June, 1944

Believing my family gone drove me to earn my reputation and my nickname among the men. Spurred to ever-greater acts of revenge against Jerry - the Germans - in my grief, I earned a number of citations for acts born of despair which were subsequently mistaken for bravery. After the invasion of Normandy, I recuperated in the hospital from the latest of these episodes. It was there I received the most welcome news of my life to this point.

My daughter Margaret was still alive.

Sitting up in bed, silver medal shining on my hospital issue pajamas, I listened to the news. It was confusion during those days; when our house was leveled by a direct hit and no one found my wife and child, they were presumed dead. But my daughter had escaped, by virtue of being something of a tomboy; Against strict instructions to the contrary, she had gone out to ransack the rubble that was London, looking for treasure, and so was not caught in the blast that took her dear mother.

The myth of our time dictates I took the news in stoic fashion: a stoic utterance, Jolly good show, or similar cliche. The truth is rather less dignified: I blubbered like a schoolgirl. Nor was I ashamed of the fact. The Colonel who brought the news waited a discreet distance away whilst I shed my tears in a most unmanly manner. Once finished, he spoke to me.

'I expect your acts of untold heroism are a thing of the past now, Lieutenant?'

I thought about it. It is true, I had felt I had nothing to live for, and threw myself at the enemy with abandon. I wanted nothing more than to take as many of them with me as possible before my time. But now... now I had something to live for. Now I had something to fight for. Or some one to fight for. I looked at the Colonel.

'Sir, I believe you'll find me more eager than ever to keep Jerry away from our shores.'

'Jolly good show,' the Colonel retained all of the classic stoicism I had abandoned. 'I had hoped you would say as much, Lieutenant. I hadn't counted on it, but I had dared hope. In that case, allow me to present you with this.' So saying, he produced a small box, which I accepted. Within, I found the insignia of a Captain. I looked up at the Colonel.

'Sir?'

'Captain Baxter, you have talents we cannot deny. You have proven your worth time and again. We'll have need of that as we push toward Berlin. But first, your nurse says you're nearly ready to return to duty. As soon as you're fit, you take a fortnight leave, and go see your daughter. After that, we've work to do. This war is far from over.'

'Sir, I--' I'm not certain what I might have said just then. So I simply saluted smartly. 'Thank you, sir.'

February, 2021

Kevin's flat is small, but comfortable. It was the first flat he found when he first came to England, at the time the most he could afford, a newly transferred postgraduate student. His economic status has improved since those days, so the furnishings are nicer, but the one-room flat suits Kevin fine, so he's never moved. He lounges on his recliner, occasionally sipping from his pint of lager. He glances up from the sheaf of papers he's reading, at the worn leather satchel which enclosed the stack of typewritten material.

Kevin turns back to the cover page and reads the title. Bloody Baxter, it says. No byline, but it's clear this was written by Kevin's great-grandfather. Why did Jenny have it? Kevin closes his eyes. The memory of her hurts, but in an almost pleasant way, like that first swallow of coffee in the morning, just a little too hot, not quite burning your throat on its way down. He gives a half chuckle. That's Jenny.

Kevin pulls out his wallet and opens it, pulling an old photo from inside. He smiles from within the borders of the little photo, Jenny's face next to his, leaning in, smiling for the photo booth camera...


June, 2005

Jenny laughs and mugs for the camera in the photo booth, her face a mock-sexy pout. Kevin, holding her on his lap, laughs too, loving Jenny's reaction. He laughs again as Jenny quickly musses his hair right before the next flash. But he stops laughing as, right before the last shot, she leans in to kiss him.

It's a quick kiss, but not so quick Kevin doesn't feel it. The subtle shift in Jenny's body, as she relaxes into him, lips touching his for the first time. His arms around her tighten ever so slightly, as her hand gently cups his cheek. It lasts forever. It's over too soon. Jenny pulls back, and her smile has changed. She looks in Kevin's eyes and Kevin feels like she's seeing him for the first time.

True to her word, Jenny didn't run away. A month ago, he told her. And she told him she felt the same. And then... they went back to studying. But today, a month later, to celebrate both Jenny's eighteenth birthday and their two brand new Bachelor of Science diplomas, Kevin took Jenny to an amusement park. Jenny was skeptical at first, but Kevin convinced her. You're too busy growing up, Jenny, he'd told her. Too busy getting degrees and living up to some standard you've built in your own head. So busy, you're forgetting to have fun, to be a kid. And so she came. Kevin bought her all manner of treats, encouraging her to eat, daring her to eat just a bit more before taking her on the Tilt-a-Whirl. Kevin wasn't disappointed when she didn't throw up, because the ride was when she truly came alive. He watched her hair flying, her face lit up, laughing and squealing at the ups and downs and spinning.

In the photo booth, Jenny leans in for another kiss, this one quick, but tender. She smiles into his eyes.

'Thank you,' she says. 'Today is exactly what I needed.'


February, 2021

Kevin looks at the photo another moment. Good day. Good memory. It occurs to him to wonder, knowing what he knows now, how much of it was genuine. He puts the photo away with a sigh, and turns back to the stack of papers, taking a large swallow of his pint.

June 1944

The moment I stepped down from the train, I heard her call out, 'Daddy!' I looked up the platform, and saw her. I'd thought her dead for two years, and expected some reserve at our first meeting. Instead, I saw girl of ten in a Sunday dress abandon all pretense of decorum charging toward me every bit as fiercely as I'd charged the enemy at Normandy Beach. I met her assault, sweeping her into my arms and lifting her clutching her tightly, afraid she would vanish into the morning fog if I let go. Tears again rolled down my face, but none at the train depot noticed.

'Magpie,' I said, my voice hoarse with emotion. I used the familiar diminutive as if I'd seen her only yesterday. My wife Samantha, may God rest her soul, had always hated the nickname. But to me, she was always Magpie, her daddy's pride and joy. My girl had always loved her special name, so I always used it. Now, she molded to me, wrapping gangly limbs about me, her own voice thick with emotion.

'Daddy, I was so afraid. I thought--' she stopped, emotion overwhelming her. I understood.

'I know, Magpie, I know.' I just held her.

A while later, we strolled down the road. We had a fair distance to cover, but were both glad of the time together. We walked, her hand in mine, as she told me of the last three years. Magpie had taken refuge in the North Country, staying with a couple that had opened their home to two other children orphaned in the Blitz. I looked forward to sharing my gratitude.

'Daddy?' Her tone had the familiar quizzical sound I recognized immediately; she was about to ask an indecorous question. 'How many Germans have you killed?'

Indecorous indeed. I smiled at her forward manner. 'It's not something one discusses, Magpie.'

'I hope it's a million of them. I hate them bloody Jerries.'

'Margaret!' My tone was stern, and using her full name was a warning. I could not in good conscience fault her. Had I not been the embodiment of her vitriol these past three years? Nonetheless, I struggled to set an example.

'Always remember, the average Jerry soldier is like me, simply doing what he's been told is his duty to his country. They are as deserving of respect as I, though they are the enemy. Reserve your vitriol for their commanders and for the politicians who send the men to fight.'

'Yes, father.' I'd stunned her, but she'd recover.

'Magpie, war is a terrible thing. It can turn even the noblest of men into a depraved killer if we don't guard against such thoughts. It--' I stopped short. She wasn't ready. But she looked up at me, eyes earnest.

'I know father, you've been in the papers.'

Ah. The decision had been taken from me.

'Ah,' I repeated aloud. 'Then you might know, though I expect they've cleaned the stories up a bit, that my own actions have been at times less than noble, and for less than noble reasons.'

'There's a picture of you, they've made it into posters, coming from the battlefield. You're covered in blood, pistol in one hand, and knife in the other. The look in your eye... it's monstrous. I thought they'd posed it.'

I shook my head. I remembered that picture. Hardly appropriate for public consumption.

'Magpie...' I thought a bit as we strolled down the road. 'When I lost your mother and thought I'd lost you, I became a feral creature. Most of the medals on my uniform were the result of madness, not bravery. The day of that picture, we'd been ordered to take a position at all costs. I made sure the enemy paid the cost.'

'But you saved your platoon. Surely that's noble?'

'Magpie, one's intentions, one's motives, these determine the nobility of the act. My actions saved many of my own men's lives, but the reasons for my actions were nothing more than grief and an animalistic desire for vengeance. I was no more noble that day than the bloody fuhrer.'

She walked on in silence. I began to worry I'd said too much, frightened my own daughter with my words. She looked up at me.

'Bloody hell,' My little Magpie broke into a grin as she looked up at me. 'Aren't you a sorry excuse for a hero?' Her eyes danced with humor, and that was it. I simply had to hug her again. I picked her up and carried her the rest of the way.

February, 2021

Kevin smiles at this portrait of his Grandmother. Kevin only knew her as a sick old woman. He loved her, but was also afraid of her, in the way of children confronted with mortality. Seeing her now through the eyes of her father, the cheeky girl giving her father lip and love in the same moment, makes him wish he'd known her better.

Kevin sighs, standing. It's been a long day, and he's weary, more soul than body, but the soul needs more rest than the body sometimes. Leaving the papers, he makes his way toward his bedroom. He switches off the light, but pauses as something outside catches the corner of his eye. An unfamiliar car, parked outside, engine running. Kevin glances at his watch. 12:30 in the morning. He sighs.

Jenny, what have you brought to my door this time?

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