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Even Purple Hearts Bienvenido N.

Santos As Carlos Anson turned away from the blonde girl to whom he had relinquished his hat and caot, the inner door of Bills Restaurant swung open noiselessly and a man in uniform ushered him in with a smile. Please, said Carlos Anson to the man. May I have a seat with a view of the dome of the Capitol? Watching the waiters face, lined with age and worry, the head tilted a little in pained repose as though to give the mind time enough to allow the meaning of the words to sink in, it occurred to Carlos that he should not have made the request at all. This way sir, the waiter said, bowing low. Carlos nodded gratefully and followed the man though the intricate rows of tables occupied by mid-way customers who looked up casually as he passed, all of them noting for certain the dark brown of his skin, and sme of them noticing, perhaps, his limp. He had never been able to get over his self-consciousness about that limp. It was better when he had to use crutches. There was no straining of braces against tender skin, only discomfort which was not difficult to get used to. But one does not get resigned to pain. Trying to walk normally was an effort. The braces bit into his flesh. Now he made no attempt at all to hide his limp. Let them stare. He was not the only casualty in Washington. That table over there, sir, would be just right, the waiter said as soon as Carlos had caught up with him. He was pointing to a table near the window that looked across

a park where the snow lay heavy. Beyond, through leafless trees, the dome of the Capitol gleamed white under a wintry sky. Fine, said Carlos, and thanks, as he took the chair the man had pulled out. He saw a pair of black gloves on a folded newspaper on the table across from where he sat. Im afraid, he hold the waiter, this table is occupied. I dont think the lady would mind, said the waiter. Carlos understood it to mean how it was in Washington these days especially during the noon hour. He looked at the deserted park, white with snow. At noon in summer and spring, even in autumn, the parks would be full of men and women, most of them colored folk, eating sandwiches and drinking milk or hot coffee in Dixie cups, bought hurriedly from the colored section of drug stores. Now in winter they would be hurrying with their paper bags through the cold streets back to the basements and the rest rooms where they are among themselves, in noisy groups, laughing, cursing or singing. The waiter was asking, Your order, sir? Oh, yes,, he said and gave it. Then the young girl came and took her seat. Carlos stood up. Sit down, sir, she said. Thank you, said Carlos, noticing the pinkness of her cheeks, and the unusual knot at the back of her hair. She was brunette and wore her hair like some of the nice girls he knew back in the Philippines. The waiter assured me you wouldnt mind, he said.

Oh, no, not at all, she said, her cheeks turning a deep pink as though embarrassed. Yet she was looking at him quite openly, her eyes sparkling and frank; they had nothing to hide. Carlos felt he knew what she was trying to decide. He smiled at her. Filipino, he said. From the Philippines. The girl laughed.How did you guess what I wanted to know? she asked. The question was clear. I read it in your face, Carlos explained. The chilled fruit juice came. For both of them. Have you been here long? You mean in Washington? Yes. Less than a year, including the months at Walter Reefs. Oh, said the girl, her eyes seeking the bit of purple on the lapel of his blue jacket. Yes, maam, he said. Im a casualty, Lingayen Beach, Philippines. His explanation, given without heroics or sentiment, seemed somehow to have affected the young girl. There was not much of a sparkle in her eyes now, as though the lights in a room had been dimmed or the street lamps that brightened some ladys chamber had suddenly gone out.

Oh, Im all right, Carlos said. I got rid of my crutches a month ago. Thank God, said the girl. Before the coffee came, Carlos had introduced himself and learned that her name was Grace. Grace Haworth. She worked at the Longfellow Building. No, she was not a native of Washington, nobody seemed to be. She came from Illinois, Cairo, Illinois. She had two years at the University in Urbana. It was a straightforward story Carlos told, and he related it as objectively as one who has repeated it often could, the fight on the bay, the Japanese fire, the sudden attack and the slow dying on the beach until help came. The trip on a Red Cross boat, blacked out all the way through enemy-infested waters one of the guys went nuts and jumped overboard the army hospital in Australia, then San Francisco, and now Washington. Temperature, ten below. She said nothing for sometime. It was not a good silence. It did things. For him it let out thoughts on a rampage over areas that had been marked off-limits a long time ago. You find the country cold? she asked, then hastened to correct herself. I mean, you dont like the winters here?? I love the snow, he said, and I love the sight of that dome beyond the park. Two years ago, it meant nothing to me, not much more than a postcard picture. Now it means quite a lot. Many things mean different to me now. Oh, Im sorry, she said, fumbling for he handkerchief. I really didnt mean to, But. Please go on. Tell me more. I. I love the way you say things. You flatter me, maam.

Honest its fascinating. Tell me about yourself. She ignored him. Have you heard from home? she asked. Lord, no! How can I? Besides, its possible that back home, Ive been counted among the missing and the dead. How terrible, she said. Could be worse. But I guess I have luckier than most. I know others. Lets get out of here! said the girl, panic in her voice. Outsider under the dark skies the two walked hand in hand in the snow as though their meeting were inevitable sequel to that slow dying on the beach and the many deaths thereafter in hospital rooms and lovely corners. She was telling him, We were going to get married. He was in his senior year in the University, but things started happening so fast after Pearl Harbor, you know. Suddenly he was gone. Had a couple of letters from him. Then his folks got the telegram. He pressed her hand in understanding. Carlos Anson had been too much alone. He had often questioned the justice of surviving a fate such as with sudden death perhaps a happier ending than death in many places, fresh wounds on the flesh, and lacerations in the spirit that were harder to bear than the wounds of the body and its crippling needs.

But now here was someone he could turn to when the need for talk and touch was great, someone who understood, like Grace. They met frequently and he introduced her to his own circle of Filipino expatriates. With her, he had even tried, with some success, though painful at first, to dance to slow sweet music. How am I doing? he would whisper in her ears as he held her close in his arms. Not bad at all, she would reply, brushing his cheeks with her lips and snuggling closer in his embrace. There were times before Grace came into his life when he would wake up in the morning, little caring what the day brought. There was no numbness, just a great indifference. Oh, yes, there had been solicitous souls, kind men and women, strangers all, who had visited him and given him presents and asked him questions and talked to him in gentleness, but there was nothing personal about it; it was wholesale, almost professional as stereotyped and cold as a letter that begins with To whom it may concern. There had been occasions for bitterness. He remembered these much longer than the warm handclasps and the well-meaning smiles. The times he struggled painfully through the streets of Washington.

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