My goodness gracious, can you believe it? Billy, has just come home from the war.
Gosh, he looks so fine – like before but more a man now; you know, I can hardly recognize my brother, he’s so grown up! And you know, I could’ve just about died when I saw him stepping off that bus. Well, truly, I did burst out crying – and he ran right up to me, all dressed in his crisp, clean outfit and he looked like something you buy and it’s brand new, and he grabbed me in his arms and held me so tight and squeezed me and twirled me round and round, in a real fast circle, so that my legs bent up behind me and the world was all a blur, whipping by my eyes, which were already plenty blurry from the crying, and I was probably screaming like a lunatic, watching those crazy colours of the world spinning by – the trees, the rosebush, the red cedar of the house, the grass, the peach and pink faces, the blue and white from Betty’s gingham dress…
When he’d put me down, I stepped aside and collected myself – wiped the tears from my eyes and calmed down. I watched Billy shake pa’s hand with a laugh, and they kept laughing like they didn’t know what else to do, and they laughed so much Billy started coughing. He kept coughing and coughing, and then pa – he was standing right there still – he starts coughing too. And Billy throws his arm round pa, like as to say, “Well, pa, look at us – two peas in a pod, we ain’t seen each other in years but all we can do is cough ourselves silly,” but of course neither of them could say nothing at all! And so, pa falls to his knees, coughing away, and now Suzie – she’s been crying too, you know – she starts coughing along with them, so much did she miss Billy, and she drops to her hands and knees herself, and Billy falls on his back, coughing away, and the blood starts gurgling up from his mouth in a foam – gosh, I sure missed you, Billy, but now you’re back!
Well, ol’ Dr. Harland, he’s our neighbour, and he hears the noise from all the fun we’re having and he comes on out from his place. “Well, I’ll be. William’s come home,” he were saying aloud, but to himself it seemed, and he walked on over. “Now, William, I just want to tell you that Vera and I, and, well, everybody, we’re all so very proud of you,” and he reached out to shake Billy’s hand. Well, as it turned out, army discipline hadn’t completely eliminated Billy’s trouble-making streak, and, rolling over onto all fours he began to vomit blood on the arm extended towards him, and he was coughing now with a rawness that sounded like how I reckon a dog being flayed would sound – and I thought of that sweet lil’ gold-coloured puppy I’d seen in town just yesterday, and how ma said if I’d be good maybe we could talk about getting me a doggie all for myself… And Dr. Harland licked Billy’s viscous, maroon blood from his hand and said in his prim, serious way, “Why, Billy, I think you’ve contracted the influenza” – though let me tell you, I could hardly hear him over the devilish racket that everyone was making! – and he too began hacking and fell backwards and blood seeped from his nose and ears, and the copper sputum that flecked his grey beard sparkled in the autumn sun, and I knew straightaway that his lungs had filled with fluid and that he’d drowned from the inside, yes, I surely did. And I noticed pa and Suzie had died too, but Billy, since he was so strong and was pretty much my hero, he kept coughing up masses of congealed blood for another three minutes. But then, his skin all blue and dripping sweat, he done keeled over too, dead as a doornail and gone to his Maker.
I hung up a black and white crepe on our own door, and a grey one at Dr. Harland’s place, ’cause he was an older gentleman.
Billy – oh, my sweet brother, Billy! – Billy was home and life was finally back to normal!