My Daddy's War Story
    Michael Lukas
Every night during the war I slept with Mommy, snuggled up next to her on the big bed. Her hair smelled like metal from working in the factory; it smelled like iron. She had long hair that covered my face and made me feel like I was sleeping safe in an iron room.

Before bed Mommy would tell me stories. First, she would ask me if I wanted to hear a story about when she was little or one about when I was little. I shook my head no to both; that made her laugh. She knew I wanted to hear stories about my daddy. Those were the stories I liked the best. She always started slowly, at the very beginning. She always told me the same story, but it was a different every time.

When the war started, my daddy was poor and lonely. He wasn't called up in the first draft, but waited and waited in his dirty apartment for the phone call. His apartment was near the pier and he took walks to the water sometimes. He stood and watched ships leave full of soldiers. He watched all the men in the city leave until he was the only one left.

With all the men gone, the women started working in factories. They started working in supermarkets and banks and hospitals. All the jobs that men did before the war were taken up by women.. There were no jobs left for men. My daddy didn't know what to do. He walked along the water every day for a week, thinking of what to do, thinking hard and long for a job only a man could do.

The next morning he got dressed up nice in a suit and went downtown. The women were surprised to see him walking down the street. They thought all of the men had gone to war. A group of young women stopped him and asked what he was doing, why he wasn't fighting in the war. He told them that he hadn't been drafted and asked where the police station was. They told him and he went on his way. As he walked away, the young women giggled. Probably because he was so short, a midget, really.

Everywhere he went that day, women stared at him and asked him questions. But he was confident; while he was walking, he'd thought up all kinds of reasons why he wanted to be a policeman, why he would do a good job, and why they should hire him. But he didn't need any reasons. Mrs. Maser, whose husband had been police chief and left her in charge when he went off to war, hired him right away without asking any questions. She said that they could use a man around and he could start as soon as he wanted. The only problem was finding a uniform that fit him.

The next day, my daddy started his job. Mrs. Maser had found a uniform for him. It was actually a policeman costume for a child, but it fit him well. He patrolled the streets, the factories, the supermarkets and the hospitals. Everything was going well. The women concentrated on their work and their husbands over the sea.

Two weeks went by without any crime. My daddy walked up and down streets, in and out of factories, supermarkets, and hospitals, but nothing ever happened. Without men, there was no crime in the city and nothing for him to do.

My daddy decided that he should talk to Mrs. Maser, so he went to her office and asked her what he should do. She said she would send a letter to her husband, asking him for a suggestion. But the mail took a long time to get across the sea, sometimes more than two weeks, and my daddy was bored. Every day he walked all over the city and all he saw were women working hard and thinking about their husbands.

Then one day after work, Mrs. Maser told my daddy that she had an idea. She said that she usually slept over at the police station in case anyone called for help. If he wanted, she said, he could do that on Tuesday, so that she could have a break. No one ever called, but they needed someone to stay over just in case.

The first Tuesday passed by and, like Ms. Maser said, no one called. But the next Tuesday , just as my daddy was finishing his dinner, the phone rang. It was Mrs. Bergen from Lakeview Drive. She said that she had heard a noise outside her window and asked if he could check it out. Immediately, my daddy jumped off his wooden stool and drove to her house.

When he got there, he looked all around with a flashlight. He checked outside the house, inside the house, and even in the attic, but there was nothing there. My daddy told Mrs. Bergen that she was safe and that it was probably just the wind she had heard.

Mrs. Bergen said that she would feel much safer if he stayed. But he told her that he had to be back at the station to get phone calls. She asked if he couldn't just stay for one drink. He was about to tell her that he couldn't when she leaned over, put her finger over his mouth, and kissed him. At first he tried to pull away, but then he gave in and let her put his tiny hands on her breasts.

By the next afternoon all the women in our town knew what had happened. It was a small town and gossip traveled quickly. In the factories and in the supermarkets, in the banks and in the hospitals, they were all talking about my daddy and Mrs. Bergen.

The next Tueday night, my daddy stayed over at the police station again. This time the phone rang in the middle of his dinner. It was Mrs. Taylor from Oakforest Road. She said she had heard a noise in her backyard that sounded like someone was trying to break in. My daddy left his dinner half-eaten on the table and quickly drove to her house.

He checked in the backyard and all through the house, even in the basement, but he couldn't find anything. As he was putting on his coat to leave, he told Mrs. Taylor that she was safe. But she wasn't listening to him. She was touching his face and petting his hair. Before he could say anything else she was kissing him and then she was carrying him upstairs to the master bedroom.

Each Tuesday night, he got a phone call from a different woman asking him to check out a sound she had heard; and each night he slept at a different woman's house.

After a few two weeks of staying over on Tuesdays a week, Mrs. Maser asked my daddy to be the Permanent Night Officer. She said he could sleep in one of the cells, if he didn't mind. He could put up curtains and there was a sink to wash in. His job would be to answer all the calls that came in at night. He agreed and moved all his things from his dirty lonely apartment to the police station.

Things went on like that for three years, my daddy living in the police station and taking calls from women who thought they had heard noises outside their houses. My daddy was happy. The cell was pretty big and he was comfortable there.

Then, the war ended and all the men got on ships to come home. I was only two years old when the first ship full of soldiers floated slowly into the harbor, but I remember standing there on the dock with everyone. There was confetti in the air. I remember looking through the crowd and the confetti and wondering where my daddy was. All around me, crying and hugging each other, were women standing with their little children.

Michael Lukas is a senior at Brown University, where studies Arabic and Hebrew Literature as well as Creative Writing. Last summer he spent three days a week reading fiction for The Atlantic Monthly. This is his first published story.


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