“Put that thing down, Helen. You’re not listening!” Eileen reached over, and snatched the pencil from her hand. “Let’s go to the show.”
“Hmm? What? A movie? Well, I don’t know. I need to finish this . . . “
“How many letters have you written this week? Honestly, Helen, you can take some time to go to see a film.”
Helen leaned back and stretched; glancing around toward her mother who was busy feeding the baby wiggling in her highchair. “What do you think, B?”
“Go. Go. We’re fine here. I’ll finish this, give her a bath and put her down.”
She turned back to her sister. “Okay, Eileen. What did you have in mind? What’s playing at Loew’s?”
Eileen smiled satisfied, spreading out a newspaper over Helen’s stationary. “Let’s see . . . Journey into Fear? I suppose not. Oh, here, Sahara. Your pal Bogart stars in that one.”
“Aren’t they both war pictures? I don’t know. I need to think about something else, actually anything else, but the war.”
“Song of Bernadette? Jennifer Jones pulls off a couple of slick miracles. That one ring your chimes?”
“Aren’t there any musicals or comedies? I really could use a giggle or two.” Eileen sighed and hunkered down on her elbows, and the sisters scanned the theater section, side by side.
“Here—it’s your lucky day—we have two selections. Girl Crazy with Mickey Rooney, and Star Spangled Rhythm, starring Crosby, Hope, and Betty Hutton.” The older sister turned her face to Helen.
“I like Bing Crosby.”
“Then kiss your baby and grab your purse. In that order,” Eileen smiled, delighted that she convinced her sister to get out of the apartment.
They dashed into the movie house just as the overhead lights dimmed and the red satin curtains opened. A white light flickered and beamed from above the balcony, and the audience applauded. Distinct images filled the screen and the auditorium resounded in rich sound—a Disney cartoon flashed on the screen, “The Three Little Pigs.” Helen had to chuckle when a hand reached from the house of bricks, offering the huffing wolf a bottle of Listerine.
Quickly following, another clip opened in a solemn choral arrangement of Silent Night. Actress Bette Davis, seated before a Christmas tree, presented her children with war bonds as gifts. She kindly reminded them of the American fighting men, sacrificing their lives overseas while the family enjoyed the holiday in safety. Turning directly to the camera, Miss Davis encouraged those in the tiers to buy bonds as a way to win the war. Helen silently vowed to make a purchase in the morning.
United Newsreels boldly lettered the width of the screen, featuring a talon-bearing eagle, and a forceful marching tune. Hungry for actual footage of battlefronts, patrons waited eagerly for news updates. When the subtitle, War News from the Pacific projected, Helen nearly bolted from her seat, Eileen quickly grasping her sister’s arm—a gentle gesture telling her to stay. Reluctantly she viewed thick disarrayed hammocks of destroyed island palms, battle cruisers spinning turret guns toward exotic beaches, and endless rows of stretchers loading onto hospital ships. She felt slightly nauseous. Only her sister’s hand, and a reluctance to make a scene kept Helen seated. Finally, in what felt like forever an upbeat melody commenced and Star Spangled Rhythm splashed before her eyes. Relieved she literally exhaled her pent up anxiety.
“Holy mackerel sis! I thought I would have to tackle you to keep you in your seat.” The two girls hurried through the wet and chilly evening. “You know Chum is just fine, honey. We would be notified right away if anything had happened to him.”
“I’m awfully sorry Tommy. And I do appreciate you taking me out. But I need to get away from the war, not a firsthand eyeful of the Pacific front.” She frowned for a moment, then managed a grateful smile. “I did like the picture, though. Hope and Crosby were a good choice.”
“Good. Stop worrying. You’ll go gray.” The two continued down the sidewalk silently emitting small clouds of breath. Eileen spoke again, “You know we’ve had similar conversations before. Just like this. Walking home from somewhere.”
“I guess we have. But in those days you quizzed me about boys, passing flirtations. I’m honestly concerned about Chum . . . he is my husband. We have a baby.”
“Oh, I understand that, Helen. And I like Chum, too. Unlike Mother, I think you found yourself a good man. But do you ever wonder about the others? About Grant Garrett or Elie? I mean what they’re doing now.”
“Oh, well, yes. Sometimes. I think Grant is his third marriage, and still in Hollywood. He’s done some film work for Paramount, you know, adding jokes to dialog.” She smiled, remembering. “I don’t recall the movie but you could tell the jokes were Grant’s. Something like, ‘did you shoot the victim through anger—no, I shot him through the heart.’” She chuckled. “I think Grant is doing well, for Grant. As for Elie? I simply don’t know what became of him, and that bothers me. The last I heard he lived in Japan, and now the Japanese are fighting us. He might be back in Belgium, but the Germans have taken over. And considering how Hitler feels about Jews—yellow stars, camps, poor Elie has it coming at him either place.”
“Oh Helen. You’re right! That hadn’t occurred to me. Either place, he is in a mighty dangerous situation. Gosh, I hope he makes it through the war . . . if this war ever ends.”
“I worry, too. And I feel pretty guilty about how things ended with him. Not that I think lousing things up with Elie put him in danger. But we ended on bad terms, I had met Chum, and we were engaged. Still I hope he and his family are safe.”
Gail Chumbley is the author of River of January, and sequel, River of January; The Figure Eight..