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.She gagged, reaching into her mouth with her fingers, and then finally threw it up.When she picked up the shiny clot from the dirt to try to eat it again, he told her there was food where he was going.Other children, too.It was an orphanage, in fact, ten kilometers ahead.He had risen and stepped up onto the embanked road, his rucksack hitched over his shoulder.She could come with him if she liked.She waited until he was well down the road, a full fifty meters ahead of her, before she began to trail him.She was chewing the gum again, now gristly with dirt.He turned and saw that she was following him and beckoned her forward with a wave as he walked slowly in reverse.She slowed as well to keep her distance, stopping when he stopped.He shook his head and resumed his march.But then a sudden swirling wind kicked up dust into the dry, hot air, swathing him in an obscuring cloud, and for a moment her heart skipped wildly with the fear that he was gone.Or wholly imaginary.But the dust cleared and his form became visible again, and she quickened her stride to follow him.THREEWAR IS A STERN TEACHER, his father would sometimes say to him, quoting Thucydides, the sodden, light-boned man slung over Hector’s shoulder in their typical end-of-Friday-night lurch.Hector always helped him limp home from the workingman’s pub in their town of Ilion, New York, the normally sweet Jackie Brennan having drunk too much and turned a late night bitter-sour.Hector, fifteen years old in 1945, was still as sober as a ghost, despite having drunk a half-dozen grown men into stammering idiots, sleepers on the barroom sawdust.“What did I say?”Hector would repeat it, flatly and dryly.“Good.Never go to war, son.Please never do.”By the end of those evenings, with his father loaded up on the rye he had won on bets taken against Hector in drinking bouts, he would have to gird him all the way home, his father’s breath earthy and spiced with the cheroots he smoked all night and the pickled pearl onions he popped like almonds, both of which he swore counteracted the liquor.His father might sing a protest ballad like “The Dying Rebel,” but on particularly long nights he grew sweaty and pain-faced and had to stop a couple times to retch into the gutter or the thickets of some Remington Arms Company manager’s manicured boxwood hedge, and then in mumbles berate Hector for his “righteous silence,” or for the “boyish piety” of his soberness.But by the time their footfalls played on the sagging plank steps of the Brennan family porch, the boy bearing most of his father’s weight, he would sometimes say his son’s name aloud, over and over, in a kind of monkish ecstasy: Hector, my Hector.And then, if consciousness still graced him after Hector let him fall upon the parlor room sofa, he would look up and ask if he wished to hear again why he’d named him so, to call him thus instead of, say, Achilles, a more glorious appellation?“Okay, Da, tell me.”“Because a man wants a son for a son, and has no use for a champion.”After reading the epic in school, Hector pointed out to him that his namesake was killed, his city doomed to ruin, his father eventually slaughtered as well.“No matter, boy,” his father told him.“They tell us stories not to live by but to change.Make our own.Look at you.You’ll live forever, anyone with eyes can see that.Just never go to war.”Jackie Brennan, of course, could never go to war; unlike Hector, he was a wisp of a man, and had a right foot turned permanently sideways at birth, his right hand unnaturally angled as well, while smallish and stunted besides, like that of a tiny, elderly woman.But he was cleverer than most, and had he been born to a family of greater means and aspiration he might have been a state’s attorney or college professor, as he was well spoken and quick and had firm notions (for better or worse) of what people should hear.When World War II broke out and legions of Ilion’s sons signed up, his was one of the few mutterings of skepticism, if not dissent, though at first Jackie mostly kept his feelings about the war to himself, or else lectured to his weary-eared wife and daughters, and to Hector, who in fact didn’t mind listening to him make his roundabout arguments in his bright, resonant baritone.He loved him, but unlike most other boys whose love for their fathers was predicated on fear and misplaced idolatry, his was as for a favorite uncle, if deeper, a love that recognized the man’s foibles and numerous failings and saw them as distinctive rather than sorry and pathetic.But there was a limit to that view, and it came at the pub; after Jackie Brennan got his belly wash of beer and whiskey he grew overly voluble, his voice taking on a higher, more insistent pitch.The war was ever weighing on his spirits.In the pub, he might warmly address a group of young men in uniform, after not paying them any attention all night: “Permit me to buy you fellas another round of drafts, that I might hold up my head and know I did my part!”The servicemen would raucously accept and make room for him while the regulars miserably eyed one another and Hector, wise to what would happen next.Hector would sit on the periphery until his father cajoled him to come in the circle when the mugs of beer went round, with Jackie serially playing prosperous gentleman, the boastful older brother, and, finally, the knowing comrade in arms.But he had other agendas.“It’s thirst-making work, defending our land.The noblest calling.”“You got that, mister!”It was at this point that Hector would tug on his father’s sleeve, though to no avail.“But what I wish, my good lads, is that we’d do just that, instead of getting involved in every minor dispute on the far side of the planet.”“You calling Pearl Harbor a minor dispute?” one of the servicemen replied.“Last I checked, it was a dirty ambush by those rat Japs, where a couple thousand of our guys got it.”“Rat Japs indeed!” Jackie Brennan would cry.“But what conditions were in fact at play behind that horrid carnage?” his father would intone pedantically.At this point his father was already in the bag, but an audience of newcomers always inspired him, recasting his view of himself as a hardworking factory man into that of thinker, of wise man, someone whose main purpose was to bear light and truth to others, like the revered teacher he’d pictured himself becoming when he was young, before he’d entered the factory like everybody else.“Precious few of us bother to look at the bigger picture.Did the Japanese intend to conquer us? Do they still? I very much doubt it.Look at our capacity for producing arms, right here in our small town, and then multiply that by thousands.They know they can’t compete with us over the long run.So they attempt a single, stunning blow, to dissuade us from meddling further in their affairs.The scorpion and the lion.Pearl Harbor was about protecting their interests, in their part of the world, in their sphere of influence, and if we had sent them the appropriate signals beforehand, all those sailors—and now scores of thousands of others—would still be alive today.”“I’ve had enough of this,” one of the men said, slamming down the beer Jackie had paid for on the scarred wooden table.“You’re either one of those pacifists or appeasers, and I can’t stand to listen to you another second.”“Do what you will,” Jackie answered him, with an almost operatic tone of defiance.“But in fact I’m neither of those, young man.I’m an American, son, with no need for larger aims, which you will someday come to understand.”“Out of the way, mister.”“You can do me the respect of at least finishing your beer!”“Go to hell [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]