Volume 30, Number 2

Take Me As I Am

Danielle Ranucci

God has forsaken Wolfe Iscariot, but he murmurs hymn-lyrics anyway.

“Helpless I am, and full of guilt; But yet for me Thy blood was spilt; And Thou canst make me what Thou wilt; And take me as I am.”

He lets the burgundy prayer beads slip from his fist and crash to the ground. He hasn’t believed in God since three years ago when he first enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps.

Gideon enters from the washroom. The Japanese boy wears a dead pilot’s leather gloves. “It’s almost dawn. Are we ready to go?”

Wolfe grasps at the prayer beads on the floor. “Am I ready to go, you mean?”

“Don’t leave me behind again.”

At moments like this, Wolfe regrets having taught the boy English.

He leads Gideon out of the barracks and towards what the Army Air Corps song hails as a “crate of thunder,” even though the plane’s just a tin canister. That song calls a lot of things by names they don’t have. The sky is the “wild blue yonder,” but there’s nothing romantic about the skies over Japan. The song just calls it that to get people excited about joining something bigger than themselves, something that twists them into monsters called American airmen, who shoot strangers labeled filthy Japs.

In that blue sky, Wolfe will have no choice but to shoot. He doesn’t want to feel the way his blood tremors as it bolts through his veins. He doesn’t want to meet the enemy pilot’s shadow-sunken eyes as he draws his cockpit level. He doesn’t want to wonder: What if they are like Protestants, and some are good while others are evil? What if the plane he’s about to shoot contains a good one?

But his hand smashes the trigger and he always, always kills the stranger.

* * *

They approach the runway strip. Gideon’s mouth parts slightly as he gazes at the plane. Wolfe makes a sharp left, towards the movie-house. The boy’s lips tighten.

“Can you stop flying away?”

Flying away. One day, Wolfe might die in his plane, and then there’d be nobody to come back for the boy.

Gideon is quick to laugh and even quicker to smile, but he doesn’t understand death. He suspects that Wolfe flies away to have some kind of fun in the sky he doesn’t want Gideon to be a part of.

“There’s no such thing as fun in the sky,” Wolfe states.


“I wish I don’t have to fly anymore.”

Gideon asks Wolfe why not. Wolfe becomes quiet. Gideon demands to know why he has to fly in the first place—why not stay with him? That way, Wolfe won’t have to risk getting hurt.

Wolfe doesn’t tell the boy how fervently he prays his plane won’t be shot down.

“Wolfe, why do you have to fly—”

Gideon can’t understand execution by court-martial, so Wolfe replies, “I have to,” and leaves Gideon behind to watch movies while he goes to shoot strangers out of the clouds.

* * *

Afterwards—that’s all Wolfe’s willing to remember, after he’s cleaned the ash and soot off the outside of his plane—he and Gideon sit on their bunks in the barracks. At first, Wolfe tries making conversation, but Gideon’s crossed his arms and refuses to answer. Pilots in nearby bunks speculate why Wolfe looks after the kid.

He and Gideon still aren’t on speaking terms, so Wolfe mumbles prayers. He doesn’t believe what he says, but prayer is like hiding beneath a blanket on a winter night.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Must be a woman involved.

Forgive us our trespasses.

Or maybe Wolfe’s a spy.

Deliver us from Evil.

No. It has to be a woman.

Wolfe looks at Gideon. The boy’s arms are still crossed, but a little of the hardness has left his eyes.

“How were the movies?” Wolfe tries.

“Why do you have to fly away?”

In the past, Wolfe gave Gideon several answers. Gideon didn’t understand dread or danger or death. Now, Wolfe responds, “I have to.”

He produces a box of Cracker Jacks. When he was a kid in church, the nuns used to give them as a reward for memorizing catechism.

Wolfe holds the box out to Gideon. “Want some?” The boy’s frown melts, and his face is conquered by an eager smile.

* * *

Gideon insists on following Wolfe to the plane every day, on watching him load his supplies into a small alcove near the plane’s back entrance, on whining fervently whenever Wolfe drags him to the movie-house.

One day, Wolfe’s fellows grow tired of speculating why he looks after the Japanese boy named Gideon. A pilot catches up to them on the runway and asks Wolfe.

“What’s a Jap?” asks Gideon.

“A war-loving bastard.”

Wolfe turns away, but the pilot grabs his shoulder. “Wolfe—” The pilot’s eyes are full of water, and Wolfe shakes free and yanks Gideon along.

“What was he talking about?” asks Gideon.

In silence, Wolfe brings the boy to the movies and returns to his plane.

* * *

Later, he returns to base, enters the barracks and picks up the box of Cracker Jacks. Gideon is in the empty washroom, inspecting himself in the mirror. “Wolfe,” he says. “Am I a Jap?”

“No. You're a true-blue American.”

“But I don't look like you. I look like the Japanese people in the movies.”


“Who was my mother?”

The washroom becomes colder than a corpse, and Wolfe shivers.

“She was an American,” he forces out.

“Then why—”

Wolfe crams Cracker Jacks into the gap between Gideon’s words and manages to shut him up.

* * *

That night, Gideon goes back to looking at himself in the mirror. Above the sound of the other pilots’ snoring, Wolfe hears him scuffling around in the darkness near the washroom. Who was my mother? Am I a Jap?

If Wolfe goes in there, he knows the boy will hide in one of the stalls. Wolfe doesn’t want Gideon to hide from him, so he lies still and waits for the boy to return to his bunk.

Before Gideon comes back, Wolfe has fallen asleep. He dreams of the color blue twisting people into monsters.

* * *

Gideon memorizes the lyrics to the U.S. Army Air Corps song and sings it every few minutes as if he’s trying to prove to the world he hasn’t forgotten it. At first, Wolfe encourages him—when Gideon sings, he’s too busy to ask about his mother.

The other pilots love it. Some nights, they have Gideon sing the song three, four, five times in a row. Often, Gideon stays up until midnight, belting out the song in an increasingly-hoarse voice and beaming at the pilots around him in between verses. From where he watches in his bunk, Wolfe scowls. He has to fly at dawn. Gideon’s off-key singing keeps him awake.

One day, after being so bleary-eyed in the cockpit that he almost loses a wing to an enemy plane, Wolfe orders Gideon to quit singing the song at night. Gideon obeys, but Wolfe sometimes enters a room filled with Gideon and other pilots and hears the boy’s voice bleating, “Off we go! Into the wild blue yonder…” before he turns, sees Wolfe, and breaks off with a wavering grin.

* * *

One night, Wolfe becomes so nostalgic about a friend from West Virginia named Jeremiah Jerome that he teaches Gideon a hymn. Helpless I am, and full of guilt. But yet for me Thy blood was spilt.

The kid looks at him. And Thou canst make me what Thou wilt. And take me as I am.

Wolfe feels a chill and looks away. Jeremiah was the only Protestant who didn’t laugh when a group of other boys drowned Wolfe’s border collie in the river behind school. Jeremiah was the only Protestant who soaked his pant-legs helping Wolfe retrieve his dog’s corpse. Jeremiah was the only Protestant who offered to buy Wolfe a new puppy. Jeremiah was the only Protestant who walked home with Wolfe from school the next day, who shared the answers to his history homework, who rode bikes with Wolfe through a warm haze of lazy summer afternoons.

Other Protestants burned crosses on the lawn in front of Wolfe’s house because Wolfe’s family was Catholic. Jeremiah didn’t. He even got his family to stop burning crosses, and Wolfe loved him for that.

Wolfe believed that Protestants burned crosses to try and convert Catholics. He told this to Jeremiah and made him vow not to try converting him to Protestantism. Ten years later, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, and Jeremiah called him a bastard for thinking he could convert foreigners by shooting them.

By grasping the fingers of an orphaned Japanese child…

Gideon doesn’t understand the look on Wolfe’s face. He thinks he needs a Cracker Jack to cheer him up.

* * *

Wolfe’s plane was shot, and he parachuted into Japanese jungle, and he stumbled through the trees, then saw the woman. And the kid, clutching his mother’s leg and peering at Wolfe with a faint grin on his lips, like he’d encountered a new playmate.

The woman’s hand trembled as she held something towards Wolfe. Its muzzle glinted. Wolfe screamed and shot twice. He stared at the woman’s corpse. He shook, and the child cried.

People back home would call him a hero for this, Wolfe thought, but he wasn’t a hero. He got sick over the corpse, and the child cried.

Anyone else would have killed that child. Wolfe didn’t care, no kid deserved to be shot dead. Wolfe lifted the kid from the ground and carried him in his arms, walked into a jungle clearing and shot his flare-gun at the sky. His signal was spotted by an American plane that picked him up.

“A prisoner of war,” Wolfe said to the pilot’s puzzled glance towards the boy. “I’ll register him with the proper authorities soon.”

The pilot brought him to a hospital reeking of formaldehyde. Wolfe settled into his cot and stared at the kid. He had heard Jeremiah tell of Japanese prison camps in California. If Wolfe told anyone about the boy, they might send him to one of those camps, and the boy might die.

Wolfe didn’t register the boy with the proper authorities.

* * *

Wolfe didn’t want to name him at first. He thought the kid’s mother would return, and that Wolfe would be able to restore the kid to his Japanese fellows. Three days passed. Nobody came back for the boy. Wolfe tentatively named him Gideon. The name “Gideon” came from the Bible. Wolfe didn’t feel certain about anything anymore, but a biblical name for a the boy felt to him like hiding under a blanket on a winter night.

The next day, Wolfe found himself trekking through a jungle with the screaming child in his arms. He shot upright in a frigid sweat and learned from a nurse that he’d gone delirious, or partly-delirious, she wasn’t sure which.

Gideon stayed with Wolfe during his time in the hospital. Every morning, Wolfe lurched out of fever-dreams and looked towards the boy’s cot to make sure he hadn’t been captured. Gideon was always there. Wolfe would never have forgiven himself had he lost him.

Wolfe wandered the halls to keep from having nightmares. Nurses asked him where he was going, and he said he was looking for the bathroom, so they escorted Wolfe to the bathroom, and he waited for them to leave and wandered the halls again, because he didn’t give a damn about the bathroom, he was searching for the woman he had killed. He would ask her forgiveness and return the child to her before the boy became corrupted by American ways.

Wolfe never found that woman, but he kept wandering the halls. He kept saying prayers under his breath to a god who had forsaken him. God must have forsaken Wolfe. Why else would he feel like a piece of shattered ice?

After two weeks in the hospital, the nurses decided Wolfe was cured of his delirium. He was forced to return to a war he no longer believed in. Every time he took his plane up into the sky, he saw the face of the woman he’d killed. He was slaughtering millions of strangers like that, millions of people who could’ve been good or evil but who were all labeled evil for convenience’s sake.

* * *

Bless him. Gideon’s learned to spell. Wolfe teaches the kid to write his name. Wolfe. Then, Gideon. The boy stares at the letters. He looks from Wolfe’s name to his own and he adds an “e” to the end of his. Gideone.

“Wolfe and Gideone,” the boy says. He points to the “e” at the end of their names.

Wolfe looks at the kid. “That’s your new name, eh?”

The kid’s face glows. He eats a Cracker Jack and says, “Just like you.”

Wolfe smiles and tousles the boy’s dark hair.

* * *

“I want to fight with you for America,” Gideone says one day in winter.

“No,” Wolfe says.

Gideone looks hurt. “But it’s my duty! I’ve seen enough movies to know. Isn’t that why you fly?”

Wolfe doesn’t know anymore why he still flies. He doesn’t believe in the war, and he doesn’t believe in the prayers he teaches Gideone. He doesn’t like the taste of Cracker Jacks, but he feeds them to Gideone because it’s easier that way. It makes him believe he’s doing something, and he can pretend his actions will make things turn out alright in the long run, even if the sugar he feeds Gideon will make the boy’s teeth rot. Even if he’s only slaughtering strangers.

Gideone seems agitated by Wolfe’s silence. “Do you not trust me? Am I not really an American? Is that why I have no mother?”

Wolfe’s head reels and he slams the cockpit door shut and stumbles to the front of the plane and stares at the runway ahead of him and screams prayers to a god who has forsaken him.

He gets the “all clear” from ground control and takes off. If he returns, he’ll tell Gideone that he killed his mother. The kid deserves to know the trut—

Giggling from the alcove near the back of the plane. Wolfe stiffens. That’s Gideone’s laughter. The boy was foolish enough to sneak onboard.

The plane trembles beneath him.

“Hiya!” Gideone emerges from the alcove near the back of the plane. The blue light of the sky bathes the boy’s face in a hue of delusional ecstasy.

Wolfe stares at the kid.

“I’m a true American!” exclaims Gideone.

The missile crashes into the plane and the world dies.

* * *

The world is reborn in flames. Gideone yells and grasps at his singed face. I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe— Wolfe shoots, shoots, shoots, until the enemy plane falls.

Wolfe realizes he’s screaming.

* * *

Morning comes. He visits Gideone in the hospital. Gideone’s lungs are paralyzed. He’s trapped in an iron lung. It’s American-manufactured. It’s the only thing that lets the boy breathe.

Wolfe stares away from Gideone and towards the window. He keeps mumbling those lines. “Helpless I am, and full of guilt; But yet for me Thy blood was spilt.”

The kid stares up at him with wide, terrified eyes. “Wolfe?”

“Gideone, I killed your mother.”


“She’s gone… gone away,” Wolfe says.

“Oh,” the boy says. “But she’ll come back, won’t she?”

Gideone doesn’t understand what it means to die. He's only seen movies and heard songs that call things by names they don’t have.

Wolfe finds himself sobbing. “Forgive me. Forgive me!”

But nobody can forgive what they don’t understand.

* * *

Days pass. Wolfe feeds Gideone Cracker Jacks and leaves his rosary dangling around Gideone’s neck. He shoots Japanese strangers. He survives. There would be nobody to come back for the boy if Wolfe doesn’t survive.

* * *

Gideone’s condition worsens. He chokes on his breath and coughs blood. One day in spring, Wolfe tells the boy his mother was Japanese, but the kid is too far gone to understand.

Wait. The kid is mumbling something. Wolfe strains close to hear.

“Thou canst make me what Thou will; And take me as I am.”

His last breath smells of Cracker Jacks.

* * *

A godforsaken man named Wolfe Iscariot hurls his rosary through the hospital window and falls to his knees beside the cot.

It’s my fault, Wolfe thinks.

He’s reminded of what Jeremiah said after Wolfe told him he was enlisting.

“It’s our fault, you goddam bastard. That they want to conquer land. They wanted so much to be like us, they sacrificed what they thought was right. So, whenever the army tries to convince you the Japanese people are a bunch of bloodthirsty monsters, remember this: We made them that way.”

It’s my fault.

Gideone—who marched around wearing a dead pilot’s gloves, who was quick to laugh and even quicker to smile—is dead.

* * *

Wolfe flies alone into the sky. Others order him to shoot at Japanese strangers. Wolfe sees Gideone’s face whenever he takes to the air, wonders if Gideone would have grown up to be a good man or an evil man had Wolfe not met him. He likes to think Gideone would have been a good man.

Wolfe wonders if Gideone would have become a kamikaze pilot, if Wolfe would have been foolish enough to shoot him out of the sky had their paths crossed in a dogfight.

No. Wolfe can no longer kill people he doesn’t understand.

* * *

It’s summertime now. Sunlight floods across Wolfe’s eyes, washing away the sky’s horrible blueness. He takes a deep breath. He feels more alive than he’s ever been. For the first time in his life, he feels free.

He hasn’t fired a shot in three months.