The clock in the bus terminal chimed seven times. Each tone brought a keen sense of nervousness to the pit of Gilbert’s stomach. To Lilly they sounded like death knells at a funeral. The last chime died slowly away and was replaced with the hustle and bustle of other soldiers and their loved ones. Gilbert turned his head away from his bride and swallowed hard. He hoped that she didn’t see it. Lilly placed a handkerchief over her lips. Vainly she tried to hide the fact that they had contorted into a gesture of grief. Her eyes betrayed her though. Gilbert put a hand to her cheek.
“I won’t be gone too awful long, Lil,” he said, trying to comfort her. He pursed his lips tightly and swallowed again. He would break that lump in his throat come hell or high water. He wasn’t going to let Lilly see that he was scared too.
“Hey, I know what,” Gilbert said. Lilly turned her small face up to his. “Let’s have a dance. Whaddya say?”
“I hardly feel like dancing right now,” Lilly’s tiny voice cracked.
“C’mon,” Gilbert urged with a nudge of his elbow to her ribs. “That’s how we met, remember?”
“Oh I don’t know,” Lilly answered weakly. “I feel a little foolish.” She looked up into her husband’s eyes. His countenance turned black. Suddenly Lilly realized what she had said: it didn’t matter if this was the bus terminal – they may never dance together again. Gilbert’s eyes pleaded with her: Once more. Just once more…
Lilly finally allowed a smile. She nodded and sniffled. Gilbert smiled now too. “There’s my girl,” he whispered. Glen Miller’s Moonlight Serenade
played through speakers everywhere to keep up the men’s morale. Gilbert took Lilly into his arms and held her close to him. She laid her cheek on his shoulder and closed her eyes. Slowly they danced in each other’s embrace, rocking gently to the rhythm of the music.
For a time Gilbert’s mind wandered. He thought back, far back to his childhood days. He remembered hearing something about Germany and a man named Hitler. Whoever he was, Hitler didn’t concern Gilbert while he was learning to ride a bike and searched the creek behind his house for rocks. Suddenly he was eighteen and standing on a sidewalk. There sauntered past him the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. She merely glanced at him as she went by. A few days later he met her at the sock hop at the high school. His buddies dared him to ask her to dance. Gil worked up his nerves and walked to the table where she sat looking somewhat dejected.
“Care to dance?”
At first she seemed a little surprised.
“Uhh… Sure, I guess so.”
And the rest was history. Gilbert smiled. He pressed a soft kiss to Lilly’s forehead and smelled her hair. It smelled of rosewater and sandalwood. He could never forget the scent. Even in boot camp with the acrid odours of sweat and damp socks and canvas lingering everywhere he could still smell his Lilly’s hair when he thought of her.
The minutes ticked away. There was a growing anxiety in Lilly’s gut that made her nauseous. Eight o’clock would be here very soon. There wasn’t much time left. With each movement of her feet her heels clicked upon the floor.
Click… clock…click… clock…
They sounded like the passing seconds.
Tick… tock…tick… tock…
The song changed. Gilbert tightened his arms around her. Her shoe heels clicked on the concrete floor as they slowly danced.
They moved in time to the second hand.
Tick…clock… tick…clock…Tick the time away, clock the minutes till he’s gone. Make it more unbearable.
A butterfly fluttered in her stomach, tickling unbearably with its steel wings. Lilly caught her breath and released it in a long shudder. Now she felt a chill run through her arms. They began to lose their strength. Gilbert laid his cheek to hers. He smelled so nice. His skin was soft but cold and moist from tension.
“I promise I’ll come home to you, Lil,” he whispered.
“You can’t make that promise, Gil,” she told him. “You don’t know what will happen.”
Gilbert put his hand into her hair. “Then I promise that I will try with all that’s in me.”
He took her face into his hands and nuzzled her. She touched her lips to his and kissed him. New tears formed in her eyes and fell. Gilbert kissed her harder, harder than he ever had before, drinking in more and more of her love to last him until he came home again.
Lilly was breathless when their lips parted. She gazed at her husband in surprise and affection. He had never kissed her that way before. She drew out her handkerchief again to wipe the tears away.
“May I keep that?” Gilbert asked. Lilly nodded. He took the cloth into his strong hand and placed it to his lips, kissing it softly. It was damp with her tears, her most intimate expression of sadness, her own moisture and salt. It smelled of her perfume. He carried a photo of her, but what was that compared to this physical thing that came from her own body?
“I love you,” Lilly whispered.
“And I love you,” Gilbert said.
Suddenly the hateful clock tolled the eighth hour. Lilly tightened her stomach and crushed the butterfly within. Her muscles consumed it and steeled her entire body. Her lips stiffened into defiance; her face straightened in resolve. From now on she had to be strong, stronger than ever before. It would be a hard road to walk without Gil but many times harder for him. He boarded the bus and lowered the window. He reached his hand through. Lilly took his hand into hers and held it.
“Bye Lil,” he said quietly.
The bus lurched forward and pulled their hands apart. The last thing she felt was his fingertips.