combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 02 Number 03 Summer ©Jul 2004

A Woman's Requital

I watched my lover die tonight. He died right before my eyes, too close for comfort, as if that concept could ever mean anything again. We had been adjacent until he stood, and now he was out of touch forever. His beautiful body, so strong and accommodating, so hard and reassuring, so rough and sustaining, lay twisted before me in a parody of agility. His vitality leaked into the floor, discoloring the wood, and staining my soul.

It seemed to take several epochs for him to die. They say that violence telescopes images and protracts time, but that's not the way it felt. It didn't feel unreal or abstract ... quite the contrary. It felt completely real and utterly acute. I swear I could see the bullets strike his body ... each individual slug spinning out of the muzzle and charging into his vulnerability. I heard the blast of each shot strike me like a seismic eruption that whirred across the infinity of space to smack into my lover's marvelous skin, and plow through his tissues, layer by layer, tearing organs open and ripping vessels apart, until each deformed missile finally punched its way out and sailed across the room. My agonies could not have been less intense if they were his very own.

Like most women who are forearmed against the domineering masculine culture that they blame for repressing them, she lacked the self-discipline for proper gun control, and the common sense for self-restraint in a conflict situation. She had no more considered the consequences of her confrontation than she had of her murderous act, so no thought was given to the potential of further injuries by ricochet among the bystanders who happened to be down range of her intended target. She was just another dumb broad, with more power than sense. She traded on her charms to gain any advantage over men, because her alleged superiority was always contingent upon their humiliation. Undoubtedly, at an appropriate time, she had tricked some paternalistic lunkhead into teaching her enough about firearms so she wouldn't hurt herself accidentally, but she'd only garnered the rudiments of firearm safety and fire control. My lover would've characterized her as a loose cannon; and like all duds, she managed to extinguish a finer light without a bit of injury to herself.

She was known in the area as a character ... a cultivated kook, a narcissistic poseur. She was someone who always got things a little skewed and delighted in the notoriety. She could be counted on to say insulting things, and apologize excessively. She was constantly changing jobs and apartments and lovers, and always had a melodramatic explanation. She was always over sexed, everlastingly unfulfilled, and anxious to edify. She could be relied upon to expose too much skin, and to rebuke every overture. She was always over worked and under appreciated. She promoted quack theories and extreme reforms. She would advocate fringe doctrines and radical policies that contradicted each other.

On this night, she was soliciting for donations to her latest cause du jour, and when my lover declined with a critical comment on the efficacy of such a contribution and her peculiar inauthentic spasticity, she escalated the confrontation by getting right up in his face. She got verbally abusive, and when my lover objected, she grabbed him by his collar ... just like a man would! My lover took her by the shoulders, perhaps to steady himself, perhaps to restrain her aggression, perhaps to resist her assault, and she violently tore away from him with a shove. I watched her eyes and saw them change at the moment when she decided to drastically dramatize the incident. I don't think she planned it ... how could she? ... but in throwing my lover off balance, his grip tightened, and her blouse tore. It tore at the shoulder and the placket opened in front, exposing her naked breasts, so proud and firm with her excited nipples taut. As my lover staggered back, I saw his face change from intensity to anger, and I knew, as she probably did as well, that as soon as he recovered his stance, he would counterattack.

She cast aside her prop, like a gauntlet before a foe, and nobody at all cared about the coins spilling out onto the floor in an atonal clamor. She stood tall and aloof, with her chest bared, like an elegant medieval swordsman, striking a pose for posterity. If music was playing, nobody heard it; and all conversation in the room had ceased. She wore her torn sleeve like a badge of honor for her audience's admiration. But instead of drawing a lethal blade, she dispelled the effect by pulling a mean little stainless autoloader from the designer kangaroo pouch draped so fetchingly around her attractive hips. Her amateurish handling of the semi-auto would've been laughable if it hadn't been so deadly. She knew no technique, so employed none ... but they were so close that it didn't matter. With a two-handed grip that almost concealed the handgun, she pointed the barrel in the general direction of my lover and jerked-off every round in the magazine. He had just attained equipoise when the first slug shredded my universe and bored a black hole through and through him. He'd survived so many desperate battlefields only to be ignominiously slain by a vapid vandal.

His wonderfully expressive face, that map of his character and guide to his soul, slowly changed from concentration and frustration to bewilderment and finally into pain. It seemed to take forever for each muscle to alter and each crease to move. I could taste the gunpowder ... and the very air in the room felt like charged particles all over my skin. I could smell his breath as he choked-out his life, and saw the individual hairs of his moustache flutter. I smelled the sharp odor of his blood mix with his spicy cologne. I smelled his acrid urine and his violated bowels as they mixed with the residue of laundry soap and floor wax. I watched the tender moments we would never have, the wishes that would never come true, and the years we would never share fly by like dust motes dancing in a puddle of fading sunshine. I watched the waning of his translucent spirit, leaving me with a carapace that would never again sparkle. I stared at his lips, longed to caress them, and realized that I was tormenting myself.

Shiny aluminum shell cases had winked briefly in the light as they were automatically ejected by the pistol, and fell in graceful parabolas to lie inert on the floor with the down cast coins ... bright little bagatelles that contrasted with an inexplicable corpse. All of her shots had penetrated, through and through, and I watched realization dawn inside her pretty little head. This was not a fantasy, nor an illusion. He would not get up, and we would not applaud her one act playlet. She was starring in her own home movie, and it was time for an intermission, a commercial, or a different script. She managed to retain her self-possession. I almost expected her to opt for hysteria after realization, but she merely pressed her hand to her mouth. Perhaps the remains of expended gunpowder settled her, because she lowered her hand to close her blouse, tucked the empty pistol back into her hip pouch, and left the room. Nobody stopped her ... nobody even tried. From what I could tell, she made eye contact with no one, keeping her panicked thoughts hidden deep inside. But I had seen her wild eyes, and knew the truth. She was too dumb to run and too arrogant to hide. She had murdered my incomparable inamorato before a craven crowd, and I silently swore a vendetta of reprisal.

The stupid bitch beside me said that she was so frightened that she almost wet her pants, and she could never do anything as terrible as that! ... can she really be that damn simpleminded?! I'm personally quite astonished that it doesn't happen several times a day to all the rude and crude people who are taking-up too much space on this old mudball that we call home. Our history is cataclysm upon catastrophe, and most of humanity seems to be contributing nothing more than energy for the machineries of civilization, than the material for the marketplaces, than the cannon fodder for our interminable wars. Isn't it puerile to reduce everything to oneself?

The stupid prick next to her said that he thought he ought to have done something, that he probably should've intervened, but he just didn't know exactly what to do! ... and it all happened so fast! ... much too fast for him to decide what to do! May the good gods preserve us from the fainthearted with too many inscrutable excuses! I hope this live-action real-life drama plays continuously on a tape-loop inside his pathetic brain, so he's at least haunted by his churlish inadequacy. Sudden violence is not a form of impromptu entertainment, where he doesn't have time to find a comfortable seat and anxiously munch through a tub of buttered popcorn! Even if he only listened to the injunctions of machismo clichés, then any one of them could've redeemed him.

The shooting was most certainly not their fault, and I'm only blaming the one who's responsible, but they are so abysmally ignorant ... perhaps due to fraud, perhaps due to fear. It really isn't their fault that they live in a world of conflict and violence, but are ill-equipped and unprepared for it, since their culture negates autonomy, and inhibits independence. We are punished for solving our own problems, and we are rewarded for being prey to our differences. The murder of my lover is shocking to them, and devastating to me, but this manslaughter shall not acquire a second victim by default. It shall instead redound.

My lover was not perfect ... and neither am I. We had more differences than similarities, but our attraction was deep and abiding. He was much older, tremendously keen, and had been blinded in one of America's unpopular wars. He never talked about his war, neither did he tell war stories, but anyone who knew him was aware that he'd learned everything the hard way ... so whenever he shared his rationale or perceptions, his sad wisdom was worth some attention. He lived more fully than anyone else I'd ever known, and we taught each other some nice things. He let me persuade him to trust someone inside his defenses. And I let him teach me the courage to be myself, and share my strength with another.

He proved that old wine in a new bottle was better than new wine in an old bottle, and I learned to sup my wine from jelly jars that were better than crystal. His glass wasn't half full ... it was broken and leaking out the fissures ... so he sucked the last drops from the cracks, even while the remnants cut him. I read determination and hope and joy in his artificial eyes, and asked him to reveal the secret of this splendid legerdemain, but he just made them twinkle! He taught me about textures and sounds and scents, and I discovered aspects of light that I hadn't noticed before. We frolicked on the water and gamboled through the hills. We would work at or read in our separate interests, and come together to compare. He admired my modest talents, and I his ... and he never explained any of the colorful medals and gaudy badges I found in an old box while searching for a pair of wool socks to wear. He told me that tokens don't matter as much as the respect of comrades, and history doesn't matter as much as the esteem of warriors. He said that combat couldn't be explained to anyone who hadn't experienced it, and for those who had, no explanation was wanted. He confessed love of his enemies, who were just like him, but he could not forgive those who sought power more than peace ... and I solemnly converted to his estimable creed.

My lover lived with ghosts everyday. I eventually realized that it was the only honorable way for a soldier to live with the carnage of battle. Revenge won't expunge my nightmares, nor lay my own ghosts to rest, but she is going to learn that acts have consequences. At the sharp end of her life, it will be demonstrated that some acts are irrevocable, and some consequences are inevitable. It is an ungentle lesson, but on the whole, much more kind than she deserves. If she had a conscience or were capable of remorse, then it would be better to let her punish herself; but she is too egoistic for anything more than self-pity. I know who the murderer is, and I know where she lives. I refuse to let her become a feminist martyr by perverting this tragedy into travesty; nor shall my retaliation convert me into one of her ilk.

Our disintegrating society cannot do more than tranquillize the animals and tax the barbarians, so for my own sense of decency and justice, I must avenge my lover. He has bequeathed to me a fearsome old Randall knife and a baneful revolver that fires malignant shotshells. She too will know the eternity of a single moment in my requital. Then, perchance, to dream of him once again, and finally to rest.

by Maggie Duncan
... who is a nurserywoman and freelance writer, married to a combat disabled veteran.