combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 01 Number 04 Fall ©Oct 2003

Buried Treasure

            A Woman slumps
            On the uneven ground,
            Amidst rows of plastic daisies,
            Spinning ...
            Spinning in the fall breeze,
            With tears dripping
            Onto that eternal bed.
            She is begging
            That silent voice
            To utter
            Just one more sound.

            A large black Squirrel sprints across the path of the approaching Runner. The animal, rarely seen, has lived among humans for a long time, and has managed to stay out of their way. Although a headset blocks out other sounds, the Runner's senses are alive to the smell of the newly turned earth, the warmth of the afternoon sun, and the quick movements of animals around him. He jogs along the cemetery's pathway, glances at a large bouquet of fresh flowers. They weren't there yesterday.

            As he completes the first half-mile, the Runner nears the children's Section. Unlike anywhere else in the cemetery, it glows brightly with dancing balloons, flower bouquets, and colorful plastic daisies. They spin like small windmills, their petals making a persistent click-clack. A guitar screams into his ears, drums pounding, so he quickens his pace to stay in step with the beat. The song is a favorite and it pumps adrenaline through his awakening muscles. Suddenly, he notices that something isn't quite normal in the children's Section.

            The Woman inherits the weight
            Of this deathly solitude;
            It lays heavy
            On her lap
            Like a monstrous stone.
            Nothing else exists
            But this obscene plot
            Of earth,
            That separates the life and death
            Of her child.

            The Woman's sobs are way too soft to invade the Runner's musical isolation, to penetrate the Runner's insulating numbness, but he cannot take his eyes off her long black hair, gently falling to the ground. She kneels with head bowed, as if in prayer. Protruding from the soft earth, plastic daisies spin wildly about her, their clickity-clack offering no comfort or cheer for her solemn vigil. The Runner follows the Woman with his eyes, passes by, and silently wonders how long she'll stay, the only other person in the cemetery. He doesn't see many visitors here, and prefers it that way. However, the Woman appears paralyzed, as immobile as a headstone.

            On the far side of the cemetery, the Runner passes dozens of neatly arranged white headstones, many yellowing with time. Small flags have been planted here and there to honor the brave soldiers below. A veteran himself, the Runner lowers his head to acknowledge the ranks of identical stones. They stand in stark contrast to the lively façade of the children's Section. Their regimental uniformity, a testament to the ultimate sacrifice to the altar of freedom, makes them almost anonymous. But they are not.

            The black Squirrel safely hides in a tall pine tree, waiting indifferently for the Runner to pass by again. Today in the cemetery, there are few distractions, and nothing to fear. It's a quiet place to make his home.

            The Runner looks about, but doesn't spot the black Squirrel. His breathing is much more labored on the second lap, and he switches off the music, content to hear his footsteps strike the narrow path. Up ahead, the children's Section looms, and his eyes focus on finding the Woman again. Secretly, he prays that she has left. Privately, he hopes that her absence will allow him to forget his own grief.

            The Woman becomes aware
            Of approaching footsteps,
            Pounding footsteps
            That force
            Her bloodshot eyes open
            Long enough
            To wipe at her tears
            Through a foggy mind.
            Her thoughts spin,
            Like the plastic daisies
            Dancing around,
            Encased within a lifeless
            Cold coffin.

            The Runner is not surprised to see her, and maintains a vigorous pace. Sweat forms and collects on the band around his head. The Woman hasn't changed position, but her shoulders do not heave quite as much as before. The plastic daisies continue to spin, rapidly, clicking away in the steady breeze. Glancing toward the Woman, the Runner cannot see her face, hidden by that drape of long black hair.

            Resigned to continue the run, he gazes upward, but the cemetery's thick canopy of trees blocks out most of the cloudless sky. Tears and sweat admix as he tries to maintain his pace, but the Woman's lonely vigil has touched him. Her baby lies beneath her, so close yet unhearing. The Runner pictures hundreds of mothers kneeling beside the small white stones that stand at attention for their lost sons. It's all too sad, and evokes memories he believed were long forgotten. In spite of the mounting exhaustion, he decides that he needs one more lap.

            The black Squirrel holds a walnut tightly in its mouth, searching for the perfect burial place. He lets the Runner pass before continuing the search.

            The Woman dries her empty eyes
            In final acceptance,
            Rises slowly,
            Shakes grass from her wrinkled clothes;
            Memorizes the click-clack,
            Of all those spinning daisies,
            Then disappears
            Behind the locked door
            Of her sorrow.

            Once again, the Runner gains ground on the children's Section, gasping for air. He looks for her, but the Woman has fled, leaving behind the fragrant flowers, the dancing balloons, and the colorful plastic daisies. Now deserted, the area resembles a birthday party waiting for guests; fully decorated, ready and waiting. The persistent click-clack of spinning petals is reminiscent of the playful chitter of vagrant voices. In this eerie tableau, the Runner turns the headset back on, sighs deeply, and escapes the cemetery. He is finished.

            In the inevitable dusk, the breeze rests and the plastic daisies stop spinning. The black Squirrel darts up to a moribund daisy and quickly digs a hiding place for his precious walnut. The ground is soft here.

by Michael C. Little
... who is a sales manager with The Minute Maid Company, is a project director of Operation Rice Lift for the Pleiku MP Association, and is author of several Montagnard-related articles. His work has appeared previously in this magazine.