Summer had finally come to Stalag 13. Newkirk had verbally despaired of walking on thawed earth ever again, and now, stepping carefully to avoid the muddiest patches of ground, he almost wished he'd been right. The sun on his back was comforting as he whittled at a long stick from the woodpile, but the heat also meant that bugs were beginning to venture forth into the world again. But, ya gotta take the rough with the smooth, Newkirk thought idly as he continued swiping his blade at a shallow angle.
Across the compound, he spotted Carter sitting on a bench, without any of his usual joie de vivre as Lebeau had been known to put it. No pie tins for sun-tanning, no baseball to toss from one hand to the other, no dog-eared book to flip through, no letter to read or write, no soft smile of contentment. In fact, Carter's visage bore a notable frown; so Newkirk altered course to saunter over to the unoccupied portion of the bench. Carter looked up at his approach, but otherwise offered no greeting, so Newkirk decided to open the conversation.
"Mind if I sit there, mate?" gesturing with his elbow to the vacant seat.
Carter just shrugged, so Newkirk settled himself in and just kept flicking little shavings of wood absent-mindedly to the ground. That was one thing about Carter, if you wanted to know what he was thinking all you had to do was wait, eventually he'd tell you (and probably a great deal besides). There was no point hurrying things. And so they sat there; one vacantly staring into space, the other half-heartedly smoothing a stick. Maybe Lebeau'll want ta try playing fetch with the camp dogs some time. The thought brought a smirk to Newkirk's face, almost simultaneous to a sigh escaping his quiet companion. It wasn't long after that when Carter's blank look fractured into a questioning gaze and Newkirk knew he was ready to discuss whatever had him so morose.
"Do you ever think about how we all got here?" Carter asked.
Now that was one Newkirk couldn't have prepared for if he'd been given a month's warning and revision time. While he sat frantically, if invisibly, regrouping, Carter came obliviously to his rescue.
"I mean, if you think about it, we're all here because of airplanes."
Newkirk almost burst out laughing from unexpected relief. Anything would've been better than a discussion about the horrors of capture. But he was honestly curious where the young American was going with this line of thought.
"Even Klink is kind of here because of his work with airplanes." Carter said, as if having put a great deal of thought into that conclusion.
"Well, I suppose if you squint at it just right..." Newkirk conceded.
"I know Colonel Hogan sometimes misses it." Carter replied, picking at his sheepskin gloves, "Flying, that is." He transferred his fidgeting efforts to his sleeve. "I mean, it's kind of expected. He was actually a pilot, so he really flew his plane. I guess most of us haven't done that, but I kinda miss it sometimes too."
"Oh, Carter, I know it can be a bit of a tough draw, sitting around here in camp, knowin' other guys are out there doing the jobs we used to do, but we've got an important bit right here." He paused his whittling to gauge his friend's reaction to his encouragement, but saw Carter shaking his head.
"It's not that, boy…..I just….y'know, I probably never would have gotten on a plane if this war hadn't started?" Carter's expression said that he was looking hard for words he wasn't sure he'd found, so Newkirk let him search a little longer. "I mean, I woulda taken my Chemistry Exam, I probably woulda passed, then I'd have gone to work in the drugstore, and maybe opened my own someday..." He trailed off, still trying to explain an idea he found nebulous himself. Newkirk decided to try following the thread Carter had left hanging.
"Yeah, I can see that a Chemist wouldn't have much reason to go flying all over the place, but if it matters to you, I'm sure y' can find reasons to do it from time t' time."
Carter, shaking his head again, told Newkirk that he'd missed the mark with that one.
"It's not that, Newkirk….I...I miss the bzzzz of the bomber's engine, the feeling of the air plucking at the wings a bit before catching them an' pulling us into the sky. I miss the glow from the other bombers' cockpits. Watching the orange and yellow when we'd drop our bombs…..it doesn't make much sound, all the way up in the sky, but underneath you, all there is is patchy darkness 'till you drop a bomb, and suddenly there's lights and colours and the plane hums away until we go home and the wind lets us back down on the ground." Carter, for the first time in the conversation, lifted his hazel eyes to meet Newkirk's own. "I actually kinda enjoyed that...and I don't know if...I should?"
Newkirk thought he finally understood. Bombing runs had no place in peace time. Carter's bombs alone could at least by likened to the pyrotechnics displays that he'd do for his Independence Day, but was it okay to appreciate something that could only come from war? Newkirk paused a moment while he readied his answer, but he didn't wait too long, so Carter wouldn't think he was 'just trying to make him feel better'.
"Andrew, you're glad we met aren't ya?" Carter began nodding furiously, so Newkirk held a hand out before continuing. "Well, if it hadn't o' been for this messy war, I can guarantee I would never have would up anywhere near you. You'd have lived out your life as a Chemist with no idea that a bloke called Peter Newkirk even existed." He paused to make sure he really had his audience. "My point is, sometimes good things come out of bad. You never flew before the war and chances are you won't much after, but there's no denying that the way them engineers can get great heaps of metal to fly through the air is pretty fantastic, and your explosions can be very impressive to watch. War is a terrible thing, but if you stopped enjoying the little nice things that happen because of it, you'd go stark ravin' mad. Got it?"
Newkirk was just beginning to think he'd wasted a perfectly good pep talk when Carter finally bobbed his head.
"Gee, you know, I hadn't thought of it like that before. LOTS of good things have happened to me that wouldn't have if something bad hadn't happened as well! There was the time the Sheriff gave me a ride in his car! That never would have happened if I hadn't gotten lost first! And then there's the time I learned how to hold a pencil in my left hand! If I hadn't..."
"Carter, I'm glad the idea resonates with you, but p'raps it could resonate while we take advantage of the warm weather. It won't be that long 'till it gets hot enough out here we'll be wishing it was winter again."
Carter nodded his agreement. "Yeah. That's another thing! If we didn't have winter getting all cold, we wouldn't be able to make snowmen. And if it didn't get really windy, we couldn't fly kites..."
Newkirk shook his head fondly, leading Carter over to join the somewhat muddy game of volleyball that had been set up. After all, if Carter weren't so talkative, he wouldn't be Carter, would he?