The War on the Homefront End
weather, obeys shit. Still leading me, she says I've lost weight, says I look tired. Why don't I take a nap in one of their guest rooms? If I nap, I'll die. At the backyard and, instantly, there's Em. In her thin dress and sandals. Hair loose and molested by the currents of the fan. It's an industrial fan. Fancy. She's holding a glass of something. A glass. Not a plastic cup. Nothing plastic here. Guess Em didn't stop nowhere to bring extra plastic utensils. Bonafide utensils here. Bonafide glass. Nothing plastic. Well, hell, sure they got a maid to clean all the shit. Got a maid to do that, who needs plastic? Maid, hell, got a cleaning staff and a catering staff. Ain't the host at the grill, taking orders - How do you like your steak? - some stranger, three of them, at three grills, one for steaks and burgers and hot dogs, one for seafood, the last for veggies. There's also a table of hot sides and a table of cold sides: there's Em's potato salad. Another table is for drinks, shit, there's a couple of kegs, everything you can imagine on ice and you ain't gotta pour for yourself; there's servers to take your fucking drink order. About to order a tall glass of ice water and hear my name again.
It's a female who cocktail waitressed at the club where Em used to dance. She approaches, hugs, I hug back, one hand on the small of her back. That's just where I put it. Intending nothing. Short exchange. Both wish the other all the best. Her farewell is a kiss on my cheek. I return it, longer than hers. My hand still on the small of her back. Feel her push back, attempt a soft retreat. Push her toward me, place other hand at the back of her neck, kiss her other cheek, longer than the first was long. Release her. Smell her as she retreats. Smells natural. Not synthetically perfumed. Clean and natural. Her taste on my lips as she retreats. Tastes natural. Kiss Em I taste makeup. She retreats, sees me stare. You can retreat two thousand yards, honey, and I'll still see you. Your movement. The movement of your retreat. I see you, sweetheart. Darlin'. You can't get far away enough from me. Who the hell are you, anyway? Who the hell are you to get so close to me, hug me, kiss me, then retreat when I reciprocate? You can retreat all you want, babydoll. You'll never get away. Away from my body, yes; never away from my stare.
"Having a good time?"
Put my arm around her waist, draw her near, "So far," I say, "yourself?"
"Fine," she says, squeezing my shoulder, "why don't you eat something? Have some potato salad." I look at it, see ain't no one so much as removed the lid of the container. "I used hardly any dill and only light mustard." I stare at it. Doesn't look as yellow as usual. Looks like she did make an effort to put together a dish that I'll like. Darlin'. Now I'm on the defensive. Listen here, y'all better eat my baby's potato salad; she put it together extra special, and a shit ton of it too. Y'all chow down or it's y'all's ass. Go over to the cold servings table. Remove the lid. Looks good. Server offers me a plat and utensils (folded in a napkin), serves me a healthy spoonful. I go on down the line. Macaroni salad, Waldorf salad, seafood salad (none of that), taco salad (of course, this is Texas) and, at the end of the line, oysters. Plate full of salads, I stand at a random spot in the yard and chow. Evidently, I'm supposed to sit at a table, like a gentleman, and eat. Gentlemen eat. Grunts chow. I'm still in eat-it-now-taste-it-later mode, otherwise, "chowing." Hear my name. Yelled. Followed by, "Come sit here." Em has her own plate. While I was at the cold table she was at the hot. Small servings. Eats like a bird, as the saying goes. Mama says she's too skinny. She's small, ain't no denying that. But she's healthy; ain't like I see her ribs and shoulder blades protruding. She's just a small woman. Femininely female. Manicures, pedicures, makeup, hair products that would serve a small country, dresses and skirts and heels and sandals and perfume, thongs (what's wrong with proper panties?) and lace bras. A doll. Who yells my name. I'm done with my salads before she's taken three bites of her meal. Chug my glass of ice water. Hear my name. From a male, "TJ, good to see you back." It's the host, the man of the house. Seen him a few times at the store. "Very good to see you back and safe. Everything all right?" Sure, I lay in bed and stare at the ceiling, I sit on the front porch and stare at movement, sure, everything is fucking dandy. "Doin' fine, much obliged. Yourself?" He really is a nice guy. A few times, when encountering each other at the store, we've had a beer together. A clean nice gentleman, this guy, wears a suit to work, has martinis at lunch. "Heard on the news that things aren't going so well over there." Over there. "We've lost some fine men over there, I'm real sorry about that," thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack, "Thank the Lord you're not one of them. So glad to see you home and safe." I tell him it's a real nice fan he's got out here in the backyard. Tell him his lawn looks great - no fucking wheat - thank him for his thoughts and hospitality. "There's Corona on tap," he says, "Enjoy yourself." When we had beers together I always had Corona. He had Stella Artois. Is that right? Can't ever remember. Em squeezes my thigh under the table; her way of telling me not to drink alcohol while she sips her fucking wine spritzer.
She wants to be an officer's wife. I know it. A wine spritzer sipping officer's wife. I don’t' mean an NCO. Keeps asking me when I'm going to apply to the Officers Academy. The wife of an officer. Her goal. Can I get promoted to an officer for my combat service, she asks. Be promoted for doing my fucking job, I say. Higher rank=higher pay=more clothes=better house=better car=safe rear echelon motherfucker with all the bucks. Always safe. Safe at home even when I ain't at home. Daddy started his career commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant; made it to full bird colonel, in charge of a brigade, its headquarters and several battalions. Here I am, enlisted, a sergeant first class, the senior NCO of a platoon. A mere platoon. I get my order from the 1st lieutenant who gets his order from the troop commander, the captain, who gets . . . humma humma . . . thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack
thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack, "Thad! You're staring at the fan but I know you're thinking of her."
The little dirty brown I-rackie girl who wanted to wear my sunglasses? Danced with her, I sure as shit did. Gave her candy. Picked her up, spun her around like a daddy spoiling his little girl. Weighed no more than my rifle, by God.
"Was that your way of telling me you'd rather be with her?" Her? "Holding her against you. Kissing her on both cheeks. If you want to be with her just say so. I know you think she's pretty. I remember you always made sure to sit at one of her tables at the club. What is it? You couldn't get her so I'm the consolation prize? Is that what I am?" Eyes are watering. Glistening. Oh, hell. Bottom lip quivering. Here come the fucking sniffles. Sits on the edge of the bed, the edge away from me. Tabby comes in, jumps on the bed. She pushes it off. "Don't do that," I say. Glares at me over her shoulder with fire in her eyes, "I'll do whatever I want with my cat, thank you very much." Sit up, reach over and grab her, drag her over to my side. "Leave me alone! Don't touch me!" Tight in my arms I hold her, "I'll do whatever I want with my girl, thank you very much." She struggles, calls me names, yells names at me, names that ain't my name: son of a bitch! bastard! all the gems. Yelling. Stop the yelling.
The I-rackie female yelled, "Irahabin! Irahabin!" as we approached her house. A kid clutched at her legs. Pretty I-rackie mama with her cute kid (we assumed she was the mama, he was her kid) like the pretty senorita with her cute kid. "Irahabin! Irahabin!" We advanced in phalanx formation, then changed to diamond formation. "Irahabin!" gesturing at the roof, "Irahabin!" The kid clutched his mama's legs with one skinny arm and gripped a notebook under another skinny arm, gripped it like it was a stuffed animal, a plush toy. We handed out school supplies to the kids. Looked like he treated his like a toy, like a . . . security blanket. Didn't write shit in it. Just kept it with him because it was his gift, given to him when he said "Hello, mistah" or "Hello, America," and it was as important to him as his mama's legs. "Irahabin!" Didn't have to break the gate this time. Mama had it open for us. Suspicious. Open to an ambush? We entered the courtyard. Front door of the house was open. House, entered; stairs slowly meticulously ascended. She shut up. On the roof were three males in a huddle. Doin' somethin'. Our translator told them to put their hands up. All three hand their hands up in the
of an eye. In the blink of an eye they meant to drop an IED on us. Guess they figured they could drop it on us before we got to them. Sure they heard the mama yellling, "Irahabin! Irahabin!" but to where could they retreat? hide? take cover? no fucking where, that's where. We restrained them, took them to be processed as insurgents. The mama offered us tea. We all signed the kid's notebook like celebrities autographing for their biggest fan. Never saw before and ain't never seen since a bigger smile on a child. Why that I-racked female gave away those men, risked her life, her kid's life, dunno. Guess she thought we would protect her. Her kid. Hope we did. Never saw either of them again. Maybe, now, their both part of the desert. When I go back, maybe I'll walk on them, bleed on them. I can hear Em, "War's over, all your bleeding is through." I can hear myself, "War ain't over until I'm bleeding you."
"Let me go!"
thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack
Didn't wanna let her go. In nine days I had to go and didn't know if I would have the opportunity to let her go again. Eventually, she relaxed. I relaxed. We relaxed in bed. With the thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack of the fan over us, the bed under us. Relaxed. Slowly relaxed. I paid attention to her eveything. Stare for two thousand yards; pay attention to EVERYTHING. Over. She makes supper, meaning she puts a frozen pizza in the oven. While she watches a talk show in the living room I watch the helicopter blades thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack and I am relaxed. Naked and relaxed. Take the weight off, that's the almighty thing. All the weight. Tabby jumps on bed. Sleeps beside me. Sleep, that's gonna be hard to come by nine days from now. Harder than taking the weight off. Maybe I'll teach her again how to drive the truck, mow the lawn, all that shit; maybe I won't. Gotta find time. Time between the blades. Probably won't waste my time. Or hers. I'll come back again. Lawn will look like she's growing wheat again. Truck will be even more busted rusted stubborn. All right. Hopefully the fan will be in working order. There'll still be the thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack . . .