"Hello!" a feminine voice said excitedly, "Hello, Johnny!" and I turned with an expectant feeling of happiness. This was the first voice except Mama's that had greeted me by name in the two hours since my arrival home after four years of enduring the travail of the second World War. It was St. Valentine's Day, and my mind was focused on thoughts of the gift I had come downtown to buy for my girl.
As I glanced casually at the speaker, I froze momentarily, for the face before me was not in my memory bank. In fact, it was so unnaturally beautiful my immediate reaction was one of rejection. Looking into set blue eyes, lovely but expressionless lips and smooth, porcelain like skin, an uneasy feeling stirred in the pit of my stomach.
All too slowly, my eyes took in a perfect cheek and brow such as I had never seen before. This was not a human face, but a mask. A strange, beautiful, doll-like mask.
“Hello?” I queried, sincerely hoping I had managed to suppress a momentary recoil. Sensing failure, I made a weak attempt at smiling as the girl turned swiftly away from me.
"Nice to see you home, Johnny," she murmured before hurrying on, huddled in a bulky coat against the cold winds of February.
Just after dinner that evening, Mama drew me aside. I sensed there was something on her mind, and I welcomed a discussion to relieve me of the shadow of my afternoon encounter.
“Johnny," Mama said slowly, "I've wanted to talk to you about Marie.”
"Marie," I laughed inwardly with a warm feeling of relief.
Marie was my girl. The girl of all my days. The girl who had seen me through a war of unbelievable cruelty and misery. As a nurse, she had followed me into battle and spent her courage consoling me across the world. Thoughts of her had helped me survive long months of imprisonment.
I could only grin with happiness. Leave it to Mama to choose just the subject that would erase all wayward thoughts. I spoke her name again, "Marie."
Then I said, "You know, Mama, I've been saving Marie for tonight. My special Valentine!"
"Johnny..." Mama's voice was laced with emotion, "About
Marie... There's something we should have told you months ago..."
Mama's voice droned on... "Bombs... shell fragments... miracles... plastic surgery..." These were words I didn't need to hear. I knew them and was sick with remembering.
I remembered my girl on a bomb-ridden Pacific Island. My girl's letters written from a lonely hospital base. Just routine duty, she had said. But most of all, I could hear my girl's voice this afternoon saying excitedly, "Hello! Hello, Johnny!"
Marie ... oh, Marie! My one dear love!
retold by Sara Hewitt Riola
Lakewood, New Jersey