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Yellow Ribbons


ISSUE:  Winter 1994

He heard the roar of the helicopter even before the girl came running into the house.”They’re here!” she screamed.”And they’re flying low!”

“Not low enough to see through this haze, I betcha,” he said, keeping his voice soft and calm. Lately he’d become an expert at this. It was as if he were willing himself not to fall apart. He pointed one of his crutches toward the wood cabinet that leaned against the kitchen sink.”Hand me my smokes, hon?”

But the girl was too distracted to do much more than peer out the dirty window pane.”If they spot it, we’re goners. It’s a Federal offense. The radio said so.”

“That a fact?” Hammond’s tone was somewhat sarcastic. But knowing how easy it was, all too easy, for a 38-year-old ex-roustabout to lay sarcasm on someone as young as Destry (who looked 14 but claimed to be ten years older), he drew himself up short.”Relax, hon. They ain’t gonna spot nothin. Not that close to the river bank. They’ll be blinded by all the reflection.” He chuckled.”Anyway, I bet these small-town cops wouldn’t recognize a marijuana plant if it rose up and hit ‘em in the face.”

She didn’t bother answering. Instead she moved from the window to the door.

“Don’t you be going out there, now,” Hammond warned. “It’d be the same as waving a red flag.” He hobbled over to get his cigarettes, then looked around for matches.”Hey.”

“Hmmmmm?”

“Never mind.” Pulling out the kitchen drawer, he rumaged through it.”Damn,” he muttered.

“So what do we do?” she asked, gazing at him with fierce blue eyes. “Sit inside all day and roast to death? If we don’t get locked up first. We should’ve been more careful.”

“Aw, that ol’ chopper’ll be gone in a minute or two.” Even as he spoke, the roar seemed to be growing fainter.”Sit down, hon. While we’re waiting for the all-clear sign, I’ll read you some Whitman.” He picked up a copy of Leaves of Grass that he’d borrowed from the library.

“I’m tired of poetry,” she said but sat anyway.

“Then I’ll tell you a story. Ever read “Jack and the Beanstalk”?” She shook her head.”Bet you did, and just don’t remember. When I was a kid, I’d make my mama tell it to me over and over.” Finding a kitchen match, he struck it on the sole of his shoe, lit the cigarette, and inhaled deeply.”Once upon a time, there was this here Georgia boy who was kind to everybody,” Hammond slapped his knee as though he were about to come up with a low joke, “including his mother, which was a good thing, too, since the two of ‘em lived alone together with nothin’ but an ol’ spotted cow for comp’ny. Well, one Tuesday, Jack’s mother told him to take that cow to Trade Day and sell her, because she’d just about quit givin milk. So he set off leading the cow down the highway. But just before he got there, a beggar man come along and offered to trade him a couple of beans for the cow. Jack just stood there.”Now why would I be so stupid as to trade ol’ Bossy here for a buncha dried-up pintos?, ” he asked. But the man swore up and down that if Jack planted these beans, “the pleasures of earth would rise clear up to heaven and viceversie, ” which Jack thought so much bullshit but still he couldn’t help being impressed with the feller’s gumption, and besides he looked like somebody who could use good luck as much as Jack could, so Jack let the man have the cow for the handful of beans. When he got home and told his mama what he’d done, she was fit to be tied! She grabbed up them beans and flung ‘em ever which way. And what did Jack do? He went to bed, pulled the covers over his face and stopped up his ears to shut out her cussin’. Coupla’ weeks later, he was taking a nap outside and spied this plant that had growed up. Being clean out of cigarettes, he had the notion to roll up a bunch of the leaves and smoke ‘em then and there, which he did, and wellsir, that plant started shooting up to the sky barely pausing long enough for Jack to climb aboard. And that” he put up a nicotine-stained finger, “is the story of the first marijuana.”

There was a long pause. “What happened to Jack’s daddy?” Destry asked, straining to fill in some missing gaps.

“Daddy?” He thought for a moment “Disappeared. Shazam. Just like my ol’ man. Leaving behind a trail of tears and heartache.”

“That’s a harsh judgment.”

“Life is harsh, Miss Destry, which is the reason we need a beanstalk to latch onto once in a while.” He cocked his head slightly.”Didn’t I tell you that copter would be movin’ on? I think it’s probably safe to go out now.”

Destry beat him to the door, and stepping off to the tiny, screened-in porch, breathed in deeply.”Still hot,” she said, “but there’s a breeze.

“Then catch it,” Hammond grinned. “Don’t let it get away.”

She followed him through the thicket of pine saplings, weeds, and thorny shrubs that separated his house on Smoky Hill from the Nantooga River. Spying a blackberry bush halfway along the path, he reached in, picked off a few of the ripest, and handed them back. She must be starving, he thought, all they’d had that morning had been a cup of raisins and some stale Post Toasties that they’d eaten dry because the milk had run out. Destry had such a meager appetite that Hammond sometimes wondered if hunger wasn’t the main reason for her testy moods. But he wasn’t complaining. Having her around was like a gift. He suspected it wouldn’t last much longer, though. He’d already heard her humming “California, Here I Come” over the kitchen sink.

She’d been on the same Greyhound Bus when he was returning from his latest go-round at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta. This time he’d been outfitted with an artificial leg, though he preferred the crutches, as he kept telling the doctors over and over, finally giving up when nobody seemed to be paying attention, letting them measure his waist, his stump, bring in a physical therapist to show him how to fasten the thing on and move it forwards, backwards, praising him lavishly, like a difficult child, whenever he even half-heartedly followed instructions. He’d asked the therapist if the leg would enable him to live a normal life. The therapist nodded, then frowned.”Up to a point,” he said.”Of course there will always be limitations.” Limitations. Hammond repeated the word several times, wondering what to make of it. He thought of the one-legged man who’d spoken at an assembly program when he was in high school. This man, who’d been from New Jersey, had described, quite vividly, how his leg had been bitten off by a shark. Hammond couldn’t remember the reason for his being invited to the school, or anything else about him. All he knew was that the man had been reappearing in his dreams recently. Always trying to chase Hammond down to tell him something, he didn’t know what.

On the bus, he’d turned to the young girl who plopped down beside him.”Begging your pardon, miss, but I’m about to do something you might be too squeamish to witness.”

“What’s that?” She barely glanced up from the movie magazine she was rifling through.

“I’m about to remove this here artificial limb.” He tapped on the polyethylene kneecap with his thumbnail.

But the girl was fascinated, especially when she found out that he’d been wounded in a mine explosion near the Cambodian border.”But I didn’t lose my leg until fairly recently.” He could have added that he’d lost his wife at the same time. “I mean, it was here, there just wasn’t any feeling in it.”

“Like Jon Voigt,” she said, lending him her manicure scissors to snip away his pants leg.”Did you see Coming Home?”

“No’m, I don’t get to too many movies, specially war movies.”

“Oh, my lord, I couldn’t live without movies!” the girl said.

“Where you headed?” Hammond asked, unfastening the leg and bending to stow it under the seat.

“California. That’s where my mom is. She’s a movie fan, too, just like me.” The girl picked up the magazine, but threw it aside as if she preferred talking.”She went there a few months ago from West Virginia to scout out new locations, as she put it. She’s a registered nurse so it’s not hard to get work. Soon as she found an apartment, she called me. Said she’d help find me a job if I’d come out. She likes to brag that I was born in a movie theater, but that’s not quite true.” When she looked away, Hammond thought it was the end of the conversation, but then she turned back.”Mom was watching Love With A Proper Stranger starring Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen (both dead now, isn’t that a shame?) and refused to leave until the happy ending. I was even named after a movie, but I bet you’ll never guess which one.”

Hammond shook his head. He was staring at her white skin.

“Destry Rides Again. I’ve never seen it, though I intend to one of these days.”

“So what’s your name?” Hammond asked, puzzled.

“Destry Mullins.”

“Jackson Hammond.” Hammond grabbed hold of her hand before she flicked it away. Part of the dark nail polish had worn off, giving her fingertips an unfinished look.”Everybody calls me Hammond. Isn’t North Georgia a little out of your way?”

“Yeah, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to see Gone With the Wind country.Gone With the Wind’s my all-time favorite. I’ve seen it 16 times so far. Where do you live?”

“Gilead. It’s our next stop.”

After that, they were silent. Hammond was thinking about how much he dreaded entering his empty house. But at the same time, he didn’t wish his wife back.”Treading water” was her favorite expression about him. She’d had other gripes, too.”Reading is no occupation,” she’d say, referring to the library books he was always bringing home. Then he’d have to remind her how, for a whole year, he’d worked in the spinning room in the mill until finally, he just couldn’t hack it anymore.”I’d soon be dead,” he’d said, which was true. Most of all, she couldn’t understand his anger. When one of the Church of Christ ladies had approached him holding out a bookmark with Jesus’s picture on it, whining, “God loves you, son, in spite of your affliction,” he’d knocked it out of her hand.”Now, there’s no excuse for that,” his wife had said. “No,” he’d agreed, except it’d made him feel better.

Soon the bus began to approach brick warehouses, tall smokestacks, clumps of trailers with tiny dirt yards.”Doesn’t look like much,” Destry murmured.

“It ain’t much,” Hammond said, using the redneck speech that was now his stock and trade, even though he knew better, “and that’s the challenge. How does a human being live here without going stark ravin’ mad?” He smiled at her, feeling suddenly and unaccountably friendly.”Maybe you’d like to help me figure that out, Miss Destry.” The “miss” gave a certain platonic tone to their relationship that he felt appropriate under the circumstances. He stood up to lift his small bag out of the overhead rack.

She looked at him.

“I mean, it seems only polite—after your assistance with my leg and all—to invite you to experience what a small Southern town is actually like. No strings attached. Purely educational.”

Hammond could see her thinking hard. “What would your family say?”

“Nothin’. On accounta I ain’t got one.”

“Well, it is tempting. . . .”

“Chance of a lifetime,” Hammond said, gathering his crutches and pulling her up.”Let’s go.”

They moved toward the front of the bus where the driver helped them off in spite of Hammond resisting his outstretched hand.

“Hey, wait!” Destry called out just as the bus was pulling off.”You forgot your leg!”

Hammond waved the driver on. “Reckon somebody else can get more use out of it than I can.” He began hobbling away so fast that she had to run to catch up.

At first it’d been fun camping out in the house together. It contained enough pieces of broken-down furniture, including a bedstead and cot—two items his wife had left behind—to keep them in relative comfort. But after a few weeks, Hammond began to notice Destry’s restlessness, her pacing back and forth between the small rooms, so he started driving her around town on the custom-made moped that he’d bought with some of his disability money. He explained how the town used to be when he was a boy, before the river had become polluted and the woods had been cut down to build the small shotgun houses that lined the highway. He showed her the old inn that was now deserted, the town cemetery, the company store that was in the process of being torn down, the bronze doughboy in the plaza, festooned with yellow ribbons, now frayed and tattered, “The Mid-East crisis has been over a long time,” he’d said to the cop who’d stopped him from tearing them off.”It’s not over till it’s over,” the cop said.”Know what I mean?” He only knew that the sight of them made him flinch.

Then he led her up to the dam, and beyond, to the path that ran along back of his house. It was when the two of them were standing on the river bank, throwing stones across, that Hammond got the idea about growing marijuana.

“Lookit. We’ll clear out a little patch right here. Don’t nobody come down this way no more, so they’ll never find it.”

“Who’s”they”?”

“Ohhhh, the G. B. I, agents, the state patrol, the local police . . .nobody to be serious about. One of the patients at the hospital give me some seeds as a farewell present and told me just how to make ‘em sprout.”

So that very day, Hammond borrowed a neighbor’s small tractor and began “bushhogging,” as he called it, a little slope rising about seven feet from the water’s edge. Urging the plow through ground knotted with grasses and vines, Hammond felt better than he had in months, years even. Especially when he felt Destry’s eyes on him.”You’re a hard worker, aren’t you?”

“When I set my mind to it.”

“Is that what you did in Vietnam? Set your mind?”

But he didn’t answer. There were lots of things he couldn’t tell her. At least not just yet.

Finished with the work, he took a tiny roach out of his pants pocket and lit it.”My last one,” he said, handing it over. She held it gingerly, inhaled and immediately broke into a racking cough.”Ain’t you never smoked pot before, Miss Destry?” And she had to admit that she hadn’t. Soon the two of them were laughing and foraging through the weeds together, Hammond beating them down with one of his crutches. Afterward they lay facing the sun, Destry’s head on his chest, him smoothing out her silky brown hair with his long fingers.

But back inside the house, he could feel the pent-up tension and knew he had to do something to relieve it. So after supper—pork ‘n beans and cornbread in his mama’s old iron skillet—he threw a pillow at her, and she retaliated until they were both breathless and ready to call it quits. Then she retired, as usual, to the back room, and he to the cot, where he lay listening to her breathing until finally drifting off himself. He wondered about her. He wondered why she never wrote her mother or got a letter back. When he asked about this, she replied that she had telephoned once from a pay phone, while he was at the library.”Mom understands my need for independence,” she said, and added, “just as I understand yours.”

Next day, she announced over instant coffee that maybe she should be on her way, but he begged her to stay at least until the marijuana got ripe enough to sample.”The song of songs, dream of dreams, Miss Destry. You can’t miss that.” He tried to keep the desperation out of his voice, though whether he succeeded or not, he couldn’t tell, especially when she said okay with such a lack of enthusiasm.

He usually spent mornings reading, while Destry slept or puttered about the house. He’d been working his way through the entire Harvard Classics, including Emerson and Thoreau, whom he particularly liked. But then he’d discovered Whitman and had gotten waylaid. He’d read “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed” so many times that he knew parts of it by heart. Every now and then, he might also sneak his mother’s Bible off the shelf and read aloud a chapter or two from Psalms. He loved the ringing tones that sounded like a chant.

In the afternoons they rode around the county looking at old houses. He tried to explain to Destry that most antebellum plantations were not made of red brick and didn’t have white columns in front.”The only columns in Gilead,” he said, “are no more than ten years old. They belong to a dentist, a supervisor in the dye plant, and a former mayor.” But she wanted to see them anyway. As part of her education, he took her to the industrial waste-fill out near Trash Hollow. For several minutes, they stood in front of the barbed-wire fence surrounding the area.”This is the real cemetery,” she murmured.

At night, they generally watched television, or he rented a video for the VCR, also purchased with disability money. “What the hell,” he’d told his wife who’d considered it an extravagance, “if I’m immobile, I might as well have something to look it.”

Destry would watch anything, but he was more picky. If he got bored, he would simply go into the kitchen and read. He tried to interest her in books, but after a few pages, she would lose patience, and start roaming around the room (though he did catch her once with his volume of Whitman which she handed back as though it was tainted). He wondered if she might not be dyslexic—he’d read about the problem from a book that happened to be lying on the librarian’s desk when he was checking out. Her verbal connections often surprised him—the comparison of cricket sounds to men “rubbing their whiskers” or her description of sunflowers as “pinwheels.”

One morning, Destry shook him violently awake. “Are you trying to tell me,” she said, her voice shrill, “with all this talk of pollution, that the world’s not a fit place to live in any more? Because that’s what I had a dream about last night! Excuse me, I mean a nightmare.”

He raised up on his elbows, rubbing his eyes with one hand.”That’s not what I meant exactly. Sure we got pollution. But in other ways, things is better. . . I guess. Mill kids go to college, become big executives, fly all over the world. Used to be everybody remained in their own little pigeon holes. Whatever you’s born as was what you stayed.”

“Why have you?”

“Why have I what?”

“Stayed?”

He thought for a minute. “Cause I hate all that upward mobility. If it was mere ambition, I wouldn’t care. But most of it’s greed.”

She looked down on him. “Maybe you’re just lazy.”

“That could be,” he said, closing his eyes. “Yeah, that’s a definite possibility.”

“And another thing. I haven’t seen one house that even vaguely resembles Tara.”

“The marijuana’ll take care of that, hon. After you smoke a few roaches, you’ll have Rhett Butlers coming out of the kazoo.”

She smiled, then made a face at him. “Jackson Hammond, sometimes you talk so ugly you make me sick. I think you do it on purpose.”

“You think so?”

“I do. . . .”

That was several months ago, and now they were heading toward the river to harvest the first of the tiny crop. They had almost reached the spot when they heard a stirring from the pine thicket, together with a loud yelping. Hammond stopped in his tracks and waited while a young man dressed in camouflaged fatigues and holding a large dog on a tight leash stepped forward.”You Jackson Hammond?” the man asked, his gaze darting back and forth between Hammond and Destry, Under the man’s left arm was a long package that Hammond surmised to be either a bazooka or some kind of blow torch. If it hadn’t been for Destry, he might have put up his hands then and there; instead, he decided to brazen it out.

“Yessir. I am. And I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”

The young man frowned and glanced at Destry.

“He’s making a joke,” she said, and moved toward him. “I’m Destry Mullins, Mr. Hammond’s. . .boarder. Did anyone ever tell you that you look exactly like Charlie Sheen? Especially in that uniform.” Her voice was so frankly admiring that the young man ducked his head in embarrassment.

“Sorry. I don’t know any Sheens. Does he live around here?”

Destry couldn’t help laughing. “You’re cute.” She turned to Hammond.”Isn’t he cute?”

Ignoring her, Hammond held his ground. “What can I do for you?”

“Does this belong to you?” The boy held out the long package.

Hammond took it, and as he began tearing the paper away, saw immediately what it was.”Aw, shit,” he groaned.”My leg. Where’d you get it?”

“The Greyhound people dropped it off at the police station. Somebody said it might be yours.” Hammond struck the ground with it.”Hush! Stop it now!” the young man shouted, trying to calm the dog that took the gesture as a cue to start barking and pulling on his leash.

“What’s the matter with him?” Destry asked.

“He must sniff pot around here. Didn’t you hear the helicopter? There’re two divisions combing this area.” He pointed to his arm band.”I’m with the purple division. Sorry about your leg, Mr. Hammond.”

“It’s okay, son. Amazing what people can do without.” Hammond looked at the boy more closely.”What’s your name?”

“Jim Bethune.”

“You Gene Bethune’s brother?”

“Yessir. He was killed at Bien Hoa.”

Hammond looked away. “Good boy, Gene.”

“Yessir.”

“What are you doing with that uniform on, Bethune?”

He drew himself up as if about to salute. “I’m in the reserves, sir. Hoping to see some action one of these days.” Taking off his cap, he showed them the yellow ribbon attached to the side.

Hammond stared at him. “Bethune, you’re a goddamn fool. . . .”

The boy shifted. “You oughta watch your language, especially around. . . .”

“She’s heard worse. This is serious, Bethune.”

“I’m a Christian, sir, and I don’t appreciate God’s name being taken in vain.”

“Nothing is in vain, Bethune.” He held up his crutches. “Don’t people learn anything?”

“The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away,” Bethune said.

Hammond was so angry, he spat into the weeds. “What kind of horseshit is that?”

Bethune let the dog spring forward a few feet. “Sir, I don’t want to remind you again that you are in the presence of a lady. . . .”

“That’s right, Hammond,” Destry said. “Curb your tongue.”

“My tongue is definitely not what needs curbing here, Miss Destry, so if you don’t mind, just butt out.” He turned to the boy.”You, too, Bethune, you stupid asshole. And take that hound with you.”

Bethune stood there for a moment, as if unsure about what to do. The dog was pulling toward the river and Hammond was pointing toward the road. At that moment, Destry stepped forward.

“Come on, Bethune, I’ll walk back with you.”

“Well, ma’am. . . .”

Let s go.

Hammond watched her link an arm through Bethune’s and lead him away. Scowling, he continued on toward the river. For awhile, he simply sat there in the shade of several pines, sniffing resin and listening to the sound of bobwhites. He expected her to reappear any moment, but she didn’t. He considered throwing the leg into the river. But he didn’t want it coming back to haunt him for the second time. How, in Christ’s name, could he get rid of it? It wouldn’t burn, it was too big for the garbage, maybe he could take it down to Trade Day and swap it, like the cow, for something useful. Then he got the idea of burying it. In a way, it would be like burying his old two-legged self. But he should wait until Destry returned. He shouldn’t do anything that significant by himself. Hammond began ripping off leaves, wrapping them in newspaper that he’d stuck in his back pocket. When he was finished, he decided to crumple a few and smoke them, even if they weren’t quite dry enough. When he got back to the house, he would lay the rest out on aluminum foil and stick them in the oven. He lay there inhaling and watching the sun’s reflection on the opposite bank. But this time he didn’t climb onto any beanstalk. This time he found himself thinking about Destry and wondering what she and Bethune were doing together, or at least what she was doing to him, since Bethune seemed incapable of much advanced thinking. Finally he shut his eyes.

By the time he heard the voice, it was almost dark. Or was it voices? Opening one eye, he looked straight into Destry’s face bending over him.”Alone?” he asked, glancing around suspiciously.

“Of course. You intend sleeping here?”

“Might. Got everything I need.”

She stood up and towered over him. “Everything?”

Was she vexing him on purpose? “I need your help, Miss Destry.”

“With what? And stop calling me “miss”.”

“I got to bury this here leg.”

“Why?”

“To rid myself of it once and for all.”

“But aren’t you going to try and wear it?”

“Naw.”

Crossing her arms, she looked down at him defiantly. “I’m not going to help you do that. You called Bethune a fool. Well, you’re a fool, too, Hammond. Maybe an even bigger one.” Turning, she marched back toward the house.

By the time Hammond swung the screened door open and eased himself inside, she had almost finished packing the second of her two suitcases.

“Going somewhere?”

“Yep. California. Where I started out for in the first place.”

“What about Tara?”

“As far as I can tell, Tara doesn’t exist. Maybe it never did. Neither does the beanstalk. You taught me that and I thank you for it.” Closing the suitcase, she snapped both locks. “Well, Hammond,” she put out a hand.”Take care of yourself.”

His first urge was to beg her not to leave. But what gave a one-legged man the right? The second was to say, I’ll miss you. But the closest he could come was, “Things won’t be the same around here without you, Miss Destry.” He knew how stupid and worn-out the words sounded, though it hardly mattered because she seemed not to have heard.

“Don’t call me “miss” I told you.”

Just then an ugly thought streaked through Hammond’s mind, and he couldn’t suppress it.”You’re not running away with that Bethune, are you?”

She looked at him and shook her head. “Are you crazy? I took him off so we wouldn’t end up in jail.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

She shrugged. “I’d just soon run away with Rambo.”

“I thought you liked him. You said he looked like Charlie Sheen.”

“For your information, Charlie Sheen’s a wimp.” Picking up both suitcases, she headed for the door. When she turned back, Hammond had to admire her timing.”And Sylvester Stallone makes me puke.”

He knew she must hear the put-put-puttering noise behind her, in spite of the fact that she kept walking.

“Destry!” He slowed down. There was a long silence. “I don’t want you to go.”

Finally she stopped. “I have to, Hammond.”

Another pause. “Yeah.”

“But you could come with me.” He searched her face to see if she was serious.”Maybe by the time we get there, you’ll have figured out what you want to do. Because you have to do something. The Vietnam War’s been over a long time. And you have to learn to wear that leg. . . .” He started to protest “. . .unless you want to stay a cripple.”

“But I told you. . . .”

“I know, I know. . .the greed. . .the pollution. . . .”

“You think I’m just making excuses?”

“A little. . . .”

“Well. . . .” He tried to smile.

She looked at her watch. “You have time to get your things if you hurry. I’ll wait for you at the bus station.” Picking her suitcases back up, she started walking even faster.

He pulled up alongside. “Destry?” Again she halted and stood waiting.”What would your mother think if you suddenly showed up with me in tow?”

“Nothing.”

“Come on, what would she say?”

Her chin went up. “Nothing.”

“Nothin?”

“That’s right.” She put her hands on her hips. “On accounta, I ain’t got no mama,” she drawled in imitation of Hammond.”You’ve heard of orphans? Well, you’re looking at one.”

Hammond’s mouth went slack. “Why did you lie?”

She shrugged. “Everybody’s entitled to a family. Even if it’s made-up.”

“Was everything else made-up, too?”

“No. . .I don’t know. My real name’s June Mullens.” The swaggering tone dropped away.”Tell you one thing, though. I do like Jon Voigt. I may even love Jon Voigt. Will you come?”

For a second he stared at her, then lowered his eyes. “I got a confession, too,” he said, making her wait another minute before he could get it out.”I was never in Vietnam in my whole goddam life.”

“But your leg. . . .”

“That happened earlier. A car accident.” He paused to let her digest this.

“Why did you lie?”

“Because. . .it was a few notches down from anything heroic. Reckon we’re both liars,” he said finally.

“Storytellers,” she said, amending the obvious.

“Tell me something.” He drew back to look at her full-face. “Do two storytellers complement each other? Or cancel each other out?”

“It depends.”

“On what?”

“Their stories.” Putting a curled fist up to her lips, she blew a rat-a-tat-tat imitation-bugle call, and began to recite—to Hammond’s astonishment—the words of Whitman:

I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them, And the white skeletons of young men, I saw them, I saw the debris and debris of all the slain soldiers of the    war, But I saw they were not as was thought. . . .

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