So I told a friendly star
The way that dreamers often do
Just how wonderful you are
And why I'm so in love with you
Idlewild Airport, Queens, New York City, 1958
Christina sat at a small cafe table in the Northwest-Orient lounge. Her connecting flight wasn’t departing for several hours, though she didn’t mind. Even after living overseas for several years, she was still in no hurry to fly home with connections still somewhat ironically up in the air. The lounge was air-conditioned, leaving her relieved since she had only recently quit smoking, and the place felt fresh and clean, probably unlike the Northwest terminal in St. Paul. She was glad she had brought a sweater, however, since she really wasn’t used to the indoor chill.
She removed her hat and gloves and placed them on her coat on the chair beside her. Her lilac suit was a Dior knockoff that she had picked up in Stockholm; an attractive slim jacket and skirt that made her feel good…the best in years, some might say.
“What can I get you, Miss?” The barkeep smiled; wiping the bar with a towel. She played out in her head the past few days how she would answer the inevitable question, and had already ruled out beer, even if it was likely served in a nice schooner.
“I….I think I’ll have a Gin and Tonic, please?” She half-smiled; hoping she wasn’t sending the wrong signal. A moment later the barkeep had placed a cardboard coaster on the small table.
“Wave if you need anything, but I’ll come back in a few.” He winked at her, but it really felt like he was just being kind and not flirting at all. As he departed, she raised the glass to her lips. The bite of the drink wasn’t nearly as strong as she remembered, but then what she drank her first time wasn’t quite gin to begin with. Reaching into her purse, she pulled out a crossword puzzle book and a pencil and set about immediately; turning to the more difficult puzzle in the back of the magazine. She nursed the gin and tonic for a while, only to find the barkeep standing at the table with another drink.
“I didn’t order that,” she said almost reluctantly. With a six hour wait, she expected to have another, but this was unexpected.
“This is from the gentleman at the bar,” he answered with a wry smile. She followed his gaze to see a tallish man sitting at a stool almost at the end of the bar. He grinned and held up his own drink. She turned away and frowned. She picked up her unfinished drink and downed most of what remained before handing the barkeep the glass.
“I’m sorry.” She patted her chest and pointed to the wedding band on her left hand.
“I’m sure he’s a lovely man, but I’m not at all interested. She lowered her head slightly. The barkeep smiled.
“Don’t you worry, Ma’am. He’s a good Joe and he might mope a bit but he actually does take no for an answer.”
“Thank you, she said. He went to turn but she touched him lightly on the arm.
?Do you have any coffee? Black is just fine.”
“The pot is only about twenty minutes old. No problem.” He smiled again and walked back to the bar. A few moments later she heard a rustle. Looking up from her magazine she found a cup of coffee sitting in front of her on the table. While old habits sometimes die hard old urges die harder still. She stared at the cup happily and almost disappointed that she didn’t have a pack of cigarettes. She could probably ask the barkeep or even Mr. Lonely-hearts, but it really was for the best.
Taking a sip of the coffee, she was glad for the heat; even with the sweater draped over her shoulders, it was still quite chilly. She returned her attention to the puzzle at hand.
“Hmmm,” she said to herself. Starts with an ‘ess’; a six letter word for…..heartbreak?” The clue seemed to parallel her response as she was in the moment of only a few years ago. She sighed.
“Sorrow…” She looked up to find the barkeep standing at the table once again.
"You looked a bit chilly, so I turned the cold down. I’m sorry if I misspoke,” he said pointing to the puzzle book. She attempted a smile.
“Well, if you need me, Ma’am, I’m right there,”
Thank you,” she said as he once again walked away, she returned her attention to the magazine, but it had become pleasantly and sadly distracting at the same time…..
North of Yeonchon, Korea, April, 1953…
“Hey Svenson? You got any smokes?” The voice barely was heard under the blare of the Chinese trumpets and the rounds of 120 mortar shells exploding further down the hill. Santorini’s banter had kept the boy together in the midst of another Chinese attack. But the boy was more fearful of two of his buddies and he was terrified of the men advancing and retreating mere yards from their location. A momentary lull in the mortar fire gave witness to the sound of a pack of cigarettes whooshing through the air and impacting softly at Santorini’s feet. He didn’t bother to ask about ammo, since it was whatever the whole unit was down to from that afternoon. More ammo would only arrive if they received a break in the line for reinforcements.
“Murph? You scared?” The boy sat back against the side of the foxhole; unlit cigarette dangling from his lips.
“Fuck yeah,” Corporal Murphy replied. He mouthed an endearment that caused the boy to wince. Looking down at his left hand, he shrugged. His brother back home penned a Dear John letter from the fictitious Mrs. Murphy to help with the role of a lifetime that had so far kept him out of the prying hateful eyes of Svenson’s nemeses. He fingered the ring; a talisman protection of sorts but also a token of the true forbidden love he shared with the boy.
“Ken? I’m so…..” The boy’s fears were overwhelming; facing a sure death at the hands of the enemy down the hill or a slow death inside at the hands of a cruel world that could not possibly know. Murphy was in the dark since the boy was too scared to share the secret that even the man he had come to love might not understand. A wave of Murph’s hand got his attention long enough for him to see the man’s hands form symbols. A closed fist with pinky extended; placed against the chest - I; followed by two arms ending in closed fists crossed against the chest - love...
The boy never saw the final symbol as a mortar round exploded on the opposite side of the foxhole. He remained conscious long enough to feel Kenneth Sean Murphy thrust something small and hard into his hand. A blur of painful activity would follow over many months which would sadly culminate in learning that while his injuries had been life changing, they would have been life ending had Kenny not shielded the boy’s body with his own…..
The sounds of Doris Day played from a speaker somewhere in the lounge. Que Sera Sera; whatever will be will be… Christina looked up through sleepy eyes to find the barkeep gently nudging her shoulder.
“I wanted to make sure you woke up in time.” She looked around nervously.
“Don’t worry… You’ve got at least an hour.” He smiled; leaving her nervous.
“I didn’t mean to intrude, but your ticket was lying on the table.” She became less anxious; leaving him to add.
“You looked awfully tired, and I….” He looked down at her left hand. She quickly pulled it back, covering it with her right hand.
“He….you must have loved him very much,” he practically sighed. She looked away, blinking back tears.
“I…he was the love of my life,’ she said as tears flowed freely. The man produced a linen handkerchief from his vest pocket. She held back and the man looked around. Seeing they were alone he sat down next to her. Leaning close he gently patted her face. She wanted to resist but leaned into his chest and wept.
“My….I lost my brother to the war. It was so hard for him. So much of the man he was had been hurt, but he remained kind and loving. He had found his own true love….it was forbidden, but I do believe he would have found a way. Things change so slowly, but even Miss Jorgensen proved that things might have worked out for Kenny and Chris. “ Her eyes widened in surprise; sorrow mixed now with wonder and joy she dare not embrace,
“K….Kenny? And… and Chris? What….what is your name?”
“Michael….Michael Murphy….and you?”
“Chris…tina. Christina Svenson,” her words a blend of whisper, stammer, and peaceful sigh.”
“I’m very pleased to meet you, Christina.”
“Uh….you can call me Chris,” she half smiled before she collapsed in his arms, sobbing.
“It’s okay, darlin’ shuuh shuuh.” He said gently. Pushing her away slightly he dried her tears once again and blinked back his own.
“I get off in another hour. My….oh... .shhhhh, on the QT, mind you? My boyfriend is a steward for Northwest. If you don’t mind, maybe if it’s okay with your folks you can hang around tonight. You can catch a flight tomorrow and maybe I can tell you about Kenny. And you, Christina Svenson can tell me about yourself? Do you go for it?” She nodded.
“Yes. Michael, I go for it.”
“Okay, then, but please call me Mike.” He got up and spoke quickly.
“I’ll give Allen a ring and get your ticket squared away. Oops. Duty calls,” he said using a side glance to indicate a man and woman sitting at the bar. As he turned she rubbed the ring gently and sighed, smiling through increasingly peaceful tears And overhead, the voice of Doris Day sang brightly….
Now I shout it from the highest hills
Even told the golden daffodils
At last my heart's an open door
And my secret love is no secret anymore
Celebrating Memorial Day
May 30, 2016
March and July, 1953, in a place north of Yeoncheon in a place called Pork Chop Hill
Words and Music by
Paul Francis Webster
and Sammy Fain
as performed by Miss Doris Day
Que Sera Sera
Words and Music by
Jay Livingston and Ray Evans
as performed by Miss Doris Day
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