By Ross Howell
A regular contributor to this blog, Ross followed a career in academic fundraising, public relations, book publishing, and marketing after receiving his MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He’s now freelancing non-fiction and fiction, and teaching at Elon University. His stories have appeared in The Virginia Quarterly Review, The Sewanee Review, and the Gettysburg Review. He lives in Greensboro, NC, with his wife, Mary Leigh, English cocker spaniel diva Pinot, and rescued pit bull Lab mix Sam.
On the kitchen table by the jar of moonshine Whit saw the brown photograph. Young men are posed by the bomber’s landing gear. His uncle crouches, cap bill flipped up, sergeant’s stripes on his sleeve, beside two men in khakis. Other men stand to the rear of the men crouching. One holds a wrench the size of a baby.
His mother had cleared the table and washed the dishes and his uncle sat alone, good and drunk. He blinked his eyes slowly as Whit walked in.
“Get them pigs fed?” he said.
“Lay in plenty of wood?”
He nodded again.
“Ain’t in the mood for talking?” his uncle said.
He shook his head.
“Neither’s your Momma,” his uncle said. “Teach her to run that mouth. Teach you, too.”
Whit moved back from the table.
“Hell, I ain’t gone hit you. Want you a drink?”
He shook his head. “You better say something, boy.”
“I don’t want any. It’s poison.”
“Poison? Was, I’d been dead long ago.” His uncle grinned and licked his lips. He picked up the photo.
“Know who them boys is?” he said.
“Ground crew of ‘Tallulah Hula,’ B-17G Flying Fortress, Eighth Army Air Corps, 101st Squadron, Lakenheath Air Base, Shropshire, England.”
“Mocking me, ain’t you? Like you know everything?”
“No, sir. That’s what you told me.”
“Feller standing there,” his uncle pointed with a thick finger, “Bob Turman, helped me lower the top turret gunner through the bomb bay when they come back from Regensburg. Hydraulics shot all to hell, so we cranked the doors by hand. Bob had him by the boots and I had him by the arms. Gunner’s leathers pulled right in two. Guts spilt all over the tarmac.” He shook his head. “Them German 20mm explosive rounds was something, I tell you.” He unscrewed the lid and took a swallow of whiskey.
“V bombs,” he said. “Now they was something, too.” He fumbled with a match to light a cigarette. “Walking to town when I heard the engine cut out. Ducked in a hedge. Damn thing landed right in a tater patch. Never seen taters fly so high in my life!”
His uncle started to cry. He wiped at the tears with his hand.
Whit looked away. He knew a pretty English woman had been waiting in town at the pub. His uncle helped dig her body from the rubble. A V bomb had landed there, too. His uncle loved that woman, his mother said. He had written home he would bring her to the States when the war was over.
On the window panes Whit saw crystals of ice. He tried to imagine his uncle loving something. He turned and watched his head sink to the table, the unlit cigarette between his fingers. His snoring was venomous.
Whit banked the coals in the stove, added sticks of hardwood, and turned down the draft for the night. He’d seen photos of the Blitz in books. Flames raged from London buildings and leapt into the dark. His hatred was that bright. Like it might cover the stars with fire. It lit his way upstairs to his mother.