Vietnam, March 4, 1970

After a particularly grueling firefight near Phu Bai, Dick Francis lay back on what was once a primeval jungle floor to rest. The scorched ground felt good to his aching bones, softened, as it was, by napalm. He reached into his pocket and found the letter from his little sister, Maud. He'd been carrying it around since early this morning, waiting for a free moment to savor it. At last that moment had come. Eagerly, he ripped open the envelope...

Dear Dick,
I'm really sorry about not writing for so long, but things have been so weird that I didn't want to write you about it until I had it all figured out and I could tell you that everything was okay. But I guess I've realized that if I waited for that I might never write and that wouldn't be fair to you-- stuck over there, risking your life and all. Anyway, you're my big brother and you've always been the only person I could trust. I should've remembered that on New Year's Eve, I guess.
By now you're probably wondering what I'm babbling on and on about, but it's just really difficult to tell you, even though I'm not really telling you since you're thousands of miles away, but I really have to tell you. I'm so sorry, because I know how angry you're going to be.
Karen Leigh had lined me up to babysit for her kid brothers on New Year's Eve and to help her cover up the fact that she was going to some grownup party, not the Cliff Twins party that she told her parents she was going to. I was invited to go the the Cliffs this year. I was really excited but, of course, Father wouldn't let me go. That's why I was babysitting. The Leighs called at about ten and said that they were snowed in up in Dayton, so I promised to stay until Karen got home. Then I called and woke Father up to let him know I'd be late. He didn't believe a word I said so I had to call Mrs. Leigh and ask her to call him. It was so embarrassing! And even then, he insisted on calling her back to make sure she really was in Dayton and not just lying so that I could be out "drinking and whoring" my way straight to hell.
The boys were really good and we watched TV and ate popcorn and drank ginger ale to toast the New Year. And then they went to bed and I watched a wonderful movie called "Splendour in the Grass" which Father would've said was disgusting but was really beautiful. And I fell asleep watching another movie with John Wayne fighting Japs in the Pacific and I thought of you and I prayed for you to come home safe and sound.
Around 3 o'clock in the morning I woke up when Karen finally got home. She was with Virgil Dubois. I hadn't seen him since your going away party. I always liked Virgil. Maybe because he was so much older -- you and Dennis would get so pissed at me whenever I tried to tag along, but Virgil would always be nice and let me hang out. I'd just sit and listen to him talk about stuff. I guess he was already a professor then and I was his first adoring student.
Anyway, he and Karen had obviously had a fight, so she just threw my babysitting money on the coffee table and stormed upstairs, leaving me standing there with Virgil. He offered to drive me home and, of course, I said yes. It was snowing pretty hard, but he was dead sober. I know because I made him prove it by walking a straight line-- he did it on his hands!! So it really wasn't his fault when we slid off the road out about a half-mile from Smith Farm. It was snowing so thick we couldn't see anything, so we holed up in one of the Smiths' equipment sheds.
Naturally, it was freezing, so we snuggled into the loose hay to get warm and Virgil told me all about Homer and Aristotle and Playdough and a bunch of other Greeks who he was going to write books about and how someday he's going to show the world how some guy named George Macarchibald didn't know diddly about the Pelicanesian Wars. So I asked him what the Pelicanesian Wars were and he started laughing and apologizes for rambling on and I started laughing and all of a sudden we were both laughing and then hugging and then kissing and then... well, let's just say I fell from grace. But it's okay, because the truth is I've loved Virgil since I was five years old and now that I'm grown-up (well, nearly eighteen, months older than Mother was when she got married) I realized that suddenly he had looked at me in a new way and must've realized that he loved me, too. And what we did was something women have done with the men they love since prehistoric times.
Well, I won't go into every detail, but it turned out that I'd realized wrong. Virgil didn't love me. At least, not any differently than before. He said he loved me like a little sister, which I didn't quite understand, considering what we'd just done, but it was pretty clear that he didn't love me the way I love him. But this is the Age of Aquarius, I guess, and sex isn't about being married and monogamous anymore. That's how Virgil explained it, anyway. Sex was just a fun thing for lovers and friends and even strangers to enjoy. Like dancing. I told him that I wouldn't know since Father didn't allow me to dance.
So when it stopped snowing he just drove me home. When Mother opened the door and saw us together, she looked at me like what had just happened was written all over my face and I realized it must look like what had just happened had just happened. And Virgil knew what was going to happen next and he lit out like a deer with a tail afire. I guess he thought Father would shoot him, but he didn't have to run so fast because Father needed at least an hour to beat me before he took off in the pickup after Virgil. Mother just prayed the whole time.
I guess I had that beating coming, but I'm not so sure Father had to repeat the deed every day for three weeks. And Mother brought Reverand Gresham over to pray with her for my poor, damned soul. So one day I woke up and looked in the mirror and didn't even recognize myself through the black and blue and bloat and it hit me that I had to get out of there or he was going to kill me, so I packed a bag and hitched a ride with Karen Leigh over to the college.
I didn't know what I was going to do or where I was going to go, but Karen was really nice and took me back to her dorm room in Sayers House. She introduced me to her friends and we sat around talking and had a couple beers together and by the time it was time to go to sleep they had figured out how to get me a housekeeping job on campus and put me up in one of the dorm rooms!
So I'm working at Cliff and living in Sayers with a roommate named Lizzie and the gang has sort of adopted me and I'm learning all kinds of things about philosophy and psychology and history and politics, just from hanging around with them. And you know what's really funny? One of them is Dennis! I made Karen promise not to tell Dennis (or anyone else) what his older brother did to me cause it's kind of embarrassing. And besides, Dennis and Virgil have been arguing, constantly, about tribal stuff and I just don't want to contribute any more negativity to the world. Oh, and you'll never guess who else lives here... Charlotte and Clifford! Can you believe it?! Me living with the Cliff twins? Anyway, everything's fine now and I really love living with Lizzie who has this way of knowing what I'm thinking and how I'm feeling like no other person I've ever met. We're totally on the same wavelength.
So, I'm a fallen woman. I drink. I've sinned (don't worry, it was just that once. I didn't really like it all that much). So, you see, you're not the only one who's been through the wars lately. Anyhow, don't be too angry -- I know how you can get. Just remember that I love you and miss you and pray for you every night. Be careful.

Love,
Maud


Dick was so enraged by the letter, so furious at Virgil for seducing his sister, that he took a grenade and blew up the latrine. But even a flaming shitpit couldn't relieve his rage.

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