It’s been five years since I had seen Brenda for the last time. I’ve been thinking about her a lot, but I never thought I would meet her again, especially in those circumstances.
Since that autumn, my life was changed a lot. I didn’t work in the library anymore; even if I was going to become Mr. Scapello’s substitute, I couldn’t work there any longer. So despite Aunt Gladys’ tears and sobbing, I got back into the army. I had no reason to stay. I was too old to live with my uncles, too old to learn a new job, even almost too old to get married.
I was stationed in San Vito dei Normanni Air Station, Italy, where I joined the air forces. I used to like my life in the army. The routine was challenging and tiring but it allowed me to focus on my work as a pilot, thinking only about the present. In this way I also found a way to keep studying and reading at state expense. Of course my readings were almost only about physics, mechanics and planes, but over time it was beginning to become my passion. Moreover, being on the other side of the world made me feel safe from my past and the base was located in one of the most beautiful and peaceful places I’ve ever seen, a stark contrast to what we were doing there.
In this way, five years of my life passed quickly and I was going to turn twenty-eight. It was almost spring and I was coming back from an all-night training maneuver. It was my favorite period of the year because the air started getting warmer but at the same time you could feel the grass still cool and damp from the night. As I was walking up the stairs to get to the canteen, someone stopped me.
“Hey Neil!” he called me.
“Hi Pit,” I answered.
Pit was actually the youngest one at the base, but I swear you could never have guessed it because of his size. He was only eighteen, but when I first met him he had a full beard. Obviously, once he joined the army he had to shave it all, but he was still six feet tall, a wall; his shoulders were twice the width of mine and I could probably sleep in his shoes seeing how big they were. Anyways, what mattered was that he had a huge heart, almost as big as himself.
“You know you have a letter from the U.S.?” he asked
“Yea, I know. I used to write to my family.” I hadn’t received anything for quite a while, but if I did, it was probably from my family.
“But this is a strange letter Neil, I mean the envelope is pink and decorated with flowers… it’s not the kind of letter I used to deliver here,” he responded.
“Ah ok. Thanks. I’ll check.” I replied curtly. I was slightly confused– there was a chance that the letters got mixed up. But I didn’t want to stand here in front of the canteen and talk until breakfast was over. I decided to check as soon as I got some food.
So after a quick breakfast, which actually was one of the few things that I missed from home, I went to check the mail, only to find out that Pit was right. The letter was unusual. I opened it and realized it was a wedding invitation:
Mr. and Mrs. J. C. Abenaim
announce the marriage of their
Mr. Yosseph Zeev Benaim
On Friday, April twenty-fourth
Nineteen hundred and fifty
Short Hills, New Jersey
So Doris was going to getting married in less than three weeks. I couldn’t believe that someone wanted to become her husband almost as much as I couldn’t believe the fact that she invited me to her wedding. But of course she did; aunt Claire probably left her with no choice.
I could use the pretext of the army as an excuse not to go, but I had never taken a leave before, not even to visit my family. Five years had passed and I had never gone back home, not once. Going to the marriage would allow me to meet all my family, and probably half of them would be drunk after a bit and therefore less hypocritical than usual. So I decided just in case to ask if was possible for me to leave for a month to go back to Newark.
The truth is that I hoped for a rejection. In this way my sense of guilt would go away without actually leaving. But contrary to my expectations, they gave me the leave. I would leave on the twentieth of April to be back to the base for twenty third of May.
To get home I took a cargo plane directly to McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, not far from my destination. The flight took forever. Moreover Bruce, the pilot, didn’t like me at all and he couldn’t have shown it better. It almost felt as if I was inside a washing machine with the only difference being that the flight lasted much longer. It was worse than whatever pilot training. But after all I managed to survive and after another couple of hours on the train I was finally home.
I expected it all to be the same. I lived there for 23 years and nothing was never changed. Instead, I was really surprised to see how different the place was. The parking lot in front of my uncle’s house had become an elementary school with a fancy little yard and a fort, a slide and other games. It gave to the neighborhood a less sleazy look.
Unlike that place, my uncle’s was always the same.
“Gladys!! It’s cold, the dinner is cold!”
“This is not possible Max… I’ve pulled your steak out of the fire less than two minutes ago.”
“And so, why is it cold?”
“Ohh don’t joke, it’s still smoking how hot it is! Try to touch it before complaining.”
“You are right. It’s scalding! Are you trying to burn me!?”
“Neil?!” both of them asked in surprise.
“Yes, it’s me.”
“Aww, how thin are you my son, when was last time you ate?” Aunt Gladys asked me. I wanted to answer that it wasn’t true but I only ate a piece of bread before leaving the base and I used to eat only what I needed to do to survive there.
“Aunt Gladys, the army doesn’t spoil me like you. The food is not the best part of army life.”
“Why? Is there a nice part in the army life?”
“Gladys, don’t start! He is serving our country and you should be proud of this like I am, instead of badgering him! why don’t you give him something to eat.”
“Oh he didn’t tell me he would arrive for dinner. Why didn’t you Neil! Now I have to go back to the kitchen again!”
“Sorry Aunt Gladys, I didn’t know the time of my arrival.”
“Come on, give him something to eat quickly! He must be tired. Aren’t you Neil? How was your trip?”
“Really tiring, in fact don’t worry I’ll eat tomorrow now I really need to rest.”
“But… are you sure? You are already too thin… I can… “
“Yes. Thanks Aunt Gladys, I’m sure,” I interrupted her.
I was happy to see them again but really too tired to reply all those question and complaints. So I snuck out into my old bedroom and fell asleep
(The sequel goes on to say that at the wedding of Brenda’s sister, Doris, Brenda and Neil meet again. Brenda reveals she had had Neil’s daughter, Miriam, whom Brenda had hidden from Neil, and that Brenda and Neil get married.)