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LAST DANCE / Harry Albert Haines On THE ISLAND I practiced winding, fashioning a sück, tight neurological cocoon around my interior ferment—the usual stuff: guUt, anger and, especiaUy, fear. Not perfect, but God knows it worked, and I presented a seamlessness and continued to fly missions. After the war I stopped, having worn out the uncertainties by years of talking, playing poker, drinking and admiring the marvelous Mississippi women, hallmarks of my Southern American home. My mother was one of these women: dignified, beautiful, sophisticated and seductive, aU in a Delta context which you'd have to understand. I often awakened at two a.m., tears leaking onto the smaU, sweaty Army pUlow, and lay in the dark, Ustening to the palms whisper. Around three, Td start winding, getting ready for our rendezvous in the briefing tent. The guys in my crew were something, the good Americans—true, brave, clean-cut, inteUigent, humorous, rough-and-ready feUows who were, of course, afraid because death was palpable—there, here, everywhere. We pretended we weren't afraid—in the briefing tent, on the beach, in Une at the mess tent, but ultimate fear Uved within a millimeter of our brain centers, right behind the eyes and so close to the nose at times we smeUed it and were repulsed by fear and our resultant bravado. They smeUed the same, like old, wet cardboard. You sit and contemplate your death too much and it seeps into your fibers and emits this stale smeU so you don't like to be around yourself. No one else likes to, either. Look, we're aU going to die. But the dentist who forages in your dentine doesn't go home and think about death. He goes home to contemplate his lovely wife's legs, to reflect on his cold martini, to envision his snowy, emotional bed, stuff so foreign to the Islands you wouldn't beUeve. Death left us souvenirs—one of our bombers didn't come back, or returned with a body where a gunner should be. A crew member wandered off into the jungle and we speculated he'd been eaten by panthers. Hour after off-duty hour we played voUeybaU on the beach; played early in the morning if we weren't flying; played by moonhght at eleven p.m., enacting a singular, mad, sand baUet. The Missouri Review · 209 At times a crew played at three a.m. We played to certify our vitaUty. Or we played poker to certify our luck. We didn't swim much— something about flying over water whUe frightened. We associated water with fear. The mechanics manufactured an alcohoUc drink down on the flight Une. There is no way to curb sex and drinking, although sex was on autopUot in the islands. Damon and I tried the flight-line gin. Damon said they used hydrauUc fluid. Even so, with some citric fruit juice and ice I could have drunk it. We had neither, and a canteen nearly fuU of the stuff lay under my cot for months coated by coral dust. Once the Cap'n returned from Hawaü with four bottles of BeUe Meade whiskey for us erdisted crewmen. We drank aU night and vomited aU the next day, a hangover that saved our Uves because we didn't have to fly to the Far Islands on a day we lost a bombardier, gunner and co-pUot. The Cap'n returned okay. He was the kind of man who made money during the Depression. Oh, damn Death! She flirted continuaUy. I have seen our bomber, BeUe of the BaUs, take a hit in a wing and go into a spin, the undamaged, long wing describing big circles to the outside of the stubby broken wing where the inner circle was naUed in a tight spin. Inside, we centrifugaUzed crewmen were pinned to the floor and waUs, unable to hook up our parachutes and jump free. Stunning C-forces froze us like gaUery marble. ImmobUe, we looked into each other's fearful eyes as we plummeted. AU down. Wounded and bleeding men in the water. The Pacific washed our wounds with its stinging, healing salt. I saw...


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