restricted access Pilots of the Purple Twilight
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8 8 8 8 8 Pilots of the Purple Twilight The wives spent every day by the pool at the Miramar, not far from the base, waiting for word about their men. The rents were cheap and nobody bothered them, which meant that no one came to patch the rotting stucco or kill centipedes for them or pull out the weeds growing up through the cracks in the cement. They were surrounded by lush undergrowth and bright flowers nobody knew the names for, and although they talked about going into town to shop or taking off for home, wherever that was, they needed to be together by the pool because this was where the men had left them and they seemed to need to keep claustrophobia as one of the conditions of their waiting. On good days they revolved slowly in the sunlight, redolent of suntan oil and thorough in the exposure of all their surfaces because they wanted the tans to be right for the homecoming, but they also knew they had plenty of time. If it rained they would huddle under the fading canopy and play bridge and canasta and gin, keeping scores into the hundreds of thousands even though they were sick of cards. They did their nails and eyebrows and read Perry Mason paperbacks until they were bored to extinction, bitching and waiting for the mail. Everybody took jealous note of the letters received, which never matched the number of letters sent because mail was never forwarded after a man was reported missing. The women wrote anyway, and every day at ten they swarmed down the rutted drive to fall on the mailman like black widow spiders, ravenous. Most of the letters were for the wretches whose husbands had already come home, for God’s sake, whisking them away to endlessly messy kitchens and perpetual heaps of laundry in dream houses mortgaged on the gi Bill. Embarrassed by joy, they had left the Miramar without a backward glance, and for the same reason they always wrote at least once, stuffing their letters with vapidlooking snapshots of first babies, posting them from suburbs on the other side of the world. At suppertime they all went into the rambling stucco building, wrenching open the rusting casements because it seemed important to keep sight of the road. Just before the shadows merged to make darkness they would drift out- 216 k i t r e e d side again, listening, because planes still flew out from the nearby base every morning and, waiting, they were fixed on the idea of counting them back in. Most of their men had left in ships or on foot but still they waited. To the women at the Miramar every dawn patrol hinted at a twilight return, and the distant Fokkers or P-38s or F-87s seemed appropriate emblems for their own hopes, the suspense a fitting shape to place on the tautening stomachs, the straining ears, the dread of the telegram. They all knew what they would do when the men came back even though they had written their love scenes privately. There would be the reunion in the crowded station, the embrace that would shut out everybody else. She would be standing at the sink when he came up from behind and put his arms around her waist, or she would be darning or reading, not thinking about him just for once, when a door would open and she would hear him: Honey, I’m home. There would be the embrace at the end of the driveway, the embrace in plain view, the embrace in the field. None of them thought about what he would be like when they embraced, what he must look like now, the way he really smelled, because their memories had been stamped with images distilled , perfected by the quality of their own waiting, the balance they tried to keep between thinking about it and not thinking about it. If I can just not think about it, Elise still told herself, then maybe he will come. Watching the sky, even after all these years, she would be sure she heard the distant vibration of motors drumming, or maybe it was the jet sound, tearing the sky like a scythe; she had been there since Château-Thierry, or was it Amiens, and she knew the exact moment at which it became too dark to hope. “Tomorrow,” she would say, and because the others preferred to think...


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