115 Doxtater-Pt. 2 (Image: Closed for the Winter)

In February of 1944 Samantha traveled to London to do some personal shopping. The Woolworth’s she was in was hit directly by a V-2. Nearly a hundred people were killed outright or injured. Miraculously she wasn’t harmed at all by the blast. She along with two other people, was killed when an unstable wall collapsed while they were trying to drag injured from the rubble.

Gordon Welshman was the only person who knew the inspiration for John’s daughter’s name. On the occasion of their daughter’s birth John told Vita he had always “just liked the name.” It wasn’t simply a matter of Vita not liking where the name came from. It was more a profound sense of wanting to keep Samantha’s memory a sacred, personal secret—deep in his heart where he could cherish it and no one could touch or sully the precious sweetness of his first love. A few years later it occurred to him that night was—or at least symbolized—the intellectual and sexual peak of his life. And that period—that love—was the purest love he would ever know. The only love that came close was the love he had for his daughter. Standing there drinking from the bittersweet past it seemed to him his life had been consistently downhill in the 11 years since.

John Provisano very much missed World War Two. No epiphanies—no urgent codes to break, no history to change—no truly pure and perfect love—just emptiness, cold and desolation. The puzzle of a meaningful life now defied his best efforts at a solution. This was one code he could not break.

Like his house, the home across the street had no power and he seriously doubted there was any heat. He had seen the girl sitting in the large bay window earlier when the sun shone for a few hours through the glass providing her a bit of relative warmth. As the sun set he could see again the faint glow of candle light through the kitchen window he’d noticed the night before.

“She must be miserable,” he thought looking up at the bare branches of the old Elms arching over the street as they faded into frozen darkness.

Filling a thermos with hot chocolate he pulled on his heavy Air Force Parka, slipped on felt boots and trudged through the snow—almost up to his waist in places—across the unplowed street. Climbing the porch steps he rapped on the door. The girl—Mary Kent was her name—quickly answered.

“Hi,” John said as she peeked through the partially open door, “I’m your neighbor across the street—115 Doxtater. Mary Kent isn’t it?” The girl looked at John—nodding with a mixture of caution, appreciation and anticipation.

“I hope I’m not intruding,” he continued, “but I thought you might like some hot chocolate.” He held up the thermos so she could see and handed it to her through the partially open door.

“Come in,” Mary Kent responded as she quickly accepted the thermos.

“Just a minute,” John replied.

Picking up the snow shovel standing by the door—John quickly shoveled off the small porch, stamped his boots clean of snow and stepped inside. The kitchen was dark except for two candles burning in pint mason jars on the table and was almost as cold as it was outside. “The pipes are probably frozen by now,” he thought.

John had never spoken to the girl other than to wave across the street and holler “hi” or “good morning”—that sort of thing. Mary Kent was a lot younger than him. This evening, how much younger it was hard to tell. The girl was bundled up in sweaters and shirts under the bulky overcoat. She wore a knitted cap, gloves and appeared to have on at least two pairs of pants. Despite the layers of clothing she was shaking and looked haggard—probably from lack of sleep. She sat the thermos down on the table and started toward a cabinet for cups. John glanced around the dreary room and when she returned he looked carefully into the girl’s eyes.

“Mary Kent,” John intoned in a concerned voice, “I’m inviting you to come over to my house. I have heat, hot food—warm water for a bath. Please come—I think your health is at risk here. You’ll be fine—you’ll be safe with me—I promise.”

The girl studied his face for a moment taking note of the sad, fatherly expression in the military officer’s eyes.

“You promise you won’t try anything?” she returned.

“On my honor as an officer and a gentleman,” he smiled. “Besides my wife would kill me if I ever—uh—you know.”

John could tell she was vacillating. On impulse he said something that surprised himself.

“And if you’ll forgive my saying so,” he said in an unhappy voice, “I think we’re both very lonely. Please come. You’ll be safe with me.”

The girl disappeared returning a few minutes later with a wicker laundry basket filled with clothing, toiletries and other personal effects. Major Provisano took the basket from her and led the way back across the street—churning his way through the deep snow while Mary Kent followed behind him in the trench he created.

Like most homes in Upstate New York, John Provisano’s house had a full basement. In the basement besides the furnace, was a hot water heater which—though it had no power—was able to warm water to the relatively warm room temperature. After filling the tub with tepid water from the hot water heater, John added several tea kettles of boiling water from the wood stove to bring the water temperature up to warm. Closing and locking the bathroom door the girl emerged a half hour later with her hair wrapped in a towel wearing one of John’s terry cloth robes.

Standing by the wood stove she took the towel off her head and bent her head over the hot stove—running a brush repeatedly through her thick, wavy hair as it dangled in the rising heat—while John heated up a pot of canned beef stew. Freshly bathed, warmed and rejuvenated John could now tell the girl was about twenty years younger than him—she would later confirm she was 21. Watching her brush her hair and glance warmly in his direction, John Provisano reflected he had not seen such beautiful hair and compelling eyes since 1943.

It was Samantha that introduced John to half-coffee, half chocolate—heavy on the cream (she hated tea). In Buckinghamshire where Samantha grew up, snow was rare and once the couple began discussing marriage, Samantha talked excitedly about the prospect of living somewhere—Upstate New York—where there was lots of snow—for months at a time. John wrote home and asked his mother to send a small album of photos of family snapshots taken outdoors in winter.

John and Samantha spent many evenings drinking hot chocolate and coffee and looking at the black & white photographs—John commenting on the people in the images or the occasion it was taken. On the day Samantha was killed it snowed in Buckinghamshire.

John Provisano and Mary Kent ate, reveling in the almost narcotic joy of warm human comfort in the midst of surrounding frozen desolation—it was as though they were the last humans on the planet. Each was desperately grateful for the rich, nurturing presence of the other as an ally in the struggle against isolation. It had an almost war-time urgency.

Forty-five minutes after finishing their meal they were making love in the double bed John had purchased for himself and his wife in the room that would later become his daughter’s bedroom.

End part two

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