“A green wrinkled sheet of thick card in his empty money pouch caught John Weldon’s eye. He pulled it out between his two long fingers. Hand-drawn timorous trees in black ink dressed the card’s message from the only care package he had ever received that first Christmas of the war . . . Christmas . . . the most dismal time of year for a soldier without family. Weldon found ways to avoid mail call, but one day someone shouted his name. He thought he heard it, but wasn’t sure so hung back. The call came again with more impatience and Weldon slunk up, with his sunken, dark eyes lowered and his crow-black hair shorn short since the summer of lice. The heavy, battered box had his name on it. His face burned. He cut the top with his knife and reached in to find soft mittens and socks—hand-knit and familiar in a way—they were like Simon McCullough’s and for a horrible moment he thought there had been an embarrassing mistake. He fumbled to close the box but noticed a tiny, hand-drawn card with funny little trees around the edge. “A friend of Simon’s is a friend of ours! Merry Christmas! Warm Regards—Scott, Sarah and Katherine McCullough.”
Hazelton sidled up and read the card. On the back in the same small script was scribbled an address in Englewood, New Jersey Simon McCullough had talked about endlessly—almost like a fairytale, being too perfect to be real—as if they had expected Weldon to write. He’d never done so, but had run his fingers over the little tree drawings many times.
“Sir, you need help and if it ain’t the hospital you’re going to then I’m going to put you on the train.”
“I don’t know them…I can’t face Simon…I…”
“Any place is better than here and Simon is your friend.”
Weldon had done everything he could think of to repulse this invasion, this toppling of his defenses but Simon McCullough wore him down. The whole world seemed to love him—no Simon pretended to love the whole world—he even played with the darkies’ children.
He remembered squeezing into his first army boots at Carlisle Barracks and then going off to the war with a commander who convinced him to volunteer for a Jersey regiment on a lark. There he met Simon and for a sparkling few years pretended at being someone else. But now fevers came on strong. He held the pus-filled flap of skin at his side a little tighter. How had he been so damned stupid? How had he ever let Simon McCullough in?—that piece of shit. What a terrible, stupid blunder. He would bring it all to him. Just shove it in the lieutenant’s face—all the suffering he caused. Weldon always expected a life of aching and scratching and he could die doing it, but not before presenting it to the one person who duped him just long enough to give him hope.”
(excerpted from The House on Tenafly Road)