Pickin’ flowers. It’s all I’d ever planned to do that day, was pick some flowers for Mama’s crystal vase (…true, ’twas a foggy ol’ milk bottle. Purty, though, light shinin’ through) for settin’ on the table come dinnertime.
That’s when that big ol’ boy, some sort of odd uniform ripped at the knee, scratches up and down his arms, come a’barrelin’ outta the woods over yonder, a pantin’, a’wavin’ his arms, and a’hollerin’ in some language I cain’t to this day understand, nor desire to.
Now, my mama loves her some wildflowers, fresh picked. But when I seen this feller lumberin’ and a’stumblin’ my way, I figured he wudn’t out for an afternoon stroll. I tossed them blossoms by the wayside and took off fast as my skinny legs’d carry me.
Weren’t fast enough, not by half. Heard the breathin’ and felt the snortin’ one half second before a big ol’ paw grabbed my shoulder and jerked me around.
I ain’t no faintin’ rose like some girls my age. Runnin’ didn’t make me scared, it just made me prudent. Sometimes I’m for takin’ chances, sometimes I ain’t, based on the circumstances at hand. But I don’t take my progress being halted lightly. He swung me around so, I swung my free arm around, with maximum velocity, landin’ square across his right cheek and felt the squish of his facial cartilages. I quiver, even now.
That big feller, only just a mite blonder and fairer than most of the farm boys ’round these parts took to spoutin’ more o’ that senseless jabber, but then I give him both barrels and he clutched his nose and shook his big blond head this a’way and that, horse-like. I’d dare say he was a’whinnyin’, ruther thun a’whinin’. But I digress.
I may look like just a slip of a girl, all tattered and faded dress, hand-me-down Mary Janes, and braids frazzled and nearly free. But my 13 years of livin’ with four older brothers, a spit-in-yer-face big sister, and later two younger brothers, (the twin babies aged seven and one half) done taught me to fare for myself. And I done right well, if I do say so.
So fear wudn’t often part o’ my repertoire. ‘Stead of finishin’ my race down the sunny hillside towards home, I opted to jest stand my ground. See what’d happen next, y’see. The way he went on, a shakin’ his head and grimmacin’, you’d a’thought I’d like to a’damaged him permanent. ‘Er maybe he was fakin’, hopin’ to gain an advantage over me and kidnap me and make me worsh his clothes and cook his dinner forever and ever amen.
Like he didn’t already have hunnerd fifty pound on me. Still, I stayed on tippytoes, ready to hightail it if he made a move.
Took a while more, but finally, he just set right down, right there amongst the wildflowers, even the ones with the stickers and sticktights. Wipin’ his nose with his sleeve, he looked up at me curious, squintin’ a little in the afternoon sun. I mighta took to feelin’ a little sorry for this big ol’ man, or boy, or whatever inbetween he may be. Looked on the light side of manhood to me. Just a little unfinished, if you catch my drift.
Then cracklin’ and sorrowful, hardly more’n a whisper, “Bitte helft mir? Bitte helft mir?”
Bitty hefty what? Look here, that’s just plum foolishness, that’s what that is. But there he went, on and on. Bitty this and bitty that. I’ll admit to more’n a little frustration and aggravation with the situation, me bein’ the one still standin’ and him a babblin’ on so. My fright done faded, and I felt sure I should know just what I was in this fight for. Pitiful or not, this feller had to make his intentions known. Spewin’ words I could not understand, whatever it was he was tryin’ to share, he wasn’t makin’ any headway whatsoever. I shook my head, put my hands on my hips and hollered down,
“I DON’T UNDERSTAND YOU! WHO ARE YOU AN’ WHAT IN TURNATION DO YOU WANT?”
My sudden exclamation got his attention right now, his eyes went wide and he sorta ducked. Then he went to wipin’ his eyes with the heels of his big ol’ hands, pushin’ hard, like he wanted to pop them out the other side. What the hay? I couldn’t believe I scared this big feller. Must be a hidin’ or a runnin’ from somethin’ else, wantin’ to keep things on the quiet side. I turned all the way around, scannin’ edge to edge to edge the pasture bordered on three sides by tall stands of pine and ollalaberry. Nobody I could see.
Boy hung his head saggy over his chest, moaning and makin’ crybaby sniffin’ sounds, probably still hurtin’ from our set to. Served him right, what I served him up, and true, I was gettin’ some satisfaction from that fact. Blonde hair in a lenthy hank hung low over his forehead, and a haircut was only one of the groomin’ needs this feller had. Smellin’ like a dead gopher, dirt and mud decorated him stem to stern and bloodied scabby scratches, nothin’ needin’ tendin’, covered most of what I could see through the ragged tears in his baggy and tattered muslin shirt and dungarees. What kind of stickerbush had this boy gotten hisself tangled up with?
Lord, if lightnin’ didn’t just then strike me!
Heavenly Lord Almighty on High, if this wasn’t one of them enemy prisoners from the Europe War what was bein’ held in a camp over to Ray County, one county over! This feller a’wallerin’ and a’weepin’ and a’carryin’on in a heap on the ground before me was a German! A German soldier! The kind with guns! The Enemy! A real live Enemy! Like as not it appeared I’d walloped me down one a’them German soldiers, on account o’ not only his Germanic features, but his exotic manner of speakin’.
(Any other day, any other circumstance, I’d a’said he was the spittin’ image of my Uncle Axel.)
But, Lord, Lord! I began to wring my hands in my mind.
I’d only heard tell of it, rumors and such. Some middle of the night train down to Richmond came in quiet, some time back. They say trucks was waitin’, a whole slew of ’em, then hauled off down to some abandoned place Landy May’s dad knew of, down past the old quarry. Folks claim they’d seen the track marks in the dust down to the depot. I never seen ’em, nor have I never been out past the quarry. Mama forbid it for danger’s sake.
Sounds like I shoulda took me a field trip.
Folk’s from ’round here never did sort out just who was drivin’ the trucks, nor who was ridin’ in ’em. But Landy May told me her daddy told her he’d heard tell they was a bunch of German soldier prisoners, more’n a hunnerd of ’em even, captured, then brung back over here to pay their debt and their keep. Raisin’ taters, was what she said her daddy told her. Guarded by our own home bred US Army boys. Never seen no soldiers ’round here, though, other’n some just a’passin’ through, all spit and polish. Must keep to theirselves. Sounds lonesome. Again, I digress.
Now here I had me one, alive and kickin’, lookin’ worse for wear, but alive, nonetheless. As dangerous-lookin’ a feller as I’d ever want to see! Well, that there may be an exaggeration, but this boy’s of strong stock, even if he is a little stringly around the neck, maybe from hard work or lack of three squares. But look a’here, he COULD be frightnin’! Evil just might lurk in them clear blue eyes, rimmed red like they was with tears or exhaustion, but I gave that no nevermind.
A killer, that’s what he is! A drippin’ with evil intent German soldier trained and prepared to take the lives of American boys a’tryin’ to save the world for democracy and all that was good and right. Older brothers and family men from all ’round the county, folks I knew, was right now in the crosshairs of the likes of this feller. Why, he coulda taken him the lives of some true Americans this very day, freein’ hisself from his capture!
Oh, I could feel myself a gettin’ goin’! My head was hot and my heart was beatin’ up a storm. Mr. Prisoner just sat on the ground a’lookin’ forlorn, pickin’ at the frayed threads on the hem of his britches, quiet. He’d give up on his ramblin’s, I reckon, once I hollered. I felt just the slightest spark of pity, but quick replaced it with a blaze of indignation, tinged with a slice of panic.
This is wartime! And this feller, he is the enemy! Excaped! Here in my wildflower forest! I was like to be killed! I needed to take matters into my own hands right this minute!
Run, my insides bellered! Run, girl, run! Find a stick! Beat him over the head, THEN run! Get yerself movin’!
I musta started breathin’ real hard, notin’ his big round eyes staring hard into mine, startled like. Didn’t look half as dangerous as when he was after me, but I wouldn’t let that distract me none. These fellers was trained in deceit and slick talk. That I could see he was a’cloudin’ up, like he done give in didn’t even give me one second of pause. That he didn’t even jump when I went to dashin’ around in a circle tryin’ to spy me some weapon to whack him over the head with didn’t hinder me one iota. Must a been dizzyin’ watchin’ me scurry ’round and ’round, whispin’ away the tall grasses, searchin’ for a bludgeon or a big rock. He just set there, lookin’ dim and slow-witted, now turned to a’pickin’ sticktights from his pants. Throwin’ myself into his place, I prob’ly looked just as dim to him. No matter. I had to subdue him somehow, I had to capture him and tie him up and take him back to his jail.
It was my duty as a red white and blue American citizen.
Even if he did look a whole lot like my Uncle Axel.
Don’t know how long I looked for me a weapon. All I know is my prisoner never once moved, and hardly now even looked my di-rection. In fact, he’d settled himself in a bit, now leanin’ back on one elbow, contemplatin’ the sky like it was the most fetchin’ thing on earth. If only I’d found me a stick, I’d show him he needed to set to worryin’. I’d thought, for just a moment, I could pummel him again, just to ce-ment my authority, but truth be told, my fists was a little swole from the first go ’round and I’ll admit to some trouble ballin’ either one into a tight fist.
Finally, I give up on the stick. I give up on the rock. Figured I’d try me a differnt tack.
I angled a little closer, squeezin’ my eyes a little tighter, like the bad buys down to the picture show. He showed signs of life, swingin’ his big head around my way, flippin’ that hair from his brow.
I dropped a little closer, so’s to be eyeball to eyeball.
A hesitation just for drama’s sake, then, “I know you got some English in you. Who are you and what do you want?” Thinkin’ back, these was purty silly questions.
He swallered hard, lookin’ like he wanted to answer, and I figured he was word searchin’.
“Bitte, helft. Help.”
Help?! Help?! Oh, I got the “help” part. Who’d he think he was, requestin’ help from me? I’d help him, alright, I’d help his sorry soul back to the chains and metal bars from whence he come.
“Look here,” This is where I used my “nasty” voice, “You ain’t gettin’ no help from me. I’m takin’ you back!”
Just where “back” was for sure, I wudn’t clear. And for sure, he wasn’t moved by my pronouncement. Sad to say, he slumped back down to his elbows, two this go ’round, resumin’ his search of the sky.
I leapt up, then kicked his leg, more for frustration than attention.
“Durn dang it! Pay attention! You’re my prisoner and I’m a’takin’ you back, one way or the other!”
“Ah! Ah!” He hollered first loud, then quieter, a’lookin’ about like a scared rabbit ’bout to eat a bullet. Ol’ Blondie tucked his leg underneath hisself and sure as shootin’ if he didn’t appear to have his feelin’s hurt some. Like how could I done such a mean thing. Come to think of it, would I kick a injured old mutt, even if he barked and bared his teeth my way? Not likely. Some shame was a’risin’ but I managed to shake that feelin’ right off. Ol’ boy couldn’t even summon the gumption to spit, much less fight back. Just withered, like last month’s tomater vine, no use to hardly nobody.
What kind of soldier did I have here? Weren’t no kind of soldier I’d heard tell of. Barely north of me in age, I was now figurin’. No fight in him to speak of, but no fear neither. Just a vessel filled with emptiness.
I was fixin’ to worry all over again. My swagger was quick turnin’ to incertitude and bewilderment.
Was he my prisoner or was he dead weight? Either way, I had myself a dilemma as to how to proceed.
How long I contemplated my next plan o’action, and how long he contemplated the blue of the afternoon sky, I do not know.
Do I call out real loud right now and hope Daddy or Grandpap or Liam or Luce’d hear me and come a’runnin’?
Blondie laid down flat, now, chewin’ him the end of a clover stem. Looked to be his pain had subsided for the time bein’.
Did I return to my original plan of beatin’ him over the head into submission then go hellbent for leather (look what he done, got me cussin’!) for a rope and the sheriff?
Blondie may or may not have been snorin’. Eyes was closed, breaths even and deep, soundin’ like an ol’ sow a rootin’ refuse. Closer examination, and Look, my head said to myself, his shoes is plum wore through the toes and the bottoms. Poor feller.
That’s what my head said. Poor feller.
I snapped out of that right quick!
Poor FELLER?! Poor FELLER?!
His calm disposition done hypnotized me! That’s what he done, gravelly lazybones of a German soldier boy! I marched off a few steps in a huff, frustrated and perplexed and unwilling to grab ahold of any fleet idea flashin’ through my head. Birds chirpin’, gnats eatin’ the dew off my eyes, concentration excaped me.
And time. It was a’passin’. Right soon, Mama’d be sendin’ out one o’ the boys to retrieve me, seein’ as I had chores needin’ doin’ before dinner. It just wouldn’t do, them findin’ me here in a fix, wonderin’ what to do with this feller. Why, they’d bust his chops then bust their buttons with pride, them havin’ captured MY prisoner! No, that wouldn’t do whatsoever, no how!
I’d hide him! He’d askt me for help, and I’d play along, I’d HELP him! Oh a plan was a’formin’ and I warmed right quick to the rushin’ flushin’ feelin’.
I’d HELP this feller find a hidin’ place, just for the evenin’ till mornin’. I’d even tote him out some leavin’s from dinner, surreptitious-like, so’s he’d think I was his friend. Why, some ol’ blankets from our hound Buford’s bed in the barn would do to make a reasonable place to lay his head for the twilight hours. Why, I’d lull ol’ Blondie into submission with my goodness and kindness and Christian charity. That’d give me time to devise a plan for returnin’ him to the prison and labor and toil he so deserved.
Oh, I could fairly taste the adoration of friends and foes and my best friend Landy May and maybe there’d be a parade and folks’d deliver flowers and candy and kindest wishes. Mama might even let me take a day from school, so’s to relish my role in protectin’ our country from the likes of this despised and despicable enemy of our nation and our way of life.
Maybe that part was for dreamin’, but hope sprang eternal.
I heard the rumble of Blondie’s apparently unfed internal organs, then louder still, interuptin’ my upcoming revery.
Squarin’ my shoulders, I marched back over to where he lay prone, face up and gruntin’ and puffin’ to who laid a chunk, important I do it before I lost my nerve and my head. I poked his shoulder, beefier than I’d imagined. Hmmmm, no movement, just a nasaly snort. I poked a little harder this time, still nothing. So if I didn’t haul off and smack that boy flat across his yeller head!
Well, that done it all right!
Bending straight up at his middle section, no help or assistance from arms or hands, he blinked, lookin’ around like he’d no idea of his whereabouts nor even his name. And me, I was a’scurrying backwards crablike, hands and feet movin’ ninety to nothin, lookin’ to stay out of his reach. He swung his eyes my di-rection, still blinkin’ and blankin’, and I knew this was my moment and I plastered on what I thought was my purtiest, most convincin’ smile, considerin’ the state of affairs in which we found ourselves.
Wholly unlike me on a reg’lar day, I was fixin’ to offer the handshake of friendship and care and humanity, exhibiting a mutual desire to put aside the differences definin’ enemy combatants and ignore the unholy corruptness and depravity this feller no doubt had propagated and the evil for which he stood.
All the while gainin’ time for schemin’ me a blueprint for lurin’ this wrongdoer back to the prison of heartbreak and toil where he come from and to which I was bound and determined he’d be finishin’ out his days. A punishment which he no doubt so rightly deserved. All the while pavin’ the way for the glory and grandeur I was so sure my future in this life was assured.
Feelin’ right flush and oh, so righteous, I felt sure I’d be able to convey all that needed conveyin’ usin’ my best manners and most flamboyant gestures and divine intervention. Communicatin’ would take some doin’. So I squirted me out a quick prayer, and finished knowin’ for certain I had God and the U S of A a’cheerin’ me on and settin’ me on a path of righteousness and retribution and the fullness thereof. And whatever bonuses resulted forthwith.