The Journey Home (in the style of Hemingway)

May 14, 2011
The compartment was almost empty. Only the old man and Willy were left on the hard seats of the train car. The bags shifted back and forth in the rack above Willy’s head. The old man stared out the window, watching the smoke that curled off the engine. Willy was traveling to his mother’s in Boston. He hadn’t seen her for a while. He worried that he would miss her station. He wasn’t a smart boy, but his mother loved him. Willy cleared his throat. The old man didn’t move. Willy wondered if he was asleep. He stood to look in the corridor for the conductor. He checked the timetable. He still had forty-five minutes to go. Willy went back to his seat. He looked at the old man staring at the clouds. His coat bore a faded resemblance to the sleek uniform that Willy wore. His cheeks were sunken and sallow and a white scar ran into his grey hair. His blue eyes were half-closed in the bright light of the sun. He shifted stiffly on the wooden seat and caught Willy looking at him.
“Keep your eyes your own, boy.”
Willy muttered an apology and fled into the corridor. He looked at the yellowing timetable and at the clock by the door. Thirty minutes were left. He sat on the floor against the wall and fingered his medals. He polished them with his sleeve. The door to the compartment banged as the train slowed for a crossing. Willy had forgotten to lock it. The old man appeared in the doorway.
“What you doing down there bright boy?”
“Nothing,” Willy got to his feet. “Just dropped my handkerchief is all.”
“I guess you did.” Willy’s ears had turned red. A bolt of sun hit his medals and caught the clouded eye of the old man. He smiled slowly. “Where you get those shiny things? You look like you going to meet a girl.”
Willy frowned. He tried to shift his stance so the medals were out of view. He glanced at the clock. Twenty-five more minutes. His mother was probably already waiting on the station platform. “I got them in the war. Ain’t nothing special about them. And I ain’t meeting a girl neither. I don’t have time for women.”
“Surely every girl likes a war hero,” the old man grinned.
“Not that I know of. These aren’t anything. Just for being shot and a few months in a Jap camp,” Willy stopped. He cleared his throat. “Anyway lots of men got them. Ain’t nothing special.”
The old man was interested now. He moved back into the compartment and held the door for Willy. Willy glanced at the clock. The old man sat down in his old seat and Willy sat across. “Tell me about the camp, boy. I was in one myself for a week or two.”
He paused. The boy wasn’t looking at him. He was adjusting the buttons on his coat “Tell me what you saw.”
Willy shrugged. “It was a lot of sitting around mostly.”
“Plenty of boys in there with you?”
“Yea, I guess. At first anyway.”
The old man leaned forward, “them Japs torture you? I heard that. They had pictures on the reels in the movie houses.”
“Depends on what you call torture,” Willy fidgeted in his seat and twisted the cufflinks in his sleeves. “They never hurt us. Not directly.”
“I hear a lot of our men died in those camps.”
Willy looked at him and did not say anything.
“Did you ever kill a Jap?”
“Yes. He jumped at me. I couldn’t do nothing but shoot him.”
“Good for you, bright boy.”
“He don’t think so.” They sat in silence for a while. Willy got up to check the clock. Only ten minutes left.
The old man coughed quietly in his corner by the window. He clutched at his chest.
“Help me boy!”
Willy caught him as he fell. The old man’s head hit the floor with a dull sound. His blue eyes rolled up and his jaw drooped open. His chest was still. Willy looked at him on the ground. He checked the clock in the corridor. The train would stop at any minute. He took his bags down off the rack and left the compartment. His mother was waiting on the platform.

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grandma kyralyn said...
Jun. 3, 2011 at 10:29 am
Anna - what a beautiful story!  I want to hear more about Willy.  You have a lot of talent, I would love to read more of your writing.  I love you.
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