by DiVoran Lites
In her room at the ranch, Ellie picked up the hog’s-hair brush from her dressing table, yanked it through her hair one hundred times, and threw it back on the table. Maybe I should go out to the barn and try to make Aldon understand how I feel, she thought. She dug her fingers into a jar of cold cream and slathered it onto her face while she pictured herself telling Aldon off. I can take care of myself. Don’t you know that if people see men fighting over me, they’ll think I’m a hussy? What business is it of yours who I dance with?
She touched the corner of her eye and felt moisture but knew she wasn’t crying. She had cream in her eye. She wiped it all off with a towel, grabbed her nail file, and sawed away at the nail on the index finger of her right hand.
“May I come in?” Someone knocked gently on the frame of the open door. Glancing up, Ellie saw Aldon’s mother, Nancy, smiling at her.
Forcing a smile Ellie invited Nancy to sit on the bed while she did the calisthenics she was taught in gymnasium at school.
As Nancy walked across the floor her bedroom slippers made a soft padding sound on the linoleum. Ellie noticed that Aldon’s mother was almost as tall as her son and that her hair was the same champagne color as his. A long braid hung down her back and a nimbus of curls framed her face, reminding Ellie of one of the Gish sisters in the moving pictures. Was it Dorothy or Lillian? She couldn’t decide. Ellie’s smile began to feel more genuine because Nancy had come to visit. She was, of course, still furious with Aldon, but now, Nancy’s quiet spirit began to calm her.
“I admire you young girls. You take such good care of your figures. I hope you won’t mind if I rest my back. I thought maybe we could talk while the house is quiet. I don’t plan to stay long.” She watched from the bed as Ellie jumped up and down flapping her arms. After she had done twenty-five jumping jacks, she touched her toes without bending her knees for the same number of times.
“This has been a long day,” Ellie said, throwing herself on the bed next to Aldon’s mother. She propped herself up on her elbow so she could look into Nancy’s face.
“The boys slept in this room,” Nancy said looking at the ceiling. “They had two beds, but like puppies in a nest, all piled into the same one. By the time they were seven, nine, and ten, they were horsing around so much that we gave each of them his own room. It didn’t do any good, though. Every night, Paul and Bill sneaked into bed with Aldon as soon as he fell asleep, which was immediately.”
“You really love your boys, don’t you?” Ellie lay back on the pillow.
“Aldon was always their hero, especially Paul’s.” Nancy paused and Ellie knew she was thinking about the son that had not returned from the war. If only Ellie could load him into her ambulance and bring him back. But, in war days, bringing anyone back for a complete cure was rare. It was so sad, but many of the lads had already died by the time the medics arrived on the battle field.
“Aldon blames himself for setting an example for him by enlisting.” Nancy seemed transfixed by the light bulb above the bed. “It’s not Aldon’s fault, Paul would have gone anyway if only to prove to himself he was a man.” Nancy spoke without emotion as if her grief had become a dull, but familiar ache. “It was always one of his dreams to become a soldier.”
“But Bill didn’t go to war.” Ellie said.
“No, they thought he had a heart murmur, so they classified him 4-F. We had no idea, except that he never had the stamina the others had. He was built small and never gained weight; which made him an excellent jockey. After the army rejected him he received quite a few white feathers in the mail. That made him feel as if people thought he was a coward.
“What did he do about that?” Ellie asked.
“He’s still trying to prove himself out there in Hollywoodland by taking on the most daring stunts they have,” Nancy answered.
“Lots of boys and men had heart conditions and other problems too.”
“Not one of my boys was ever afraid of anything, though,” Nancy continued. “Paul was a daredevil. He decided one day that he and his brothers would play a game they called Icarus. Bill jumped off the barn first, but he wasn’t’ hurt, neither was Aldon, but Paul broke his leg and was on crutches for weeks.”
“I hate for any man to have to go to war.” Ellie said, covering a yawn. The mattress felt just right, and she liked hearing about Aldon and his brothers even though in some parts it was heartbreaking.
“We gals sometimes don’t understand the things men have to do.” Nancy’s voice grew softer. “They are willing to fight for their country and we’re grateful for that.”
“I don’t understand any man except my granddad,” Ellie said.
“Tell me about your family,” Nancy raised up to fluff her pillow then lay back down again. “Your opa makes his living from cattle too?”
“Not now, he did before I was born. He helps Grandmother run the department store.” Sudden gratitude for Nancy’s gentle company filled Ellie, but she reminded herself that she still had reason to resent the lovely woman’s son.
DiVoran’s Promise Posters, Paintings from Go West as well as other art can be purchased as note cards and framable art