Will Pepper writes
as WA Pepper
The second-best decision I ever made after the great Crash of ’29 was to stop smoking. We’d lost all of our savings, so it made sense to kick the nasty habit I’d picked up in the Great War. The factories back home had sent us carton after carton because soldiers with steady hands, even if they contained nicotine stained fingers, beats the tar out of a scared teenagers with a worn rifles and a rusty bayonets avoiding mortar rounds in a part of the world we’d only read about in the history books.
I can’t remember which crowded trench we were in (either they all blurred together at this point in my life or my memory wanted to shield me from that bit of pure horror in my life) when I found that romance novel tossed among the rations, but it gave me just as much solace and hope as those fortified beans and my King James Bible did. The cover was torn and so caked with a layer of dirt that I could barely make out the silhouette of the mysterious lady etched into the tapestry of the cracked leather cover. It took an escapism discovery of passion during this time of violence to open my eyes to a different type of literature.
Sure, the other boys made fun of me, but it was on that day I decided to start writing my own fantasy tale. I scrounged through scraps of paper containing everything from news from the front to the discarded Dear John letters that were tossed among the spent shell casings. Bit after bit and piece by piece, I wrote a story, never intending to share it with others, for myself and my sanity. When I got back from the war, I kept those notes in an Oreo tin I found in on the street.
I met Lilith when I relocated to New Jersey and she walked into my father’s bakery. After a brief courtship, and an even briefer honeymoon period, the next thing we knew we’d had two kids. We lived a good life, not a great one.
I’d kept that box of scraps, of potential, my shredded book asking to be reassembled, for too many years. It sat on the shelf above the Martha White Flour, just within eyeline but not within my mental reach, I guess. Every day I felt this lifeless object looking down on me, not judging me, but daring me to do more.
I even kept it after the markets crashed a decade after the war. Earlier I said the second-best thing I did was giving up smoking. That’s because the best choice I’d made in a long time was to fill that void with writing. It was then I told Lilith about my desire to assemble and rework my romance novel. She found it laughable at first. The most romantic thing I had done for her up to that point was to wash a dish every now and then.
Then I let her open that worn cookie tin, the faded one with rust on the hinges that featured a lady on the telephone, that was chock full of a young man’s dreams. This was the scariest and most intimate thing I’d done in our marriage.
As she read in silence, my heartbeat echoed in my ears. It wasn’t until I caught a glimpse of a tear in her right eye that I even allowed myself to breathe. From that point forward, Lilith knew I could do what I set out to do. She left me alone for hours on end, when I wasn’t delivering milk for those that could afford it or working odd jobs when I found them. Though we never talked about my desires directly, Lilith knew this desire to write, this demon of mine, couldn’t be slain easily. It would take years to tame.
And it did. It took almost another decade, but I finished the final draft. To celebrate, I wanted to try a new outing here in Jersey. A trip with risk if you will. Lilith had a fear of heights, so she let me go on my own.
As I started my voyage and looked over the city, I felt I deserved one last smoke. I’d borrowed a cigarette from a sailor on shore leave, complete with a lone match. It wasn’t until we were airborne in this flying oxygen tank-like craft and I heard the screams of passengers down in the galley of our ship that I realized, too late, it was a bad idea to take back up smoking when you are a passenger on the Hindenburg.