Friday, May 25, 2007


There was a time I thought the shelling would never end. Jackson, the last of my squad, never did hear it stop. He is now a smear of slightly recognizable goo 20 yards to my left.
"Maybe they're just reloading.” I said to the goo.
I emptied my clip into the surrounding buildings; to see if anyone was around. No response. I wasn't fooled. I reloaded. I stayed put. An hour past and no more shells, no small arms, no man made sounds at all. I began to hear the songs of birds again and the rats were coming out. Jackson and I used to shoot the rats. "Why should they benefit from this war.", He used to say. Right now I thought, why shouldn’t they? So I left them alone.
I wanted to get up and walk around but my training wouldn't let me. I called it my training but I knew it was fear. Maybe I'm not alone. There were just too many places the enemy could hide to take a chance like that. I was hoping that anyone of them still alive would be thinking the same thing.
I shot another couple of rounds in to the air.
Yet, I still did not move. I dug in deeper. I pulled some rubble over me and wished I could fall asleep. I would need the rest for the inevitable take-over. We didn't ‘own’ this piece of property. I recalled the last thing my mother said to me (in a fit of monumental denial) before I shipped out, “Get plenty of sleep and remember the pilgrims creed: Never walk when you can ride, never stand when you can sit and never sit when you can lie down”. Falling asleep could be a deadly mistake and the urge to sleep was not yet strong enough to take the gamble. Like the pilgrim, I could be silent and alert. I knew I could stay still and awake for a long time. Could the enemy do the same?
The sun was beginning to set and our troops had not come, no one came. "Hey Jackson, what cha think?" He did not answer. The death of my friend hit home with that question because he always knew what to think. Like the time we took that last town. We were walking down the street edging along the walls. The heat was an obese lizard running its tongue up my back. Just when you thought it couldn't get any hotter here it did. My drops of sweat were big enough to give them names. Every window we past was busted out, sunlight bounced off the glass shards making the buildings look as if they lit by a mirror ball on drugs, little rainbows were everywhere. The glass crunched under our feet sounding as if we were walking on thin crusts of ice frozen on shallow puddles. The sounds of winter in this heat mixed with the smells of fear made me feel as I might scream out and run blindly into the street. Then I past a deserted bicycle shop with all but one its windows shot out.

One perfect window.

That window reached out and grabbed me by the collar stopping my free flow madness. I just stared at it with wonder and amazement not thinking anything; my mind went hot white like it was hit with a popping flash bulb. It was just too much to comprehend all at once. Is this what Paul felt?
Then I saw myself at ten years old and my father teaching me how to get wild birds to eat out of my hand. "You have to be very still', he said, 'try to pretend that you are a tree or not even here." After weeks of trying I was beginning to think it was impossible and that my father was some kind of wizard that commanded all of nature. Still, I did not give up and one winter morning I sat alone in the snow with bird seed in my hands. Finally a bird came, a sparrow, then another and another, all different kinds, sizes, and colors. They danced on my hands, so light, so small; I now understood the word beautiful. Oh, the temptation to move, to pet one, was overwhelming. I glanced up seeing my dad looking out the window at me and he was smiling. I tried moving real slow just to touch one of their backs but it was still too quick and they flew away. I brushed myself off and went back inside where my dad gave me a hug and whispered in my ear, “See. See, its wonderful isn't it?"
"Yes Daddy it is." I told him.
I saw all that now, this window was magic. Jackson caught up with me and without turning my head from the glass I asked him what he thought.
He said, "You better bust it out or you'll never get any sleep tonight.”
So . . . I did, and I slept like a log.


Nick Milne said...

Would the window-shooting conceit of this story be based on a Bill Mauldin cartoon, by any chance? I seem to remember there being one included in Up Front with a similar line ("you'd better shoot it out or you'll be up all night worrying about it," or something close to that).

Alan Capasso said...

It might be. It was from a story my dad, a WWII vet, used to tell us kids. We were never sure what really happened, what he made up, what he stole or what was true.