War Diary

Merle Drown

Jean had to wait until her Uncle Bill died to read his World War II diary. In 1941 Bill had joined the paratroops and until ten years before his death at eighty, crowed that he still fit into his uniform. A lifelong bachelor, several times a year he packed a suitcase and a cooler of beer and drove across the country to look up army buddies.

Anticipating fascinating stories, Jean read Uncle Bill’s closely penciled writing aloud to her husband. “Eggs and toast, really good. The stew today had plenty of meat. Jell-O with cream. I love this coffee. Got a letter from Sister Helen at home.”

Helen was Jean’s mother. He didn’t say what was in her letter. Jean skimmed the pages. “Food, borrowing a quarter, lending a dollar, food, food, and more food.”

“Look up the month you were born,” her husband said. “Maybe he had a reaction to that!”

For March 1942 Jean found food. “Every morsel listed and rated. I always thought there’d be something interesting, something I hadn’t heard before.”

“Maybe that’s why he never let anyone read it,” her husband said.

“Then why did he keep it for forty years?”

“He’s the one who listed everything he ate. Why would he throw it away?”

“What do you think he talked to his army pals about all those years—food?”

“No one else in the family wanted to read the diary but you,” her husband said. “What did they know that you didn’t?”

“He lived his life,” Jean said. “He didn’t write it.” She was disappointed as hell.

Merle Drown is the author of stories, essays, plays, reviews, and two novels, Plowing Up A Snake (The Dial Press) and The Suburbs Of Heaven (Soho Press, 2000), trade paperback (Berkley Press, 2001). He edited Meteor in the Madhouse, the posthumous novellas of Leon Forrest, published by Northwestern University Press in 2001. Barnes and Noble chose The Suburbs of Heaven for its Discover Great New Writers series. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the NH Arts Council. He teaches in Southern N.H.U.’s MFA program. “War Diary” is from his collection-in-progress, Shrunken Heads, miniature portraits of the famous among us, or Balzac in a nutshell. Pieces have appeared in Amoskeag, Meetinghouse, Night Train and 971 Menu. E-mail: merle[at]drown.com

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