‘Milly and Her Band of Brothers’
If you find this confusing or illogical, it’s not because of the story itself, but because you’ve missed to read Part I.
At Milly’s house
“Mama, open up, it’s me”, Milly banged at the door.
The soldiers meanwhile lined themselves in a line (obviously) and waited patiently, without uttering a word.
Milly smiled at Roy, smiled at the others.
She was so happy because now she could have real friends and not those stupid teddy bears of hers. There was enough shoes and clothes left from her father’s, so, Roy and his brothers would dress up clean and look less like homeless people and more like proper war heroes.
There was plenty of food too, what with their animal farm and the big vegetable garden Milly’s mom grew. So, everybody was going to be happy with all the food and clothes, little Milly thought.
“Mills, you know the door is open…”, Milly’s mother was mumbling as she was approaching the door. “Oh, hello?” Milly’s mother looked confused. She looked at the mini squadron lined up on her porch and little Milly in her orange corduroys and blue-flower T-shirt at the head of the squadron, standing still, like a general, with a loaf of bread in her hands.
“Ah, Hello, good day ma’am, we’re, well, I’m sergeant Jones and this is fight engineer Barnes, Ollie Barnes, and these are marines Cassidy, Sam, and Max – crazy Max – if I may add, ma’am.” Roy stopped and lifted his chin up, as if he was awaiting orders from his general – the general’s mother, in this case.
“Nice to meet you all good fellas, you look like you need a bowl of hot soup and good scrubbin..” the nice, very uninteresting lady said in the most polite of ways, after she had a good, slightly less polite look at the soldiers, their shabby clothes and missing shoes. Milly’s mother, who also happened to have a name – Julian – was a fine lady, but, a sad one.
She lost her husband during the war.
He actually never came back from Vietnam.
A telegram came instead, which said that Sgt Rivers had disappeared without a trace and that he was likely to have been killed by the Viet Cong guerillas. The P.S. of the telegram, however, stated that it could be that he lost an ear, he’s still looking for the missing piece, and meanwhile got married to a young Vietnamese girl with whom he works on a rice farm. Mrs. Rivers surely preferred the first part of the telegram, since she was a fine, nice lady.
“Come in soldiers, Milly, show these fine young men where to wash their hands and faces and bring them to the kitchen to eat”, said Julian as she ushered her guests into the house.
The soldiers, quietly and obediently followed the little girl.
Milly took her role as a host very responsively, so she mimicked a soldiery march towards the bathroom, while Roy and his friends followed her humbly.
“Come on in you all, feel yourselves at home. The kitchen is very little but since it’s just me and Milly these days, we’re finding it ok. I hope the soup will be enough, I’ve got home milk and eggs – see the cows and the chickens out there in the yard? They’re taking good care of me and my little girl. There’s good stuff coming out of our garden, too. All sorts of veggies and that wild bush there around the fence bears red berries all year round. We’re like small house in the prairies here, so much produce, I only need to have one of those Amish outfits and I can literally pronounce myself to be from last century, haha”, Julian giggled while she was laying the table and dishing out soup.
“Thank you ma’am, it’s all very kind of you. If we could help in any way with the work in the barn, in the garden, we’re at your service. Ollie is quite the engineer, he can fix wiring and electricals, you name it”, said Roy already chewing on a piece of bread he picked from a plate in the middle of the table.
“Now, tell me boys, what’s happened to you. Where are you heading, where’re your families? Did you just come back from Vietnam? They keep coming back, or not – we got one of those. Didn’t they finish that darn war already? It took so much lives and…pride and all…my husband was there, my dear Jimmy. He’s there to this day. Died, poor thing. I kept telling him, this is one dirty business, war is, I don’t like any of it. Someone’s making money, someone’s arranging business. And while the businessmen play chess at home and drink scotch, our kids and husbands kill someone else’s kids and husbands, for nothing. For nothing, I tell you. You don’t look like the war heroes, what happened?”, Julian went out of the kitchen for a second, leaving her monologue to hang in the air along with the hungry soldiers, and came back with a wicker basket full of vegetables, all kinds.
“So, boys, how do you like my soup?” She said and started washing tomatoes and cucumbers.
“It’s heaven, ma’am. We haven’t eaten in a while”, said Max. Probably that was his first line since the beginning of this screenplay attempt.
“We’re due an explanation, ma’am, about that thing you asked”, said Max again, who is unlikely to say anything within the next few paragraphs, so he turned to Roy and nodded at him as an invite to speak.
“Yeah. Right. We were deployed to Vietnam three years and seventeen days ago. Last year, were sent back home – some of us for medical reasons; some of us because we lost more family during that time – and we’ve been back and forth hospitals and camps in Hanoi, then a short deployment to Cambodia, and more recently, for the past month we’ve been back on home soil”, Roy gulped from his water glass, cleared his throat and continued.
“We’re all friends, I mean, we ended up meeting each other back in the Khe Sanh, during an air operation. Max is only 18 ma’am and he doesn’t really have a family. And now, he doesn’t really have one arm, either. See this, fake. He was an orphan and they drafted him; I mean, he volunteered, he wanted to be a war hero; Cassidy, he’s our baby-brother, he’s only 16 ma’am, and he’s an Ozzie, you know, from Australia.”, Roy took his breath.
“Nice broth, Mrs. Rivers, thank you so much for the ‘ospitality”, Cassidy said shyly.
“Sixteen? My goodness, how did your mom let you go, sweetheart?” Julian asked, shocked.
“We’re a family of soldiers Mrs. Rivers. Me dad was a professional soldier, a lieutenant; me grandpa was British, he was a soldier, too. He even met grannie during the Great War – she was with the medics”, Cassidy explained between soup slurps.
“Sammy is our genius architect. He can fix anything for ya, ma’am. He, hm, he lost his father in Vietnam, during an unexpected ambush at the time of the search & destroy missions. That’s why they had to send him back home, earlier than supposed to. His family is now just his mama and a little baby-sister. I think he has a girly there, you know, a girlfriend waiting for him, but Sammy’s shy, he won’t tell”, Roy laughed and tapped Sam on the healthy shoulder.
“My mama’s very sick and I’m trying to find a way to go home, to Milwaukee, but needed to make some money first. She knows I’m back and safe, of course, but she thinks I’m still in the army. We’re like a traveling quintet right now – these guys and I – ma’am. We want to get what this country owes us, or at least to some of us. We want to make something for ourselves and then go home with our chins up, not like some homeless tramps with empty pockets”, Sam added.
“Oh boy, you’ve got a lot going on. I always thought soldiers were privileged somehow, especially the war heroes. Didn’t you get any retribution, compensation, a good pay, a medal? And how about you, Roy? Where’s your family?” Julian was pacing up and down, bringing more food, clearing empty dishes. Milly was by the kitchen counter completely transfixed by the soldier stories.
“I’m from California ma’am, I’m on a little detour here on the east coast. My family is just one old grandpa, who’s the smartest man in the world. We went to see him, the five of us. Last week we hitchhiked on a train – can you believe it? He’s a great man, my grandpa is. But alcohol has taken so much out of him. He likes reading ma’am, and I’d want to make lotta money one day and build him a special library, a public bookstore of sorts, but dedicated to dear old grandpa; it’ll be full of his favourites and with a musical corner, and a little cafe, and like a members-only club of sorts, where people can talk about books they read or suggest titles, borrow books, you know, some pleasant stuff. As a matter of fact, that’s something we’re heading at…”
“I like reading, too”, Milly interrupted.
“Yeah?”, Roy said. “Thatta girl! ‘There’s nothing better than the book. My old grandpa Buck. ‘All the knowledge in the world, gathered in a palmful of words’, he’d say”. Roy paused.
“We fought a lot with him, whenever I wanted to borrow a book. He was such a pain in the butt, so stingy, when it came to reading his books. I tried stealing Winnetou once. He spanked me and refused to talk to me for a whole day. He was upset that I’ll stain books or tear them. He’d put a pillow on the table like that”, Roy gestured, as if he was holding a real pillow, “and would place his book on top of the pillow and would read, sitting in his chair, all day long, without touching the book, except for when he had to turn the pages. Weird old chap, but very knowledgeable”.
“He was an educated man, your grandfather, wasn’t he?”, Julian remarked.
“Yeah ma’am, and a great mathematician. But life didn’t treat him well. Anyway, my pals here and I met during an ambush of our regiment out of Hill 34 near Danang. We just…we just helped each other quite well during that ambush and, thanks to these guys I’m alive…that’s our story more or less, Mrs. Rivers”, said Roy and stood up to help Julian with the cleaning.
“You know, boys, I have some clothes and shoes upstairs from my husband’s. You can pick some and settle for the day. If you have no other place to go for now, you’re welcome to share the basement. Milly will take you around to get acquainted with the area. We have plenty of work to be done in the farm, you’ll be very useful until you figure out what to do next. How is that?”, Julian suggested.
“Sounds great, Mrs. Rivers”, Roy answered like a soldier. “We’ll do our best with the work. We’ll only need to stay for a couple of days. We’re heading for Washington after Wednesday – we have a few things to pick from there that we’re owed. It’s just that we need a good representative and a very convincing one to speak for us. Something like a lawyer, only that we don’t have the money to afford a lawyer yet”.
“You’ll figure it out boys. Go get changed now and let Milly take you to the barn to check the tractor, the engine needs fixing”. After that, Julian went out of the kitchen and headed for the garden.
“Hey, Roy, do you need a representative to talk for you at the White House?”, Milly asked abruptly.
“Yeah, anyone you might know big mouthed, courageous enough to speak to Nixon, and very seriously-looking?”, asked Roy.
“Yeah. I might know of someone”, Milly said.
“Hey, well done, who’s that?”, Roy asked.
“Me, of course”, declared Milly.
Sam, Ollie, Max and Cassidy looked at Roy and glanced at little Milly. No one produced a sound.
“You know, that might actually do”, Roy finally opened his mouth.
“That’ll actually do.”
…to be continued…