A Short Story of Enduring Freedom
by Larry B. Lambert
Requiem eternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them.
The pictures of his father that escaped his mother’s scissors showed a robust, smiling man who resembled him and portended what he would look like in middle age. His mother buried her anxiety in booze, pills and food. She soaped every mirror in the house to keep the voices quiet inside her head.
Dues to Indian Guides had been paid by the American Legion Chapter, school lunch provided under the aegis of a government program for same, the Future Farmers of America rejected him because he expressed a disdain for agriculture and horticulture.
He managed average grades in high school, played baseball in the summer, football in the autumn and basketball in winter. In the spring he wrestled on the team. Anything that kept him from gong home after school imparted clarity and sanity to the world he lived in.
Two girls almost became girlfriends. Both agreed to go to the movies with him. Both pretended to kiss him. Both cruised up and down Main Street with him in the Buick he inherited when his grandfather died.
Without many prospects except the certainty of working in a coal mine, he joined the United States Marine Corps soon after he walked to the podium and accepted his high school diploma.
We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord.
He pitched grenades made of green fiberglass and fired his rifle at targets without a single wave of Maggie’s Drawers. He marched and countermarched and when he’d marched enough and had done enough push-ups, they allowed him to blouse his boots.
Wooden bleachers, painted green, in much the same way as nearly everything in his world had been painted green, provided a platform for instruction. Everything from hygienically wiping his ass after he shat to the proper method of lacing boots and how to slap a plastic bandage on a sucking chest wound rounded his training.
A brass band cheered him onto the airplane with the other replacements.
In the midst of life, we are death: of whom may we seek for succor, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased? Yet, O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty, O holy and most merciful Savior, deliver us not into the pains of eternal death.
Friends came and they went. Harlan Martin took a round through the nose from an unseen sniper. Rock Ape stepped on a Bouncing Betty that popped up to dick height before releasing the ball bearings that turned him into a human sieve. The Jew contracted dysentery and a scorpion stung and killed him while he was taking a dump. Slick Willy just died. Nobody ever figured out why. He wedged the dog tags between Slick Willy’s upper and lower teeth and tapped the bottom of his lifeless jaw hard with an entrenching tool to wedge it tight before they threw his body on the helicopter and flew it back to graves registration. A two story shack housing a family of rag heads up top simply tumbled down on top of Dow. They medivac’d Dow and he died in clean sheets in the hospital.
Friends were not a great idea.
Man that is born of a woman hath but a short tie to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.
Gnats bit, spiders bored into his skin, scorpions stung. The muj dropped mortar rounds and fired their Russian-made rifles. Improvised explosives banged away. Everything wanted his blood and after a while, he didn’t care nearly as much as he did at first.
A second stripe provided the excuse to find a woman. It wouldn’t do for a corporal to die a virgin. Half a bottle of Yukon Jack, fifteen dollars and sloppy seconds in the skivvie house ended up with a trip to the corpsman and treatment for the clap.
Boned by the second stripe: The Green Machine assigned him to recon north, newly issued seven-eighty-two gear and an ambitious mustanger planning his career around zero-dark-thirty operations.
Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not thy merciful ears to our prayer; but spare us, Lord most holy, O God most mighty.
He had been thinking about that last bowl of cornflakes and a seabag drag to the airplane and the big bird home when it happened. They say you never hear the round that kills you.