Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Burnished Rows of Steel

Burnished Rows of Steel

By Marc A. Belisle

Copyright 2007

The pendulum of the mind alternates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong.
—Carl Jung

“Good morning, soldier.”
“Sir, thank you, sir.”
            “At ease, boy.  I’m Major Yates.  But please just call me Pete.  I’m your friend in here, okay?  Have a seat.  Make yourself comfortable.  Here, let’s just set your crutches down there.”
            “Thank you, sir.”
            “I’m going to be keeping this tape recorder running for the purpose of tracking your progress.  No one but you and I will ever hear it.  Is that okay?”
            “I reckon it is.”
            “Please state your name, rank and social security number.”
            “Colt Douglas Wade, Sergeant, 034 71 4896.”
            “What’s your unit?”
            “Fifty-first Armored Cavalry, Bravo Company.  Damon’s Devils, sir.”
            “Damon’s Devils.  It says here you told your C. O. that you’re having trouble sleeping.”
            “Yes, sir.”
            “Why do you think that is?”
            “I don’t reckon I rightly know, sir.”
            “Do you have nightmares?”
            “They’s a kinda nightmare, I s’pose.  I ain’t exactly awake n’ ain’t exactly sleepin’ but I still havin’ a nightmare ceptin’ I know it ain’t real but I cain’t stop it.”
            “What happens when you have a nightmare?”
            “Well, I start tossin’ n’ turnin’ real fitful-like n’ I’ll get outta bed like I’m chasin’ folks ‘cept then they chasin’ me n’ I gotta find cover.  ‘Cept with ma leg bust up, I done fell right over n’ I cain’t crawl missin’ a finger, sir.  The nurses come n’ grab me, ceptin’ I was a’ready onna floor I reckon most the night and I done wetted ma ownself a lil, on account a the bedpan still in ma bed.  Them nurses is real precious, they know how to make a fella feel real good.  Nurse Debbie Rosamund, I reckon she’s a angel, she sent right from Jesus to watch out for us banged up soldiers, she somethin’ real special, sir.”
            “Have you ever had any experience like that before?”
            “Not a’fore I been sent here in Germ’ny with ma leg banged up, sir.” 
            “How often would you say you have these nightmares?”
            “Ah ain’t real sure, sir.  Also’s I ain’t sure they rightly a nightmare, like I said, cuz I ain’t all sleepin’, only a lil.”
            “Would you say you have them every night?”
            “Seems nearly so, sir.  Some’s worse’n others.”
            “Are they always the same nightmare, more or less?”
            “I reckon so, sir. 
            “What are the nightmares about exactly?”
“Seems I almos’ always chasin’ er gittin’ chased.”
“Do you know the person chasing you?” 
“Well, sometimes, I reckon it’s a emeny n’ I gotta chase him, or he’s chasin’ me.  But sometimes, I’m a lil shameful to say, sir, I’m chasin’ af’er ma mama.” 
            “Have you spoken to your mom recently?”
            “No, sir, she been in heaven near about two years now, I reckon.
            “I see.  I’m sorry to hear that, Colt. 
“Thank you, sir.”
“How many tours of duty have you done, Colt?”
            “I was on ma third one.  I been there since 2003, sir, when we went in.  I been home twice, in between.”
            “Where’s home?”
            “Ashland, Miss’ippi, sir.  Just on the east bank a’ the river.  Ma Mama Suzie Edith Berenice had got the cancer when I went home, I didn’t wanna go back but my unit was gettin’ hit by them IEDs, sir n’ we los’ twelve men, so I knew I hadda go back n’ help out.  But we had a good time.” 
“What did you do while you were home?”
“I done swapped war stories with ma older half-brother Ben Jer’my Cane.  He was there in ’91, sir inna first Gulf War.  He was there six months, n’ they was only fightin’ not even a week.  Merka was real powerful in them days, ain’t like today, we been fightin’ near on five years now.  He tol’ me the only Eye-Rackies he saw was at the en’ after the ceasefire.  See he was in a artillery unit, he loaded mortar rockets in them big launchers they got on the trailers.  He said they was tol’ the Eye-Rackies was gonna amass against ‘em, and they’d be up behind a sand dune or somethin’, ‘bout a mile outta the town n’ the tanks s’posed to bait the Eye-Rackies like you bait a fish with a worm, sir, n’ then they’d fire mortars on ‘em, n’ then the apaches would swoop in on what was lef’.  They called that maneuver a ‘kill sack,’ sir.  He said he heard about them usin’ kill sacks in Basra but Ben Jeremy was held in reserve, so he didn’t see no action. 
            “He had a gas mask Preacher Lamont asked the congregation to scrape together for to send over to the boys from our county.  Folks was ‘fraid those days Saddam was gon’ use mustar’ gas ‘gainst ‘em.  He said the boys in his unit was settin’ aroun’ playin’ poker in tents when a san’storm started fixin’ to whip up somethin’ real fierce, sir.  So they dug out those gas masks and put ‘em on n’ there they was settin’ aroun’ lookin’ like crickets playin’ poker when hunnerds a Eye-Rackies come in outta the san’storm askin’ to get arrested jus’ polite as you please.  They was usin’ their shirts for wrappin’ their eyes n’ nose ‘gainst the sand, n’ wavin’ white flags.  Ben Jeremy was none too amused, sir, he had a pair a kings n’ he said he had a hunch another one was comin’ on the river n’ there was a hunnerd bucks in that pot.  N’ he was losin’ that day and he needed to make it back.  I tell you what, sir, I know better than to go ‘gainst my older half-brother’s hunch, sir.  He’s a uncanny poker player.  He reckons he made nearabout ten grand in the first Eye-Rack War.  He said, them Eye-Rackies was jus’ polite as you please, n’ lookin’ real tired, but they was happy the Merkins saved ‘em from gettin’ blowed up by our planes n’ apaches or Saddam killin’ their families for them desertin’ the army.  So Ben Jeremy said ‘there I was a card away from a hunnerd dollars, n’ next thing I know I’m escortin’ a hunnerd Eye-Rackies with a gas mask n’ a emp’y rifle to the base in a blowin’ san’storm.’  Could you imagine that sir?  It’s real strange, things ain’t what you a’spect sometimes.  I think we a’spected that sorta thing when we started this time, too, but we been fightin’ a long time now.  I tol’ Ben Jeremy, it ain’t like that this time.  Now they ain’t so happy to see us.”
            “What was your first tour like?”
            “My first tour things was quieter’n now.  There was a sorta hush in Baghdad when we went in in our APCs, like a snappin’ turtle with wheels.  We was a little twittery.  We knew we gon’ over there to bring the fight to the emeny.  We knew the terrists was gon’ fight us but we didn’t know if they was hidin’ or if they was gon’ come out n’ fight us fair.  Leastwise, I didn’ know.  I reckon Gen’ral Abizaid musta knowed, sir.  Turns out they was hidin’.  They hided for a long while, sir.  We secured neighborhoods in Baghdad near the Tigers River.  At first the Eye-Rackies seen us comin’ n’ they went runnin’.  After a few days they come out n’ Ah ermember a ol’ man knocked on the APC.  Danny Ambrose, he was a real twitchy mouse type, right outta high school, sir.  He gets all wil’ eyed jus’ like a spooked horse.  He shot a man n’ never got that wil’ eye ‘gain after that.  He got real distant n’ dark but he was a funny little kid at firs’.  N’ he says ‘holy shit there’s a ol’ man knockin’ on the APC, sir.’  N’ Lieutenant Paulson said, ‘well, open up the hatch n’ see what he wants.’  Danny looks at me, spookin’, n’ I said, come on, Danny Ambrose, we’ll do it together.  Ah admit I was a lil scurred too, ma heart was a little rabbitty, but I was try’na be strong cuz he was a couple years younger’n me n’ a real scaredy-cat.  I think Lieutenant Paulson understood, cuz he nodded. 
“Danny Ambrose slung his helmet on, straps all danglin’ like a lil girl’s pigtails.  We cracked open the hatch n’ Lieutenant Paulson pounded ‘gainst the front n’ the driver stopped the APC.  I seen a woman watchin’ us real suspicious-like from a attic above us.  I reckon that mighta been the ol’ man’s wife.  The ol’ man had a real bushy beard.  I recollec’ he had streaks a’ white hair and was missin’ him a couple teeth.  He bowed a bunch shakin’ his hands like he was rollin’ some dice.  We reached out the APC and we shaked his hand.  He was speakin’ real fast Eye-Racky.  I think he mighta said Merka, sir.  We said real slow, ‘we friends, we save you, Saddam bad.’  He nodded real fast then n’ he said ‘Okay! Okay!’ a whole buncha times.  I reckon that mighta been all the English he spoke, sir.  N’ Lieutenant Paulson leaned over n’ said ‘Bakarubaba,’ n’ we left.  Afterward, Danny Ambrose was real giddy like he done just kissed his firs’ girl, n’ he said, ‘sir, whadjyou say back there, sir?’  N’ Lieutenant Paulson said ‘that’s hello in Arbic.’  He’s a real smart fella, Lieutenant Paulson, he was from Denver, Col’rado.”
“Did you ever see any combat in your first tour?”
“Yeah, a few times.  The first time was real funny on accounta I didn’t realize we was fightin’ till after.  We was clearin’ houses, n’ we done got ambushed.  We got into a house n’ they threw a grenade down the stairs.  Lieutenant Paulson yelled ‘grenade!’ n’ we got down.  I reckon it saved our lives, he was quick.  Somebody else mighta got bug-eyed by a grenade but not Lieutenant Paulson.  Simon, he was new, I never got to know him, he was cov’rin’ the east side a’ the door.  I don’t know how he didn’ hear the Lieutenant.  We were all hoppin’ like toads, hittin’ the deck, the grenade rolled down the stairs, and Simon’s crouchin’ there pointin’ his rifle east like he’s thinkin’ ‘bout if he’s gon’ have chicken or pasta for supper.  Then there’s a huge bang, n’ Simon’s dead on the floor n’ a lotta smoke.  I didn’ hesitate, sir, I stepped over Simon n’ I run up the stairs firin’.  I shot a man full in the chest n’ he gurgled a minute like he was tryin’a say somethin’.  When the shootin’ was done a minute later he was dead, n’ his mouth was open like he was surprised n’ sayin’ ‘Oh.’  We cleared out the upstairs, n’ there was four others n’ we got ‘em.  I believe they was Saddam loyalists, sir.”
“How did you feel after that?”
“The younger boys was real upset we los’ Simon.  They was braggin’ the next day they was gon’ bag a raghead for Simon, n’ Lieutenant Paulson heard ‘em n’ said he’d beat the snot outta ‘em n’ skin their hides n’ then they’d get court-martialed n’ their mamas would have to see ‘em in prison n’ they’d have to know they made their mamas cry ever’ day cuz they betrayed their country.  He said ‘we all real sad when a man dies but you don’ shoot nobody less I tell you.’  They was still real obst’nate n’ Lieutenant Paulson said ‘you hear me?’ n’ he made ‘em say ‘sir yes, sir.’  I reckon folks grieve differn’ly, sir.”
“Did that attack have much effect on you?”
“Not at firs’, sir.  I seen a drown’ man in the river back home all bloated n’ purple.  I realized, though, I coulda died n’ I hadn’t said no prayers.  I decided when we was gettin’ shot at next time, I’d pray to Jesus n’ Mary n’ God.  Sure ‘nough, we was pinned down on a roof the nex’ week.  They had them AK-47s n’ a RPG launcher.  Them RPGs done scurred me somethin’ fierce.  I ain’t never been so ‘fraid, sir.  Them RPGs blew holes out the side the buildin’ we was in.  They was tryin’ a shoot ‘em through the windows n’ git us.  Keith Alton got a shrapnel wound in the shoulder.  We scrambled up to the roof, n’ they was shootin’ up at us up there n’ they was on a differn’ roof maybe a hunnerd feet away so they couldn’t hit us direc’ with the RPGs.  Keith Alton tried to crawl down the stairs, he was bleedin’ like a stuck pig, but we had to drag him up to the roof cuz he mighta got blowed up if the terrists saw him runnin’ out the buildin’.  Danny Ambrose was gettin’ squirrelly with the RPGs, so we made him keep pressure on Keith Alton’s shoulder back from the firin’ line.  That was Lieutenant Paulson thinkin’ quick agin.  He said, ‘Colty, they got the drop on us here, we need a better angle.’  So’s we took the high ground.  Ah ermember it was dusk n’ them tracer roun’s whippin’ ‘cross to their position glowin’ like fireflies.  We called in a apache, cuz we couldn’ hit ‘em all even after a hour of shootin’.  The apache blew the whole buildin’ near apart.  We hadda get a bulldozer to fin’ the bodies. 
“While I was shootin’ I was sayin’ Hail Mary’s n’ Our Father Who Art in Heaven’s n’ I was prayin’ ‘Jesus, please let me hit the bad guys n’ not no innocent people n’ keep my men safe n’ let me get out in one piece n’ cure my mama’s cancer so I could see her again.’  I think that prayin’ done help me focus on ma shootin’ cuz I knowed if I got hit, I’d go to heaven cuz I died while I was prayin’.”
“Did you see your mom again?”
“Yeah, things was gettin’ real heavy in Eye-Rack at that time n’ I gone home thinkin’ I’s done.  My mama was bald then n’ she was a outpatien’.  My mama said, ‘Colt, you ermember when you was real little you’d snuggle up real close with ya mama when you was scareda monsters n’ you couldn’ sleep?’  I said, ‘I reckon I do.’  There was a IV drippin’ in ‘er arm.  Her skin was thin n’ yella.  She didn’ have to say nothin’ more.  I laid down next to ma Mama.  She sung to me like she ain’t done since I was a tadpole.  She sung ‘I looked over Jordan n’ what did I see?’  I recollec’ that machine beepin’ behin’ our head was beepin’ in tune to mama’s sweet voice.  She said, ‘Colt, you learn anythin’ intrestin’ there in Eye-Rack?  I thought ‘bout it a moment n’ I thoughta somethin’ from the way she said Eye-Rack, actually n’ I said ‘Mama, I reckon that them Eye-Rackies say their Qs differen’ly.  They don’ say Eye-Rack like we do.  They say it E-Rock n’ you gotta cluck your tongue jus’ like a hen when you hit them Qs.’  N’ my mama said, ‘that’s somethin’ real precious, Colt.’  N’ she said, ‘you know what?  I feel safe from the monsters now with you here.  I know you over there slayin’ monsters n’ I know you mighta broke a comman’ment er two, but ermember, when I’m with Jesus, I’m gon’ watch you n’ keep you safe.  N’ when you tuck in at night, I’m gon’ be there keepin’ you safe from monsters like I done when you was a lil one.’  N’ I said ‘thank you, Mama, that’s real special.’  I dozed off with ma mama whisperin’ ‘swing low, sweet chariot, comin’ forth to carry me home.’
“Jesus musta heard her soulful singin’ ‘bout chariots carryin’ home cuz ma Mama passed on that Tuesday.  I walk in ‘er room with eggs n’ bacon n’ cornbread n’ lemonade cuz that was her favorite breakfas’ sir.  She couldn’ eat no more but she jus’ wanna look at it n’ perten’.  I walk in n’ she had a surprised look on her face like she just figured somethin’ out and was sayin’, “Oh.”  Her eyes n’ mouth was open n’ I hadn’ thought none ‘bout it but that’s nearabout how the Eye-Racky I shot on them stairs looked after we was done shootin’.  Havin’ that same look on ma Mama’s face, I ain’t ‘shamed to say, sir, that done gave ma mind a tickle somethin’ fierce like a itchin’ on yer back ya cain’t rightly scritch.  N’ I wished fer the firs’ time I hadn’ kilt a man even if’n he was a terrist.  Ma older half-brother gave the eul’gy.  He got a real way with words, sir.  He said ma Mama was God’s favor’t angel now n’ I reckon that’s true.  I shipped back to Eye-Rack the nex’ Sunday, sir.”
“Can you tell me more about the itch in your mind?”
            “Well I don’ rightly know, sir.  Jus’ seem like I saw ma mama ever’where affer I got back ta Eye-Rack.  Ah ermember, sir there was one time we was on patrol in a convoy a humvees, n’ we was still bein’ greeted as lib’rators, cept only a lil bit by then.  See when I lef’ Eye-Rack on ma firs’ tour folks was cheerin’ n’ we was tearin’ down statues a Saddam n’ pitchers n’ folks was throwin’ rocks at ‘im n’ stompin’ on ‘im n’ we bulldozin’ Saddam’s pitcher n’ they cheerin’ us on, chantin’ n’ hootin’ n’ holl’rin’.  It was a regular ol’ party atmosphere, sir, jus’ as excitin’ as you please.  N’ when I wen’ back that feelin’ weren’ rightly there no more.  Mos’ folks was happy ‘nough to see us, but you could feel it a bit I reckon.  No one was sure who was really runnin’ things n’ them terrists was fixin’ to start puttin’ up a fight n’ I reckon mos’ folks didn’ wanna be on the wrong side of a fight, n’ so they was stayin’ indoors n’ watchin’ real s’spicious-like. 
“N’ when I got back, sir, there was some new soldiers.  There was a big tall soldier, they was callin’ him Bucky when I firs’ got there.  Ah ain’ sure why ceptin’ maybe cuz he got him some pretty big fron’ teeth.  Always done his work n’ don’ never bother nobody.  Real friendly with the boys in the radio tower, sir.  I think he mighta owned a ham radio back home er somethin’.  He said he was gon’ go ta college n’ he was gonna be a chem’stry teacher n’ he was always chatterin’ ‘bout chemicals n’ sci’ntific stuff, sir.  N’ I reckon he’d a been a good teacher, cuz he was a smart fella, n’ frien’ly.  Ma bes’ teachers was real frien’ly types, sir.  I reckon that’s the mos’ importan’ thing for bein’ a good teacher. 
Ah ermember like I was sayin’ we was still bein’ greeted as lib’rators only not as much as afore.  So we was always carryin’ candy on our persons.  When chil’ren come runnin’ out to our vehicles we done thrown ‘em a whole mess a candy.  We was winnin’ hearts n’ min’s that a way, sir.  N’ them rugrats would hoot n’ holler n’ run off again. 
“Well, sir, one time we hit a pothole real good n’ our axle was rattlin’ some to beat the band.  Lieutenant Paulson got out n’ stuck his head under the wheel well n’ he was cursin’ un’er his breath.  Me n’ Bucky got out the humvee as sentries, sir n’ we was scannin’ aroun’ fer emenies.  There was a lotta buildin’s, sir, so folks coulda been hidin’ nearabout anywheres.  I heard my older half-brother shoot a coyote one time, sir, n’ I reckon I was a football field away from ‘im.  N’ when that Eye-Racky done fired one shot at us, that’s what it sounded like, ‘kaplow!’ cept real distant, so it got a sorta echo.  Bucky was layin’ on the ground squirmin’, his face lookin’ like he done sucked a lemon. 
“It took us a moment to realize it, sir.  I reckon I was a mite surprised.  Them snipers wasn’t real common yet ‘roun’about then, sir.  I realized sooner’n anybody prolly on accounta ma bein’ nearer to ‘im.  N’ I yelled ‘Shooter!  Shooter in the Eas’!’ I run up n’ pounded on the nex’ humvee n’ relayed the message there was a shooter, n’ they wheeled aroun’ n’ we made a defensive formation. 
“Danny Ambrose was in the 30 cal n’ he was scannin’ real angry.  He reckons he done seen a fella in a window nearabout where he reckons the shot come from.  N’ he cranks the gun ‘roun’ n’ he starts firin’ all over that window.  When that gun gets rollin’ sir, it sounds like somebody done trapped a lightnin’ bolt in a washin’ machine.  Lieutenant Paulson bellows ‘ceasefire!’ loud as Ah ever heard a man, sir.  N’ he orders, ‘Ambrose, git outta that gun!  Babbot git in it.’  N’ they switch places n’ Joey Dugan was cryin’ sir.  The medic was attendin’ ta Bucky whiles Lieutenant Paulson was crouched behin’ a humvee, scannin’ buildin’s with binoculars.  But we didn’t fin’ nobody. 
“Bucky died real quick, sir.  The strange thing ‘bout Bucky dyin’ was the bullet ennered his back n’ exited his chest at his pocket where he was keepin’ his candy.  The candy sprayed outta him in a sorta trail leadin’ from his chest all over the street.  N’ we never foun’ the bullet.  But that candy was real weird, sir, n’ kin’a spooky fer me cuz we was all given govermen’ issue gener’c candy.  But he had these real special kin’a Russel Stovers mints n’ they was the same kin’a mints ma mama always kep’ by the fron’ door for offerin’ to folks who callin’ ‘roun’.  So’s the candy that got shot outta Bucky’s pocket made me think maybe ma mama done got kill’t all over ‘gain.”
“How did you feel after that?”
“Well, I felt real strangely.  Firs’ ma mama lookin’ like the Eye-Racky I kill’t when she died n’ then ma mama’s candy fallin’ outta a dyin’ man.  I couldn’ shake them crazy feelin’s ma mama ain’ in heaven where she s’posed a be n’ it’s ma fault somehows.  N’ I done tried to scratch them itches in ma min’, sir.”
“How did you do that?”
“I spoke to the chaplain, sir n’ I confessed ma dilemma to ‘im, n he tol’ me if ma mama was a vir’chus believer then she’d be in heaven, like she oughta be.  N’ that sorted me out some, cuz I reckon ain’ no sweet ol’ lady more vir’chus a believer than ma mama.  But now n’ then, sir, I was a lyin’ in bed er settin’ in the humvee er playin’ cards, actually, seemed nearabout only when ma min’ was over idle, n’ I had them images a ma mama’s dead surprised face, like it was jus’ floatin’ there, right in fron’ a me.       
            “Did you see any other combat in your second tour?”
            “No, sir.”
            “What happened when you went back home the second time?”
            “Well, sir, things was real lonely.  When I got back, things was real dusty n’ they’s a note on the kitchen table sayin’ ‘Colty, I know you comin’ back.  Hadda run from loan sharks af’er me.  Gon’ try ta come back n’ see ya.  Ain’ sure where I headed, but I’m gon’ letchya’ll know soon.’  Ain’ never seen Ben Jer’my again sir.  Don’ know where he run off to.  Sure hope the loan sharks ain’ got ‘im.”
            “What did you do while you were at home?”
            “I cleaned up the house a bit.  I sold some a ma mama’s belongin’s to a pawn store, sir, but I couldn’ bring ma self to get rid of a few things.  I kep’ the sewin’ machine where ma mama done made ma clothes when I was a tadpole, sir.  I was feelin’ real lonely.  I sat on ma mama’s bed, n’ I reckoned it still smelt a lil like ma mama’s perfume even after she a’ready been in heaven near on nine months, sir.”
            “Did you have anyone to talk to while you were home?”
            “Well, sir, I’m a mite shameful to say, cuz I reckon a gen’leman ain’ oughta gossip ‘bout a lady frien’.”
            “I understand, Colt.  But we’re not gossiping here.  If you don’t think it can help your progress to talk about it, though, then I’ll understand.”
            “Well, I don’t rightly know sir.  But she said somethin’ to me that got me a bit worryin’.”
            “Okay, well why don’t you tell me about that.”
            “A’right, sir.  I was shoppin’ fer groc’ries n’ a loudspeaker done clicked on n’ made me jump some.  It was a loud surprise clickin’ almos’ like a emeny cockin’ a weapon, n’ I… whatchyou writin’ there, sir?”
            “Oh, just some notes, Colt.  It’s okay, please continue.”
            “I was a lil bit spookin’ when I felt hands pushin’ my shoulders and a loud ‘Boo!’  N’ I spun right roun’, sir, ma heart all rabbitty, n’ fer half a secon’ I reckoned I was in a marketplace in Eye-Rack, cuz I ain’ never been rabbitty shoppin’ in Ashland, so it didn’t seem quite right, but I weren’ in Eye-Rack.”
            “So I turn roun’ n’ who’d ya reckon’s there but ol’ Rebecca Catherine Phillips.  She’s the firs’ girl I kissed in high school, n’ she’s a right frien’ly neighbor girl n’ real purty, n’ if I can say, sir, she filled out real nice, as ma mama would say.  N’ she standin’ there all smiles.  She whistled n’ hollered ‘I cain’ believe it!  How you been, Colt?’”
            “How did you feel about seeing her?”
            “Well, at firs’ I was a mite confused, sir, seein’ as we weren’ zackly real frien’ly when we finished datin’.  But I was real lonely at home with ma mama gone n’ ma older half-brother AWOL.  It seem like she forgot ‘bout some a our fightin’ n’ only remembered our frien’ly times, n’ I reckoned, well I could perten’ that, too.
            “N’ so’s we got a chattin’ n’ we walked ‘long the bank a the Miss’ippi some n’ we was holdin’ han’s after a spell.  She said she done read in the paper ma mama died of the cancer.  I jus’ said I was real sad ‘bout it but now ma mama’s in heaven n’ she’s the good lord’s favorite angel n’ that’s a happy ‘currence.”
            “N’ she squeezed ma han’ a little, n’ done popped up on ‘er tip-toes n’ she pecked me on the cheek like the sweetes’ lil chickadee.  N’ she musta seen me reckonin’ cuz she asked me ‘what’s Eye-Rack like?’  I surprised ma own self, but I said ‘I don’ wanna talk ‘bout it none.’  N’ she started prattlin’ straight away ‘bout college n’ parties n’ such n’ I listened to her talkin’ n’ it soun’ like she done foun’ a life a the botchery, like ma mama’d say, a regular Herod’s palace, but I was tryin’a be frien’ly so I didn’ pass no judgmen’, sir.”
            “So she said something that bothered you, you said?”
            “Yes, sir.  Well, see, we made our way to a ferryboat n’ I reckoned it would be a romantic lil cruise a ways down the Miss’ippi.  N’ we was chatt’rin n’ it was nearabout sunset, n’ the river was shimm’rin’ all red, sir, n’ it reminded me a somethin’.  N’ I recollected this one time we was on patrol near a market in Baghdad, near the Tigers River, sir.  Me n’ Danny Ambrose n’ Guy Conway was walkin’ roun’.  Danny Ambrose was chattin’ with Guy ‘bout video games, wavin’ his hands aroun’ n’ I was pokin’ through some fruit a ol’ woman was sellin’.  They got fruit in Baghdad I ain’ never seen a’fore, sir.  N’ the ol’ woman were tryin’a get me to buy somethin’ n’ it was real cheap, n’ we was tryin’a win hearts n’ minds again, then, sir, so I was fixin’ to buy a pom’granate when Danny Ambrose gets wil’ eyed n’ pointin’ n’ sputt’rin.”
            “What was he pointing at?”
            “Well, I followed where his arm was pointin’, n’ I seen a car comin’ straight at us.  It was real hot, n’ the sun was shinin’ real bright on the win’shield, but I saw a older man soon ‘nough n’ his eyes was scurred n’ he was gesturin’ with his head.  N’ soon ‘nough I saw why, cuz his hands was handcuffed to the steerin’ wheel.  I didn’ think none ‘bout it.  Danny Ambrose was standin’ next to me, n’ I grabbed his collar, n’ we hopped over the fruit stan’ n’ got down.  Next thing, sir, the car crashes ‘gainst a wall, n’ pinned Guy ‘gainst the wall n’ he’s yellin’ n’ bangin’ his fists ‘gainst the hood a the car.  Then time got stopped a bit.”
            “I’m sorry, did you say time stopped?”
            “Yes, sir, I know it don’ soun’ right, but time stopped, just a bit.  N’ prolly only fer me, cuz no other folks said nothin’ ‘bout time stoppin’, but I know it did.  Cuz I looked ‘roun’ n’ weren’ nobody movin’, froze in place, like a pitcher, er a bunch a dolls in a store they put the clothes on, sir, ceptin’ they weren’ plastic, they was real.  When time got froze a moment, there weren’ no air, n’ I hadda hold ma breath, n’ there weren’ no sounds.  Nex’ thing, though, sir, time come back on, n’ it’s hot as hell n’ the car shootin’ a whole mess a fire n’ smoke up in the sky, n’ it’s rainin’ down pieces a fire.  N’ I shielded ma face, n’ started walkin’ away, n’ then Ah ermembered Danny Ambrose n’ I looked back, n’ I seen him lookin’ real dazed n’ lookin’ back at the car, n’ you couldn’ rightly look at it, but outta the corner a my eye, through gusts a smoke n’ flame, I saw Guy Conway, like a man-shaped piece a charcoal froze poundin’ on the hood a the car.”
            “Then what happened?”
            “Danny Ambrose lookin’ off in the distance, dazed n’ he says real simple-like, ‘there he is.’  N’ I said, ‘there who is?’  N’ Danny said, ‘the bomber, I seen him stick somethin’ in his pocket, musta been a remote.’  Sure ‘nough, sir, there’s a man in a turban all wrapped up, n’ he don’ seem rightly panicky like the rest a folks runnin’ roun’.  But I said, ‘you don’ know he’s a terrist, jus’ cuz he don’ seem ‘fraid.’  N’ Danny Ambrose said, ‘why you gotta play devil’s advocate?  Come on, let’s git ‘im.’  N’ he starts runnin’ after ‘im.”
            “What did you do?”
            “Well I didn’ wanna see him gettin’ in no trouble, so I run af’er ‘im.  Danny Ambrose was skedaddlin’ through food stands, knockin’ over carts, n’ bumpin’ folks, n’ they was yellin’ at him real angry, but he didn’ seem to notice.  Then the fella he said he seen took off, runnin' away from 'im so's I reckoned maybe Danny Ambrose was right 'bout 'im bein' a terrist.  N' I was pantin real hard, tryin'a keep up, n' I was feelin' faint like I might fall over from the heat n' the runnin' n' breathin' in smoke from the bombin' n' the whole world was fixin' to spin right roun' me when I los' sight a Danny Ambrose. I kep' goin' somehows n' I come outta the market onto a wide street that were runnin' right long the Tigers River.  N' I hadda stop sprintin' n' I stopped n' catched ma breath n' I was wheezin' n' my skin was boilin', n' I reckoned later, I mighta had breathed in pieces a Guy Conway."
"Did you catch the terrorist?"
            "Well, I seen Danny Ambrose runnin' cross the street, cars honkin' at 'im n' he's swingin' his rifle roun'.  I felt I mighta got sick but I hadda catch 'im a'fore he got hurt or foun' him some trouble.  N' I couldn't see the terrist he was chasin' no more.  But I reckoned he looked like he knowed where he was goin' n' I chased 'im, jumpin' roun' cars zippin' past.  N' he got to the banks a the Tigers River, n' I seen him go behin' a bridge.  I caught up with him a moment later n' he was pointin' his weapon at a man who's wavin' his arms n' panickin' n' proteckin' a woman wearin' all black cov'rin's n' huddlin' with two cryin' lil chil'ren.  N' I hollered 'this ain' the terrist!' 
"N' he said 'how would you know?  Look at 'im hidin' here!'  N' he jabbed his rifle at 'im n' I didn' know what got into Danny Ambrose, so's I grabbed the muzzle a his weapon n' started yankin' it from 'im but he had it strapped on his shoulder. 
"Then he yanked back n' los' his balance n' 'Pow!'  I fell on 'im.  I got the gun from 'im n' he started gittin' up n' I yelled 'stay down!'  I done surprised ma own self how angry I got at 'im.  N' when I hollered, I felt a sharp stabbin' pain in ma hand, n' I looked down n' seen ma hand pourin' blood sir.  Ma finger weren' there no more.  I looked roun' for it n' the man I done saved from Danny Ambrose seen me n' he pointed in the Tigers River, n' I seen ma right pointin' finger floatin' n' swirlin' away on down the Tigers River."
“How did you feel about that?"
“Well, I was right rageful, sir.  I grabbed Danny Ambrose by the lapels n' hurled 'im right in the Tigers.  N' I pounced on 'im n' started stranglin' on 'im under the water n' I banged him up n' down n' I hollered 'you stupid motherfucker!'  N' he was gurglin' n' air bubbles comin' up from his mouth, n' my blood was floatin' away in the river gettin' pushed on by his breathin' bubbles.  N' that's why when I was in Ashland on the ferry with Becca Catherine n' the sunset shimm'rin' red on the Miss'ippi River, I recollected that incident, sir, on the Tigers River, with ma blood ripplin' out down that Eye-Racky River."
"I see.  It says here in your medical file that you lost your finger in the car bombing."
“That's what I tol' 'em.  I'm pinnin' Danny Ambrose down n' I hear 'Colt!'  I reckon that snapped me outta ma ragin'.  I seen Lt. Paulson marchin' at me n' I hauled Danny Ambrose outta the river.  Ambrose breathin' in sounded like a vaccuum cleaner got turned on in his throat n' I felt mighty shameful for nearabout drownin' 'im.  N' Lt. Paulson looks real angry like n' he says 'What the hell are you two doin' here?'  Danny Ambrose was coughin' so's I said, 'I reckoned I done seen a terrist n' we run af'er 'im.' 
“N' Lt. Paulson, real impatient, asked, 'Did ya git 'im?'
“'No sir,' I shook ma head, 'I reckon we lost 'im.'
“'Colt, what happened to your hand?' he asked me.
“N' I was feelin' right nervous right then n' I said, 'the car bombin', sir.'
“'Why the hell is Ambrose almos' drowned?' he asked, his voice high n’ squeakin’ from runnin’ n’ fear.
“N' I kinda murmured 'he done tripped n' rolled right in, n' I gone in af'er 'im.  N' Danny Ambrose nodded while he was wheezin', sir.
“N' Lt. Paulson said, 'A'right, you two, Wade, get over to the medical tent, pronto.  Ambrose, catch your breath and come with me, we gotta provide security for the triage at the bombing site.  Hurry the hell up, both a you.'"
“Why did you lie to him?”
“Well, I didn' wanna see Danny Ambrose gittin' in no trouble, sir, n' truth be tol' I didn' want no court-martialin' for nearabout drownin' a comrade even if'n he did blow ma finger off n' was fixin' to kill a innocen' man.  But I reckoned right then n' there, sir, both of us is un'er a lotta stress, n' you cain't blame nobody for a lil stupidness now n' then."
"So what was it that Rebecca told you?"
"Well, we was on the railin' a the ferry, marv'lin' at the Miss'ippi River, n' I done recollected that day on the Tigers River, n' she was real patient while I was recollectin' n' then she said, 'you're real quiet.'  I reckoned she was right 'bout that, n' I had lots to say, but didn' wanna say it."
"Why not?"
"Cuz it's like you when you's a teenager, n' you got a big ol' pimple on yer nose, n' it feels tight n' painful, n' it's ugly, n' you know you could jus' squeeze it n' it'd go away, but when you're squeezin' it, it's gon' hurt a whole lot more'n when ya ain't squeezin', n' you're gonna bleed some n' make a right mess, n' maybe too much'll come out n' there won' be no more a you lef'."
"I see."
“So's I jus' said 'the weather's real nice.'  N' she come over ma house, n' I done made us up some lemonade, n' we was settin' swingin' on the porch listenin' to the crickets chirpin'.
"N' she said, ‘I ermember when I met you, you was a right happy fella fixin' them cars up.  You know I done whacked ma own headlight so's I could watch you fixin' it, ya sweat glistenin' with ya shirt off?' 
"N' I said, 'I know, that's why I done charged ya double,' n' she laughed right out loud n' punched me in the arm.  N' she said, 'there's ma old Colty 'gain.'  I thought 'bout that a moment n' I said, 'whatchoo mean by that?'
"N' she shrugged, 'oh nothin'.
"I said, 'no, tell me.'
"She hesitated and got real serious like n' said, 'it's kinda like there's two a ya, Colt.  Like there's one a ya here n' now, n' one a ya that's there n' gone.  I ain' sure which one you gonna be from time to time.'"
"Is that what she said that bothered you?"
"Yes sir, that made me feel kinda... weird, sir.  N' I got a mite snappy n' I said, 'you talkin' 'bout changin', you been tellin' me 'bout parties n' folks smokin' maryjuana, n' all sorts a sinfulnesses.' 
"She frowned, 'Oh, Colt, you wouldn' un'erstan'.'
"I retorted, 'I reckon I un'erstan' you makin' baby Jesus cry since you gone off ta college n' become a drughead.'
"She shook her head n' got up n' stomped into the house, bangin' the screen door.  N' I seen her cryin' in the kitchen, n' I wen' indoors af'er 'er n' I tried huggin' 'er 'cept she jerked away from me.
"She sobbed, 'why you gotta hurt me?' 
"I hollered, 'you done jus' nearabout called me crazy!'
"She whined, 'I'm worried 'bout you!'
"I took a deep breath n’ sighed, 'I reckon I only said you sinnin' cuz I care 'bout you n' I expect better from ya!' 
"She start laughin' n' cryin' at the same time, a funny thing she done when we been fightin', like she a lonely cloud drippin’ on a sunny day.  She wiped her eyes by and by n' said 'I'm sorry I hurt you.' 
"N' I said, 'I'm sorry too, n' I reckon a smart girl like you needs to do some explorin' now n' then.'
"'Thank you, Colt,' she whispered.  'N' I reckon you had a real tough time over in Eye-Rack n' you doin' the bes' you can un'er the circumstances.'
"I said I reckon so.  Sir, I reckon, when the good lord gets to talkin' 'bout kingdom come, maybe he jus' means... maybe he... I'm sorry sir."
“Here, use these tissues, Colt."
"Thank you sir.  I reckon maybe he jus' means folks embracin' n' un'erstandin' each other's ways the way me n' Becca Catherine was that night.  I reckon maybe that's what heaven's like, sir.  Do you reckon that's so, sir?"
"Um, I... I don't know, Colt, I haven't thought about it too much.  I think you could be right, though."
“I sure do hope so, sir.  I walked Becca Catherine home n' she done give me a big kiss, n' we made some promises 'bout how we was gonna call each other.  N' I went home, n' I was gettin' ready to go to bed, n' I was brushin' ma teeth n' I looked in the mirror n' I seen ma reflection, lookin' differn'ly than I ermembered it, sir.  I started thinkin' maybe Becca Catherine was right after all.  I begun reckonin' I didn' know which side a the mirror I was on n' maybe when time got stopped, it didn' rightly restart but only in a mirror world, sir."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Well, it seems ever since the car bombin' I could travel back n' forth in time but I cain' control it."
“Okay, Colt.  That's called a flashback.  Sometimes after a very traumatic event, like several you've had in Iraq, our mind can replay the event like we're really there, but we're not really there.  Our mind is tricking us."
“No sir.  I heard folks talkin' 'bout flashbacks, but I weren' rightly flashin' back, cuz I reckon the terrists done put a wormhole in the carbomb n' I got trapped in it.  N' that terrist with the remote we didn' never catch he can turn it on n' off n' make me time travel.  You heard folks tellin' 'bout wormholes, sir?"
"Um... Yes, I've heard of them."
"Well, I reckon the terrists done harnessed 'em like you harness a horse, n' I got sucked in it, n' I'm a worm wigglin' roun' in a wormhole, going from time to time."
"Where else have you time traveled to?"
            "I been travelin' back to the EFP bombin' on my last tour, sir.  When I was in the EFP bombin', I traveled back to the car bombin' n' when I got there n' time froze again, that time I traveled back to the nightmare I done had in Ashland af'er I walked Becca Catherine home, n' the nightmare sent me travelin' back up into the future at the EFP bombin'."
“Okay, slow down.  So one memory triggers another one and you..."
"With all due respect, sir, I tol' you, I ain' flashin' back er havin' memories.  Ah ain' crazy.  Them terrists done stuffed a wormhole in their bombs somehows n' I get sent to differn' times cuz of 'em.     
"Okay, so you've time traveled forward to the EFP bombing from the car bombing?"
“No, sir from the car bombin' to the nightmare in the woods in Ashland, n' then to the EFP bombin'."
"Okay, got it.  Tell me about the nightmare."
"Well, sir, I standin' there lookin' in the mirror, n' I felt a lil spookin', wond'rin' if I's in a mirror world or a wormhole or both, n' I settle into bed, n' I had a dream that night I's chasin' a emeny through a marketplace, n' then there's burnt people that are emenies chasin' at me, n' I'm runnin' toward the Tigers, 'cept I get there n' it's the Miss'ippi River n' ma Mama settin' in the river 'cept it's real shallow n' clear n' got little pebbles, n' she sees me me comin' n' I splashed out to her, n' she starts singin' but no sound come out, n' blood flows outta her mouth n' her eyes is surprised, n' the whole river turns red with her blood, n' she's garglin' her own blood n' her singin’ becomes screams n’ she shrieks, 'Where's ma goddamn chariot, Colt?'  N' I woke up screamin' n' I know I time traveled cuz I weren' in bed no more, n' weren' even in ma house no more.  Sir, I was somewhere's out in the woods, n' I hadda wait till dawn, n' fin' the river n' follow it home.  I reckon my dead finger mighta time traveled too, cuz it was hurtin' on ma han' even though it weren' even there, like it were tryin'a come back but it cain't time travel cuz it's dead.  Sir, at firs' when I los' ma finger I thought that's ma shootin' finger, n' since ma Mama died lookin' like the Eye-Racky I done shot I reckoned maybe losin' that finger woulda helped ma Mama get into heaven if she ain' there a'ready.  But I’m purty sure seein' ma Mama bleedin' a whole river, that she's in hell, or for sure ain' in heaven, maybe in purg'tory, sir.  Specially since a'fore she died, she done tol' me when I lied down, she was gon' keep me safe from demons n' devils, but I reckon she ain't safe from 'em if she bleedin' a whole river a blood.  Maybe she in hell n' she done become a demon, n' how'm I gonna keep her safe, n' how she gon' keep me safe from her own self.  N' I musta goed there right to hell n' seen ma Mama in hell when I time traveled.  N' maybe ma Mama's there in hell with ma finger.  But then I reckoned, what if we done switched places when I time traveled to her n' she come out one end a the wormhole, n' I come out the other end through the mirror, n' now I'm in hell, sir.  I'd prefer that to ma Mama bein' there, truth be tol'.  Sir, do you reckon I'm in hell or ma Mama is?"
“Well, I'm not a priest, Colt, but I guess I believe your mother is probably in heaven and you have had some very stressful experiences.  Please listen to me.  You have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  You're experiencing your mind's attempt to sort through the painful information it's been receiving and assimilate it into your world view.  Your sense of personal security has been repeatedly violated and it's going to take a long time for you to feel safe again and be able to move forward.  But we can help you do that."
"Sir, with all due respect, I know you’s a psychiatrist but I ain' crazy.  I been time trav'lin'.  I know it don' sound right, sir, but I know what I seen, n' I ain' havin' plain memories, I'm there again, back in time.  The nightmare sent me to the EFP bombin' after I was los' in the woods at night."
"Okay, well tell me about the EFP bombing."
“I was startin' out ma third tour a duty n' folks was gittin' fifteen month tour duties then, so's I knowed I'd be there a long while.  Since I done los' ma shootin' finger, I was drivin' the humvee ever' day, sir.  That was a good duty, sir.  We got ordered outta Baghdad n' hadda help fight terrists in Ramadi in Anbar province, sir.  I was drivin' a humvee in the convoy on our way from Baghdad to Ramadi, n' I seen a street sign on the highway sayin' somethin' in Eye-Racky n' English below it, n' it had a arrow going straight n' it said, this way to Jordan.'  N' I kep' seein' those signs ever' few minutes, sir.  N' that done gave me the same weird feelin' Becca Catherine did sayin’ I was there and gone, 'cuz ma Mama done sung to me 'bout Jordan n' chariots a'fore she died.  I a'ready time traveled there from the woods in Ashland, so I knowed a'ready how it was gonna happen.  N' we was gettin' closer to Ramadi, n' I was chatt'rin' with Lt. Paulson settin' next to me 'bout cars n' college football, n' skiin' in the Rocky Mountains.  We got to a bridge over the Euphrates River, n' we got stuck in traffic, n' the humvees got bunched up together.  There was a lotta debris n' bags n' boxes 'long the side a the bridge, sir.  N' I reckon that's where the terrists done hided the EFP bomb. 
"The EFP bombs was special bombs they done made outta copper that got melted and shot atcha when it ‘sploded.  Lt. Paulson was talkin' 'bout his favor'te ski run n' how fast you get goin' down that hill n' you cain' see nothin' n' then time got froze again.  I went back in time to when ma Mama dead in bed, n' me holdin' a tray with her breakfas' I done fixed up, n' I was floatin' down a river of blood n' fire when time come back on, 'cept I got dumped out the wormhole real violent like when you trip in a dream n' you wake up slammin' down, 'cept a lot worse.  N' I looked down n' pieces a ma leg bone was shattered all over the floor a the humvee, like a egg got cracked, like I's a regular humpty dumpty, sir.  N' I looked over n' I saw Lt. Paulson settin' there shootin' a fountain a blood in the air where his head was, n' it was splatt'rin' 'gainst the ceilin' a the humvee n' sprayin' ma face all hot n' greasy.  N' I heard someone screamin' n' I looked at Lt. Paulson, n' he weren't screamin' without no mouth, so's I looked back n' there's a new young soldier named Seth whimp'rin' like a tadpole somebody done just tol' there ain' no San'a Claus.  N' next to him's Danny Ambrose starin' out the window like he's bored.  N' they wasn't the one screamin'.  So's I looked up at the gunner n' his legs was danglin' from the gun position like broken tree branches but the rest a him weren' rightly there, so I knowed he weren' the one screamin'.  N' I looked down, n' I seen a eyeball in ma lap n' it was blue, so I reckoned it was Lt. Paulson's eye, n' it was lookin' straight at me.  Somehow I reckoned that with Lt. Paulson ain' got no head for givin' orders, I was in charge now.  N' ma firs' order bein' in charge, I done hollered 'fin' cover!'  'Cept I couldn' make no soun' n' that's how I figured' out I was the one screamin'.  Then I passed out."
"How long were you out for?"
"A couple days, n' lots a surg'ries.  I recollec' a moment bein' in a helicopter whippin cross the desert, but not nothin' else, sir.  When I woke up, Colonel. Damon come in ma room n' done pinned a purple heart n' a medal a brav'ry on ma chest.  That's somethin' real special, sir."
"I'm sorry, Colt.  We're about out of time."
“That's a'right, sir.  I un'erstan'.  Sir, you reckon ma Mama could progress through purg'tory now I done confessed ma sins to ya?"
"I don't know, Colt.  I hope so."
"Me too, sir.  Maybe I could time travel to purg'tory again n' see her n' ask her how she's doin' n' if she's progressin' to heaven, n' if I should confess some more."
"When do you ship back to the US, Colt?"
"Monday, sir."
"Well, when you ship back stateside, next week, you should continue your therapy.  I'll send the tape and your file to your new doctor in Mississippi."
"That's awful kin'a you, sir."
"Okay, it was nice meeting you, Colt.  Good luck."
"Thank you, sir."
"Here, let me help you get up.  There we go.  On your way out, please tell the next soldier in the waiting room to come in."
"I will sir."