you know––more competition and they get nervous about it.” It was the only thing I could figure.
“I know,” she said. “But I will succeed, no matter what it takes. And you know something else, Johnny?”
“No, what?” I loved listening to her: her defiance and enthusiasm charged through me like ungrounded electricity.
“I love the excitement of danger.” She looked up at me, her smile full of impishness and rebellion.
There was nothing I could do, Maggie Hogan was going to break my heart.
Back at quarters, Crowley’s voice came from nowhere. “Pero, get your stuff together quick and get above with the others.” I looked around and there he was, standing near my bunk. “I don’t know what you’ve been up to, and I don’t really care. But now I’m watching. Is that clear?” Crowley’s eyes were wide and his face red with anger.
I was shocked he was so mad. “Yes, sir.” I grabbed my duffel bag and rushed up to the deck just behind Thomas.
Thomas glanced back as he was going up the stairs. “Crowley did a bed check while you were gone. I covered for you, but he knew. It’s no big deal, but I think he’s gotta show us he’s in charge.”
“It’s okay. I’m alright,” I said trailing him. “And thanks.”
“You’ll do the same for me sometime.”
When we got to the deck, the sun had given way to mist and we were able to see land. “England,” one of the sailors yelled from above. I stopped and, leaning over the railing, saw a thin strip of land to the east.
By mid-day, the thin line had turned into a harbor and we were moving into the docks. I smiled, knowing I had crossed the Atlantic, met and made love to the woman who was instrumental in changing my world. I won four hundred dollars and ninety-eight cigarettes and never got seasick. I was feeling pretty good when they dropped anchor. Maybe the next few months wouldn’t be so bad.