The Thing They Carried

It could have been the Germans. It could have been the Japanese. It could have been the Russians. But it was the Americans. The United States was the only nation with the resources to be able to create such a Thing. It was a Thing made for one job. For one purpose.

Since the Nazis launched their blitzkrieg on Poland in 1939, since the Japanese Empire attacked Pearl Harbor, war raged around the world. Millions were refugees, dead or held in concentration camps. It was time for it to be over. It would take a Thing to bring it to an end.

The question was: Would it work? The scientists said it would work. The tests had given them the assurance that it would work. But no one was absolutely sure. They would not know until those final moments over Japan. Until it was dropped.

By August, 1945, the Nazis had surrendered. But not the Empire of Japan though it was defeated. It had no air force to speak of. It was under allied blockade. Many of its greatest cities, including Tokyo, were devastated by the firebombing American B29s. Yet the military fanatics who led Japan had decided that the Empire would go down in a blaze of glory rather than submit.

The Japanese military used fifteen and sixteen-year-olds as pilots of planes that were designed to be nothing more than bombs to crash into ships. They fired human torpedoes from their submarines. This was a foreshadowing of things to come if the United States invaded the Japanese homeland. Every man, woman and child was to be a kamikaze. Even Japanese school girls were taught to attack the enemy with spears. Suicide was preferable to surrender.

Few events were as controversial as the decision to drop the Thing. It was debated among the scientists who created It. It was debated by both the civilian and the military leadership in Washington, D.C. President Truman decided the Japanese leaders had left him no choice. After discussions with his advisers, he came to believe that the Thing would shorten the war and save not just thousands of American lives but millions of Japanese as well.

The Thing’s name was Little Boy, also known as the Gadget, the Device, the Gimmick, the S-1, and the most technical of all names, It. It was created at Los Alamos in New Mexico. Then It was assembled 5500 miles from there on Tinian Island, a part of the Marianas in the Pacific. On the night of August 5, 1945, the technicians wheeled It out to a special loading pit to be lifted up into the the bay of the B29 that was to deliver It.

Hours before the mission, the crews of the 509th Composite Group waited. They did what crews do the night before an important mission. A few ate. Some lay in their bunks and thought about loved ones. Some drowned their homesickness with a few shots of whiskey. Some played poker. One, a Catholic went to confession. Another spent his time briefing the New York Times reporter assigned to the mission. The navigator checked his flight bag to make sure his navigational tools were all in order. Each found a way to while away the hours that dragged.

Practice. Practice. Practice. For months, the team had practiced dropping The Thing, then make a 155 degree turn to get the hell out of there. Now there was a different kind of practice. Just in case of a crash upon take-off, the weaponeer decided to load and arm the Thing once the plane was in the air. In the hours before the takeoff, he practiced inserting the explosive charge and the detonator into the Thing. Difficult work to do considering how tight, how hot, how poorly lit the bay of the B29 that was to carry It. When offered a pair of gloves, the weaponeer said no. “I’ve got to feel the touch.”

At midnight, the commander of the mission gave a final briefing. He was the pilot of the B29 that would deliver the Thing to its destination. He finished with a word of advice for the twenty-six airmen in the room. “Do your jobs, obey orders, don’t cut corners.” Then the crew had breakfast while the flight engineer went out to the plane for his preflight check.

Early in the morning of Monday, August 6, 1945, the rest of the crew—the pilot, the co-pilot, the navigator, the electronic countermeasure man, the two radar operators, the bombardier, the tail gunner, and the ordinance expert—climbed aboard the plane, joining the weaponeer and the flight engineer. Painted on the nose of the B29 was the name of the pilot’s mother, Enola Gay.

2:27 a.m. Front engine No. 3, then No. 4, then No. 1, then No. 2.

“Okay to taxi,” the tower said.

2:35 a.m. In position to taxi.

Clear to take off.

A final check.

Take-off weight: 150,000 lbs., 7000 gal. of fuel, 12 men on board, and a five-ton Thing in the plane’s belly. The Enola Gay was eight tons over its normal weight.

“Let’s go.”

All throttles were pushed forward. Down the 8500 foot runway, the plane went past the ambulances and the fire trucks every fifty feet on each side. At the last minute, the B29 lifted into the air and was off the island and heading north by northwest toward Iwo Jima. It would be over the Japanese homeland 1500 miles away in a little less than six hours.

The tail gunner tested his gun, using 50 of the 1000 rounds he had.

The radar operators studied the radar pictures of Hiroshima.

“Judge going to work.” The weaponeer began to load The Thing. He inserted the gun powder and the detonator. He tightened the breach plate. It took him thirty minutes to complete his task.

The pilot did a check with the two planes following and got a “conditions normal”. So far nothing out of the ordinary. He turned the plane over to his co-pilot and went off to chat with the rest of the crew.

The pilot palavered with his crew for a few minutes, answering any questions they might have, trying to ease any tension there might be. The crew gave him a thumbs up that everything was a-okay. The pilot returned to the cockpit. He took the plane up to 9000 feet for a rendezvous in the pale, pink sky above Iwo Jima. A camera plane and an instrument plane joined up with the Enola Gay.

“Proceeding as planned,” the pilot radioed Iwo Jima downstairs.

“Good luck.”

The three planes formed into a V, the Enola Gay leading the way. Now it was on to what was left of the Japanese Empire.

The ordinance expert armed the charge. He was the last person to touch The Thing. Then he checked the circuits of The Thing on his monitor.

The pilot announced to the crew, “You are carrying the world’s first atomic bomb.”

The Enola Gay climbed to an altitude of 30,800 feet.

“Bomb primary,” came the message from the weather plane ahead. The pilot announced, “It’s Hiroshima.”

All lights on The Thing remained green. It was ready to do its job.

Course change to a heading of 264 degrees.

“Initial Point.”

Hiroshima’s morning sky was bright and clear. Perfect weather.

Below soldiers did their calisthenics.

Below a doctor was administering a shot.

Below a sixteen year old girl drove a tram.

Below two women arrived at the bank where they worked.

The pilot knew the city like the back of his hand from studying maps, photographs and radar pictures. He headed straight to the Aiming Point.

From below: “Top alert.”

“On goggles,” the pilot directed his crew to put on their goggles to shelter their eyes from the blast of The Thing they were about to drop. Only the pilot, the bombardier and the electronic countermeasures man did not slip their eyewear over their eyes. They needed their naked eyes to do their jobs.

Hiroshima in the bombardier’s viewfinder.

The plane began its three-and-a-half minute run.

The pilot: “Stand by.”

Below a nurse sterilized hospital tools.

Below a group of boys played hide-and-go-seek.

Below a woman had breakfast with her two children and her husband. He read the “Chugoku Shimbun” daily newspaper.

One of the women in the bank wiped a desk top. A soldier removed his shirt.

The Aiming Point of the T-shaped Aioi Bridge came into the bombardier’s cross hairs. “I’ve got it.”

Fifteen seconds.

The doctor looked up and saw the Enola Gay. Just one plane. Nothing to worry about.

8:15:17 a.m. Enola Gay’s bay doors opened. The Thing dropped from its restraining hook. Freed of the five tons, the B29 lurched upward. The pilot swung the plane into a 155 degree right turn and a steep power dive. The bay doors shut.

The Thing wobbled, then picked up speed.

Below Field Marshall Hata dressed for a meeting.

Korean Prince RiGu cantered his horse on the Aioi Bridge

Radio Hiroshima broadcast an air raid warning. Thousands of workers stopped what they were doing and hurried toward the “safe areas”.

The Enola Gay now five miles from the Aiming Point and heading out of the city.

Five seconds to go.

At 1890 feet above the city of Hiroshima, the Thing detonated, untold quantities of energy released in a blast. A white light, a flash, a fireball fifty million degrees centigrade at its center. The fireball expanded to 300 meters wide.

There was a new sun in the sky. A sudden and throbbing roar, then total darkness, then red, yellow, orange, green burbled up from the city below, then grayish, brownish, black smoke. Looking down at it all, the tail gunner said that it was “a peep into hell.”

That morning in 1945, the people below in the city were no longer Japanese. They were human beings.

Sources
Books

Hersey, J. (1989). Hiroshima. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Smith, J. M. (2010). Fire in the sky: The story of the atomic bomb. Place of publication not identified: Textstream.

Thomas, G., & Witts, M. M. (1995). Enola Gay – Mission to Hiroshima. Loughborough, England.: White Owl Press.

Films

Hiroshima (BBC History of World War II) [Motion picture on DVD]. (2009). BBC Home Entertainment.

Joffé, R. (Director). (1989). Fat man and little boy [Motion picture on DVD]. United States: Paramount Pictures.

Modern Marvels – The Manhattan Project (History Channel) [Motion picture on DVD]. (2005). A&E Home Video.

 

 

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Uncle Bardie’s Movie of the Week: A Memorial Day Film

Once a week on Monday, Uncle Bardie shares a movie with his Readers he gives a big two thumbs up. It will simply be a short excerpt or a trailer. Uncle Bardie might even throw in a reflection on the movie. If so, it will make an appearance below the video. This week’s movie is “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946).

This selection “The Best Years of Our Lives” for Memorial Day was inspired by an interview with Sebastian Junger talking about his new book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.

It seems the human race has had war with it forever.  Three of our oldest books, The Bible, Homer’s Iliad, and Sun tzu’s The Art of War gave accurate descriptions of war. It didn’t stop there.  Ancient Greek works like Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War and The Persian Expedition by Xenophon were very good at this. Again and again and again, our literature reinforces the belief that the humanity is a violent sort of being.

The Japanese got in on the act with such books as The Book of Five Rings. The Germans too contributed to the literature. On War by Carl von Clausewitz was an important work on teaching us how to do a better job whacking the soup out of each other. T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom screamed that Lawrence won World War I single handedly. Maybe not the whole war but, at the least, the Middle Eastern part.

On and on the list goes. Toward the middle part of the twentieth century, books saying war was not quite as nice as we all thought started appearing. This was the theme of All Quiet on the Western Front, Hiroshima and Catch 22. Still there were those novels and books that continued to argue against the realities soldiers experienced in the field. Those works told us that it was the patriotic thing to be gung ho when it came to sending our children out to fight the good fight.

This rah-rah attitude continued with the movies. Especially the World War II movies. Even today, Hitler and the Nazis continue to be the all-time bad guys. Nobody was nastier. Want to make a supervillain. Make him a Nazi.

John Wayne’s movies were good at this. Since the Duke won the West for us, it was a pretty sure bet that he could win World War II, and he would do it the hard way. On a Hollywood sound stage. After seeing “Sands of Iwo Jima”, “The Longest Day” and “The Fighting Seabees”, it became ever so obvious the Duke did a darn good job too. After all, he was the Fighting Kentuckian at the Alamo. Unfortunately, for the Duke, his contribution to the Vietnam War (“The Green Berets”) left a lot to be desired. It seemed to be that Old Duke Wayne no longer had the cojones to do the job. Maybe it was time for Rambo and John McClane to step up to the plate.

This attitude about war as the best way to solve international disputes began to erode as men returned from combat. We began to realize the real mantra for grunts on the ground in combat was: “I just want to get back home.”

One of the few movies about the toll war plays on a soldier’s psyche was “The Best Years of Our Lives”. “Best Years” is William Wyler’s great film about combat veterans returning to civilian life at the end of World War II. It chronicles the difficulty many, if not all, had re-adjusting to civilian life. It takes the viewer by the hand and gives an up-close-and-personal view of the psychological trauma these men carried with them after leaving combat. And the impact that return had on their loved ones.

The movie was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won seven, including Best Picture. One of the standouts in the movie was Harold Russell as Petty Officer 2nd Class Homer Parrish. He was one of two non-professional actors to win Academy Awards. The other was Haing S. Ngor for “The Killing Fields”. In addition to this, Russell had lost both hands in a training accident during the war.

The amazing thing is that the film was made at all. By the late forties and early fifties, Americans began to see World War II mythologically. There was little room for doubt in the mind of the public that World War II was the Great Crusade against Evil and that those who went into combat were heroes who stood tall. American society totally ignored the wounds war stamped upon its citizen soldiers. It took the War in Vietnam for our doubts to begin to surface. With films like “The Hurt Locker” and “American Sniper”, America is finally waking us up to the realities of the psychological damage war leaves on its participants. And makes us realize that war has no real victors.

When soldiers return home from combat the wounds are not always visible. For some, it takes years for those scars to show. And they always show one way or another.

On this day when we honor our veterans, the best thanks we can give those who went in harm’s way for us is to try not making war anymore. Instead of puffing out our chests with our “kick butt” attitude, our words of gratitude would be so much more meaningful if we embraced John Lennon’s sentiment when he sang “Give Peace a Chance”. Just think how much better our world would be if we poured half the effort and the resources into peace that we pour into war. Perhaps. Just perhaps. Anyway I would like to think so.

Sarah and the Lighthouse Keeper

Usually, on Wednesdays, I post a piece of my ongoing conversation with “Hamlet”. But this Wednesday is a little different. Today is Veteran’s Day, I thought I would post a short story I wrote several years ago and never published. It is longer than my other posts and I beg the reader’s patience. I hope it is a story you will find particularly timely for today.

“Where’s your nose, Grandpa?” Sarah asked. It was a mid-April afternoon, 1963—a time when most Americans wanted to know what they could do for their country, not what their country could do for them. Sarah, six-year-old, blonde-haired, brown-eyed Sarah, sat on her grandfather’s lap. She ran her fingers across his face, stopping at the open cavity just above his mouth.

The man in his sixties with eyes so blue his granddaughter thought they were made from the Florida sky outside, her grandfather, Henry, gazed into her smile and smiled back. He worked her question over in his mind the way he did the music he played on his violin to get the best sound possible. Just like his wife, Rose, had taught him.

“I don’t have a nose,” he said. Though he had lived in the United States since 1920, he retained a bit of the Southampton accent he had grown up with in England. “I’m a gargoyle.”

“A gargoyle?” Sarah asked as she rubbed the light whiskery growth on his chin. Then she played with the lighthouse keeper ring on his right hand, stroking it as if it were magic and had a genie inside.

“Yes. A gargoyle.”

She had seen gargoyles in a picture book of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. They were gray, ugly things, their heads sticking out of the side of the church’s roof, and they had horns. Her grandfather was no gray, ugly thing, and he did not have horns, not even small ones. She knew. She had felt the top of his head.

“Oh,” he said, “I’m not that kind of a gargoyle. I’m a Gargoyle with a capital G.”

Sarah snuggled against him. Henry felt the question unresolved in her body. How could he tell her, he wondered.

How could he tell her of the places he had tried to block from his memory, places like Armentières, the Somme, Passchendaele where the shrapnel smashed into his face, leaving him without a nose and marked with the name of Gargoyle? How could he tell her of the mustard gas, the fleas, the lice, the God-awful stench from the excrement and the piss and the death filling the trenches day after endless day, of the rains and the wet socks and the slogging through the muck up to his knees, of the shit the British Expeditionary Force called rations, the faulty equipment like the bolt-action rifle he had been issued that had misfired and shot off his toe, and the lampoon of a lieutenant—Little Fuzzy Butt they nicknamed him—he and his buddies endured after a sniper’s bullet killed off their popular Captain Percival Montford? How could he tell her about the guts of his best friend splattered all over him like vomit when Albie was sprayed with machine gun fire, about the horror on the face of the German he bayoneted again and again out of revenge, about the boredom, the terrible terrible boredom that often went on for weeks and drove him nearly mad before the adrenalin rush of the charge over the top and into a no-man’s land? How could he tell her about the shelling, the constant noise of the artillery barrages booming around him during the battles? How could he tell her of the loss of over half of his fellow Southie townsmen, stupidly thrown into hopeless battle after hopeless battle and ground up like hamburger? How could he tell his granddaughter that, forty-some-odd years later, those visions, those sounds, those smells of the Hell-to-End-all-Hells were still with him?

Sarah hugged his thin body, her small arms almost reaching around him. “I understand,” she said.

“You understand?”

“Yes.” She released him from her hug, then slid off his lap and onto the floor.

“You don’t want to talk about it. When you do, Grandpa, you can tell me. I can keep a secret.” She winked and ran giggling into the next room to play with her four-year-old brother, William.

“Dad,” Henry’s daughter said as she brought a tray of biscuits and hot tea into the living room. The tall, slender woman, his only child, carried it over to the coffee table and set it down.

He looked over at Alice as she sat down. There was loss in the eyes of both father and daughter. A deep loss. Henry’s wife, Alice’s mother, Sarah’s grandmother, Rose had died from cancer seven years earlier. Three years after that, Alice’s husband, archaeologist Jack Waverly, was killed in an airplane crash as he flew over the Madidi in Bolivia.
Henry pulled his weather-beaten body out of his armchair, moved over to the couch, and sat down next to Alice. He picked up a biscuit and started on it. Though he had no sense of smell and could barely taste it, he enjoyed its crunchiness in his mouth.

He finished his biscuit and said, “Only your mother could make better biscuits than these.” He poured himself a cup of tea, dropped two lumps of sugar and a slice of lemon into it, and stirred. He raised the hot tea to his lips. Pleasure from teas-gone-by appeared on his face for the several seconds he sipped. Then he set the cup back on the tray.

“Dad?” she said a second time and wiped a crumb off his chin with her napkin.

“You know I can’t stay.” He reached for her hand to reassure her. He would be all right back at his house on the beach close to two hundred miles away, living alone in the white house Rose inherited from her father. “I’m not an invalid. I can take care of myself.”

Alice pulled her hand free. She poured herself a cup of tea.

“It’s not that, Dad. I’m sure you can. But I want you to stay here. With us.”

Henry studied his daughter as she sipped her tea. She had her mother’s features—blonde hair, brown eyes, a long face, a dimple on her chin. But there was something different about her as well. Somehow, when Rose first saw her, his wife knew what that difference was. She knew what a wandering soul her child would be. Alice was the only name they could think of for a girl whom they knew would seek out dark and dangerous places.
Alice had lived up to her name. She was so curious about nearly everything that her friends called her Wonderland. And she was fearless with her curiosity, afraid of nothing. Not even of the rattlesnake she trapped when she was eight.

“She’s such an independent,” Rose often said. As a teenager, their daughter went off exploring and stayed away for weeks, sometimes months at a time. She traveled to faraway places like Teotihuacán, the Amazon, Machu Picchu, Morocco and the Nile. The one place she regretted missing was Antarctica. She swore she would get there eventually. Her mother called this wanderlust of hers a search for enlightenment; Henry called it going into the heart of darkness.

Alice became an expert in primitive architecture and building in extreme conditions. While working on her doctorates in anthropology and architecture, she met Jack in Peru and married him. Then came Sarah and William. It looked like the Antarctic would have to wait, at least, until their kids were grown. Then there was Jack’s death and no more talk of Antarctica. It seemed to Henry that the passing of her mother and her husband had wrung the glory out of her, leaving her with only responsibility. Since then, she had turned into her mother, someone Henry had once overheard her say she would never become.

“I’ve been here two weeks,” he said as Alice finished her tea. He could not understand how she drank it without sugar or lemon or milk. It was such a strong tea she made, and quite bitter. “That was a week longer than I intended. It’s time you drove me home.”

It wasn’t just the solitude he missed. It was the beach within walking distance from his house and the shells scattered along the seashore and the cool, wet sand between his toes and the salt in the air against his skin. It was the giant sea turtles, coming ashore in the spring and laying their eggs. It was the ocean and its great loneliness. Late at night, he loved standing on the shore, watching the horizon swallow up ships.

Then there were the nights he spent with his telescope, waiting patiently for the moon and the planets to cross the sky. Sitting there in his backyard, he studied the constellations, their seasons and their paths mapped out in his library of charts, birthday and Christmas gifts from his wife. Most of all, he was homesick for the refuge Rose had spent years readying for the two of them while they waited on his retirement. Now he was retired.Now she was dead.

Alice surprised him with her next words, a question. “You recall Mom’s favorite proverb?” Then she turned her head toward the next room. “Oh, no. Sarah, William.” She jumped up. “When they’re this quiet, those two are up to something.” She hurried into the family den where her two children liked to romp and play and tumble on the huge teddy bear Henry had purchased by mail order the previous Christmas.

While he waited on Alice, he crunched on another biscuit and finished his tea. A cup of tea and a biscuit always helped him think about things, especially particularly difficult things. He might not settle on what course of action to take, but he felt comforted just the same.
Alice interrupted his thoughts as she returned to her seat beside him on the sofa.

“Those little hedgehogs,” she said. “They’ve fallen asleep and they’re in the Never Never. Anyway,” she said, “where was I?”

“Your mother’s favorite proverb.”

“Oh, yes. I believe it was: ‘The stars are dripping down upon us one by one and, along with them, a little of the moon.’”

“I’ve been having these dreams for the last three nights. Mom keeps appearing to me and that’s what she’s saying. It’s like a premonition, you know. Like the one I had just before Jack died. Something nasty’s about to happen if you go back. I can feel it. So we’ll bring your things down here and you’ll live with us. We’ll do it this weekend.”

Henry broke out in a cold sweat. A panic rose in his chest until it was ready to explode like a volcano. If he moved in with his daughter and her children, Alice would come to depend on him. He would be the one to see that Sarah made it to her first grade class, to make sure William got to his doctor’s appointments and went to kindergarten, to plan parties for the kids, to chaperone them. He might even have to go out shopping. He knew this would free up Alice’s time to provide for her family and allow her to pursue her career, teaching anthropology, doing research and fieldwork, giving papers at conferences. But he would not be able to hide his deformity of a face away from the strangers and their gawking. He had been through it all before and it scared him. A long time ago, he promised himself he would never go through that again.

After the war, and before he emigrated to the United States, he had thought about plastic surgery. That was much too painful in those early post-World War I years. He tried on false noses. They gave him a rash. For a while, he wore a mask but that called way too much attention to his face. The solution he settled on was to keep away from a gaping public, to be seen only by those who accepted his wound without prejudice. Like Rose. From the first moment they met, she intuitively understood his fear and she had protected him. Until her death.

He wiped the cool sweat from his forehead, then choked back the panic and the dread, and shook his head no.

“No need to worry about me,” he said.

“It’s not just that. I really need you here to help with the kids.”

“Why not get a nanny?”

“I’ve tried several,” she said. “They just don’t work out. It’s very frustrating.”

“What do your friends do?”

“They’re either married, or they have family. Dad, you’re the only family I have.” She knew some of what he was going through. But her nightmares gave her no other choice. Henry had to come to live with her. Her intuition had saved her skin too many times for her to ignore it.

“God knows how much I’d loved to come and live with you and the grandchildren, Alice. But I can’t. I need to be alone. That’s the way I am. That’s why I was…am a lighthouse keeper. Because of the solitude. I just need to be alone…” and left alone, which was what he really meant. It was the first time Henry had ever voiced to her anything remotely close to his fears about his face, fears he first felt when he arrived in the hospital from the trenches and saw how some of the nurses reacted to him.

Alice bit her lip, then said, “You mean you won’t live with us. But you’d love it here, Dad. You know you would. You know how Sarah dotes over her grandfather. And William too.”

“No, I can’t stay,” Henry repeated himself and turned away from Alice. Almost as an afterthought, he reached over and picked up the large book, American Lighthouses, off the coffee table. His wife and his daughter had produced the volume of photographs and commentary fifteen years before. Rose wrote the words. Alice provided the pictures.

“Please, Dad.” There was a desperation in Alice’s voice.

How could he refuse her? How could he refuse her anything? This was his daughter asking, pleading, almost begging. From his very first glimpse of her at her birth, he had been deeply moved. What an amazing thing. This tiny being was his child. As he lay depressed in his parents’ apartment after the war, he could never have believed he could be so happy. Now here he was refusing her. He…felt…awful.

A postcard slipped out of the book Henry held on his lap. He set the book down on the couch, reached to the floor, and picked up the card. It had a sketch of the Taj Mahal on one side. It was from his friend, George Drake, who left the trenches and went off to a low-level bureaucratic job in India to help run the Empire for King and Country.

George’s scrawl across the back of the card spoke of the loss of another of his trenchmates. Good Old Philip Carrick was no longer Good Old Philip. He hanged himself while on duty with the Botanical Society at the Darjeeling Hill Station in northern India. Philip simply could not rid himself of the nightmares from the war, the note said. He finally did himself in, another casualty of the Great War.

Henry thought, “How had that card gotten there?” He had last seen it the afternoon he met Rose. That February day had been a particularly hard day of work at Light Station. He had just completed his duties for the day, readying the lens for the night ahead, winding up the cables that powered the rotating mechanism of the lens, and making necessary repairs. It was time for his daily tea break.

He sat in the watch room of the tower with his tea and listened to the caw of the sea gulls outside. His dog, Basset, rested against his leg while he read the postcard for what must have been the fiftieth time. He dropped it on the table and ate a final biscuit. Then he tucked his violin under his chin and ran the bow across the strings several times.

“My God, stop that,” a voice came from behind him.

He stopped and half-turned to see a seventeen year-old Rose, her blonde hair bobbed and under a red cloche. She stood at the top of the granite stairs. She walked over to him. He turned away from her to hide his face as she took the violin out of his hands.

“How can you be so sacrilegious, punishing the world with your lack of musical ability.” It was not a question. It was a statement.

Henry was dumbfounded. He had done all the things the books on violin playing said to do.

“I was just thinking about my friends, George and Philip,” he said. In his amazement at her criticism, he forgot the deep gash on his face. He turned and stared at her incredulously. Basset looked incredulously at her too. Some watch pooch he turned out to be. Henry remembered his face and lowering it into hiding again as he leaned down and scratched the hound’s ear. The girl knelt and patted the dog’s head. Then she offered him her hand. He hesitated, then showed her his face. He was surprised that she didn’t seem to be horrified.

“I’m Rose Hastings,” she said as they stood up and shook hands.

“Henry Todd,” he said and smiled. “I’m the keeper here. And not a very good violinist, I guess.”

“I deliver your groceries on my bicycle. I left them in the keeper’s house next door. My dad owns the general store.”

She slipped the violin under her chin and played. He pulled his chair around to halfway face her. Then he sat down and listened.

Who was this creature who had just plopped down into his lighthouse and was not repulsed by his disfigurement? he asked himself.

She finished the composition and handed the violin to him.

“Wasn’t that a Bach?” he asked, turning away from her.

“Johann Sebastian himself,” she said. She seemed pleased that he had recognized the composer. “His Violin Sonata No. 4 in C minor. One of my favorites.”

He offered her tea, but she gave him, “Can’t stay. Got to get back. Why don’t I come out tomorrow earlier in the afternoon and give you a music lesson? Say, around three. I think you can use it. Otherwise you’re going to push your violin to suicide.”

He nodded a yes. She uttered a “see you” to his back and skipped down the stairwell two stairs at a time, humming a tune he thought might be “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.”

Over the next few weeks, her “see you” turned into a daily activity of violin lessons and beach walks and lighthouse painting and Henry began to feel comfortable around her. He liked her and so did Basset, and soon they were engaged. She turned eighteen, and they were married. It was a private ceremony with only her father and a minister present. Her mother had died when she was born. She moved into his cottage next door to the lighthouse tower. There they lived together for thirty-three years.

Henry stared at the postcard again. My God, how he missed Rose.

“Dad,” Alice pleaded. “Look at me please.”

“I can’t stay,” Henry said, turning back towards his only child.

At just that moment, Sarah came into the room, rubbing her eyes awake. She climbed onto her grandfather’s lap. She had white confetti in her hair. It looked like Rose’s long, curly hair after she had let it grow.

“Haven’t I told you, Sarah Roselyn Waverly to keep out of the confetti? We only bring it out for special occasions, and this is no special occasion.”

“But it is, Mommy.”

“What occasion is it, dear?” Alice asked.

“Grandpa’s here.” Sarah hugged her grandfather and whispered in his ear, “I love you, Grandpa.” She relaxed on his lap. “I had a bad dream,” she said.

“A bad dream?” Henry asked.

“I dreamed that you had a nose,” Sarah said, gazing up into his eyes. “I didn’t like it. I like you just the way you are. You’re my Grandpa Gargoyle, and I love you.”

Henry stared into his granddaughter’s eyes and Rose’s eyes smiled back at him.

Hamlet: Sounds like a plan

How may we try it further? (Hamlet Act 1 Scene 2.)

Act 2 Scene 2 (continued). Still in the throne room with Claudius and Gertrude.

Polonius enters. “The ambassadors are back from Norway, sir.”

Claude: “Cool. You are bringing good news.”

Poly: “Only doing my job, Boss. And I think I know what is driving the Prince crazy.”

So what is Claude interested in? He doesn’t want to know what is going on with his relations with a country that might go to war with him. No, he is more concerned with Hamlet, his nephew. Indeed there must be something rotten in Denmark. (I know. We already know that. But I thought it was a good thing to remind us just in case we forgot.)

Claude: “Well, well, tell me.”

Poly is all business. “First things first. Norway and the ambassadors. Then my news.”

Claude: “You do know that I am about to piss my pants waiting to find out your Hamlet news? I’ve waited this long. I guess a little longer won’t matter. But don’t keep me waiting. Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way.”

Poly: “Think of my news as dessert.”

Claude: “Then show the ambassadors in. And make it quicksky.”

Poly goes to fetch like the dog he is.

Claude (turning to Gertie) “Gertrude, he says he’s found out the reason for your son’s insanity.”

Amazing. Talk about talking past each other. Gertie has been sitting beside Claude. Is she hard of hearing? If not, why does Claude have to tell her something she already knows. That Poly is about to share why Hamlet has gone off his rocker. I’m afraid Claude has been in the medicine cabinet a little early. Even if Gertie was deaf, I am pretty sure she could have read lips. She’s a smart cookie. And nobody’s trophy wife.

Gertie (states the obvious): “I doubt it’s anything but the obvious reason: his father’s dying and our quick marriage.”

Claude (hiccup): “Maybe yes, maybe no.”

The ambassadors bring good news. Fortinbras Jr. has been chastised. He has been promised Poland if Claude will let him pass through Denmark. That’s okee dokee with Claude. Thing is nobody has asked Poland. Nobody ever asks Poland. Napoleon didn’t ask Poland. The Tsar didn’t ask Poland. Hitler didn’t ask Poland. Stalin didn’t ask Poland. But guess what? God asked Poland and Poland gave Him a pope. It didn’t make up for Napoleon, the Tsar, Stalin and Hitler, but it helped.

The news is good news. It’s good news for Gertie. Claude off at war. She would miss her regular Friday night frolics in the hay. She loved those Friday night frolics.

It is good news for Claude. He doesn’t have to prove that he knows how to ride a horse. He does not have to prove that he can ride into battle and chop off heads like his brother. He always hated that. It got blood all over his royal duds.

It is good news for Poly. He has grown in the king’s estimation.

It is really good news for the peasants. The peasants really hate war. Their taxes wouldn’t go up to pay for a war. It causes such havoc with the family budget. The men wouldn’t be drafted. It means that the womenfolk have to double up on the work since the men are out getting themselves killed. It also means that the peasant men have to miss their Saturday nights down at the pub, doing what they always do. Pubbing.

It’s a win-win-win for everybody.

The ambassadors leave.

Poly: “Your Magnanimousness and Your Majesty, I just want to butter you up and flatter you a little. You both know I would kiss your hineys from here to God knows where if you asked. You are that good of sovereigns. I mean, Your Magnanimousness, you are Julius Caesar, Charlemagne and Queen Elizabeth all rolled into one. The sun rises and the sun sets at your command.”

The rulers smile down upon Poly. They know he’s right and it’s nice to hear someone acknowledge it.

Poly: “That Hamlet is nuts. Crazy. Off his rocker.”

Gertie: “What do you mean?”

Poly: “I have a letter here that he wrote to my dear daughter, Ophelia.”

He hands the queen Hamlet’s letter. She reads it, then Claude reads it.

Poly: “He called her beautified. Can you believe that?”

Gertie gives him a what’s-wrong-with-that-and-you’d-better-have-a-good-answer look.

Poly continues: “Hamlet is a prince. He is not eligible to marry a commoner like Ophelia. It is a matter of state as to whom he shall marry.” (Did you notice Poly used “whom”, the correct grammarical word. The author of this piece is responsible for that. I hate to brag but aren’t you proud of me?)

Gertie shakes her head, agreeing with Poly.

Poly (thinking phew. That was a close call):”I urged her to end her relationship with the prince. So now he is crazy with love for my daughter. That is the reason he is acting so very strange. And I grieve for him.”

Claude (hoping against hope that Poly is right): “Is there a way to prove this?”

Poly: “I can suggest to Ophelia that she speak to the prince on one of his walks. We can spy on him while they talk.”

Claude and Gertie look at each other.

Claude: “Sounds like a plan.”

Poly: “I think I hear him coming. Let me talk to him. I will worm things out of him even if it kills me.”

The two royals leave. Poly calls to Hamlet walking toward him. Hamlet has a book in his hand.

Young Fortinbras

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

Thus much the business is: we have here writ
To Norway, uncle of young Fortinbras—
Who, impotent and bedrid, scarcely hears
Of this his nephew’s purpose—to suppress
His further gait herein, in that the levies,
The lists, and full proportions are all made
Out of his subject; and we here dispatch
You, good Cornelius, and you, Voltemand.
Hamlet Act 1. Scene2.

Act 1. Scene 2 (Continued). Claudius is not happy. I know he was happy a Wednesday ago. Guess a king has the right to change his mind. He is king, and that is one of the kingly prerogatives.

Young Fortinbras, nephew to the king of Norway and son of the former king, is on the warpath. He’s got an itch. He’s got it bad. Besides, he has something to prove. To show he can kick some butt. That is one way for Forte to prove he would make a terrific king.

This is the Middle Ages. Everybody is Middle Age crazy in those days. Warrior kings are considered saints. Don’t think so. Just look at St. Charlemagne, St. Louis (not the town but the king), St. Edward the Confessor and St. Alfred the Great. I can hear Tony the Tiger saying, “Heeez GRRREEET.”

Anyway, Claudius calls in his Ambassadors to Norway, Cornelius and Voltimand. No, that is not He-who-must-not-be named. The two bow and kowtow before His Magnanimousness.

Claudius sings a pickin’ and grinnin’ song:
Oh, Cornelius. Oh, Voltemand,
To Norway We’re sendin’ you.
Tell that king and tell him well
He’ll be in a lot of screw-you
If he don’t tell Young Fortinbras
Not to get his panties in a wad.
He’s a huffin’ and a puffin’
Like he’s some young almighty god.

There’s a new sheriff in town.
We’re the Baddest Wolf around.
If he don’t let things be
We will blow his house down.

Think our brother was really bad?.
We’re three times worse than he was.
Wherever We ride, the snow melts.
When We decide to show our claws
Goliath would run away scared.
You Philistines ain’t got a chance
We’ll melt Norway and take her down
And make you Norwegians dance

Well, Judgment day is a-comin’
Our wrath like a volcano blow
Our patience is a runnin’ out
Soon We’ll be sending Norway low
But We are a generous man
Fortinbras can stretch his muscles
On the Germans and the Cassocks
And make the Poles his vassals

Voltemand and Cornelius say a quick, “Yes, Your Magnanimousness.”

Claudius responds, “And don’t you forget it.”