Fourteen-year old Danny Dunn ran headlong behind the Ford Model A pick-up truck. He ran barefoot, stretching out his left arm, trying to grab Roy’s bouncing hand. As he ran, he could see Cooper Quill; laughing, one hand on the steering wheel, snatching glances over his right shoulder. Even Millicent, sitting in the truck bed next to Roy, was laughing. With a burst of speed, Danny sucked in his breath, seized the ridge of the tailgate, and hiked himself over and onto the wood plank truck bed.
Suddenly Danny remembered his mother. He twisted around and waved to her. She stood with folded arms at the edge of the dirt alleyway, in front of the white fence encircling their house. Hard working, his mother spent six days a week in downtown San Jose as a baker at The Staff Of Life. And never did she let the gossip over her being a divorcée wear her down. As Danny watched, she unfolded her arms, raised her hand and waved to him.
By and by, the four classmates reached the edge of town, where concrete road changed into graveled grade. This was Danny’s favorite part of going to the swimming hole. He enjoyed the trees, boulders and meandering creek. Closing his eyes, he let the flicker of July sunlight through the tree branches dance against his eyelids. He felt as if he was swimming underwater, looking up at a surface agitated by some unseen disturbance. He imagined that imperfections in the surface water captured, carved up and erased the light. But always the light reappeared; it was never gone for very long.
Danny opened his eyes when Millicent tapped his elbow. The sunlight played with her chestnut hair and lit her freckled nose and cheeks.
Years later Danny wrote her a letter:
April 4, 1944
Last month in a small Italian village, thoroughly bombarded, I found a tin with one lemon drop. I pushed the tin to the bottom of my pack, intending to have the candy later.
We stayed in that village for three days. Then we moved on: working our way up the boot, walking to the point of collapse, stopping just before nightfall at an ungodly place crisscrossed with barbed wire and minefields.
Today we dug in. Beyond our trench, the forest is gone. There is only wasteland.
Behind us a road: pummeled every day by heavy artillery, traveled mostly at night during lighter bombing. We clean the road each morning: burying human pieces quickly, before maggots set in.
This morning an Italian woman came down the road. She carried a naked baby boy, bloody, half-dead. I gave the boy my lemon drop, and he smiled. The woman looked at me and said, Tomorrow come happiness.
Back in my trench her words seemed hollow, made me weep. I want to believe there is truth in her words, but it’s difficult after all I’ve seen, heard, and smelled.
It’s raining again.
Please write me.
The letter would go unanswered. And upon returning home, Danny would find Millicent—married to Cooper Quill, whose heart murmur had kept him from the war. But for now, there was only the beauty of sunlight licking Millicent’s face and hair, and their closeness seemed everlasting to Danny Dunn.
About the Author
Ron D’Alena was born in San Francisco, earned an MBA at the University of San Francisco, and now lives in Southern Oregon with his wife and son. Since 9/08, his work has appeared or is forthcoming in A cappella Zoo, Word Riot, Cause & Effect Magazine, Johnny America, Goldfish Press, Falling Star Magazine, A Twist Of Noir, Lowestoft Chronicle, Audience Magazine, Big Lucks, Inwood Indiana, Underground Voices Annual Anthology 2009, The Stray Branch, Midnight Screaming, EDGE, and Slipstream.