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  • One Summer (Thomas and Anna)
  • Robert Coover (bio)

That spring when the apple and cherry trees were in bloom, about four months before Thomas's scheduled transfer to his unit's school of administration, a young army nurse named Anna arrived at the camp to begin her two-year tour of duty. A friend's vulgar remark led Thomas to look for her when he was next sent to the dispensary. She was easy to single out: a nice figure and pretty in a place where prettiness was rare. She saw him looking and smiled at him and, blushing, he smiled back. He ran into her again a few days later after an autopsy room delivery; she introduced herself, he did the same, again blushing (which amused Anna), and he asked her where she was from. The South, she said; her father was an army officer stationed there. Thomas said he was from the North, a farm family, and they exchanged teasing remarks about the relative merits of their birthplaces. Her silvery-blond hair was braided and rolled into a knot on top of her head, and he was reminded once again how pretty she was, especially when she smiled.

Thomas lived in the men's pale-green barracks outside the camp's perimeter fence in the shadow of the tall chimneys, Anna with other nurses in a requisitioned house in the village, so, except when duties brought them into contact, they saw each other only at lunch in the mess hall at the men's barracks. The men and women sat separately, but he and Anna often exchanged greetings across the hall with a wave, prompting more good-natured vulgarity from his companions at the table. Thomas grinned but felt a growing distance from them.

One day Thomas spied her sitting alone outside the administration office, writing in a little notebook. She said shyly it was her diary and quickly put it away. He asked her what she wrote there. My thoughts, she said. He said he didn't think his were worth keeping, and anyway he believed only in the moment at hand, which you couldn't live in and write about at the same time. Anna smiled at that, but said she wanted to create a past to be remembered, and keeping a diary made [End Page 39] her conscious of the passing hours, so she tried to make them more interesting to have more to write about. He admitted that he could see how that might be true, especially if you had more than one life, but if you started to fall behind in the writing, the opposite could be true: you might want to make less out of each hour to have time to catch up. Anna laughed, and it was a beautiful, silvery laugh that made him want to hug her. He made a remark about the dire quality of the mess-hall food and said that, as one of the camp drivers, he had access to delivery vans; maybe he could check one out some day and they could go on a picnic. Anna said that would be fun, but she was only being polite. There were camp regulations, and she wasn't sure she wanted to know the corporal any better than she already did.

When the picnic opportunity actually arose, however—Thomas had to pick up a vanload of supplies the next day from a nearby chemical factory and would have time afterward, he said, to take her to a river island once occupied by pirates—she said yes. It was her day off and warm sunshine was forecast, so why not? It would be fun and a welcome escape from the stifling confines of the nurses' quarters and the malodorous camp. She said she'd buy things in town and prepare the picnic, and she told him where to pick her up.

The drive to the island was beautiful, and they both remarked on it, though the apple and cherry trees were already shedding their blossoms as if undressing themselves. Thomas paused at a lay-by to pick some of the remaining ones for her, and also, his errand completed...


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pp. 39-69
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