The War on the Homefront 2
"Oh, I been offerin' when you were gone but you lady always told me it ain't mattered."
"Don't mind my lady. Drive it now and then if you have the time. I'll leave you the spare key."
"No problem, Jack. I ain't got nothin' but time on my hands. Uh . . . you doin' all right?"
"You need anything at all you just let me know, hear?"
"I hear ya, much obliged."
"Well, have yourself a good time. And thank you for your service."
"Thank you for yours."
"If you c'ain't come by for some of my casserole I'll bring some over."
"Mighty kind of you."
"Need anything at all, you know where to find me."
And we both know that it'll only be likewise for nine days. Then I'll be off again. I'm sure he watches the homefront when I'm gone. Know he's armed. Shit, this it Texas, shit, this is America, who ain't? Makes sure there ain't no one snoopin' around. Same age as my daddy. Calls me "Jack." Daddy calls me "son" if he calls me anything at all. Only females address me by my first name, the diminutive version, unless I'm in trouble, then sissy and mama address me by my whole first name and do it slow and hard with a spark in their eyes and a tightness in their lips. Introduced myself to the unangel fiancé as "Jack," told her to call me that or "TJ" and then we got closer and I let her call me by my first name. Doesn't call me by it no more. Yells it at me. Everything she says, everything she yells might as well be thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack cause none of it means shit to me. Only meeting her at this backyard get together where body parts will be grills and chowed upon cause I don't want to meet her when she comes back if I don't show up; she'll yell some more. Bitch about everything.
Couple days after my return I made her supper. Bitched about that too. Simple supper. Just rice with collard greens, cornbread, some black eyed peas. Not the fancy gourmet shit she's been feedin' on during my absence. Fancy food is all sauce, not food. Coverin' the food with sauce. Whatcha hiding? I don't abide covering food with sauces and spices. Food should taste good enough on its own unless you're a lousy cook. She don't cook at all. Heats. Unwraps and heats in the microwave or oven. Gonna unwrap her one day. Heat her up. Eat her alive.
CHICKEN PALACE the sign reads. Lots of restaurants en route to the get together. The palace of chicken serves that meat in one fashion: fried. Fried flesh with your choice of three sides. Don't as much business (judging by the cars in the parking lot) as the barbecue restaurants. Texas = barbecue. I'd say that's the All-American cuisine. Barbecue. Folks fight over which city county state has the best. Don't own a grill. She bitches about that too. How're we gonna host a barbecue if we ain't got a grill? Answer: we ain't. Stray mongrel dog on humping alongt he side of the road. Pull over, activate the hazard lights. Intending to offer food and water and realize I ain't gone neither. Shit. Offer a request instead: when you die, poor baby, do it quickly.
Remount. Truck in gear, hazard lights deactivated. Come upon some Hispanics selling produce on the roadside. Pull over. No hazards. Holal, como estas? Purchase some oranges and avacados, just for the pure hell of it. Keep cash on me. Told her to always keep cash on her. She don't. Told her to drive the truck now and then. Nope. Told her. Instructed and taught her. Never once yelled "EMILY!" Never just said it either. "Em," just "Em" because it's my privilege as the man who supports her. Think I'd be more pissed if I heard another man call her "Em" than I would if I caught another man fucking her. Thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack slap slap slap slap slap grind grind grind grind grind gring drag drag drag drag drag coming from the front of the truck, its wheel wells where the under fender liner exits. Pull over. Hazards activated. Yep, liners in both wells shredded. Get the zip ties outta the cab, secure the liner. Annoying, but, shit, helluva lot easier than doing basic maintenance on a tank. I'm in Cavalry and Cavalry = tanks. For a "mounted" force - mounted in tanks - we spent most of our time dismounted. Patroling on foot. In our LPC. Lef-rye-lef-hada-lef-rye-lef. Walk with your hips so you don't bounce, trigger finger on the trigger guard, maneuver at the hips, wan-tup-threep-fower, lef-rye-lef, stay low, aim for the chest, two in the chest one in the head, gotta be dead, gotta be
over ninety degrees. No a/c in this truck, crank down the windows. Still hot dry air. Back on the road, turn on the radio set to a classic rock station, now that's proof that she ain't been in this truck, if she had the radio would've been tuned to some modern pop station. I pulled into Nazareth, just feelin' 'bout half past dead/ just needed to find a place where I can lay my head/mister can you tell me where a man might find a bed/he just grinned and shook my hand/no was all he said. Wanna turn this truck around, head back home, that's where I can find a bed, lay my head, feelin' 'bout half past dead, staring at the ceiling fan, waiting for her to yell my name, make me blink again. Says I stare too much. The two thousand yard stare. Woke up in the middle of the night, think it was my third night home, found herself alone in bed. Called for me. Found me outside, sitting on the front porch bench. Staring. Hot dry dark night. Sitting shirtless staring. Said my name. Asked me what I was staring at. I told her, "Movement."
Damn sticky clutch. Easier driving a goddamn tank. Ain't no fixin' a tank with zip ties. Was daddy taught me to always keep zip ties in your vehicle, with some basic tools, just in case. Wouldn't allow me to get my driver's license until I knew how to change brake pads, oil, spark plugs, tires, basic maintenance, dig? Sissy, on the other hand, didn't have to know shit. Guess daddies always spoil their little girls. Damn those little I-rackie girls. Smile shyly. Dirty bare-footed little girls smiling, averting their eyes, giggling after you give them candy. Always made sure we had something to give the kids. They wanted anything. A pen from our pocket thrilled them. We high-five'd them, picked them up, give them a piggy-back ride or just spin them around, toss them in the air, catch them and tickle them and shoot their older brothers, fathers, uncles, cousins. Must look like superheros in our gear. You'll be waiting for the signal to breach a house suspected of storing a caché of IED, happen to turn your head and there's a kid waving at you, smiling. "Hello, mistah." Often it was, "Hello, America." Want to throw something at the kid. Yell. Scare the kid away. Don't want a kid caught in potential crossfire. At the same time, don't wanna come off as a big scary monster. Shit. Fucking decisions you gotta make sometimes, at the damndest times. Ain't like deciding between vanilla or chocolate.
Decide to stop at gas station, check the truck's oil, clean its windshield, get a bottle of water. A Mexican kid is watching me. Sitting in the passenger's seat while his mama pumps gas into their busted Chevy. Makes the truck look showroom new. Little dirty brown Mexican kid. His mama is a pretty senorita. She sees me, the gringo. Smiles as if to say leave-us-alone-and-we'll-leave-you-alone. Sure, I'll leave them alone. Ain't botherin' me, won't bother them. She's pretty, kid's cute. A pickup pulls up behind their car. Only two pumps at this station and both are occupied. One by me, one by the senorita and (I'm guessin') her kid. Also guessin' that the asshole in the pickup saw us all, guessed himself that the female was an easier target. No shit, fella. Honks his horn. Hey, asshole, she can't make the tank fill faster than it's gonna fill. Kid startles at the blare. Senorita pumps on. I finish checking the oil, start cleaning the windshield. Another blare. Decide that's gonna be the last. "Hey," I say, "your turn's comin' soon enough." And I stare and I guess he sees that something, that what? je n'ais c'est quoi in my stare and he doesn't blare anymore. Ain't no cause to frighten a woman and her kid just cause he's in a hurry to fill his tank. Motherfucker. Kind of unmannered asshole who doesn't put a shirt on when a female enters the room. That's just manners. If you don't know the female on a personal, private level you put on a fucking shirt. Windshield clean. Senorita gets in her busted Chevy and the kid waves goodbye. Impolite asshole pulls up to the pump but waits for me to leave before he exits.
She's thinking of an exit strategy, I'm sure. Or I'm paranoid. Or I'm suspicious. Why leave? Hell, I provide everything. She works part time at a clothes store at the mall but her entire meager paycheck goes to buying clothes at that same store with an employee's discount. So? She's mine. I'm supposed to take care of her, she's supposed to not worry cause she's being taken care of, she's mine, she's at a barbecue hosted by a friend from work whose husband has some white collar six figure executive job, rich civvies. Wonder if they have ceiling fans. Probably. Wonder if they thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack or if they're the silent types, smooth and silent. Wonder if they have cords or are remote controled. That shit exists. Remote controled fans. Who the fuck is that lazy? Rich civvies are. The house is in an upscale, private subdivision, the kind with a name, the kind where, if you live there and someone asks where you live, you don't give an address or a neighborhood, you give the name of your subdivision. Paradise Hills. The Pallisades. Wonder Woods. Our house is on a street in an unnamed neighborhood near the fort. It's half a house, really. Duplex. Clean and unassuming. Like me and her: she's clean, I'm unassuming. And that potato salad she made is too goddamn tangy, I'm sure. Uses too much mustard and dill. I say mama makes the best potato salad and Em hates me for saying it. "Since when don't you like mustard and dill?" she says. "Since never. I like mustard and dill, I also like tasting potato in a potato salad." Food isn't her high point. But I eat all the shit she makes just to make her happy enough to sit in my lap. Every picture of us has her sitting in my lap. She's just darlin'. Small and smiling and sitting in my lap. Though she ain't done it since I got back. Sits next to me. Cuddles against me. To hell with my lap, evidently.
To hell with this fucking barbecue, I wanna say. Turn around, lay my head, stare. But I see the welcome sign to the exclusive subdivision: Monument Manors. Whatever the fuck that means. Came this far, might as well go all the way. Locate the house, two stories, three car garage, what looks like an annex for guests (the mother-n-law's domain) and vehicles parked all along the curb. I parallel park the truck between a BMW and a Mercedes, see the all but new car Em drove four vehicles ahead. Kill the engine. Shit. Forgot to get a bottle of water. The pisshead in the pick up distracted me. Thirsty. Dry throat. Dry air. Dry relationship. Only thing wet is the war. Drenched. Soaked. Ain't no wet/dry vac sucking up this war. This war of waving smiling kids. Of sand and mongrels . . . that ain't no mongrel in the front yard. That's a border collie, pristine and clean and friendly. I offer my hand, let it get my scent, pet it. Ain't no mongrel and ain't no guard dog neither. Hump up to the front door then hear my not yelled name in a somewhat familiar voice.
"Oh, my God . . . it is you. Emily said you were back but . . . oh, my God," arms opened to invite a hug. I approach and allow the embrace. "Jack" - this female knows only my mama, sissy and Em call me by my first name, "thank God you're safe. How much longer will you be with us?"
"Nine more days."
This female is the hostess. She, like Em, works part time at the clothes store but, unlike Em, her paycheck goes entirely to a retirement savings account. Not much, but something. An older female, late forties. A sweetheart. Treats everyone like she's their mama. "I'm so happy you came!" takes my hand, leads me to the backyard. "Emily said you were coming. I wasn't sure cause no one's seen you. She said you were back but no one's seen you." I've been busy. Laying in bed, staring at the fan. "You know we all missed not seeing you come in every afternoon to bring Emily lunch. It's so wonderful to see you again." Yep, roger that, uh fur muh tiv, I used my lunch break to bring Em lunch. While I was gone I'm sure she ate at the mall's food court. I bought her lunch at the NCO Club, drove off the fort to the mall, made sure to include a drink and dessert. She's mine. I spoiled her. And she let the yard go to shit, neglected the truck, abused our account by eating out all the time. Yells my name. Makes me blink. Thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack the closer we get to the backyard the louder the sound. "It's a hot day, isn't it? Well, that's Texas for you. We have a fan out back." thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack "and plenty of cold drinks."
Texas is hot. When it's supposed to be. Also, it's fucking freezing when it's supposed to be. Obeys the rules of the seasons, Texas. Not like (I am later to learn) Florida, fucking bi-polar