A Spent Bullet
By Curt Iles
©2011 Creekbank Stories
“How unhappy is he who cannot forgive himself.” –Publilus Syrus
“I want the mistakes made down in Louisiana, not over in Europe.
If it doesn’t work, find out what we need to make it work.”
-General George C. Marshall
Chief of Staff, U.S. Army
Part I The Battle for the Bullet
Part II The Battle of Red River
Part III The Battle for Shreveport
Part IV The Battle for a Heart
Part I The Battle for the Bullet
“Monday I go to Louisiana… The old-timers say we are going to a God-awful spot complete with mud, malaria, mosquitoes, and misery.”
-Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower
August 5, 1941
Saturday, August 13, 1941
The/A shiny bullet bounced on the sidewalk at Elizabeth Reed’s feet. As she knelt to examine it, a blond soldier leaned out of a stopped Army truck. “You’re beautiful. Write me.” He pointed at her feet. “The bullet—write me.”
She grasped the empty cartridge with a note folded inside. She’d heard about this: it was called “yoo-hooing” and was how soldiers tried to get the attention—and addresses—of local girls. A loud wolf whistle from the truck grated on her like fingernails across the slate board in her classroom.
When the blond soldier called out, “I’d love a kiss from a pretty Southern girl like you,” Elizabeth dropped the bullet on the sidewalk, coolly nodding [CI1] at a matronly woman standing beside her. “Are you talking to me or her?” The troop truck exploded in laughter. Fanning the dust away, she shook her head. “Soldiers. They’re all the same.”
Traffic began moving and the truck rattled across the railroad tracks in a cloud of smoke. Her ten-year-old brother Ben, standing beside her, had missed the tossed bullet, being preoccupied with pumping his arm for each truck to blow its air horn. Just as Elizabeth drew her foot back to kick the bullet, he spied it. “What’s that?”
“A soldier threw it. It’s an empty cartridge with a note stuck in it.”
He knelt, but she pulled him away. “Leave it alone. It might blow up.”
“Lizzie, you’re playing with me.” The whistle of the three o’clock train caused him to bounce on his tiptoes. “Our train’s here.”
As the whistle faded, yelling from the convoy’s last truck took its place. Elizabeth clamped her hands over Ben’s ears. “Sometimes what they say isn’t for fresh ears.”
He twisted loose. “My ears ain’t fresh.”
“Benjamin Franklin Reed, you’re impossible. It’s aren’t—not ain’t.”
“Well, either way, my ears ain’t fresh.”
A soldier yelled from the truck, “Is this Detroit?” Ben, being allergic to silence, said, “Nope, this is DeRidder, Louisianer.”
Elizabeth bent down. “Ben, we live in Louisiana, not Louisianer.”
“Ain’t that what I said?” His face was pinched. “Is this how you’ll be treating me in your classroom?”
Grabbing him in a playful headlock, she goosed him until he yelled, “Uncle.” They both looked up at three grinning soldiers directly in front of them. The tallest one, in a deep west Texas drawl, said, “I’ll wrassle you next if you’re through with him.”
The heat of embarrassment filled her face, but she recovered quickly. “I believe I could whip you, too.” She turned away. “Come on Ben, our train’s here.”
The soldier asked, “Where are y’all going?”
Elizabeth cringed as Ben said, “We’re here to pick up some chicks.”
The soldier laughed. “Well, count me in.”
She pulled on Ben’s shirtsleeve. “Let’s go before the train leaves.”
He pointed at the sidewalk. “But what about the bullet?”
She glanced back to where her brother knelt, rolling up the cuff of his overalls. “Come on Ben, a dollar’s waiting on a dime.”
He scampered forward. “Poppa says there are three things a soldier likes best: dogs, kids, and pretty girls’.”
Elizabeth eyed him. “In that order?”
“Well Ben, which one are you?”
“I’m not a dog or a pretty girl, so I guess I fit in as a ‘kid.’” He squeezed her hand. “And if I’m eyeing those soldiers right, you definitely fit the ‘pretty girl’ part.”
“You think so?” She hurried on ahead.
Ben stepped in front of her. “Lizzie, are you mad at me?” Author’s note: I feel this is a little awkward. Your input?
She froze. “Why would I mad at you? I love you like a son.” She licked her fingers, trying to tame the unruly cowlick in his dark hair.
“But I’m your brother, not your son.”
“You’re ten years younger than me, so I guess you I’m kind of both.”
“You seem mad at someone. Is it those soldiers?”
She drew in a long breath. “I’m not mad at them; just tired of them.”
“Is it ’cause they’re men?”
“Who’s been talking to you?”
“Well, Momma said.” He stopped. “She says some soldier hurt you.”
“Is that so?”
“She said you got wounded by a soldier while you were away—said you were eligible for a Purple Heart.
Her jaw tightened. “Maybe a broken heart, but not a purple one.” As they neared the depot, she rubbed his ear. “Watch for those army trucks.”
Ben was digging in his pocket, so she repeated, “Watch for those trucks.”
Her mother’s words hung like the dust in the air. Hurt by a soldier. Wounded. Elizabeth heard her own voice bouncing in her soul: you don’t have anyone to blame but yourself, girl.
She bit her lip. It would not/will not happen again. Which works best?