Where the Black-Eyed Susans Grow (PG)

Jonathan ran the fingers of his right hand over his uniform’s breast pocket to reassure himself that the glasses were still there. They were a new and absolutely necessary addition to his life, but he couldn’t get used to them. Ugly things. However, he couldn’t find it in his heart to complain when he considered all the men coming home with eye-patches or ungainly wooden legs or hooks for hands or worse. How could he indulge any brand of self-pity when his thoughts turned to James? Jonathan knew he’d gotten off easy and he had been thanking God from the moment he awoke in that night­marish medic’s tent two miles from the front. The damage to his optic nerves was so severe the docs had told him chances were nil that he would regain his sight. But then, slowly, the darkness was broken by fuzzy slats of light. And over days and weeks, colors reintroduced themselves. Then shapes and outlines. Until a Saturday morning in late September when he startled his French nurse by shouting, “Blue­berries!” upon realizing he could discern the contents of the breakfast tray across his lap. The prescription lenses resting unused in his pocket helped increase his vision though he would never see better than a severe myopic. He was grateful nonetheless. Jonathan smiled when he recalled the telegram he’d received from his girl in response to the news. “Maybe God just wants you to pay a little more attention.” She was a funny one when she wanted to be. He wished she was here so she could join him on the outskirts of all this celebration. Martha didn’t like to dance either.

Ralph Belldano and his Ragtimers were doing no irreparable harm to the works of Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern and George M. Cohan, and it was pleasant enough for Jonathan to ease back in his chair with a cup of punch and watch the multicolored people-shapes Turkey Trot and Castle Step their way across the floor. As they spun and gamboled about the room, he caught snatches of their conversa­tion; their jokes and their voices raised in sing-along. A dancehall full of tipsy doughboys and their new lady friends belting out, “Good­bye Ma! Goodbye Pa! Goodbye mule with your old hee-haw!” From time to time a recognizable voice would call out to him from the dance floor – Tom Pratt or Georgie Feltner ribbing him: “C’mon, Johnny! Slap on those Coke bottles and find a partner!” He would just smile and shake his head. Both by age and by demeanor, Jonathan fit the role of chaperone and it bothered him not one whit. He was a world away from the Argonne and just four days from Martha.

“You must absolutely abhor this dress.”

The voice, a teasing, husky thing, had completely caught him unawares, coming from his right. Jonathan swiveled to locate its source. She was close enough for him to see her quite clearly: a beauti­ful young woman in a peach organdy dress, cinched in tightly to her waist, and cascading down in diaphanous layers to her ankles. Her midnight-black hair was swept up and back in a luxuriant coil, except for the two locks artfully allowed to dangle from either cheek and along her jaw. A light glisten of sweat graced her collarbones. Jonathan found himself entranced by this one detail the most.

As he had been indoctrinated in his youth, Jonathan rose when speaking to a lady, sloshing some punch from his cup in the process. “Wha-? Your- I mean, no, that’s a lovely dress!” he sputtered in reply. “I don’t- Why would you think-?”

She leveled her own perfect hazel eyes at him through the wafting column of her cigarette smoke and smiled at his display of confusion. “You must be lying. How else would you explain the sour stares you’ve cast my way for the last great while?”

Jonathan was flustered, suddenly on the defensive for some secret reason known only to his bemused accuser. “Stares? Oh, I – I suppose that’s – My eyes were damaged not long ago in the – over — I assure you, I wasn’t aware of what I was looking at-”

“Well, there’s a compliment if I ever heard one.” The words were sharp but she kept smiling at him, which befuddled Jonathan even more.

“Ma’am, I’m terribly sorry if I-”

She laughed then and it was a surprisingly light thing, “No, please don’t. I can’t keep this up any longer.” Her laughter was then joined by that of a couple of Jonathan’s friends.

“Ah, you’re having me on,” Jonathan finally registered, “Funny.”

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