Mary Casey Diana
The Night Watch
After tucking in my husband and turning out the light, I fell into an oh-so-welcome deep sleep. We had been traveling all day, my husband and I, from Chicago to San Diego. Tomorrow, after checking out, we would board a ship for a Pacific cruise. Before he had fallen asleep, while I was still sitting on his bed, he asked, "Where are we?" His hair gleamed silver in the lamplight. His weak blue eyes looked lost.
When I answered, "We're in San Diego,” he smiled and told me of an earlier time he had been in that sunny city.
"After the War, you know, we were here waiting for orders to take the LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) to Alaska."
He could remember details of life seventy-five years in the past, and yet not recall how he had come to be in the hotel room.
"Why?" I smiled, recollecting a black and white photograph of him as a handsome young naval officer.
"To turn the ship over to the Russians. "
"Oh, I see," I said, kissing the top of his head, turning off the light, and moving to my bed. The bathroom light I left on. I'd heard his military exploits so often that I could have recited them. He liked his Normandy stories and this Alaskan tale the best. In the dark, he said, "Cold Bay, Alaska."
"Ah, hah." I was exhausted.
"'Twas colder than a witch’s tit and black as all get out. I was standing on the deck with my overcoat buttoned above my head watching out to sea through a buttonhole; my eyelashes were covered in ice."
"Couldn't you have taken a nap?" I couldn't resist.
"What? Oh, no, no, no. Anything could have happened."
I asked the same thing every time, just to see his reaction. He was always so earnest.
"Someone has to keep watch."
"That's brilliant, honey," I said through a yawn, "now let's go to sleep, okay, long day tomorrow."
"You never can tell what can happen in the night."
When it shrieked, I sat upright in darkness and fumbled for the phone.
"Yeah," I managed.
She said my name.
"Ah, we have someone here in the lobby, ma'am--he was wandering around." "Wha? Mmm, 'kay."
"Ma'am, are you there?"
"Yeah." The lamp blasted my eyes.
I stood up. "Well, what, tell me?"
"Well…" She lowered her voice. "Ma'am, I'm afraid that, well, he doesn't have any clothes on."
Nausea hit me hard. I mumbled, "I'll be right there."
My arms and legs cracked and fell off; I burst into tears, my head floated to the ceiling. Okay, okay, my hovering head ordered, get it together. My breath was coming in spasms. As I threw my clothes on, I looked around. His pajamas were on the bathroom floor. He must have turned out the light and left the room instead of going back to bed. The card key was in my pocket. Oh, dear God, what would I find? How the hell does one handle this?
Elevators move slower after midnight. The ding was deafening, the ride from the tenth floor, interminable. I fingered the key. "Oh, please be okay."
"Where is he?" I charged out of the elevator. The lobby was empty; it must have been two or three.
The desk clerk said, "You the lady I just talked to?" Her head looked huge. "Yes, please." I searched over her shoulder for an office where I might find him. "Where's my husband?"
"They're holding him at the end of the lobby." She pointed.
I scanned the long lobby--nothing.
"Down to the end, ma'am, and turn left, it's like an L."
The thick red carpet slowed me; I had forgotten shoes.
I heard them before I saw them. Hiding behind the wall, not wanting to cause alarm, I peeked around to find three men standing in a semi-circle around my errant husband. He was perched on a backless bench against the wall, looking very lively. They had wrapped him in a sheet; he looked like a Roman senator in a toga, hand raised in an emphatic gesture,
"We left England out of Dartmouth, the night before the landing, after a day's delay because of bad weather."
He was in Normandy.
Two were security guards in gray uniforms with brimmed hats and badges, and the third wore a wilted tie and a much too-tight sports jacket. All were listening intently, nodding fervently. One of the guards said, "Yes, Sir, I was a Marine."
"After midnight, I was on watch; there were flashes of light. I could hear the planes carrying paratroopers."
"I'm Navy," the one in the sports jacket said.
"At Utah Beach, shells kept plopping into the water more or less at random during our entire stay on the beach."
"Yes, Sir," the other guard said," 'Nam."
"We'd rev up the engine, and try to keep in place, with shells dropping nearby."
From behind the wall, I continued my furtive watch. This was a purely male moment. No woman help needed here.
"Some of our troops drowned, just went turtle up. You wouldn't believe how much equipment they had to carry."
They surrounded him, they patted him, they nodded, and after a while, when the Landing was over and the battle once more won, I approached. "Gentlemen, thank you for caring for him."
He smiled and allowed me to lead him away, but he looked back wistfully, over his shoulder, at the vigilant men waving him off to bed, "you take care now, sir, come back and see us, we'll be watching for you."