[Quick, he said. Quickly.]
I started to follow him but he had already gone. I ran my crazy ass after him to where the dark burned out the door, and wished I hadn’t took it.
Git: I heard a holler. That’s when the mortar took the sides of their faces, their eyes and mouths round as gook—the warning like a shot, but not. Like the deafness before the shot, the look in the eye of the one who’s seen what’s coming: a blast, a burning ball. Like looking at the sun, that colorful darkness after, eyes tight as fists. All I could see was nothing and the wind putting smoke up against the walls of our hootch.
What’s going on? But I knew. Had already scrambled for foxhole. Had already prayed and forgotten the prayer. Guys?
I had been told stories about soldiers getting home and finding their families had moved on. They’d walked into their neighborhood bars and been spit on by hippie kids taken over the place. The smoke, the light coming off the fire. How could I answer it? I said I wouldn’t cry. I said I’d be the first to run into it, the first to count the bodies, pull them out—but I didn’t say anything. I didn’t promise.
Think of the dream, I clenched my jaw. Think of it, think of it. But the dead were bleeding their final words into someone else’s dirt. I could hear everything.
I palmed my ears, Think of the dream. Think of it: —but the sound of my own blood loud in my hands, the rapid fire beyond them—I forget, but it was bad. I cried out, no longer worried I’d be found out: I gripped at the sandbags, imagined sinking my teeth in. Remembered filling them. Ace and Scotty. Remembered passing a joint hours ago, before they laughed into their places as I slept, the safe one.
Outside, the crackling raged and I still hadn’t cried. Think of the dream, Mike. And I finally remembered it, the rooms I’d left, waking back into country:
My boy slept inside his mother. His mother slept inside our bed, the one she bought with her soldier’s money. It wasn’t a good dream, but good enough. The fires were beginning to burn out, the last shots fired from a greater distance. Hush. Remember the dream. I’ll be home soon, and you can kiss your hero. I spit the grit from my mouth and ran my tongue along my teeth.