Memorial Day Special–“White Christmases”

This is a monologue from the play “On the Expectation of White Christmases”.  I’d like to dedicate it to my late father-in-law Eugene Nelligar on this Memorial Day.  The character below is in his former mother-in-law’s kitchen speaking to his ex-wife after not showing up for Christmas like he promised his daughter.

Jack

Three years. On the road to redemption at age 49. After all those years of…you know, not looking at myself in the mirror and all. You get no respect for such a thing in a bar, no. It’s a desperate…corner. And all they want… (he sips tea) …is more like themselves, you know? But I’m going to be stronger, or whatever. “I don’t do that stuff no more, I got…a family I got to…work up to, you see.” And guys trying to buy you a drink just to…watch to see if…”No, I just serve them,” “But you wouldn’t insult me by refusing, now!” “No insult intended.” Like they knew somehow, like they could sense the thirst in me. Not an inch, I’d give. Wrote the girl a birthday card—you know this part. Thought I might. Earn something, you know? I don’t know. Got to where I could almost look in that mirror. Lived like a monk: came home, slept, got the paper, did the crossword, ate, went to work again. For days, months.

 

Then this guy comes in a few nights ago. I’d never seen him before. You see a lot of new faces when Christmas starts in the air. He’s quiet like some are, but different. Haunted-like. I start talking to him, trying to be a good soul and I find out he was…from the same place, see, from the same…he was in the Pacific, our ships…could’ve shook each other’s…and there he was, in town for some funeral or some such. And we get to talking about things, the equipment and all. Because the people, you know, aren’t what you have in common, it’s the…layout you recognize. And the terms nobody else knows. When you do talk people, it’s by function: “Oh yeah, so and so, he did this and that.” And you’re speaking the same language.

 

So we talk. And it’s not…(sips)…that it was a wonderful time in our lives, it’s just…you laugh because you were both there and you were both young. Like high school or something. So we did. And we took turns, see, telling stories about things we haven’t seen in…whatever, using words we haven’t spoken since then. The terms. And then the stories start to go another way. And we’re not laughing anymore. And even before I realize it, I’m telling him about something I never said out loud. About that third straight day when…(sips)…the planes wouldn’t stop coming. Hours. My hands numb from the vibration of the rounds. And them not. Stopping. Just…swooping in. And me praying for a bullet to sneak through before… They were trained for that, to come in low and… How could I, how could any… It was a commitment I couldn’t match, see, because I wanted to live. I wanted to live. All there was was this little hole, this little window. You didn’t even see the result, you just… Listened. Like reading every third word of a book. No context. No way to explain for yourself. For three days. So. The third day.

 

There was this youngfella whose job it was to reload and he…was falling behind. Green. So I just stopped. I watched from the little window. Everything became quiet. Almost peaceful. A cinema with no sound. Soundless fury. I don’t know how long I was like that. Then the youngfella finishes his loading and yells “Go!” Except I didn’t really hear him, I just knew that’s what he was supposed to say. And he’s staring at me and I’m just studying his face. Barely a whisker on him after three days. A real kid. And the face starts screaming, but I’m not hearing. Just sitting on a fresh round, watching. Then the youngfella looks scared, more scared then he’d been through the whole thing. And he runs off. And I’m glad because I get to watch through the little window again, look at all the…colors. And such. I don’t know how long I was like that either.

 

I feel my shirt being pulled and there’s my Petty Officer barking something or other and he turns me, like. So I’m facing him. And he looks at me hard. Feel it at the back of my head. Then I’m being led away, down to a lower deck. And I’m thinking they’re taking me to the brig. I guess I’d started thinking a little by then. But it was the sick bay, and I remember thinking, “What am I doing here? There’s nothing wrong with me.” But I couldn’t…you know…(sips)…tell anyone. Because all I could do is watch.

 

Next thing I remember was at the VA hospital back in the states. And there’re guys there…missing parts of their… And every time I see them, I’m… I don’t belong here, I’m not… I’m able bodied. Except now it’s been weeks since I’ve spoken a word. And I feel like I’m being irresponsible. Me. Who raised my brothers and sisters while my mother was off… You know that story. And I kept telling the doctor I wanted to go back. At least I thought I told him. My lips wouldn’t work with my mind, see.

 

And the fella at the bar, he…(sips)…was a good guy, he… Shook my hand and all and went off to his funeral, but… There was a difference now, you see. Because he stayed and fought, and I… It was probably all in my mind. Either way. I felt it. And the vultures at the bar had overheard and they were all… They had their ammo, you see. All, “You never told us that before” and “Tell us again about such and such and this and that” and “Let’s drink to the war hero”. And me, you know…feeling it all, and I… “Sure, why not? That one I’ll take you up on.”

 

And already you’re slipping.

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