November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Maggie’s Wars/Phil Pisani

 

 


pisani

An Excerpt

from the Novel

 

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 the swish of the waves and canvas flapping somewhere astern. 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 said 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.

“That’s pretty.”

“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.