by Susan Newton Bennet
As she leaned against the seat in the taxi conflicting thoughts crowded her mind. This is probably stupid. I may have lost my job. Doctor Goldstein is sure to report me. I’ll get reprimanded at least. And what am I going to say to Laura? It might be cruel to get her hopes up that Jonah is her lost Cal. It may be just coincidence that the name seemed to strike a chord with Jonah. How can I put this possibility to her without causing her more pain? Dear God, let me think of something that will not hurt her more!
Laura looked up in surprise when Cora came thought the door. “Cora, I didn’t expect you at this time of day. I’m knee deep in packing. I seem to have more stuff to take home than I brought with me. You know I have my ticket. Oh, it will be so good to see the family, but I will miss you.”
“Laura,” Cora stammered breathlessly, “I came home because there’s a young flyer who may know something about your Cal. This fellow was shot down and held a prisoner. He knew another flyer in prison camp that sort of fits Cal’s description. I came home to get you. This man is being transferred so we need to go right now and see him.”
Laura dropped the blouse she was folding and stared at Cora. “Oh, Cora, do you think it could be possible?”
“I don’t know. I thought you should go talk to him. Please, dear, don’t get your hopes up too high. I don’t want to add more grief. Just get your coat. It’s cold outside. I have a taxi waiting.”
“A taxi, my goodness, what extravagance, you are a dear!”
Neither woman said anything on the trip. Tension filled the air in the taxi. Laura folded and unfolded her hands in her lap.
They walked together up the steps of Walter Reed Army Hospital. Casualties from the front filled its twenty-five hundred beds. Here men came with wounds from shrapnel, shells and grenade fragments and the infections they caused. Men whose lungs were seared by mustard gas coughed and gasped for breath. They stared at the two women through inflamed eyes. Laura avoided staring at a soldier who resembled a walking cadaver. All hospitals have the same dreadful odors, fulsome antiseptics to cover worse smells,
The two women entered a ward with its perfectly aligned army cots marching down each side of a wide aisle. Laura saw the red haired patient with his head bent over a book and fainted dead away.
“Hey, Jonah,” a soldier on crutches standing next to Jonah said, “Get your head out of that book. We got some excitement going on at the end of the ward. Let’s go see.”
“What is it?”
“Nurse Brown Eyes is bending over some woman who passed out. Doc Goldstein and an orderly are fussing over her with what looks like smelling salts.”
“You go. I got a good book.”
“Aw, come on.”
Slowly the two men made their way down the aisle. Jonah stopped before the prone Laura.
“My God,” he said, “my God, it’s Ma.” He went to his knees and reached for Laura with his right arm.
At that moment she came to. “Cal, oh Cal, is it really you?” With both hands she reached up and cradled his face.
“It’s me, Ma. Where have you been?” He reached for his mother as best he could with the one arm in a cast and they clung to each other. Struggling with his good arm, he attempted to pull her to her feet. Cora stepped forward and helped. Mother and son stood entwined. Tears coursed down Laura’s face. A loud cheer rose from the chorus of onlookers.
Doctor Goldstein ran his handkerchief over his face to disguise the tear in his eye. “Well, this is a happy occasion. Why don’t you to repair to my office where you can have some privacy. You have a lot of catching up to do.”
Laura turned to Cora. “Oh, Cora, this is all your doing. You had an idea Cal was here. God bless you, Cora.”
“No,” Cora protested, “This is the answer to all our prayers. This is the Lord’s doing.”
Dr. Goldstein led mother and son down the rows of cots through a chorus of applauding patients to his cramped office, found two straight chairs for them and left, closing the door.
“Tell me,” Laura said as they sat down. “What happened? They reported you missing.”
“Yes, when I was in England I crash landed in a dense fog. When I came to I couldn’t even remember my name. A dairy farmer and his wife took me to their little house and took care of me. I was out cold for a long time. The couple had a son in the Army. He came home on leave an emotional wreck. The Army sent him back to the front and he was killed. The parents felt very bitter. I guess I looked a lot like the lost boy, red hair and all. They hid me from the authorities who snooped around the wrecked plane. They were afraid I would be sent to the front and killed.”
“How could they do that?”
“I don’t really know. The little farm was in a pretty remote place. The old man said the old lady almost lost her mind when the son was killed. They started calling me by his name, Jonah.”
“And you’ve been there all this time?”
“Well, most of the time.”
“How did the authorities finally find you?”
“The old man furnished milk for the local village. He delivered it with an old nag and a wagon. Well, he fell in the barn and broke his ankle. I had to deliver the milk. The old lady dressed me in some of the son, Jonah’s old clothes and tried to pass me off as their son. It didn’t work. The local sheriff showed up and when they found my Yank uniform, the jig was up. I broke my arm when I crash landed. It didn’t mend right so they sent me here to Walter Reed to break it again so it would set properly and see if they could get me my memory back.”
Laura reached over and grasped Cal’s hand. “I just have to touch you, darling. You don’t know how I’ve grieved. I wonder how Cora guessed.”
“The Doc brought me a board that had a lot of women’s names on it and I picked out ‘Laura.’
Good thing you’ve got a fairly common name, Ma. There wasn’t a ‘Caleb’ on the board of men’s names.” Cal laughed and squeezed Laura’s hand. “Tell me, how’s brother Al and Cristina?”
Laura avoided his eyes and said, “Fine, they’re both fine.”
“It just occurred to me, Ma, what are you doing in Washington?”
“That’s a long story, dear. We’ll go into that later. Now let’s get that kind doctor and see what we can do about getting you home to Colorado.”