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Authors: Dean Hughes

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BOOK: Missing in Action
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back to work with Ken. The farm had gotten run-down over the last few years. A second crop of hay wouldn't need to be cut until late summer, but there were plenty of other things to do. Grandpa wanted to raise some calves, but too many of his fences were broken down. The barn needed some fixing too, the old loft sagging from the weight of the newly stacked hay.

Jay didn't like getting up early, but he was used to working with Ken, and he kind of liked it. Ken knew all kinds of stuff that he would never hear from anyone else. He knew everything about California. He'd traveled down to Hollywood once, and he'd gone swimming in the ocean. He knew about high school, too, and about dating girls. Jay thought maybe he ought to ask him about dancing—and maybe get some hints, like he'd gotten about baseball. His mom had tried
to teach him to dance once, and he had walked on her feet so many times that he hadn't wanted to try again—and neither had she. He still didn't want to dance, but he didn't want to show up for Mutual and not be able to do a single thing right.

He put it off all morning, but finally, at lunch, he said, “They're having a dance Thursday night, over at our church. I guess they want to teach all us boys how to do some steps. I'm not sure they'll have much luck.”

Ken had finished eating. He was taking a rest on the grass under a willow tree, with his hands under the back of his head. “Why? Won't you boys give it a try?”

“I don't know. Maybe some will. I might not even go.” He was leaning against the trunk of the tree, his head back and his eyes shut.

“Hey, man, you gotta know how to dance. When you get to high school, you'll feel stupid if you don't know how.”

Jay opened his eyes. “Maybe I won't go to dances.”

“But you'll want to.”

“I don't see why.”

“Are you nuts? Don't you want to hold a girl in your arms—some little Kewpie doll whispering in your ear how much she loves you?” Ken laughed.

“They don't do that, do they?”

“They do to me. They just can't help themselves. After I spin 'em
around the floor a few times, they think they're dancing with Fred Astaire.”

Jay knew who Fred Astaire was. He'd seen him in a couple of movies his mom had taken him to. But the last thing he wanted was to be some kind of sissy like that guy.

“Hey, man, I remember how it was,” said Ken. “The first time I went to a dance, all I wanted to do was hide somewhere. But I got out there and tried the steps, and pretty soon I was shuffling around all right. The girls at that age aren't much good either. They're as nervous as we are. But it turns out all right. You keep getting better at it.”

“My mom says I have two left feet.”

Ken chuckled. “Stand up. Let me show you the fox-trot step. That's all you need to know for now.”

Jay didn't move. It was what he had been hoping Ken would say, but now he felt like he couldn't do it.

Ken was getting up. “Come on. You can just stand behind me and do what I do.”

He got up.

“Let's get off this grass.” Ken walked to the front of the barn where the dirt was packed down hard. He waited for Jay to catch up and then he turned away from him, reached out wide with his left hand, and made a crook of his right arm—like he was holding a girl. “Okay, it's easy. Left, right, together. Left, right, together.” Ken did the same step Jay's mother had
tried to teach him. “Just follow my steps and do the same thing,” Ken said, glancing back.

He could do it okay when he was watching Ken, but he'd also done all right with his mom as long as she was just showing him. It was when she turned on some music and made him hold her like a dance partner that he'd had trouble. She kept saying, “Listen to the music,” and that was what he'd thought he was doing, but he kept taking steps different from hers and ending up on top of her foot. Still, he followed Ken for a while and felt a little better, just remembering how the step was supposed to go.

“Have you got it?” Ken asked, and he turned around.


“You don't sound very sure.”

“It's a little harder when two people are trying to step together.”

“Okay, then, take hold of me like I'm your partner.”

“No, that's okay. I'll just have to—”

“Come on. I'm not going to grab you like a girl.” He took hold of Jay's right wrist and pulled his hand onto his hip, and then he took Jay's left hand and stretched it out. “Okay, you lead. I'll follow.”

Jay was embarrassed, but he started taking the steps. Ken took the same steps, and they didn't turn or anything the way his mother had tried to make him do. They repeated the steps ten or twelve times, just fine, before Jay broke off and said, “Okay. I got it now.”

“The trouble is, you need to do it to music and get the timing right. If you want, we can go in the house and turn the radio on.”

“No. That's all right. I'll practice some more on my own, and then maybe me and my mom can try again.”

“Okay. But don't worry. If you can do as much as you just did, you'll be better than most of your friends.” Ken was grinning. He didn't have his straw hat on, and his hair was matted down on his forehead from sweating all morning. Sometimes Jay didn't think much about Ken being a Jap, but he could see his eyes now, his skin, and he felt a little funny about everything. His friends had no idea that he and Ken talked to each other the way they did, sort of like friends.

“Let me show you something else that's cool,” Ken said. “The jitterbug is almost the same step—except you rock back more on the ‘together' step.” He started doing it. “Left, right, rock back. Try it. Just give it some jive, that's all.”

Jay knew nothing about jive, but he started to do the step, pretty much the way he'd done it before, not rocking back and forth all that much and not bent-legged like Ken. And then Ken grabbed his hand. “Spin under my arm,” he said, and suddenly Ken moved forward and spun him. Jay passed under Ken's arm, but then stopped. “Pick up the step,” said Ken. “Left, right, rock back.”

He did the step a couple of times and was about
to stop, but Ken said, “You spin me this time,” and grabbed Jay's left hand. Jay didn't spin him at all, but Ken twisted under his arm and came out on the other side. Then he kept doing the step, still holding on. He was laughing at the same time. “Hey, man, that's all there is to it. Now you know how to jitterbug. You'll knock some girl's socks right off. You're going to have a girlfriend before long.”

But Jay had stopped. “I don't think we're going to learn the jitterbug at the church,” he said. He took a step back from Ken.

“That's okay. I'm just giving you the idea, so you'll know where to start. If you want, I can show you another trick or two each day. By the time school starts this fall, you could be pretty good at it.”

“Naw. I don't think so.” Jay walked back toward the shade. He wanted to sit down for a few minutes again before they went back to work. “Why don't you just teach me some more about baseball? I watched you yesterday, and you're really good.”

“Just like I told you.” Ken grinned, like he knew he was a bragger. “When do you guys want to play our boys out at the camp?”

“I don't know.” He sat down on the grass, but Ken was still standing up.

“How about Saturday, either this week or next? I could go out there on the bus one of these nights and get everything set up.”

“Maybe. I don't know.”

“Who does?”

“Gordy, I guess.”

“I'll walk into town with you after work. We'll go see him.”

Jay nodded, but he wasn't sure that was a good idea.

It was probably time to get back to work, but he hoped Ken wouldn't grab his gloves and his water bottle yet. He wanted to shut his eyes for a few more minutes. He felt sort of funny around Ken now. A guy shouldn't grab another guy like that and start twirling him around. It was embarrassing. Maybe Japs did stuff like that, but regular people didn't.

Ken walked over to the back steps of the house. He sat down and took a long swig of water from the jar he had left there. “Man, it's hot,” he said. “We hardly did anything and I'm sweating like we just ran a mile.”

“It must be over a hundred,” Jay said. He shut his eyes, but everything still seemed bright. The sun was filling up the air with yellow heat, the shade just as hot as anywhere else.

“Out at the camp it always seems like it's about ten degrees hotter than over here—and colder in the winter—but this is about as hot as I've ever seen it.”

“Me too.” Ken was still over by the house. He must have wanted some rest too, but Jay thought of what the boys had said—the two of them sleeping in the
shade, both lazy. He got up suddenly, grabbed his gloves, and walked over to Ken.

Ken looked up at him, maybe surprised that Jay wanted to get going already. But he didn't get up himself. “You'll be a good dancer, Jay. You're getting the idea already.”

“My dad's a good dancer,” he said, just to say something. “My mom told me that.”

“My dad won't dance,” said Ken. “Back in Japan, people didn't dance the way we do here, and he keeps mostly to the old ways. He didn't come to America until he was grown up. But my mom, she moved here when she was just a little girl. She learned to dance. She wishes my father would dance with her.”

Jay had his baseball cap in his hand. He put it on now. It was his way of saying, “We better get to work,” but Ken was still sitting on the back steps.

“My father doesn't understand my mother sometimes,” Ken said. “And he doesn't understand the first thing about me. He doesn't have any idea why I want to join the army.”

“I thought you were joining up as soon as you turn eighteen.”

“I probably will.” He waited for a time before he said, “My mom keeps telling me to ask permission from him. But every time I bring it up, he gets mad.”


“I told you how some people feel. America won't
give us our rights, so why should we go out and risk our lives?”

“Is that what he says?”

“No. He doesn't say anything—except, ‘No. I sign no papers.'”

“Maybe he's afraid you'll get killed.”

“I know.” Ken finally stood up. He placed his straw hat on his head and then jammed it down a little. “That's what my mother says, and I'm the only son. But I don't see much sign that he cares about that. Whenever your grandpa comes out here, I listen to the way he talks to you—like he's your friend or something. I saw him pat you on the head one time. My dad never does that.”

“Grandpa's just like that.”

“What about your dad? Did he ever pat you on the head or anything like that?”

Jay tried to remember. He couldn't think of his dad ever doing that, but he said, “Sure. Lots of times. And he used to take me to ball games.” He could remember one time when his dad had taken him to a Salt Lake Bees game. They had probably done other stuff too. Everything just seemed a long time ago now.

“The only thing my dad asks me about is where I've been—you know, if I go over to the canteen at the camp, or if I go to a dance or something. That's why I like staying out here at the farm. Even if I'm all alone at night, I can listen to the radio all I want, and I'm
not all cramped up in the same room with my mom and dad and my sisters.”

Jay understood about things like that. “One place where I lived in Salt Lake, I had to sleep in the kitchen on a roll-away bed—because our apartment was so little. And some places where we lived, I had to sleep on a couch.”

“No kidding? I thought you always lived in a nice place like your grandpa's.”

He thought of the trashy little apartments where he'd lived in Salt Lake. He thought of the worry, his mom always wondering whether she'd have enough money for groceries. He took a first step away, but Ken didn't move, so Jay stopped. He told the truth. “My dad was out of work a lot. A real lot. Sometimes we hardly had any food. Mom had to call Grandpa about it one time, long distance, and he drove up to Salt Lake with the trunk of his car full of groceries.”

“I guess it's good you had your grandparents to help you out.”

He looked back at Ken. “Yeah. It was.”

He was remembering what happened—stuff he wasn't going to tell Ken. Grandpa had parked in front of their apartment house with all that food, and he and Mom had started hauling it in. He'd handed Jay a package of graham crackers, and Jay had opened them and started chewing them down. But his dad
had come in then, and he had cussed and swore at Grandpa. “We don't need your help,” he kept saying—yelling. And Mom was saying, “I've got to feed my son, Gary. What did you expect me to do?”

“How come your dad was out of work so much? It seems like there are a lot of jobs these days.”

“That was before the war. He joined the navy when the war started.”

“Just to get a job?”

“No. He wanted to fight for America. He was brave. He won medals, too. When he gets away from the—from being a POW . . . and comes home and everything, I'll bet his picture will be in the paper—you know, showing him with all the medals he won.”

“That's great. That's how it's going to be for me, too. They'll be talking about what a great hero I am. I'm going for the Medal of Honor. You win that and people know what you're made of. That isn't what your dad got, is it?”

“I don't know what his medals are called. But he's a hero.”

“Well, that's good. He sure won't be out of work when he gets back.”

“That's right.” Jay breathed in the yellow air, started to turn again, and then decided to admit what he was really worried about. “Sometimes my mom and dad had fights. But when he gets back, he'll make good money and everything. And they won't fight. We'll
probably go back to Salt Lake, but we'll get us a good house this time.”

BOOK: Missing in Action
8.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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