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A Spent Bullet

32nd Division soldiers, like Harry Miller, who came to Louisiana in 1940-41 were told they'd be home in a year. Many never went home until 1945. Others never returned home.

Hey ladies,

I need your help on this romantic (kind of) chapter in the middle of A Spent Bullet.

Here’s the elevator speech on the plot:

Elizabeth Reed is a young Louisiana schoolteacher who dislikes soldiers.

Harry Miller is a Wisconsin soldier who hates Louisiana.

It only makes sense that they should meet and fall in love.

Although they don’t know it,  America will be at war in three months.

Their journey begins on a DeRidder, Louisiana street in 1941 with a spent bullet stuffed with a note. However, their real journey is a spiritual one. Harry and Elizabeth each have a dark hidden secret and must learn that “sometimes the hardest person to forgive is yourself.”

Overview to this chapter:  Harry didn’t mean to write Elizabeth and she has no desire to meet him.  But through the conspiracy of her grandmother, Ma, and brother Ben, they end up meeting at a country church.  This chapter takes place during Dinner on the Grounds.

Listen to the podcast below.  It is a rough recording of the chapter.  This will give you an idea on how revision/editing goes on in a manuscript.

Chapter 19 Dinner Great Life Part I

Your input on both is needed. I’m brain dead and need some input/advice on how a 20 year old girl might/could react to this surprise visit.

Thanks!

Curt

You can send feedback through this blog’s comments section, email me at curtiles@aol.com or through Facebook.

All respondents will be elgible for a drawing for a free copy of A Spent Bullet in November.

Chapter 19  A Spent Bullet

Have a Great Life

Harry strode out of the church toward the road back to his camp. The sooner he was out of here the better.

A male voice called out, “Hey boy, where you going?”

He sped up. Don’t stop for anything.

“Halt, soldier.  Halt now.”

Harry stopped and slowly turned around. The guitar player was walking toward him as he put a hand-rolled cigarette to his lips.  “What’s the big hurry, Soldier?”

He was Elizabeth Reed’s father.  What did it mean?

The man took a long drag, blowing out a blue fog. “I had to come out for a smoke.  Sitting in there too long gives me the dang willies.”

Harry studied the man’s relaxed manner.  He has no idea who I am or why I’m here.

He reached out.  “My name’s Levon.”

“Harry. Harry Miller.”

“You’re a Red Arrow soldier, huh?”

“Yes Sir.”

“You don’t have to sir, me.  I fought beside your division in France.  They were tough: called ‘Les Terribles’ by the French.”

Harry relaxed.  “What division were you in, Mr. Reed?”

“I was in the 45th.”He stepped back.  “How’d you know my name?”

“What do you mean?”

“I didn’t tell you my name.”

“Uh, I was sitting by your son, Ben.  He told me.”

He laughed. “I can believe that. That boy’s never met a stranger.”

“Isn’t that your other son who’s leaving for the Army?”

The man rubbed his forehead, and then looked up. “He’s going against my wishes.” After staring off down the road, he waved his hand.  “Come eat with us.”

“I really need…”

“No, you’ve got to stay.  It’ll be way better than what you have back at camp.”  He blocked Harry’s path in a firm but friendly way.  “Come eat with my family.”

Ben sauntered up. “I thought I’d lost you, Private Miller.”

“I just needed some fresh air.”

Mr. Reed said, “Ben, take this soldier over to meet our family. He’s our guest.”

“What do you like to eat?” Ben asked as they neared the tables of food.

“Anything that doesn’t eat me first.”  He scanned the area under a grove of oaks where women busily were putting pots and dishes on long tables of plywood and sawhorses.

Ben pointed. “That’s dinner on the grounds.  The women are loading them up.”

Harry spied Elizabeth, back to them, slicing a pie as she chatted with another young woman.  “Your sister’s beautiful.”

“She don’t think she is.”

“She doesn’t seem too happy that I’m here.”

“It surprised her.  She’ll warm up.”

Mr. Reed walked up to her and pointed toward Harry.

“Ben, does your daddy know anything about the letters?”

He shrugged.  “I don’t think so.”

Elizabeth placed the knife on the table and walked toward Harry. From the look on her face, he was glad she wasn’t holding the knife.

She extended her hand.  “Private Miller, I’m, uh, glad you’re staying.”

Her hand was soft and delicate, and it was shaking.  She gripped it with her other hand so as to steady it.

Ben said,  “Elizabeth, Private Miller here…”

She cut him off. “I believe I heard Momma calling you.”

He sagged his arms, then walked away, leaving an uncomfortable silence in his wake. Finally, she broke the impasse. “So you got my letter?”

“Yes.”

“And you came anyway?”

“I got two letters from you.”

“Two?”

He pulled them from his pocket.  “Here.”

Elizabeth took one of the envelopes. “That’s the one I wrote. Let me see the other one.”

She quickly scanned the envelope and then the letter itself.  Her face clouded before she looked up. “I cannot believe this.”

She searched the crowd. “My own Grandma.  Ma! Theodosia Reed.”

She was pointing at the kind old lady who was stirring a pot on the table, standing where she could watch their every move She smiled and waved at Elizabeth.

To Harry’s surprise, Elizabeth burst out laughing. “She is one of a kind. They broke the clay mold when they made her.”

“Your own grandmother wrote the letter inviting me here?”

“She did. That’s her handwriting.”   For the first time, she looked directly at Harry. “Ma thinks I’ll never get a man—I mean a boyfriend—get married—without her help.”

Waving the letter, Elizabeth said, “She wrote that letter inviting you.” She held up the other letter.  “This one is the one I wrote—telling you not to bother me…” She stopped.  “I’m sorry to seem rude.  It’s nothing to do with you—it’s all these folks of mine that treat me like a da—like a ten-year-old. They think I’m gonna to dry up on the vine and be an old maid schoolteacher.”

Harry winked. “That wouldn’t be good.”

Her eyes hardened.  “I don’t need anyone to ride in on a white horse and rescue me.”

“Oh, don’t worry. I’m infantry, not cavalry.”  He backed away. “I’m was leaving anyway.”

“No, no. Don’t leave.  Now that you’re already here.” She rubbed her head. “Oh, I don’t even know how to talk.”

Several dozen of the parishioners were watching them, so Harry said, “Let’s go eat, and we won’t have to talk.”  He nodded at the onlookers. “Besides, we’ll give them something to talk about.”

“You’re right. If they’re gossiping about me, they’re leaving somebody else alone.”

She led him to the table where pots and dishes stretched in a seemingly endless buffet line. They were arranged up by meats, breads, desserts, vegetables, and casseroles.  As they moved along the table, she explained about many of the dishes.  “That’s Aunt Emmer’s peach cobbler.  Get some now, or it’ll be gone.”

Coming to a large pot of snap beans, she whispered, “Pass that one up.  It’s from the Brown’s. Momma says they don’t wash their hands after changing a diaper or delivering a calf.”

Harry quickly moved past. “Thanks for the warning.”

Soon, his plate was heaped.  “I can’t handle any more.”

“Just one more thing.  That’s Ma’s chicken pie. If you don’t get some, her feelings will be hurt.”

“Okay.” She leaned over and spooned a generous helping on his plate. She accidently bumped up against him and he noticed how fresh she smelled.  “Your grandma’s good at cooking up lots of things.”

“What…”

“She cooked up getting me here.”

Elizabeth pointed toward where Ben was playing. “And she was in cahoots with that little rascal over there.”

“How do you know?”

“Because he’s the one that picked up the bullet you threw out in DeRidder.”

“I didn’t throw out a bullet.”

“That’s how he got your name.”

“But I didn’t throw it.  Some so-called buddies of mine did it as a joke.”

She had a wonderful laugh that flowed up from within and spread over her face.  “So here we are… and neither one of us meant to be here.  Someone else threw the bullet and someone else picked it up and here we are eating chicken pie together.”

“Maybe it’s just fate.”

She shook her head. “I don’t believe in fate.”

“Maybe it’s luck.”

“I don’t believe in that either.”

“What do you believe in?”

“Chicken pie and God’s guiding hand.”  She turned back to the table. “You’ve got to try Aunt Betty’s sweet tea.”

She handed him an icy glass. “Take a sip.”

Harry took a large swig, and coughed most of the tea out his nose. “That’s so sweet it hurt my teeth.”

She laughed. “Let’s sit over here by ourselves.”

Harry balanced the plate on his knees. Elizabeth sighed. “This is crazy, isn’t it?”

“Everything’s crazy in my life.  It’s the Army way.”

“You don’t act like a normal soldier?”

“Is that a compliment?”

“Definitely. You don’t seem like most soldiers I’ve met.”

“I’m not. I didn’t plan on being one.” He took a small sip of tea. “It was something I couldn’t pass up.”

“Were you drafted?”

“Not exactly. I joined the National Guard after my parents booted me out.”

“Booted you out?”

“I got in some trouble and my parents, well really my father, had had enough.  Joining the Army was the best solution for all of us.”

“Have you reconciled?”

“No, we’re still estranged, and I don’t see that changing.”

They ate the rest of their meal in uneventful small talk.

A baseball rolled up under their feet and two boys slid in, fighting over it. Ben was one of them. “Private Miller, have you met my brother Jimmy Earl?”

Elizabeth stood.  “I need to help clean up. Let Ben take you to meet Jimmy. You can give him some good advice on the Army.”

“The only advice I’d give is to stay out.”

She waved.  “I believe it’s a little late for that.” As she hurried off, Harry studied the long hair flowing down her back and the willowy way she walked. He liked everything about her.

Elizabeth motioned to Ben, who soon ran over to Harry.  “I’m supposed to watch you until she gets back.”

He turned to Ben. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“Did you have anything to do with this letter?”  He waved the letter in front of the boy’s face.

“That’s not my handwriting.”

“That wasn’t my question.”

“Maybe so, maybe not.” Showing his sparring ability, Ben said,  “You sure ask a lot of questions.”

Harry put the letter in his pocket. “And you sure do lots of scheming.”

“It’s what I do well.”

“I’ve noticed that.”

A long line of well wishers stood around Jimmy Earl Reed. Ben pushed through. “J.E., this is Private Harold Miller, Elizabeth’s boyfriend.”

The older brother shook his hand. “All I can say is good luck.”

“I’m not her boyfriend… I just showed…”

An older woman kissed Jimmy Earl on the cheek.  “We’re so proud of you.”

He turned to Harry. “She’s worked pretty hard at not having a boyfriend.”

“And I’ve worked equally hard at not getting a Louisiana woman.”

He pumped his hand.  “Sounds like you two are going to make a fine pair.”

“Good luck in your basic training.  You’ll love the drill sergeants.”

“I’ve heard that.”

“Well, good luck.”

“And good luck to you, Private.”

Ben led him toward where Elizabeth was working. Harry glanced at his watch. “Look, it’s time to catch a ride back to camp.  I’m going over to say goodbye to your sister.”

She was wearing an apron and elbow deep washing dishes in a washtub.  She dried her hands off. “Are you leaving?”   Harry tried to decipher whether there was relief or regret in her voice.

“It’s time for me to get back to camp.” He stepped toward her. “Elizabeth, I want to thank you for making me, uh, feel welcome. I know this was a surprise to you.”

Looking at no one in particular, she said, “I don’t believe your visit was a surprise to everyone.”

He detected a slight slice of a smile at the corners of her mouth, but it quickly faded.  “Look, I hope I haven’t seemed rude.”

“No, not at all.  Surprised, yes.  Rude, no.”

“It’s nothing personal, Private Miller. It’s just the timing.  There’d be no future. No time.”

Her manner irritated Harry. “It’s not like I asked you to marry me or anything.  I just enjoyed spending the day with you . . . and your family.”

She blushed.  “It’s just that I’m not interested . . . not ready for a relationship. I’m just getting over being hurt and not ready to put my heart on the line again.”

Harry nodded. “I understand that.”

“I will give you this: you’re not near as cocky-acting as your photo.”

“How’s that?”

“It was the jaunty angle of your cap and that smirk. I figured you thought you were God’s gift to women.”  Her voice was lighter. “You seem pretty down to earth.”

“I’d like to see you again.”

Her jaw tightened.  “Let’s leave this good day where it is and move on.” She turned her body to walk away.

He couldn’t believe she was brushing him off.  “Well then, have a great life.”

Her shoulders stiffened, and she whirled around.  “What’d you say?”

“Have a great life.”

Her jaw soundlessly worked up and down. “Well . . . uh, you too.” She hurried away leaving Harry kicking at the sand beneath his boots.

He put his hands on his hips, staring at the country church, grassless yard, and dusty road. “Harry Miller, what in the world are you even doing here?”

His answer came from behind him. “Why, you came to meet a fine Southern woman.”

It was Ma, Elizabeth’s grandmother. “I could tell she liked you.”

“Then I’d hate to see her when she didn’t like someone.”

“Oh, that’s just Elizabeth playing-hard-to-get.  She liked you.  Come back again and you’ll see.”

He nodded toward the buildings. “You expect me to come back and put up with that?”

She squared her feet. “I heard that you men from up North were tough and wouldn’t quit.  That’s what my grandpa, who fi’t them up in the Virginia Wilderness, said about your people.”

“Fit them?”

“Fi’t them—Fought them in the War for Southern Independence.”

“You mean The Civil War?”

The old woman scoffed. “My grandpa said there weren’t nothing civil about it… but he also said that you Yankees were worthy opponents.”

She walked around him. “You’re not going to give up on that girl this easy, are you?”

“I’m not giving up on anything.  Who said I was even interested in her?”

“Your eyes, your face, and your heart told me you are.”

“Well, maybe you’re wrong, Ma.”

“Ma might be wrong about some things but not this one. Did you call me ‘Ma’?”

“I did.”

“Good.  Ma’ll see you next time.”

“Next time?  Don’t hold your breath.”  Harry smirked as he walked to the roadside and put his thumb out for a passing jeep.

The vehicle slid to a stop. As Harry climbed in, she woman walked to him and crossed her arms. “See you next time, Private Miller.”

He waved as the jeep tore out, throwing gravel toward where the old woman stood. He didn’t look back as the jeep sped off, but knew without looking that Elizabeth’s grandma was standing her ground.

The only sound was the wind and it seemed to say, have a great life.



About Curt Iles

I write to have influence and impact through well-told stories of my Louisiana and African sojourn.

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One comment

  1. Mr. Iles, as usual I think this is great. You have really pegged the awkwardness of a 20-yr old girl’s reaction to someone she secretly likes and is afraid to admit it, especially to herself. I think you nailed her reaction on the head: embarrassed, surprised, nervous, but with a happy apprehensiveness. We’ve all felt those things and can certainly relate. I printed your pages out and made remarks. Please look for it in your email if the school board doesn’t block the attachment. I can’t wait to read it ALL!!

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