The first lieutenant carried letters from a student at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey named Martha. Lieutenant Cross kept the letters folded in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack even though they were not love letters. After a day’s march, after digging his foxhole, he would wash his hands under a canteen, unwrap the letters, hold them with his fingers, and spend the last hour of light pretending.
Romantic trips to the White Mountains in New Hampshire would be on his mind. Occasionally, he would taste the envelope flaps, knowing her tongue had touched them. Martha was the most important person to him, but the letters were mostly chatty, eluding to the issue of love.
He was almost certain she was a virgin. She was a student at Mount Sebastian studying English, and she wrote beautifully about her professors, roommates, and midterm exams, about Chaucer and Virginia Woolf. In addition to quoting poetry, she never mentioned the war except to say, Jimmy, take care of yourself.
Each letter weighed 10 ounces. Although they were signed Love, Martha, Lieutenant Cross understood that it was only a way of signing and did not necessarily mean what he sometimes pretended. The letters were carefully returned to his rucksack at dusk. A bit distracted, he would wander among his men, checking the perimeter, and then at nighttime, he would go back to his hole to watch the night and wonder whether Martha was a virgin.
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