"I'd love to meet your father," Kimmel answered in seeming earnestness. "Have you told him about us?"
"Do you think I'm crazy? He'd kill me."
"What do you mean? For what?"
"For getting pregnant."
"You're pregnant?" Kimmel said, alarmed.
Vicky Hollins in her silk dress, the glances clinging to her as she passed. In heels she wasn't that short. She liked to call herself by her last name. It's Hollins, she would announce on the phone.
They were shipping out, that was what made it all real or a form of real.
"Who knows if we'll get back," he said casually.
Her letters had come in the two sackfuls of mail that Bowman had brought back from Leyte. He'd been sent there by the exec to try and find the ship's mail at the Fleet Post Officethey'd had none for ten daysand he had flown back with it, triumphant, in a TBM. Kimmel read parts of her letters aloud for the benefit, especially, of Brownell, the third man in the cabin. Brownell was intense and morally pure, with a knotted jaw that had traces of acne. Kimmel liked to bait him. He sniffed at a page of the letter. Yeah, that was her perfume, he said, he'd recognize it anywhere.
"And maybe something else," he speculated. "I wonder. You think she might have rubbed it against her?.?.?.?Here," he said, offering it to Brownell, "tell me what you think."
"I wouldn't know," Brownell said uneasily. The knots in his jaw showed.
"Oh, sure you would, an old pussy hound like you."
"Don't try and involve me in your lechery," Brownell said.
"It's not lechery, she's writing to me because we fell in love. It's something beautiful and pure."
"How would you know?"
Brownell was reading The Prophet.
"The Prophet. What's that?" Kimmel said. "Let me see it. What does it do, tell us what's going to happen?"
Brownell didn't answer.
The letters were less exciting than a page filled with feminine handwriting would suggest. Vicky was a talker and her letters were a detailed and somewhat repetitive account of her life, which consisted in part of going back to all the places she and Kimmel had been to, usually in the company of Susu, her closest friend, and also in the company of other young naval officers, but thinking always of Kimmel. The bartender remembered them, she said, a fabulous couple. Her closings were always a line from a popular song. I didn't want to do it,she wrote.
Bowman had no girlfriend, faithful or otherwise. He'd had no experience of love but was reluctant to admit it. He simply let the subject pass when women were discussed and acted as though Kimmel's dazzling affair was more or less familiar ground to him. His life was the ship and his duties aboard. He felt loyalty to it and to a tradition that he respected, and he felt a certain pride when the captain or exec called out, "Mr. Bowman!" He liked their reliance, offhanded though it might be, on him.
He was diligent. He had blue eyes and brown hair combed back. He'd been diligent in school. Miss Crowley had drawn him aside after class and told him he had the makings of a fine Latinist, but if she could see him now in his uniform and sea-tarnished insignia, she would have been very impressed. From the time he and Kimmel had joined the ship at Ulithi, he felt he had performed well.
How he would behave in action was weighing on his mind that morning as they stood looking out at the mysterious, foreign sea and then at the sky that was already becoming brighter. Courage and fear and how you would act under fire were not among the things you talked about. You hoped, when the time came, that you would be able to do as expected. He had faith, if not complete, in himself, then in the leadership, the seasoned names that guided the fleet. Once, in the distance he had seen, low and swift-moving, the camouflaged flagship, the New Jersey, with Halsey aboard. It was like seeing, from afar, the Emperor at Ratisbon. He felt a kind of pride, even fulfillment. It was enough.
Excerpted from All That Is by James Salter. Copyright © 2013 by James Salter. Excerpted by permission of Knopf. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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