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28 April 2007
The adventures of Ensign Halli Amura, RINS
BY WALTER D. REIMER
© 2006 by Walter D. Reimer
"You'll stay the night," Hank said firmly.
Marge nodded agreement. "The last bus to Seathl left just before eight, and there's no train due until tomorrow."
Halli smiled. She’d been prepared to sleep on a bench at the station, and the offer was far more than she had hoped for. "Thank you. Thank you both."
Trina's old room was small, decorated with family pictures from summer camp and Pioneer School. Halli hadn’t known that the feline had played baseball, but there were small framed photographs of Trina holding a bat, and a pennant from her school team, the Blue Sox, hung beside the mirror over the dresser. There was a large, paw-made quilt on the bed, and although the room had obviously been cleaned the rabbit could still detect Trina’s scent.
Halli finally managed to fall asleep sometime around midnight, surrounded by memories.
She got up early out of habit, dressed in her jumpsuit and stepped out into the hallway. A light was on in the kitchen, and there was the soft mutter of the radio as Marge made breakfast. “Well, good morning,” the older woman said with a smile. “You’re up early.”
“I thought I should get out and exercise a bit,” Halli said as she checked the lacing on her boots. Yes, the knot was tied correctly. “Just a short run.”
Marge nodded. “When you come back, I’ll have breakfast waiting for you – good morning, sweetheart,” and she kissed her husband as Hank walked into the kitchen.
“’Morning, Marge,” Hank said after he kissed her. He was already dressed for work, and he sat down at the kitchen table and looked up at Halli. “Going out early?”
“Exercise, sir,” she said.
Marge set a cup of coffee down on the table as Hank nodded and started spooning some sugar into the drink. “Marge, I was thinking that Halli should come with us to church this Sunday.”
“Oh?” Marge looked at Halli quizzically.
Halli smiled. “I’d love to go, and thank you for inviting me.” Her smile broadened as the two older felines looked pleased by her decision. “If you’ll excuse me now, I’m going to go for a run.”
Marge nodded, and as she tuned in the farm report on the radio, Halli left the house.
The weather was pleasantly cool and there were very few people out on the roads as she ran, counting steps as she paced off a mile at an easy speed. After a pause, she turned around and retraced her route, returning to the house as Hank was leaving. She came to a stop and took a few deep breaths before saying, “Have a good day at work, sir.”
“Thanks, Halli,” he said as he walked off down the road.
“The Worker’s Savings and Loan Association presents ‘News You Can Bank On,’ a half hour of news and views. Remember, Worker’s Savings and Loan – we work for you, because we’re workers like you!” the radio announced as Halli came back into the house. She washed up hurriedly and was sitting at the table eating a bowl of cereal as Karen and Katherine came in.
“Hi, Halli!” Katherine said briskly, giving her mother a kiss before setting two places at the table. “Sleep well?”
Halli put her spoon down and nodded as she swallowed. “Yes, thank you. I just came back from a little run.”
“Ugh,” Karen said. “I hate all that exercise they make us do in the Pioneers. Mom, can’t we do something else next summer?”
Marge smiled tolerantly. “There’s always church camp,” she said, and the little feline’s ears went straight back and her tongue stuck out. “And if you make that expression again, I’ll hit you in the head and your face will freeze like that.”
Karen sat down, abashed. “I just don’t like going to church stuff, Mom,” she said. “’Specially if that mean Nick Turner’s gonna be there.”
Her mother’s eyes narrowed. “What’d he do this time, Karen?”
Karen stayed silent; Katherine said, “He threatened to splash mud on her best dress last Sunday.”
Marge frowned. “I’m going to have to talk with his mother again.” Halli leaned over and whispered urgently in Karen’s ear, and the girl started giggling. “What did you say, Halli?”
“I just gave her an idea or two, Marge,” the lepine replied. “I used to have to deal with mean boys when I was little, too.”
“Nothing too harsh, I hope.”
Halli finished her cereal and grinned. “Not harsh at all, but it worked for me.”
July 4, 1937:
“Draw me nearer, nearer Blessed Lord
To the Cross where Thou hast died;
Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer Blessed Lord
To Thy blessed, bleeding side.”
The church was packed as people from the neighborhood and adjoining sections of the town flocked to the service. The sun shone brightly through the windows as the congregation finished singing the hymn and sat down. The minister, a thin and grizzled canine, advanced to the pulpit to deliver his sermon.
Halli had sung along with the Demjanjuks, feeling a little less out of place in a blouse and skirt. She had gone back to the base and packed a few more clothes for the longer stay, including civilian clothing that she thought would be appropriate. Marge had considered letting her wear some of Trina’s old clothes but thought better of it, saying that she planned on giving the clothes to charity.
Marge had taken the lead in introducing “Trina’s friend from the Navy” to all of the neighbors and friends of the family. Halli felt quite bewildered at all of the names she was expected to memorize, and she hoped that any lapses would be forgiven.
Old as the pastor might have been, there was nothing wrong with his voice and he seemed to draw stamina from the crowd. He quoted scripture and applied it to their daily lives, then singled out one person after another and used their work as an example of a moral ideal. When he finally finished speaking and the congregation lowered their heads in prayer, Halli sneaked a glance at her wristwatch and discovered that he had been speaking for nearly an hour.
After a final hymn the service drew to a close, and the crowd of furs left the church to find that tables had been set up, and trays of sandwiches and pitchers of lemonade stood ready. Halli glanced at Katherine, who explained, “Some of the women take turns making lunch for after the service. Sometimes Pastor Roland keeps talking almost up to dinnertime.”
“How does he manage that?” Halli asked, seeing the elderly canine hobble past, supported by his son. “He looks like he’s about eighty.”
“I guess that’s the Lord’s doing,” Katherine said, and led the rabbit up to the tables as grace was said and the crowd started to eat. Halli selected an egg salad sandwich and a glass of lemonade and found a seat when a shriek and the sound of a young boy crying made her ears stand up.
A young spaniel came running around the corner of the church and was promptly gathered into his mother’s arms as he sobbed. Several other children followed him, and Karen trailed a bit further behind, dusting off her paws and looking excessively pleased with herself.
Marge leaned over to Halli and whispered, “What did you tell her to do?”
Halli whispered in reply, and Marge immediately clapped a paw over her muzzle to keep from laughing.
Later in the afternoon the family, now back at home, gathered around the radio for the weekly episode of The Highwayman. The show was adapted from a series of silent films from America, and was about a Robin Hood-type of thief who stole from the rich in 17th Century England.
All five of them sat raptly by the radio, listening intently as the drama unfolded and up to the episode’s climax. Finally the celebrated tagline, “Those who make the poor and powerless suffer, beware! The Highwayman is on your tail!” came, followed by a swelling coda from the studio’s orchestra and the announcer’s voice, “That concludes this week’s thrilling episode of The Highwayman, brought to you by Whizzo Corn Flakes, the great way to start the – “
Hank turned the tuning knob and a harsh squeal of static ensued until he found another station. The show was apparently a showcase for local talent, judging by the variety of folk songs being played by various bands. He sat back and lapsed into a light doze as Marge and his two daughters got up and went into the kitchen to prepare dinner.
Watching Hank nod off made Halli feel tired, so she went to her room to lie down.
Some time later, she was jolted awake by someone knocking on her door. “Yes?”
“Halli, it’s Katherine. Are you going to get up? It’s almost dinner time.”
The rabbit blinked at her watch and yawned. “I’ll be there in a minute,” she said as she reached for her furbrushes.
She took her seat at the table a few minutes later, wearing the same dress she had worn for church. “There you are,” Marge said with a wink. “If you’d been any later, I would have thrown your supper out into the street.” Her smile betrayed the fact she was joking as she started serving dinner.
The meal was a savory pot of chicken stew with fresh biscuits. While Marge and her daughters drank milk with their meal, Hank and Halli both drank beer.
“Now, Halli, suppose you and Karen tell us what happened to Nicky Turner,” Marge said suddenly as she buttered a biscuit.
Karen blushed and giggled, and Halli chuckled as she replied, “Well, I suggested that Karen do the one thing guaranteed to scare a little boy.”
“Which was?” Hank asked.
Halli grinned. “I told Karen that if the boy started bothering her again, just kiss him and that’ll take care of the trouble.”
Hank sat back nonplused for a moment before laughing heartily.
After a light dessert of lady finger cookies and milk, Marge packed the children off to bed and returned to the living room in time to hear Halli say, “I have to be back on Blefuscu by the eighth.”
“So you’ll want to leave in time to catch a plane,” Hank said, nodding.
“Yes, sir.” Halli nibbled at her lower lip for a moment. “I want to thank both of you, for your welcome and your hospitality. I wasn’t – wasn’t sure how I’d – “
“Hush, Halli,” Marge said. She sat down beside the rabbit and took her paws in hers. “You were a good friend to Trina, and it wouldn’t have been right or Christian to turn you away.” She smiled. “And you’ve been a perfect guest. So, when will you be leaving?”
“I had thought that I should leave tomorrow,” Halli said. “I’m not sure how long it’ll take to arrange transportation.”
July 5, 1937:
Early the next morning Halli was in her dark blue working uniform, her bags packed and ready to go as she joined the family for breakfast one last time. “Do you really have to go?” Karen asked.
“Yes, Karen, I have to,” Halli replied with a gentle smile. “I have to get back to work.”
“That’s right,” Hank said, “and so do I. I’ll walk with you to the bus station, Halli,” and he got up from the table.
Halli hugged and kissed the two girls, then hugged Marge tightly as the feline woman kissed the rabbit on both cheeks. “Now you listen to me, young lady,” Marge said. “If you’re ever this way again, you come call on us, you hear? And write us some time.”
“I will, Marge, I promise.”