Borderline - Part 2

Based on the song “Borderline” by Chris de Burgh

I'm standing in the station,
I am waiting for a train,
To take me to the border,
And my loved one far away,
I watched a bunch of soldiers heading for the war,
I could hardly even bear to see them go.

The train lurched suddenly and pulled him out of his reverie. He looked out of the window seeing the ocean, its waves dark and stormy – a reflection of the steel-gray sky. A shiver ran through him and he pulled his jacket tighter around his shoulders. Ever since leaving Florida the world has seemed so cold – not temperature-wise, more of a mood in the air. Like he had suddenly discovered that it was not the happy-go-lucky place he had always thought it was… He stretched his shoulders, trying to release some of the tension that was forming there. His blinders were off finally, and he was beginning to see the world for what it is: a bittersweet place full of joy and sorrow, pain and healing, and, unfortunately, as much hate as love.

It made him fear for what else he may learn…

He closed his eyes, hoping that he could fall asleep. It seemed like forever since he’d done that last. Nick had dropped him at the train station, handing him a small box, and then shook his hand and wished him the best of luck with a wide grin. They had become close in the few days before Howie had left – not friends really, more like good acquaintances. Howie had been reticent about opening up, especially since he was going off to war, and he sensed that Nick felt the same way.

The box had contained a sandwich with thick slices of Mama Fatone’s meatloaf and a few of her small Italian pastries. He blinked back tears when he saw that: she was giving him something that his own mother couldn’t – acceptance for his decision. Tucked at the bottom of the box, wrapped in waxed paper so the tomato sauce didn’t drip through, was a note from Joe.

Dear Hugo:
It was so good having you here for school and I will miss you now that you are returning to Canada. As you can see Mama was determined not to send you home without something to keep you from hunger. I still say that she likes you more than Nico. Maybe even me!

I am certain that you will succeed in all of your endeavors. Please be careful on your journey and remember us always.
Yours, Guiseppe.

Howie had taken a deep cleansing breath after reading it. He was no longer Howie Dorough. He was Hugo Douro: Canadian student on his way home from years away at school in New York. All the papers that Joe and Jimmy had provided him with said so. Even in his send off note Joe had reminded him of that – though something told him that not all of the people he’d helped got a last letter like this (and certainly not a home cooked meal from Mama).

Maybe it was the threat of tears, maybe it was the heavy meal, but he’d fallen to sleep for almost three hours after the train had pulled away from the station. Still that had been almost a day ago and sleep had evaded him ever since. All the fears and anxieties he had repressed were starting to filter through.

Did she really love him as much as he loved her? She said she did… but had still refused to marry him, saying that until his family had really accepted her she just couldn’t. He had told her that what his family thought didn’t matter – all that was important was them – but she had just looked at him with that sweet smile of hers and said that all family was important and she loved him too much to put him in a position where he might lose his.

Did he love her as much as he thought he did? He was willing to go to war, but he hadn’t had the courage to really fight his family for her. Or her family. They had been just a reticent to accept an Irish/Puerto Rican Catholic into their Jewish family. Granted, they weren’t orthodox – in fact they were fairly relaxed about their religion – but that was a bigger step than they were sure they were ready for.

Was it just that? Was his love for her simply because of the opposition? Was he trying to keep them together because others wanted them apart? When his brother had spat at him, calling him a Jew-lover and ridiculing him for wanting to go to war over a little ‘pushing around’ that was happening to the Jews in Germany (which John had said they probably deserved anyway), had he really given him a black eye?

Heck, had that been the reason he’d punched him or was it just payback for the millions of little things John had done to him while growing up? The things that older brothers always did…

Most of all he wondered what war was really like. There were people dying: he knew that. Lots of them. He had seen a dead body before – well, sort of. Once, John had dragged him down to the lake to watch the police fishing a body out: a bloated blob that had bobbed in the waves but didn’t really look human except in its general shape. Then there had been the time he had gone to see his father as he walked his beat at the south end of town. There had been a man hit by a car, and he’d joined the crowd that had formed to peer at the body. He could remember the blood, and the shock of seeing white bones sticking out of the leg. Mostly he remembered the look of surprise on the man’s face as he stared blindly up at the crowd.

He’d had nightmares for weeks.

And he hadn’t even know those people: in war it was the people you know, the people who fought alongside you, your friends and comrades, who were dying.

Even he could die.

Rolling through the countryside,
Tears are in my eyes,
We're coming to the borderline,
I'm ready with my lies,
And in the early morning rain, I see her there,
And I know I'll have to say goodbye again.

He could feel the train start to decelerate and peered out the window again. They were on the outskirts of town. Just a few more minutes until they pulled into the station. Just a few more minutes until he disembarked and caught the next train. The one that would take him to Halifax and to war...

The train pulled in and he could see that the gray skies had given way to cold drizzle. Would he ever be warm again? Was there never summer up here? He chuckled at his own thoughts – sure, there is summer here Howie. I just happens in the summer… He pulled his small cardboard suitcase down from the overhead compartment and joined the crowd as they shuffled towards the exit.

Outside, he could see the border just a few yards away. A small building with a guardhouse stood there, manned by several men in uniform, Canadian he supposed. Just beyond that was another station. In the distance he could make out a much smaller train approaching. His connection. Still, first things first – he had to prepare himself for the lies he would soon be telling.

He walked through the groups of people in the station: families reunited, couples in a tight embrace. God, it hurt to see. It only served to drive home his loneliness…

He nodded briskly to the two border guards who huddled in the guardhouse, jackets bundled tight and hats pulled down low to avoid the rain, then entered the main building. He stood patiently in the short line, reviewing the things he had to say. This was the turning point. If he couldn’t get through this then nothing else would matter.


He clasped his suitcase tightly in his hand, knuckles turning white with the effort, and strode forward to the counter. The Customs agent was an older man, about his father’s age gazed blandly at him. Something in his face reminded him of his father even more. It wasn’t the looks: his father never had a blotchy freckled face or red hair that was fading to white. It was the no-nonsense attitude. This man wouldn’t take any guff from anyone. Howie gulped reflexively. This was going to be harder than he thought.

“And what can I do for you today?”

Howie smiled and handed him the papers that Jimmy had given him. “Just heading home, sir.”

The man looked down at the papers then back at Howie. “Been away long?”

“A few years,” Howie nodded. “School in New York.”

“New York? Really? Would have thought it was a little further south with your accent,” the man mused.

“Accent?” Howie’d forgotten about that. He was supposed to mimic Joe’s more flat, tonal way of speaking. Damn! The jig was up! “Oh, that’s from my room-mate. He’s from Mississippi. Can’t help but pick a little bit to go on.” He smiled blithely, his fingers crossed.

“Hmm,” the man nodded and then glanced through the papers again. Just when Howie was convinced that the sweat from his armpits was about to show, the man pulled out a stamp and started pounding it on the papers.

“Welcome home to Canada, Mr. Douro,” the man said with a knowing smile as he handed the papers back.

Howie sighed and nodded as he took them from his hand. He turned and was about to walk away when the man said quietly, “it’s a brave thing you are doing, son. I wish you the best of luck and thank you.”

Howie was stunned. The man knew! He knew and he was letting him go. He swallowed the lump in his throat and smiled tremulously as he walked out of the building. Once outside he sat down heavily on the stairs, trying to regain his composure. Dear God! He’d made it. He was across the border, in Canada, and about to get on his way to Halifax. He was going to war.


For so long he had dreamed of hearing her voice again. The gentle lilt, the soft way she said his name – more of a caress than an enunciation. It had haunted him, driven him, made him want so much… How appropriate that he thought he could hear it now.


It even had that slightly frustrated tone she’d get when he was being stubborn. He smiled faintly, remembering the last time… he’d been insisting they just forget about it all, run off to Miami and get married. Surely in that big city no one would care about who they were and where they’d come from. They could lose themselves in each other…

“Howie. Look up. Please.”

That hadn’t been what she’d said… she’d said… Wait a minute. His head whipped up and he looked towards the guard gate. She was there. Oh God, she was here, so far away from home. She was here, and no matter what happened he would have to say goodbye to her again. The first time had almost broken his heart…

And it's breaking my heart, I know what I must do,
I hear my country call me, but I want to be with you,
I'm taking my side, one of us will lose,
Don't let go, I want to know,
That you will wait for me until the day,
There's no borderline, no borderline.

“Essie,” he breathed as he shoved aside his suitcase and rose from the stairs. “Essie,” he said as he ran towards her. “Oh Essie,” he murmured as he stumbled to a halt a few feet in front of her. She was so beautiful. Her dark wavy hair pinned back behind her ears and covered with a warm scarf. Her skin was pale, cheeks slightly chapped with the cold, but still as luminous as he remembered. And her lips, those ruby lips…

“Essie, what are you doing here?”

She smiled, her eyes dancing at the sheer ridiculousness of the question. “Looking for you.”

Walking past the border guards,
Reaching for her hand,
Showing no emotion,
I want to break into a run,
But these are only boys, and I will never know,
How men can see the wisdom in a war...

He chuckled at the wryness of her tone and stepped forward to take her hand. Even now, she could still manage to both rebuke and caress him. It was one of the many things he loved about her.


Howie turned to look at the guard who had stepped forward. “Sorry buddy, but unless she’s coming across you can’t go back. That’s the rules.”

He wanted to argue, to tell this man – child, really – that this was the love of his life and he never wanted to leave her alone, no matter what side of the border they were on. But that would be quickest way to get thrown out and he doubted that even the sympathetic man inside could help him then. “Is it alright if we talk? Just here?”

The guard hesitated, swallowing nervously as he wiped some of the damp off his face. It only made the acne on his cheeks stand out more. He glanced down at their hands and his countenance softened. “Well, okay. But only just here. You can’t move around, eh.”

Howie nodded and turned back to her. “Esther, you shouldn’t be here. It is too far from home.”

“You shouldn’t be here either, Howard. It’s not right. This isn’t your battle.”

He shook his head. “It is, my love. It is my battle. It’s my war and I intend to fight it.”

“You are doing this because of me. I know that. Please don’t: it isn’t necessary. Come home with me, Howie. Please.”

“It’s not you: it’s all of it. It’s just wrong what is happening.” He sighed and repeated, “all of it.”


“No.” He raised his hand and placed a finger over her lips. “Yes, I heard all the stories from your folks about how the Nazis are pushing your people around, taking them to special camps. But I also hear how they are treating others. They invaded Austria! Their own people! They have taken most of France and it looks like there is nothing to stop them from taking England. I want to try and stop them.”

She brushed aside his hand, grasping it in hers. “We all do, but it is not your war yet. My people…” she glanced at the guard and decided that he was far enough away. “My people have suffered before. We will again. It is our lot in life, it seems. Hitler can’t do anything worse than any other. As for the rest, yes, it looks bad. But that is no reason…”

“It is reason enough for me,” Howie replied. “And obviously reason enough for you. You refused to marry me. Said not until the war was over. Remember that, Essie? I can’t just sit around until then. I have to do something.”

She flushed. “I said no because I was afraid you’d regret it,” she replied softly.

He gazed into her eyes, seeing the truth there. Seeing the fear that their differences in background would tear them apart. Seeing the fear that the love they had just wasn’t going to be enough. Seeing all the fears that he had reflected there. Seeing that all those fears were unfounded – that they loved each other too much for anything to ever come between them. And he smiled.

“Loving you isn’t something I could ever regret.”

Essie gave a whimper and fell into his arms. He pulled her close, reveling in the feel of her in his arms again, drinking in her scent. The guard cleared his throat, indicating perhaps that they were getting too close for his comfort, but Howie didn’t care. She was here and in his arms – that was all that mattered. His lips descended on hers, thrilling in the suppleness of them, then thrilling more as she opened her mouth under his. The kiss went deeper, more passionate, then slowly became sweet and loving again. As if the two of them knew it was to be their last kiss for a long time and they wanted to just be together. Just be.

He pulled back, looking into her hazel eyes, wiping away the tears that rolled down her face. “I love you, Essie. There is nothing to be afraid of, nothing to regret. I love you, and I always will.”

“Howie,” she started, but was interrupted by the whistle of the train behind him. The conductor gave a loud bellow. “All aboard! All aboard for Halifax!”

He took a deep breath. “That’s my train, Essie. I have to go.”

“No!” she sobbed as she clung to him. “No, don’t go. Please. I could lose you.”

He brushed the hair off her face. “You could never lose me, love. I just won’t be with you for a little while. That’s all.”

“But what if you…” she couldn’t say the word.

He tipped her head down, kissing her forehead. “Then I’ll still be there for you. An angel on your shoulder.”

She gave a short hiccup as she rebuked him. “Jews don’t have angels, Howie.”

“This one does.” He kissed her lips again, lightly. “Promise me, Essie. Promise me that you’ll wait for me. Promise me that you’ll wait until there is no borderline, there’s nothing to keep us apart. Promise me you you’ll be there for me.”

She stiffened, trying hard to regain her composure. To be as strong as he was being. “I promise. I’ll always wait for you. It’s you and no one else for me. Forever. I love you, Howie.”

He stepped back slowly, not willing to take his eyes off of her and then finally turned towards the train that was to take him off to war. He took a deep breath and nodded to the guard who held out the suitcase he’d abandoned in his haste to be with her.

“Dames, eh? Just don’t understand that a man has to do what a man has to do,” the man said.

Howie looked at him again, seeing the bloom of youth still on his cheeks. “I don’t see how any man can see the wisdom in war,” he replied. He straightened his back, strengthening his resolve, and moved towards his destiny.

And it's breaking my heart, I know what I must do,
I hear my country call me, but I want to be with you,
I'm taking my side, one of us will lose,
Don't let go, I want to know,
That you will wait for me until the day,
There's no borderline, no borderline,
No borderline, no borderline...

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