1942 ‘Bernadine by Pat Boone
A cab pulled to a stop in front of the house. Gloria watched as a man with shiny buttons and medals on his jacket got out. Bernadine observed him too. She stood up from the sewing table where she had been working on a poodle skirt for Harriet.
Two nights ago she had dreamt of Harrison sitting on the edge of the bed. She felt him shaking her and smelled his essence, “Bernadine I came to say goodbye, honey wake up.”
The next morning fully awake she convinced herself that it was a dream. During breakfast Harriet asked, “Mom, how long is daddy staying home this time?”
“What are you talking about girl? Your daddy’s not here.”
“Mom, I talked to him for a long time last night, he sat at the foot of my bed.”
Harrison Jr. did not say a word, lest they would know he was crazy too. He played chess with his dad last night.
Upon mention of her father Glory shouted from her high chair, “Daddy! Want Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”
The knock came at the door. Bernadine put her hand over her heart as if it hurt. “Harriet I want you to take Glory and wait in the kitchen until I call you.”
Harrison Jr. came running home from the park. He knew what was happening before the officer spoke a word, “The Secretary of State request that I inform you that your husband, Sergeant Harrison Solomon Brieman was killed in battle while defending his country.”
When the officer left Harrison Jr. walked into the kitchen. Glory looked up from the floor where she sat confused, caressing Harriet’s head, “What’s the matter Harry? Why you cwying?”
Harrison lifted Glory onto his hip and took Harriet’s hand. They joined their mother on the couch where she sat looking at nothing, not saying a word. The silence seemed to last an eternity. When Bernadine finally stood up she let out a wail the likes of which they had never heard before.
The neighbors, wh o had been standing outside, came rushing into the house. Everyone knew what the officer’s visit meant. There had been so many of these visits that when a cab was engaged by an officer carrying a briefcase at the airport, bus or train station, the driver would ask, “You bringing bad news?”
The driver called in a code along with the address to the dispatcher who notified drivers in the area. They knocked on doors letting the neighbors know to get ready. The war had claimed so many sons and husbands that it was almost a weekly occurrence. The neighbors banded together to offer their assistance and sympathetic shoulders.
After what seemed like a long time of watching people’s mouths move and not comprehending anything, Bernadine told the neighbors, “I would like to lie down now.” She slowly turned and walked up the stairs to her bedroom with her best friend, Theresa’s assistance.
The neighbors took shifts coming by to check on Bernadine and bring food and drink. The children sat in the living room looking lost. Glory was too young to understand what was going on, but she knew it had to be something bad, she had never seen her family so unhappy.
Bernadine stayed in her room sleeping for days. When she was not asleep she stared out the big bay window at the California palm trees that lined the streets. Why was the sky so blue? She clenched Harrison’s dog tags in her hand. Why were those blue jays and red robins flitting around like everything was all right? Why wasn’t it raining to let everyone know that the world was about to come to a hideous end. Life could not go on without her Harrison. Didn’t they know that? For a wonderful man like Harrison to die the way he did, there had to be something terrible on the horizon. God would not let the world stand this way, he just couldn’t let the world continue to exist without him.
The lieutenant told her there was not enough of Harrison left to send home to bury. The day before the wake, which the neighbors organized, she got out of bed to ready the house.
People sat around talking about what a great guy Harrison was. Harrison’s brother arrived from North Carolina. Some of his military buddies came. Several were missing limbs, or nursing wounds, that enabled them to receive honorable medical discharge from the army. They were no longer able to fight and did not know what they would do with themselves, other than go in and out of the Veterans hospital. They all looked like their spirits had been broken in two.
Bernadine looked at the ten thousand dollar check the government had given her in exchange for her husband and father of her children. She knew it would not be enough to take care of her and her children for long.
She would have to find work, but what was she qualified for? She had married right after graduating high school and had no training. She would have to find work as a maid or nanny.
She was bitter, she was angry, this was not how her life was supposed to go. Her one and only love had died, leaving her with three children to bring up on a meager maid’s salary which was now usually a dollar a day.
Harrison had always said, “No wife of mine is going to work. I bring home the bacon, your job is to stay in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant,” She missed the jokes they shared.
Harrison had taken a three month leave to spend time with his family before going back to start a third, and career tour in the war. He told the family of his decision to become a career soldier one morning over breakfast. Bernadine had been more than a little salty that day and did not have much to say.
Finally over lunch, he asked, “Something wrong honey?”
She threw down the Dutch cleanser she was using to clean the porcelain sink and let him have it with both barrels, “When I married you I didn’t sign up to have a husband that I only see once in a blue moon. I want a man that I can cuddle up with every night.”
“Sugar lump, someone has to protect our country or we could end up back in slavery, or with some Nazi exterminating every person because their eye’s are not blue or their hair is not blonde. What if every man decided to stay home? Bernie, I am protecting my family and my country because that is what a man does. Please understand, I would feel less than a husband and father if I stayed here and did nothing knowing that the place we call home is in danger.”
Harrison took his wife in his arms in an attempt to comfort her. She sighed in resignation. Bernadine knew what was happening with the war, she read the papers and listened to the news. She was proud of her brave husband, but he had done his duty for the country. Soldiers were obligated during war time to stay in for the duration of the war plus six months. Now he wanted to sign up for the next twenty or thirty years?
“Harrison, I miss you so much when you are away. Don’t you think you are pushing it a bit? People are dying over there in France. Can’t you stay home and get a job?”
“You’re supposed to miss me, but you know what?” He playfully wrapped his arms around her and started tickling her, something he always did to coax her out of a dark mood.
“After a few more years I’ll be retired and we can sit on the front porch in our rocking chairs everyday. Then you’ll be wishing I had somewhere else to be and you know what else?”
“I’m here now.”
“Go on now!” She said blushing as he took her hand and led her to the bedroom.
“Left, left, left, right, left, shake that butt from left to right, you bout to have a soldier in yo’ bed tonight.” They both laughed, he was always making up little cadence songs.
In the bedroom Harrison slowly peeled her dress off while taking in every inch of her beautiful ebony skin. He studied the inviting way her cleavage looked in her bra. He replaced his tongue at the spot where his eyes rested deep in her valley.
Bernadine moaned with the electricity of his touch. She sensed rather than felt her apron and dress fall to the floor. He ran his hands between her skin and garter belt and before she knew it her stockings were pooled around her ankles. “You smell so good to me. Two days before I leave I am going to make love to you every two hours. I don’t want you to wash or bathe afterwards. I want you to wear the same pair of underwear until I leave.”
“Alright,” she laughed, “Can I ask why you want me to do this?”
“I’m going to take your panties with me, keep ‘em tucked in my helmet so at night when I go to sleep I can put my helmet over my face and smell you and think about these times. It’s a way for me to be with you even though we are far apart.”
“Uhm, Uhm, Mr. Brieman, you are so nasty. That sounds so kinky to me, but what you want you know you can get.” She unbuttoned his shirt and he lay back on the bed so that she could pull on the legs of his pants revealing his muscled thighs and calves. She threw the pants to the other side of the room and yanked his underwear down. She loved looking at his bronze body, the way his legs, arms and chest rippled when he moved aroused her.
“What are you staring at Mrs. Brieman?”
“My beautiful husband,” She lay down on him and teased the hair on his chest with her teeth, biting just enough to pull the curled hairs straight, before traveling to his nipple which grew taut and firm under her tongue.
“Baby don’t tease me too much,” he loved the fact that he was the first and only man she had ever been with. He felt like royalty ruling over his kingdom, her body. He had taken his time fine-tuning her like a car engine. They had explored every inch of one another.
She had definitely taken instruction well, she knew how to pull everything out of him. Bernadine ignored his plea to slow down. He finished and still she did not stop. This was something new. He wanted to ask where she had learned this new technique, but could not speak. He was so sensitive that he wanted to scream like a woman, to his amazement he found himself stiffening again.
“Do you like that?” she asked as she let him go, flipped him onto his back and climbed on top of his shaft.
“Yea… Yea… Yeah.”
“Then tell me you like it. What’s the matter? The bwig stwong soldier can’t tawk? Cat got your tongue?” She laughed as she rode him hard.
She was laughing, but the truth was he couldn’t talk. He felt like the back of his head was going to come off. He had always waited in between at least fifteen minutes before he could go again, but he was feeling sensations he did not know he was capable of as she rode him as if he was a stallion. “Well, giddy yup then.”
Bernadine had definitely flipped the script on Harrison. Theresa, who lived two doors down had given her some pointers. Theresa had one of those hot-blooded Hispanic men, and shared things with her that she had never dreamed of doing.
Harrison had always been the teacher, but he discovered that he liked Bernadine taking the lead. When he looked in her face there was defiance there. He had to admit she had his motor running, and he was about to reach his destination again.
Bernadine lay there triumphant, her toes curling and uncurling. She could still hear the roar from his last orgasm. She felt powerful. She was the boss. Yeah that’s it, he was always the boss, not that she was complaining because he always satisfied her, but today they had reached a new plateau.
“As soon as I catch my breath and get me some water,” he was trying to speak and catch his breath at the same time, his chest heaving, “You are going to tell me where you learned all this new stuff,” he said pointing a finger at her.
Bernadine giggled and rose to get a warm wash cloth and a glass of cool water. By the time she returned Harrison was fast asleep. She lay down and he snuggled up to her.
Before she fell into a deep sleep she felt a familiar fluttering in her abdomen. A smile turned up the corners of her mouth. A silvery light sprinkled inside of her like glitter leaving a tiny miraculous gift in her womb.
Bernie woke to the sound of the kids coming in from school. As usual they made enough noise to wake Glory from her nap.
She put a smock on and went to see about their snack and getting dinner started.
Why did I write this book?
I had some characters that came to me in recurring dreams and I decided to write my first totally fiction, nothing to do with me or my ancestors, novel. This is the result.
What am I trying to relay to readers?
I love history. I researched the 1940’s while writing The Roux in the Gumbo and found it to be a turbulent time in America with the German war followed by the Japanese war and found that there were victims who are not acknowledged enough in history, the wives, mothers and children of the soldiers that died fighting for America. What did they do when the man came to the door to inform them that their whole world was turned upside down with the death of their loved ones? This book addresses that issue.
Why are you writing about multicultural relationships?
Because the world is not Black, the world is not White. People love who they love. In my first novel I researched my family and it is based on a multicultural relationship. My family is French and Black on one side and Indian and Black on the other. Those people had to overcome obstacles in an era when mixing nationalities was taboo, it was against the law. My mother, and grandmother were so light skinned that they could pass for white, though they didn’t, which life may have been easier if they had, they had a lot of road blocks because of their light color. It made me want to explore what kind of love would make me risk my life.
Why is history so important?
I feel that if you don’t know where you came from you don’t know where you are going.
How do you research?
I start with the music from the era and year that I am writing about, I only watch music and old television shows from that time. I study the products and cleansers and how the houses were built, porcelain sinks and linoleum floors, television dinners and everything that is around me changes for a time. I even cook my meals from old cookbooks, like the Betty Crocker and Julia Childs French book.
What made you start every chapter with a song?
When I hear a song it takes me back to what I was doing at that time.
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