Story: Jitterbug

By: William T. Hathaway

Soldier2

My grandma forgets things. She’s got old-timers and mixes stuff up. She’s a sweet old gal but starting to lose it upstairs.

She’s living with my parents now that she can’t take care of herself so good anymore. It’s hard for them, since both of them work and aren’t so young and chipper themselves. So I came home to help out some while I was on leave. I’m an artillery sergeant and had a month off before reporting to my next duty station, Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. I got divorced not so long ago — my wife found someone else while I was over in Iraq — so I thought it’d be good to hang out with the family.

I hopped a military flight, so I came home in uniform. Doris, my gram, took one look at me and said, “Rudy’s come back … finally.” Rudy was her husband, mom’s dad, who got killed in the Korean War. She remarried later but never got over Rudy. She would show us pictures and tell us stories about him. Mom never got to see him — died on the Yalu River.

I tried to tell her I was Boyd, not Rudy, but it didn’t stick. We had a good time together though. She told me all about how they met at a USO dance, fell in love, and got married, one of those hurry-up weddings before he got shipped off. She asked me if I remembered different things they’d done, and I wanted to make her happy so said, Sure, wasn’t it great, quite a time back then. I’d sit beside her and hold her hand, and she’d chatter away. She seemed younger, her face more lively, eyes looking off somewhere, looking for yesterday.

“Remember our last dance, Rudy? Before they sent you off?”

“Yeah, great dance.”

She started to cry. “You stayed away so long. I had to take care of the baby all by myself. So hard … such a ….” Her little face scrinched up like an apple doll’s, tears streaming down it, but she smiled as she looked at me. “But now you’ve come home!”

“Right, gram … uh, Doris. I’ve come home to stay this time. The war’s over. Now it’ll be better.”

She hugged me and sobbed, “Good … good … good.”

I started thinking about the millions of women all around the world that this happens to. The husband dies in a war, they’ve got to raise the kids on their own … with a broken heart.

My wife and I didn’t have kids. Just as well.

Then I thought about all the shells I fired in Afghanistan and Iraq … how many Alis and Omars never came home, the families I broke up. I almost started crying myself.

Gram saw how upset I was and patted me on the shoulder to comfort me. “It’s all right now … it’s all over now.”

I hadn’t thought about this before, but suddenly I knew it wasn’t over. It was just beginning … for me and for the widows and kids.

I was glad to have gram here, glad not to have to think about this by myself. Then I’d just drink.

“We’ll have that last dance again, Rudy. We’ll go back and dance again … it’ll be just like it was.” With a sparkle in her eyes, she went into her room (it’d been my room, now I was sleeping on the living-room couch). She came out with her arms full of clothes and carried them into the bathroom, giving me a flirty look.

I heard the bathtub running and wondered if I should check on her, if she’d drown or flood the place, but the water stopped and I could hear her singing, so she seemed OK.

She came out a half hour later in a fancy dress, hair done up, wearing perfume and lots of make-up. She really looked a sight, pretty overdone, but I told her she looked great.

“Thank you, Rudy, but you need to look nice too. Where’s your uniform?”

I put on my war suit just to humor her, and when she saw me, she beamed. “Yes! That’s my soldier. Now we dance!” She turned on the radio, some easy-listening station, boring, I thought, but she got a sad-happy smile and a dreamy look. She opened her arms in a dance pose and seemed so pleased that all I could do was circle her back with my arm and take her wrinkled hand in mine.

It was a slow song, and we danced with her head leaning on my shoulder, her humming along, happy as could be. “Tommy Dorsey!” she said. “Beautiful music!” Then a faster song came on. “Jitterbug!” she cried and started twirling around, swinging her hips, and wagging her knees. “Come on, Rudy, get with it!”

I broke into a disco boogie that she liked just fine. “That’s it! Zoot!” she said with a wild young laugh.

Gram’s skirt furled up, showing legs that were skinny but not bad looking. Her hair came lose and streamed around her face, which was now sassy and sexy. She became the girl she’d been back then, and I could see why Rudy fell for her. She was cute, she looked a lot like mom.

“Swing me, Rudy!” she said and jumped into my arms. Surprised, I staggered back a bit, but she didn’t weigh much. I rocked her back and forth like you would a baby.

She pounded her little fists on my shoulder. “No, dummy, from side to side. You know!”

I swung her around my hips, and she squealed with delight, skirt up to her thighs. “That’s it. Hey-bop-a-rebop!”

I got into the swing of it, and we had a great time.

The next song was a slow one, and we danced face to face. She clung to me as we swayed to the music. “So romantic,” she purred. She was a nimble on her toes, her perfume smelled good, I liked dancing with her.

“And remember after the dance?” she whispered, her breath tickling my ear. “That was the best part.” Gram kissed me on the lips. I was shocked but it felt good and she stood there pressing into me, eyes closed and lips puckered waiting for me to kiss her back, so I did. She moved closer, her body rubbing against mine. I was getting turned on … by my grandma! She was a real sexy woman.

“That last night,” she went on. “We had all to ourselves. I’ll never forget.” Her hands were sliding over my back, down over my rear. ” I remember how you touched me. I remember how I loved you. That was the night you gave me Doreen. Remember?”

I was starting to freak out. Doreen was mom … Doris looked so much like her now. It was like ….

I needed a drink bad, a couple of slugs to cool me out. “Yeah, sure I remember. But what were we drinking that night?” I asked.

Gram looked shocked. “You’re not a drinking man now, are you, Rudy? That was one of the reasons I liked you — you weren’t a boozer.”

“No, I’m still not,” I lied. “Never touch the stuff.”

“Good. That way you’ll stay strong.” She took my hand, eyes looking down coyly. “Let’s go into the room now.”

Go with the flow, I thought. This was weird and heavy, but I’d been feeling neglected after the divorce. This little old lady was looking all-right.

Hand in hand we walked into my old bedroom, now filled with her stuff. We kissed more. She was a very soft, delicate kisser, not the usual. What could I do? I couldn’t say, You’re too old … you’re my grandma. I rubbed her tits. They felt nice. I picked her up, laid her on the bed, and got in beside her, thinking, I’m about to become my own grandfather … and conceive my mother. This made me dizzy, and I held on to gram, afraid the world might fall apart. She gripped my leg with hers and kissed me on the ear, murmuring things I couldn’t understand.

I took off her clothes and kissed each new part while she sighed. If you forgot about the wrinkles, she had a pretty good body. She’d stayed slim, so she still had a waist, and her hips curved out around a little ass that didn’t have a wrinkle on it and a pussy covered with gray hair that looked blonde. Her boobs were saggy but soft and nice, nipples all prickled and ready for action.

“Take off your uniform, Rudy.”

With both of us naked, she was just a woman and I was just a man. The age and relations didn’t matter. We did what men and women do.

Gram and I made love about a dozen times that month while mom and dad were at work. It was like a second honeymoon for her. She called me Rudy the whole time and was happy as could be. I was afraid she might let something slip to mom and dad, but she was too much the proper lady to discuss our private life. My folks said I did wonders for her mood.

I can’t say it was the best sex I ever had, but it was one of the best experiences. Gram wasn’t real lively in bed, she was pretty much of the lie-there-and-let-him school. Maybe most of her generation was like that. But being close to her that way, making her feel good and bringing back the happy part of her past, well, it did something to me. It made me wonder why men keep going off to war and killing other people and getting themselves killed, leaving widows and orphans behind, why all this sadness has to keep rolling on.

When I told gram I had to go back to the army, she cried but said she knew I’d have to leave sometime, the war was still going on.

And she’s right. It is still going on. Next they’re talking about sending us to Iran.

I’m at Ft. Sill now, an instructor in artillery school, training the new recruits. But I miss gram … I miss being Rudy.

###

William T. Hathaway’s first novel, A World of Hurt, won a Rinehart Foundation Award. His new one, Lila, the Revolutionary, is the story of an eight-year-old Indian girl who sparks a world revolution for social justice. Chapters are posted at http://www.amazon.com/dp/1897455844. He was a Fulbright professor of creative writing at universities in Germany, where he currently lives. A selection of his writing is available at http://www.peacewriter.org.

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