There was a chill in the air as I approached the bus stop, but the sun was trying to break through the clouds.
Two other people waited for the bus, and as I drew near I recognized Mrs. Braun and eight-year old Peter.
"Mary Kay!" she exclaimed and kissed my cheek. "When did you get home?"
"And you're going into town so soon?"
"Well," I said, "I haven't done my Christmas shopping yet. How about you? I'd have thought you'd be finished by now."
"I was, but Karen is bringing her fiance home for Christmas, and we need something for him under the tree."
"Karen's engaged? That's wonderful! When are they getting married?'
"Not until she finishes college, in a year and a half."
"How's the rest of the family?" I asked.
"Matt's working too hard, same as always. Andrew's a senior now. He just found out he's got a football scholarship to State for next year."
"Oh, I'm so happy for him."
There was an uncomfortable silence for a minute or two. I waited in case she would offer information, but she just stared at her shoes. Finally I went for it.
"He's stationed in Saigon."
The bus came.
Peter had a comic book to read, so Mrs. Braun and I sat together. She hadn't changed much in the past couple of years, a little grayer, a little plumper.
"How long has he been in Saigon?" I asked.
"Three months." Her voice trembled.
"It'll be okay," I said. "He'll be okay. I hear Saigon's pretty safe. At least he's not out in the jungle somewhere."
"I know. It's just . . ."
"I know," I said, squeezing her hand.
She changed the subject. "So how do you like living in Washington?"
"Oh, it's great. Except for the hours. I start at 7:15, so I have to be out the door by six. It takes me two buses to get there."
"Do you have time to see the sights?" she asked.
"Oh, yeah. I go to the Smithsonian almost every
"Have you ever been on one of those embassy tours? I'd love to do that."
I shook my head. "No, I'm not allowed . . ." Then I stopped myself.
She whispered, "Because you work for an intelligence agency?"
The bus wound through the village and onto the road along the lake. I thought that missing an embassy tour was the least of my sacrifices. What really rankled me was having to sit back and watch the anti-war demonstrations and not be able to take part in them. But we were cautioned on a regular basis that we were not to be seen anywhere near the demonstrations, not if we wanted to keep our jobs.
I thought, I hate this war! What are we doing
The nightly news regularly gave the body counts,
the other side's always much bigger than ours, of
course. Thousands, tens of thousands. Numbers. But
now not just numbers. Faces. My brother's best friend
Mark had been killed in June. I didn't know if my
brother would ever get over it. He vacillated between
wanting to go and kill 'em all and wanting to escape to
Canada. If the war went on much longer, he might not
have the choice.
Mrs. Braun interrupted my thoughts. "Are you
happy, Mary Kay?"
"Sure, I love Washington."
"What I mean is . . . oh, never mind. I forgot what
I was going to ask."
But she hadn't forgotten. She just didn't know how
to ask if I were still in love with her son.
(from "All I Ever Wanted", the 1967 story in Mary Christmas)