Wheat Fields

At Amiens she met James. He flew for the British air corps, but he was American. James was the first American she had ever seen. He spoke perfect French, and he had the manners of a gentlemen, though she had been told that there was no such thing as an American gentleman. He had shy eyes that stared down more often than not, and he had a shy smile that was small, infrequent.

She was young she supposed. People still told her she was young. But War did not like Youth. War stopped dead the progression of knowing youth; War saw Dead, and made Old Men of those who were not Dead. She had been young, when it began. She still had a young face. But she felt old and knowing, a sort of knowing that came about with being old and War.

James was young. When she met him he was young. And his eyes were always young, young and shy.

She met him on the road.

She was taking the eggs that her mother sold and he came to her on a British motorbike. She first saw him drive up, on the bike, and on both sides of the road were golden fields of moiling wheat. But the wheat was dying. The farmers had gone to war.

He was lost. He asked her in his perfect French where a certain squadron had its field, and he ended up looking at her. She felt him look at her, look at her eyes, and she looked at him in return. She looked at his shy eyes and she was somewhere away from things. From the eggs she was holding. From the age in her own eyes. He was very young. Looking at him she was aware of an odd sort of feeling. She felt as if she were in a different country. As he spoke her language, she thought of him speaking another language, and of her understanding it perfectly.

She thought his accent was lovely. Small and shy, like his eyes. When she gave him the directions, he asked if he could see her again. She was still in that different country of thought, and agreed.

James met her later that week on his pass, at a small park. He had a bandage on his arm when he met her. The Hun shrapnel had nicked him in the air, the bleeding had been quite bad. But he was up for patrol the next day, he loved to fly. He told her this, and she asked him about America (the land without gentlemen, although she did not say this to him). He told her it was too large for him to know all of it. But he told her about his home in Tennessee. She liked hearing about that.

She felt odd about James. As if she were speaking another language, when she spoke with him.

And she did not tell her mother, about James.

They met as often as they could. James' bandage came off, but his face was bruised from a bad landing. He kissed her shyly once, and she could feel him kiss her, it was a foreign feeling, and not unpleasant in the least.

She asked him about his family. He said he had none.

They saw each other often.

The War was ending, everyone knew as much. The men still fought and died of course. But the thing War, the Thing itself, was grinding to a swollen halt. It would be over soon enough. The front was groaning under the weight of new soldiers. There were more Americans now, they flooded the front, and they came to the skies, and the promise of more and more and more Americans made the Hun doubt the War. Everyone knew that.

James remained with the British squadron, despite the Americans arriving. She saw some of the Americans on the streets of the town, they were loud and boisterous, but they were gentlemen too. She wondered why people would say there were no American gentlemen.

James was a gentlemen. He spoke like the British did sometimes. He was teaching her English, and she was a quick enough learner.

She sometimes tried to dream of him in the air, in his wood and cloth and gun aeroplane, hunting the broad sky. But she could not. She could see James in a golden field of moiling wheat, the wheat up to his hips like water. That was what she dreamed, when she dreamed of him.

The war was drawing to a close. One day, she was walking with the eggs her mother sold and she was walking past a field that had had wheat in it at one time. There was a noise in the sky, and there were two aeroplanes. One was limping about, and she watched still holding tightly the basket of eggs. The limping plane's (it was German, she recognized) wing combusted, and it spiraled to the field, where the wheat had once been. There was a loud noise. The air smelled acrid with smoke, and she dropped the eggs and basket to the road, and she ran home. After that she did not try to dream of James in his plane. She would instead concentrate on seeing James among the moiling golden wheat, when there had been golden wheat in the fields.

Some days later James came to her. Her mother watched him come. Her mother said to her that it was a shame he was not a Frenchman. Then her mother pushed her out the door, and James asked her to marry him.

It was that wash of foreign feeling again, that James had said 'please marry me' in a language she had never learned, one that did not exist. She thought of France and France at war. She thought about the War itself, the thing of it that came to the fields and cut away the golden wheat, and she saw James, the American gentlemen who spoke like an Englishman and spoke perfect French.

She told him no. And she felt very much herself when she said no. And she understood her own language when she said no. And the damndest thing was she loved him very much.

When she told him no he stared at her with his shy eyes. And he walked away, down the narrow streets of town.

Her mother did not ask. And the war was over in November, as everyone knew it would be. And the war ended with barely a shudder, with the smallest of ripples in the pond, and France was still heaving with the drain of its manhood, with the bleeding of its golden fields. The men came home from the front with ghosts in their eyes. The Americans and the English left, and she found out (much later after she had married a French soldier, who spoke perfect English) that James had died two days before the Armistice, had died when a Boche aeroplane shot his down over a dark earthen field, where once a farmer had planted acres and acres of moiling golden wheat.