War and History Fiction posted August 7, 2020

This work has reached the exceptional level
(1,008 words) R & R interlude from the Vietnam conflict.

A Week in the Country

by LisaMay

The author has placed a warning on this post for violence.

The last time I saw Charlie was back in ’71, as I was about to fly out of Sydney. I turned around to wave from the top of the plane’s steps. Even at that distance I could see the fear in her eyes; I hoped she couldn’t see it in mine. Going back to ‘Nam after this blissful R & R break sure churned me up.

She was standing there quietly, keeping her emotions under control. Her golden hair looked like it’d been spun for an angel, and her tanned young body in her floral frock looked luscious to my starved eyes. I’d had a taste and was smitten. Right then and there I told myself I’d come back and marry her when my tour of duty was over.

*  *  *
All of us servicemen were exhausted when we first arrived in Sydney for our week-long R & R stay: frazzled nerves, sleep-deprived. Some of the guys thought of their stay as an I & I break: intoxication & intercourse, instead of rest & recreation. They planned to spend time in King’s Cross with the prostitutes, but I was looking forward to getting out into a rural area. I was missing my uncle’s farm in California, where I’d grown up.

After we landed in Sydney we were taken to the Chevron Hotel to settle in. An invitation was extended by the Country Womens’ Association to attend a dinner the next night, so I went, and guess what? Right away I got chatting to Charlie, a pretty little farmer’s daughter, who was helping with the food. There was a real spark between us; she made me feel lighter somehow. I know I spent a lot of time grinning like an idiot.

She introduced me to her mother, Mrs. Harrison. Apparently Charlie had hatched a plan to take me back to their home, a rambling homestead at Camden on Sydney’s outskirts. Charlie reckoned I’d enjoy going around the sheep with her father, riding a horse, chopping firewood, and generally relaxing in a home environment for the week.

I felt like part of the family there, being treated by Charlie’s parents like a son. Charlie’s nineteen-year-old twin brother, Robbo, was in ’Nam also. They explained that his birth date had been drawn in the ballot for compulsory conscription.

"We're so thankful they don't have national service for girls as well," Mrs. Harrison remarked fervently.

On the last day before I had to return to Sydney, Mr. Harrison asked if I’d go with him to get some meat for the farm dogs. Happy to help, I was about to climb into the beat-up old Holden FB utility when Charlie came running out the gate. 

“Take me, too! I can’t bear to think you’re leaving soon!”

She gave me a tender, shy glance, and my heart flipped in cartwheels. There was plenty of room in the cab for the three of us on the bench seat, but Charlie made sure her slim body was pressed against mine as we bumped along the farm tracks, then parked the vehicle on a hillside among the gum trees. That lovely eucalyptus aroma reminded me of Santa Barbara. I’ve always had an attachment to certain smells – they make memories come alive. 

Mr. Harrison got his rifle; I figured he was planning on shooting some rabbits. While Charlie stayed near the vehicle, collecting field mushrooms, he and I walked for five minutes or so to a bush clearing.

It all happened really quickly. A group of kangaroos hopped out of the shadows and came into view. I’d never seen one before. What weirdly beautiful creatures! I was in awe of how graceful they were. The report of the gun made me flinch when Mr. Harrison shot a medium-sized gray one. 

I steeled myself so he wouldn’t think less of me, but worse was to come. I shouldn’t have looked. I really shouldn’t have. That trickling blood, those big dark eyes. Just like my buddy Tony Mancini, when he was shot on patrol. 

Then Mr. Harrison got his knife and slit the kangaroo open, making a long incision along its underside. He gripped the hind legs in his gnarled hands and whirled the limp body around his head, so the centrifugal force made the entrails fly out in a bloodied arc.

I should have been used to seeing flying body parts by now – our platoon had been decimated in fire fights and booby traps – but my lunch came up in an acid, heaving rush and I started shaking uncontrollably.

Before I knew it, Charlie was right there, dabbing the corner of my mouth with her handkerchief. The look of concern on her face mirrored that of her father’s.

“I’m so sorry, Brian… I was just thinking of feeding the dogs. I’ve done this hundreds of times,” he said with genuine remorse in his tone.

Charlie held my hand while Mr. Harrison put the carcass in the back of the pickup.

“You don’t have to go back, you know. We’ll hide you here.”

“And what sort of coward would that make me! I’ve signed up to stand with my squad and I’ll see this through.” 

•  •  •

Like I said at the beginning, the last time I saw Charlie was back in ’71. It’s 1973 now and my rehabilitation has been a long, painful process. It’s been hard, but harder still was my decision not to keep up my correspondence with sweet Charlie and her family, like I promised. 

Mrs. Harrison had hugged me and Mr. Harrison had shaken my hand at the airport. “You take care now, son. You’re welcome back anytime.”

“Thank you, sir. I really appreciate that.” We both glanced across at Charlie. She beamed back. I think we all knew there was love in the air.

*  *  *

The land mine saw to my future. Charlie deserved a whole man for a husband. A husband who could be the father of children, something that would always be denied me now.  

Charlie writing prompt entry
Writing Prompt
Write a story that begins with the line: The last time I saw Charlie ... (continue the sentence and story)
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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