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The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1945

Maybe the Army

page 8

Maybe the Army

It's all one hell of a muddle. I could talk for a week and you wouldn't understand it any better. You couldn't. I can't make you understand what I don't understand myself. Yesterday it was nothing—a simple matter to talk about easily. We were always talking about it. Now—I can't think. It goes on and on in my head and I sit here and wish to hell I could make up my mind.

Look—when I walk out of this tent I walk out to meet a girl. I came across her on the beach yesterday. Ted and I were about the first down there and she came along with a girl friend. We were cleaning out the boat and we saw them coming and I said to Ted. Like a look at those legs, and when they came closer we grinned and they grinned back and Ted said how do you like it, girls?

Then we got talking and sat around on the sand and smoked and yarned. Boats and swimming and people, nothing in particular. That's how I met her. She walked along the beach.

—If I tell it this way, you won't mind—you have the time? I remember it all easily. It isn't what happened that's muddled.

Well, there we were, and after a while Ted said how about a try out, and this little dark one sprang up and hopped in straight away. She called out look out Sydney here comes Judy. And I said you can't go to Sydney without doing some work first. She grinned back and I said you are pushing with the rest of us. So she got out and sidled around to the end where I was. O.K. Caveman, she said. I'll help. And that was the first surprise I got because she did help. She looked like a little black kitten and she acted a bit like one, too, but she was strong. She really pushed behind that boat. When we got it down to the water the other one said, you might tip us out. Don't you think we're pretty trusting? You'll be alright, we said. Ted took a line then and said if we tip you out we will tow you in by the hair, we don't leave mermaids about for sharks to swallow up. I could tell that Ted liked the fair one. She didn't talk very much, but she looked a good sport I was all for this Judy one myself.

They were fun, those girls. We spent all the rest of the day with them. When we got back to the beach after the row it was about dinner time, so they said how about coming to eat a lettuce with us. We've got a good supply in and we could give you a pipi if you're very hungry.

Well, we went to their camp for dinner. We went over to our own tent to have a shower and change first, and by the time we got to theirs it was all ready. Lettuce and tomatoes and whatall. It was a good lunch. We all did the dishes together and then someone suggested going over to the pine trees to cool off. It was cool in there, too. We took a rug and lay about talking and glad to be out of the heat. It was dim . . . the way pine trees are when they are very thick, and that clean smell. It felt a long way from the city and work. We were pretty pleased with things.

page 9

It was about this time that I got another surprise. Judy could talk. She had a darned good brain and she was using it, too, and she knew plenty. She told me she worked in a library, but didn't like it much. She went to Tech. at nights, doing commercial art and she thought that after the war she might be able to get a decent job at that. I told her what I was doing and then I said, but I don't expect I'll be at it much longer.

She let that pass. Maybe she didn't hear it. Perhaps she was thinking her own thoughts anyway and didn't notice. In a way I was glad, but it sort of hung over me all the same.

There was a dance on in the evening, a few miles up the coast, so we all piled into Ted's old car and went. You know what these beach dances are like, even now with the war. Jammed with people, plenty of drinking going on, the usual crowd of Maoris about. The orchestra at this one was Maori and they were hot, too. Good time and they made it noisy. The chap on the drums was great. It was the drums that got us going. We had been dancing for an hour or so, sometimes I danced with Peg, but mostly with Judy. We just seemed to get along together. It happens like that now and again, doesn't it?

Well, we were sitting upstairs in a sort of supper room listening to the drums down below and Judy picked up a spoon and started tapping a rhythm on the side of her glass. What am I playing, she said. "God save the King," I said. No, go on, guess properly, she said. So then I began to listen and 1 could hear it. She was tapping "Swanee River." Now you, she said. So I picked up a spoon and did "When Your Train Has Gone." She couldn't pick that up, though, so I did "The Umbrella Man." She got that, of course. Then it was her turn and she tapped something that I didn't catch at once. You'll be marching to this soon, she said, meaning it as a clue. So I thought here I go. I said not me, beautiful.

She looked a bit surprised then and said, like a question—not fit?

I said I'm alright. I would get by on that I said.

—Look, I can remember every word—I remember everything in that moment. It's all here when I think—the noise all round us and people bumping past and the music coming up. An old flag tacked on the stage wall behind her head, the way the light fell on a front curl. Her hands were quite still on the table. You don't like marching, I suppose, she said. I didn't say anything. She was thinking and then out of it she said, maybe you're going into the Air Force or the Navy? You'd look good as a sailor, she said. No, I said. I'm not.

Perhaps it was the way I said it. She looked at me. We were different from that second on. She put down the spoon and sat very still and looked at me. She didn't look surprised. Nor angry, either. She looked sweet, but she sat so still.

Well, there we were.

One of those, eh, she said. One of those I said.

Presently she pushed back the chair and said, let's go down on the beach. It smells in here.

We went on the beach. The sand was cold and there was a wind coming through the lupins, rattling the pods. I had the rug from the car and we found a little hollowed out place. Straight away she snuggled down beside me and we looked up at the sky and talked, and it was then I knew for sure she had a brain. She talked and talked. Every time I brought up an argument—and I know them all—she had one to match it, but on the other side. Every one I raised she countered—I hate violence: we are defending against worse violence. I won't kill: there are ambulance units. I want revolution through peace: peace has already gone, so speed up the revolution we all want.—We went through it and all the thinking I've done in these last three years was crowding into words. I had words page 10 in my mouth all the time. She held to her side too. Once she slipped and trotted out that old one—if you saw your mother and sisters—you know the line. Parsons use it. So do lots of others.

Oh, Judy, I said. Why that? There isn't any reply to that. It's plain stupid.

Then she was angry at last and she dug her fingers into my shoulder and tried to shake me. She was too little. She was lying too close to me, anyway. I think she was crying, but her fingers were hard on my shoulders and she was saying you stand out, over and over again. She said everyone is in it, you keep out. You. By yourself. You stay out and you won't help. All your friends go and you watch them and you stay here Safe. You want to be safe, that's what it is. She went on and on and then I couldn't think any more. The words were used up and I couldn't remember one more argument. But it wasn't because of what she said. That wasn't mattering much by then and, anyway, she was getting hysterical. I wouldn't be put off by a hysterical girl.

I don't know just when, but, after a while I got the idea that the anger wasn't at me at all. It was for herself and she was lost. She stopped talking and I held her warm and tight until she was quiet again, and the idea got stronger. After a while she lay there very still, but not sleeping, thinking, and I liked holding her. So little, and this anger and feeling lost. So I said, Judy, I'm taking you home now. Tomorrow I want to see you again. Can I, Judy? And she didn't say anything, but when we got up to go back to the car she stood off and looked at me and then she stepped up close and ran her hand over me, over my face and down my body. She was so gentle, so little.

You are too strong, too fine to be shot to bits, she said. And too good to rot in prison.

We walked over to the car and neither of us spoke any more. It was already after dawn when we got back to the camp. It was today.

Today. Here I am, sitting on these blankets and trying to sort the whole stupid issue out, all over again.

"A scourge has come across the world and you are neutral."

"You give them your dole of charity, your kind thought, your best wishes, your smug sympathy."

"But you are above the struggle"

The sun slipped through the cloud and shone again on the street, lifting the long shadow from the wall.

I saw written on the wall a slogan.

I saw it and shouted.

I shouted at the friend of my enemy.

At the "humanitarian."

At the "neutral."

The man in his ivory tower above the struggle.

The gutless caricature of a human being who wore a cardboard text in place of a heart.

The kind Bumble with his concert-hall charity.

I shouted at him.

The slogan read: Death to Fascism.

At that moment I could almost hear music to those words

I shouted at the friend of my enemy.

"There are no neutrals in hell."

Still he was silent. Only his thin, bloodless lips moved.