Agnes Morissey comes home to an empty house, with her husband away at basic training. No amount of prayer and pleading had kept him out of the draft.
She has held back some of her letters. He has enough to deal with without her passing on her own frustration.
A Soldier’s Wife
The midday Spring sun failed to light the dim interior of the old Manhattan church. A half dozen women were scattered about in the pews, all in deeply private prayer. All begged for the same thing: bring my husband, my son, my brother home safely from the war.
At the front of the church a wide rack of lit prayer candles cast a glow on the face of one woman kneeling in the first row. Dressed in black, with a black scarf pinned to the top of her head, Agnes Morrisey cast her eyes up on the statue of Mary looming over the candle rack. Her fingers moved silently over the beads on her rosary. Our Father. Hail Mary. Hail Mary.
A woman with a long scarf draped over her head stepped up to light a prayer candle. She nodded to Agnes. Peggy Gaffney. Her husband Vic had been discharged a week ago, in the hospital with a wound that paralyzed his left side.
Agnes finished her prayer, sat back in the pew. Opening her purse quietly, she removed an envelope thick with note papers. A large X slashed the address. These were letters she could never send Patrick. He had enough to deal with.
She selected the top letter, read it to herself.
Easter is almost over and I’m so glad! Everybody kept telling me how much they missed you today, but nobody missed you as much as I do. It’s so lonely here with you gone, coming home to an empty house. Willie drove me home from mother’s house, so I didn’t have to take the trolley.
Our son Christopher has no patience and gets angry easily. The other day he slapped me in the face. I slapped him back but not in the face, of course.
Agnes paused, listened. So quiet you could almost hear the hot wax melting down the lit candles.
These letters reeked of disappointment, sadness. Even failure. Patrick could never see them. It would make his situation even harder to endure. Agnes worked hard, usually got exactly what she wanted. Letters to the local Selective Service members. Calls to their homes in the evenings. Manhattan’s west side was run by ward captains. She knew theirs well enough to feel confident asking for a postponement or even reversal of Patrick’s selection. Nothing worked.
She looked at another letter.
Everyone I meet from the neighborhood says, What a shame a nice quiet fellow like you couldn’t be allowed to stay home with his family. I agree, of course, but all I can do is nod and smile.
I am trying to toilet train Christopher. I sat him on the toidy three times this morning. I tried for twenty minutes again right after lunch, but no luck. I took him off and he ran inside without any pants on, and hid behind the bed. I went to get clean pants for him and when I came back, he had left his calling cards from the bed to the bathroom, to say nothing of his legs and shoes and stockings. Was I mad!
In another letter:
Patrick’s a great guy, everyone says. Do anything for anyone. But there is no fight in you, is there. Willie thinks you should be okay, with your occupation as purchasing agent. Maybe be based here in the States somewhere.
Has basic training toughened you in any way? You’ll probably come home and be taking over.
No, I can’t tell him that.
A woman slipped into the pew next to Agnes. She slid the letters onto the pew out of sight.
“Betty,” she whispered. “I haven’t seen you in ages.”
“Hi Agnes. I heard Patrick was called up. How is he doing?”
“He seems to be all right. Still in basic training. I hear from him almost every day.”
“Good. And how is little Christopher? He must be almost two by now.”
“Eighteen months…And how is Joe?”
Betty turned away.
Agnes gripped Betty’s hand.
“He was killed overseas last September. In Italy.”
Agnes felt redness creep up her face. “Oh no. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”
“I’ve been staying downtown with my mother. I’m all right. We didn’t have any children. That makes it easier to start fresh.”
“I better be going. My mom is outside.”
Betty left Agnes alone again in the pew.
How did I not know Joe died?
Later as Agnes climbed the stoop to her building, anxious to see Christopher, a voice called to her. She turned to see a man in a Western Union uniform. “I have a telegram. Do you live in apartment 201?”
Agnes froze, gripped the rail with both hands. She slipped down to sit on the steps. Not now. He hasn’t even finished basic training. She reached for the telegram, tore it open. Tears poured down her face.
The Western Union man touched his cap. “Ma’am.” He walked away.
Agnes’s tears dripped on the edge of the telegram, fell down on her skirt.
Tears of joy.
MEDICAL DISCHARGE. ULCERS. HOME FRIDAY. LOVE. PATRICK.