published in Volume 3, Issue 1 on February 8th, 1996
Please, just let it be quiet.
Nothing can be worse than this. The noise; and the screaming. We were just sitting there, on break. Wilkins made a joke, something lame. Jesus, what did he say. It came out of nowhere, landed behind them. Couldn't have been more than fifteen, twenty yards away. When I was in the air I saw Ronnie's body, bending around, saw him jerk like a marionette, slow motion, I'm tellin' you. Then his leg was yanked away, like it was no longer his. Like it was theirs. I hit and sucked in my stomach and pressed into the ground, made myself as small as possible. Smaller. Jesus. I had my hand over my helmet when the shooting started, and all I could think of was get my fingers away, get them down so I didn't lose any. My uncle lost one in an accident, and I always thought it looked ridiculous, a hand with three fingers and a thumb, with a big gap between them. So I shoved my hands under my face, shook, prayed, listened. I swear I could hear the bodies rip.
Jesus God, what did Wilkins say.
And now there's screaming, just scared, coward-screaming. Who cares. It sounds like laughter, the way all the individual screams mix all together. Who would have thought. Now this one big mixed-up scream's gotta life of its own, coming down from the trees and the hills and up from the ground, and this bastard scream is mocking everything, even itself. Who knew there was so much screaming in war.
Focus. Focus. God, there's dirt in my mouth. Dry, flat-tasting, like that year in Pony League. Came into second, not sure about sliding, and I decided too late. I heard my leg snap and knew right away it I broke it. No pain at first but then like a flood, and I knew. I rolled over and laid there with my face in the dirt and started crying. I didn't care. Dirt; fine, light brown, kinda dusty. Dirt nothing was ever going to grow in. The coaches came out, people standing around. My tears fell into that dirt and made little spots, black and moist, made it look fertile, like dirt in a garden, like my grandma's. Just like this dirt. Like that's all it takes for the possibility of life, a tear here and there.
I was thirteen. Kinda old, but I cried. I couldn't help it.
Oh shit that was close. I heard it zip. Oh Jesus, I'm gonna die. I'm gonna die. Nothing's gonna survive this. Face it. Jesus, I don't wanna die. Everybody says that but shit most of the time it's just talkin', just some lame joke. It doesn't mean nothing. What else is there, but living? Dying wasn't real - not growin' up, not in Basic, not even after I got here and started walkin' around this damn jungle, wet and sore and tired all the time. Dying - I mean, Jesus, that's what happens to other people, to old people, something that happens in the city. Come on, not here. Not now. I got people I told I was comin' back. Family, cousins. They made me promise. I promised.
It's not gonna matter. Dig in deeper. Dig it does matter God dammit. Deeper.
Pictures in my vest, I can feel'em.
A wallet, worn, cheap leather. I keep it wrapped in plastic, keep it dry. A picture my mom gave me, the morning I left - the house, from the front. Green grass, rose buds next to the porch. Shit. Another one in front of my grandparent's garage, a big game of poker on a card table, my cousins and an uncle, my pap and me. We'd started with fifty pennies; a pop cost five cents. My little sister Megan would run inside and get you a loan from the piggy bank but you had to promise she could stand in front of your chair, between your legs, and let her play your next hand. We let her win, and my pap drove us out to Harkins for ice cream, and she paid for it. My pictures.
Suddenly. . . nothing. Just like that, quick again. I'm not lookin'. I can't even breathe normal; I got my face buried and I'm just listening. Like never before. No movement, no screaming. Some moaning, some crying. Someone's sucking air like through a pipe. Someone's gonna return fire. Someone's gonna come around, check for wounded or call a retreat. Someone's gonna stand up and do it. . . not me, shit, but someone. . . don't even know where my damn rifle is. That'd happen your first fight, they said. I'm just stay here, wait. Stay small.
The wallet's jammin' in my ribs, pushing, pokin', like it wants in all the way. It's gotten fat, mostly Kristie. There's a way to take the taste of dirt outta my mouth, to make this all go away, lose all this in the night and then let her hold me until this whole thing is over with, like a bad dream the sun takes away. I was with her, just that once, two days before I left. We talked about waitin' 'til I came back, 'til we were married, but leavin' got too much, we got too close, and there was only one way to get closer. God we shoulda done it a thousand times.
She lived four houses down Cleary Road, like she'd been there always. Growing up I didn't pay much attention; I played ball, rode my bike, pissed around in the woods with Ricky and Steve. The girls, they'd point at us, whisper and giggle, we'd shout something and ride off, confused and embarrassed and kinda proud too about somethin'. That summer I broke my leg I didn't know how, how they could make us feel all those things at once, and without Kristie I mighta never knew. But one day when I was laying half-naked on the couch in our living room with that plaster cast propped up on throw pillows, killing flies and sweating and wantin' to be anywhere else, she knocked on the screen door and asked if she could come in. She had a pie her mother baked and some ice cream and a book, and she said she felt sorry for me having to lie there all alone when it was so hot, and so she came to read me a story. I went to put on my shirt but she smiled and said, don't worry, I've seen a boy's bare chest before. Without much to say I laid there and ate pie and ice cream and watched her read _Catcher in the Rye_. She came back the next day and read again, and by the end a that summer she'd gone through a few more books that I don't remember, but I began living for her knock on that door and the way she smelled and to see what kind a ribbon she had in her hair that day. Towards the end she started putting the book down, kinda bold, and told me about her little sister, about her daddy's new ridin' tractor and her plans for freshman year. I was still on crutches when school came in September, and not even asking she just came by in the mornings, took my books and walked me slow to the bus stop. And I started noticing how people began talking not to me or to her but to us, and they didn't laugh or smirk or roll their eyes like in Junior High.
It was still another year, almost two before we started goin' out. By then we were best friends, and the rest came just like dandelions in June. Only once was it rough, in our junior year when Bobby Murdoch started lookin' at her, talkin' to her with his long hair, and one of her girlfriends said, why not, it'd expand her horizons. Kristie wanted to see other people, said it'd be good for us, said she decided. It was two months, worse for me, but after we got back together there wasn't much doubt I don't think for neither of us. We coulda done it then. We did everything else that last year. Then just after graduation I got my draft notice.
The moans are getting quieter. I can hear the birds again, high up; they sound pissed, I can hear it, resentful, but seem to know it won't help. I can hear. . . there's. . . shit, there's someone, I think, someone walking, maybe us maybe not. Jesus, don't move, can't if I wanted to, can't look, can't think of nothin' else. Oh God, let it be someone who's come to help. Please. Please. Please.
Shit! they're talkin', somethin', not too loud, but shit oh God it's just quick and oh shit real fast like they do and something's rippin' my heart out all of a sudden it ain't us, no one comin' here to help us, just them, comin' in to clear the area, just like we'd do if we we laid down fire. Oh man how're they here already there's another one, another voice, high like they have, and oh no a quick burst and oh fuck. . . .
They're killin' the wounded.
Oh no no no I gotta think I can't think I can't and Jesus there's another one ain't there any of us left but me and no it can't be no. I gotta stop breathin', I gotta try just real small in and out like I ain't and maybe they'll think I'm gone, leave me alone and what else is there to do. . . ah another shot more shots they're probably shootin' everyone just to make sure just like we'd do too admit it that's what we learned not back there in Basic, God that was nice, that was easy, nothing at all, but after we got here there's rules Wilkins said and then there's rules Oh Jesus God damn them.
But I gotta breathe, more, this ain't enough, I gotta, real small, it hurts, maybe like dying hurts, but I'm real scared what else am I gonna do. I want to breathe, I can't. . . like underwater, like below the surface of a lake or somethin', ripples and the sun shimmerin' off the surface lookin' up, when I look up, air and life and everything I ever wanted but I know that I can't come out there's worse things than not breathin' ain't there there is. God God it's a baptism never-endin' just water just dunked in water and not allowed out and what am I gonna do I gotta end it end it myself there's no choice and I can't even cry and. . . clench my teeth, real tight, try to suck some air just a tiny bit into me don't move don't let them know just suck and don't move anything at all Again! another burst just over there closer God God loud no listen some loud drawn-out shit hell Ronnie isn't it yes it is Jesus what was he thinkin' lying there all this time with only one leg.
Oh no after everything, after what's comin' up when I get back, not like this after those hot hot summer days playin' ball swimming down at Jacob's falls cold water and fall and winter sled riding until we were half-froze, coming in to thaw out hurtin' when our feet started to warm up and it was OK to cry? Jesus there wasn't enough and now I want waking up next to Kristie every morning and in the evening dusk walkin' with her and lookin' just lookin' and is it all gonna end with me lying here in this dirt alone like this just like this and now I ain't never gonna see her with no baby God I was lookin' forward to that. Both her sisters got real big with theirs and one day it struck me how there ain't nothin' better and once last summer we went out to Brady Lake and she was tan and smooth and I asked her to stick her belly out. . . up and out far and I ran my hand over it and 'round it and then I took her picture her actin' all swollen up and tryin' not to laugh but her eyes sparkling and just then I snapped it and got it now in my wallet and that's all it's gonna ever be is a picture ain't it ain't it?
Jesus Christ another shot something air leaving and a branch snapped and my heart is pounding to explode and run run the legs won't move no for sure they'll get you just stay here don't let it drive you fuckin' crazy the fear don't breathe don't move don't move. Just a few! feet away three three quick shots and something stops they are so close hurts my ears some words I don't understand and what are they doing just standin' there my face is in the dirt and I can't tell. . . How many just two or a whole platoon and oh fuck they're probably lookin' around don't breathe to see who else is alive those bastards killing just like we do what else we got comin'? towering over me I can feel them big and big and thinkin' they got the power just cause a that gun in their arm just like I seen guys in my company and if they knew maybe dead now they do how just all you want is bein' alive.
Them sharp words commands don't breathe and FUCK! someone steps in my direction I can tell I can slowly but I know it I know everything now this wallet I know it and FUCK! it's all I got all I have left just an image of what there was and oh but how important that is right now just this paper these symbols and maybe I'm gone but maybe they won't and maybe what's left will keep them safe and that's what I want now nothin' else and the hell with me they can take me but not these they're mine and they don't know no not me not me not me.
Don't move don't but move and move, lean so they can't tell, roll roll don't breathe get my back 'tween the wallet and the guns an don't move but I gotta have to not and have to breathe soon and just do it now for once just do it and just DO IT and. . . no no no. . . oh how it would feel breathin' but no but someone yells and someone else i can hear i can and oh God Pap wasn't that great and Megan that hair the way it would blow and my mom kiss on the cheek just once more and and i can't even smile now that i have to. . . oh my God. . . stick my belly out Kristie i see you the lake all that air and my belly out now got it out can't get it out no further don't care gotta breathe how many no no and it's wet Kristie but no more and. . . and. . . gotta now gotta move AIR!! and there it is i'm comin' up i'm breakin' through the surface and the sun is so bright Kristie and . . . oh my you are so. . . beautiful.