Henry Johnson was happy to see the three horses the family owned in the field. That meant that Anse and Hagen were back from the medical center. Maybe, just maybe the waiting was over. Henry pointed the horses out to Wendel Schultz and Suse Eckhard who were seated across the tram's aisle. "When we get to the house, I want some time to talk with your Uncle Anse and Hagen before you start asking for stories about the war. If you'll leave us alone for a bit, I promise not to interrupt when Hagen gets to the good parts. Deal?"
Suse looked a little hurt, Henry knew she had a bit of a crush on Hagen, and she tried to monopolize his time.
"No more than an hour, Suse. You and the boys will have Hagen all evening. Wendel grab your brother." His brother, Gerd, as usual, was seated directly behind the tram driver.
Henry was glad to see Hagen sitting alone on the porch steps when he walked up the driveway. Better to find out what had happened before he had to face Anse.
"Hi, Hagen." Henry sat on the steps beside Hagen. "How was the trip to the medical center?"
Hagen smiled. "I passed. My leg is completely healed. When my leave is over in two weeks, I can return to the TacRail Battalion . . . no, I mean the TacRail Regiment. The word came in the mail this morning. We're a regiment now. "
"And Anse? What did the doctor have to say about him?"
Hagen's smile disappeared. "Not so good, Herr Johnson. The doctors will not clear him to return to service. In fact, they were talking about a medical discharge."
"Damn," Henry muttered under his breath. "Was it the eye chart again?" Anse was blind in his left eye from splinters.
"No. The chief has a waiver for the eye chart. It was the bucket of sand." Seeing Henry's questioning look, Hagen continued. "You have to be able to pick up a fifty pound bucket of sand. You have to do it twice, once with each hand. Herr Hatfield can't do it. The wound in his arm tore out too much muscle. His hand won't close completely, either."
Henry knew Anse was going to have problems with a nasty wound in his bicep and most of three fingers gone from his left hand. But this was worse than he had expected. "How's he taking it?"
"Not good Herr Johnson. Not good at all. The worst part was the ride home. The chief was not able to hold the reins in his left hand, and I had to drive the wagon."
Yes, Henry thought, that had to be bad. Anse never likes anyone to do things for him. "Where is he? I need to talk with him."
"He is in the living room. He just sits and looks at the television. It is not on; there is no program. He just sits and stares at the blank screen. I am worried about him. I have never seen the chief like this."
"I'm worried too, Hagen. But it is up to us, his friends, to pull him through this. He is a strong man inside; it'll work out." Henry stood and started toward the front door. "Hagen, I want a bit of uninterrupted time with Anse. Why don't you entertain Suse and the boys? Keep them outside for a while."
Henry wondered why he was thinking of gladiators and lions. As Hagen had said, Anse was sprawled on the sofa looking at nothing. He looked terrible. He was wearing his oldest coveralls; almost worn out at the knees. There was even a small rip in the leg. It was very obvious that he hadn't shaved for a couple of days. He had wrapped a bandana around his head to hide his ruined eye. It looked more like he was pretending to be a hip hop gangster than anything else. Henry walked over and sat in the easy chair. There was a long enough period of silence for him to start to fidget.
"Hello, Anse," Henry said.
"I said 'hello, Anse.' The normal response is 'Hi, Henry. How was your day'?"
Anse looked around. "Sorry, Hank. I didn't hear you come in. How was your day?"
Anse sounded like a puppet just going through the motions. "My day was fine. How was yours?"
Silence was his answer. "Come on, Anse. Talk to me. I know you went to the medical center. I talked to Hagen so I even know what they told you. So talk to me."
"You wouldn't understand."
"I wouldn't understand?" Henry banged his cane on the floor. "I've walked with this stick since 1968, and I wouldn't understand. Wake up, Anse. This is me you're talking to."
Anse looked up. "Sorry, Hank. I guess you would understand part of it. But you always worked with your head, being a school teacher and all. I've always worked with my hands." He held out his ruined left hand. "Now look at me. What good am I now?"
"So are you going to sit around feeling sorry for yourself or are you going to do something about it? Hagen told me about the bucket of sand. Do you want to get out that old set of weights in the basement and start some physical therapy? Give it a couple of months and we can build up the strength in your arm." Henry could see Anse was struggling not to lose his temper. Good. Maybe a good mad is what he needs.
"I don't have time to do any physical therapy. They're throwing me out of the Army."
"I doubt that. Maybe you won't be a field man any more, but surely Colonel Beth will need you to train engine drivers. You're a good trainer. You trained all the drivers in TacRail, and you helped train all the brakemen. Shoot, you even trained the loaders and loadmasters. That new transportation school in Magdeburg sounds like the perfect slot for you."
"I don't want to be a trainer any more, Hank. I trained Hagen and the three other boys from TacRail who were wounded at Ahrensbök. But I was there with them. I don't want to send boys that I trained out to get killed or wounded when I can't go myself.. It would tear me up if they got hurt."
Henry understood. He had sent men into combat, those many years ago. He tried reason. "Anse, you're fifty-four years old. You had to expect this was coming. You can't go running around playing Alvin York forever."
"Charlie Schwartz is still in TacRail and he's almost seventy. I was hoping to last a few more years."
"Charlie Schwartz works behind a desk. Do you want a desk job?"
"No desk job."
Henry was getting angry with Anse's stubbornness. "Okay. What if you are forced out of the Army? It's not like you're going to starve. You'll always have a roof and a plate here, and how many companies have you invested in besides Pat's gun factory . . . six or seven? You'll have a good income to retire on."
Anse gave Henry a pitiful look. "That money is for my old age. And I want to leave something to Wili's kids and Suse."
"So you want to keep working. I can understand that. All right, let's look at the possibilities. With all the new industry starting up there are a score of places for a man like you. You have proved you can supervise and lead men."
"It's not the same and you know it. I don't want some charity job. And that's what they'd be. 'Oh, look at the poor wounded soldier.' Bah. I might as well get a lawn mower and go back into the lawn care business. That, at least, is honest work."