combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 03 Number 04 Fall ©Oct 2005

I Have a Dream

"And He said also to the crowds, when ye see a cloud rising out of the west, straightway ye say, a shower is coming; and so it happens. And when [ye see] the south wind blow, ye say, there will be heat; and it happens. Hypocrites, ye know how to judge of the appearance of the earth and of the heaven; how [is it then that] ye do not discern this time? And why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?"
Luke 12:54-7 Darby Bible

          The day was unseasonably warm ... not as sweltering as the military bases we'd once lived on, and certainly not as torrid as that exotic Asian battlefield I had served on, but refreshingly warm for late autumn. We'd arisen early to clean the garage and clear the attic. This not only involved much stoop labor, but also many discussions on what was junk and what was treasure.

          By dint of reducing chaos to mere disorder, we'd worked ourselves into satisfied exhaustion. I took note of how attractive my wife was with some dust smudges and a glow of perspiration. Perhaps by some feminine wiles, but definitely by some favorable inheritance, she was still youthful appearing. She wore a scarf over her hair, jeans and hikers, and a delicate necklace peaked out at the throat of her seersucker blouse. As usual, she'd accuse me of loafing whenever she caught me looking at her. I couldn't help it ... she was so graceful that it was a pleasure to watch her move.

          Her pickup truck was loaded about shoulder high with all kinds of debris, from rusted fencing and desiccated paint cans to soiled carpeting and broken furniture. I'd just added a feed sack of planter flats when she asked about the old hose ... it wasn't split or ruptured, but it kinked so much that it wasted as much time as it saved. The doors of the truck stood open, like dog's ears, and she leaned on the seat in the shade. Her gloves were hanging out of her pocket and she was examining a snagged fingernail. I didn't care about the hose. I didn't use it very often, but she wanted me to decide. I walked toward her and she looked up with that warning glance that said too clearly: don't mess with me right now ... so I pretended that I had intended to get the rope bag from behind the seat, and only kissed her soiled cheek after leaning into the cab.

          I started tying down the load, beginning with a bowline at each corner and half-hitching or diamond-hitching my way around the stack. She arched backward far enough to turn the ignition switch to checked the time. She said that the dump would close soon, and that my tie-down must be a negative on the hose. I mentioned that the hose could be dropped in anywhere, slipping between the lashings, and if she wanted to discard it, then would she please remove the brass nozzle first. She gazed at the garden plot beside the garage, then glanced at the hose hanging in a coil on the garage wall, and finally at the trash cans outside the backdoor of the house. She said that the trash would have to wait for another run, by which I inferred that no decision was a decision to keep the old hose another year.

          As I anchored the last point, she replaced the rope bag and swung into the driver's seat. She cranked the engine, started the fan, and put some Celtic music into the player. I clambered into the shotgun seat, noticing her wallet on the console, just as she started to roll out of the yard. Her accelerated turn closed my door just as I was reaching for it. She shot me a devilish grin, and I winked back at her. We executed a rolling stop out of our lane onto the county road. The dump was on the other side of town and our burg was too underdeveloped to have a bypass. We hummed and tapped along with the music, enjoying this intermission before winter's onslaught.

          The world had changed in the past forty years of our marriage, most notably in telecommunications, but also in cultural redefinitions. We drove past a baseball diamond that now sported a contiguous soccer field, where all the teams had politically correct mascots, and everyone was a winner. The courthouse had been decorated for Halloween, but could not be dressed for Christmas or Easter, even though these were still official holidays. The IGA, which formerly held a truck farm sale in its parking lot every Saturday, had been displaced by a super store that sold everything with the groceries under one gigantic roof. A health care clinic, staffed by PAs and nurse's aides, had replaced the old doctor's office. The gun shop was gone, and a florist shop was occupying that space. The barbershop was closed, leaving only a unisex hair salon. Cigarettes were now as hard for adults to buy as it once was for kids. There were no more diners or mom 'n' pop eateries, but only franchise outlets of international conglomerates. We used to tease visitors that our MacDonald's was so small that it had only one arch! ... and that our Pizza Hut couldn't make a pie larger than medium. We were not overwhelmed by a future shock of choices, but by a monopolization of multiplied mediocrity. Every day in every way we felt more and more folded, spindled, and mutilated.

          On the outside of town, near some campgrounds and a subdivision on the way to the county airfield, was a 7 Eleven convenience store. It was, along with the Tastee Freeze beside the town park, the oldest chain store in the area, and was typically crowded with customers wanting last minute or supplemental items. Noticing the ad for the anniversary of the Slurpee, she crossed the road to pull onto the verge, just beyond the parking apron. Since unloading was always easier and faster than loading, we had time to indulge ourselves with a cold drink ... especially one as old as our marriage. We used to tease about being so poor that we'd had to serve Slurpee's at our wedding instead of champagne. And I remembered that she, in a tender gesture of sweet oneness, bought me a celebratory Slurpee when I returned from overseas.

          Traffic was pretty heavy ... well, relatively heavy for our area ... so I was careful about stepping out onto the roadside, aware that someone might want to turn into the lot past our tailgate. As I reached through my window for the sawbuck she'd dug out of her wallet, I heard a snot-nosed Southern drawl that sounded familiar. Still engaged in the exchange, I leaned past the cab to look over the bed into the parking lot. There must have been twelve vehicles, three in motion, and easily a dozen people moving around the lot. A blond man was standing in the doorway talking to two young women in bicycle tights. A woman shepherding three children was passing between them, while a man carrying a keg of beer passed through the door that the blond held open. Two hardhats were getting into their pickup, and a businesswoman was locking her car door. Three teenagers were standing in conversation near the outdoor phone that was situated between the doorway and the ice locker. A mechanic from the Exxon station was arranging his purchases on the passenger side of his truck. A sleek limousine with tinted glass was parked on the far side of the lot.

          I leaned back into the window and asked if I was seeing what I thought I saw, and she confirmed it with a glance over her shoulder. I wondered what the hell this low-life snake in the grass was doing polluting our pleasant town. Why did this degenerate decide to blight our little corner of paradise? Wasn't it enough that he chased the bright lights around the globe so he could voice his fatuous opinion about everything from music and cars to underwear and sports? Wasn't it enough that he'd protected his political options with cowardice? Wasn't it enough that this draft-dodging milksop had burned our nation's flag? Wasn't it enough that this fellow traveler had made a pilgrimage to his communist sanctum? Wasn't it enough that this parasite on the body politic had spun sax playing and sex playing into our country's presidency? Wasn't it enough that this mush-mouthed glad-hander had protested our involvement in a foreign war, and then sent his underlings around the world to indulge his foreign policy whims? Wasn't it enough that this ignorant cracker made war on his own lawful citizens while abetting international terrorism? Wasn't it enough that charming Billy did as much as he could to diminish and obstruct the American military? Wasn't it enough that this arrogant dupe had impaired and imperiled American liberty, from the safety and security of his protected position?

          When was enough enough? Better men had died to keep him free ... and he had neither appreciation nor understanding, neither respect nor reverence. I thought about the more than fifty-thousand names on the memorial wall. I thought about friends and comrades I'd lost in that distant test of American character ... and this poltroon had declared that character didn't matter. I thought about the legacy of my war, its persistent myths, its inexorable lies. I thought of the frauds and fiascos of foreign adventurism that wasted military resources during his maladministration. I thought of the demoralized military that would always bleed for the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time ... good men going where they've been sent and doing what they've been told by bad men. I thought about honoring what he'd dishonored, of preserving what he'd squandered, of restoring what he'd wrecked. I looked at his pudgy body as he animatedly courted women younger than his own daughter ... and then I looked at mine: a mass of scars and two prosthetic arms. He had never sacrificed anything ... not blood or sweat or even a missed meal ... for the benefit of someone else, for an unselfish cause, for a noble ideal. He personified everything that was wrong with my generation, with my culture, with my nation. And he stupidly stood there braying like a jackass! I learned a long time ago that I was not bulletproof, but did this vain and boorish lump of white trash know that he was not shatterproof? I let the bill fall from my hook onto the seat. I could hear her call my name as I walked toward the store.

          Over breakfast this morning, we had discussed the meaning of the devotional passage: sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof, which she had interpolated as don't borrow more trouble than what is allotted. It could, of course, have also meant that no one will receive more troubles than he can handle; so I gave her the preceding passage as my warrant: don't worry about tomorrow, it will take care of itself. This endorsement echoed in my mind as mental girding preparatory to the coming ordeal.

          A statuesque brunette, wearing shorts and a halter, had joined the young women wearing tights, and the door-holding blond lothario was entranced. I wondered why these women, and what woman in the world did not know this sleaze's reputation, were still talking with him ... but they, who practiced the detection of fool's gold, were probably astonished to find a spluttering pole star fallen from the firmament into their midst. As I approached the building I noticed a chauffeur attending to the limo ... he didn't seem to be armed. And under the guise of maneuvering out of the way of moving vehicles, I glimpsed different angles of the store's interior through the open door. I noticed two men in suits flanking the checkout counter. Except for the bank president and the school principal, men did not wear suits around here, other than on Sundays; so these were bodyguards ... but they were standing on the wrong side of the impending beaten zone. I heard my wife start her truck, and I briefly wondered if she'd head for the sheriff's office. It would be much too late ... for I could almost smell the quarry, and was ready to taste the prey.

          I was just ahead of a father and son duo on the right and a clutch of preteen adolescents vectoring in from the left, so I angled behind the women in darling Billy's boresight, which delayed me enough to let the entryway crowd up with non-combatants. By changing my angle of approach I was directly facing slick Willie himself. He may have been photogenic from afar, but up close he was simply pathetic. He had bags under his eyes, and his corpulence was suety. His dye job needed retouching, and his expensive regalia didn't fit properly. He looked like a dissipated clown. This clinquant pol reminded me of a desperate salesman trying to sell himself ... of an actor without a theater, of a preacher without a temple. It didn't change anything. He was just like the other exploiters, who have neither humility nor mercy, but demand forgiveness for being shamelessly apprehended in their despoilment. Such traitors to the American dream had destroyed my compassion. I reserved my pity for those who would only inherit our lost cause.

          As the doorway filled with innocents, I strode briskly forward and powerfully kicked the impeached ex-president in the groin! He never even noticed me ... after all, I wasn't an alluring female. The three women, who'd been transfixed by his magnetism, screamed and flushed like a covey of powder pigeons. As he bent over in pain, releasing the door, I transferred my weight, lifting the other leg into his face, and swinging my prosthesis out to intercept his falling arm. My knee hurt and my pants were covered in blood, but there had been a satisfying crunch of a broken nose and shattered teeth ... I'd just known they were capped! Other than a grunt of expelled breath, he hadn't made a sound, but he was trying to collapse into a fetal ball on the ground ... hey,great leader of the Free World, none of that! Clamping my hook onto the neck of his shirt, I held him upright and chopped him sharply in the mouth with my other hook. Unlike some of the more modern lightweight prostheses, mine are suspended from a chest harness; so as long as I have upper body strength, my arms will hold as much as I can lift with my torso ... it's pretty amazing leverage, and right now the effect was not pretty.

          I'd been hearing background noises, but as anyone who's ever been in combat can tell you, nothing outside the immediate focus is important enough to notice. It had only been seconds, but I was fully in the zone. There was a screech of brakes and a crashing of metal behind me as I prepared to pound some payback into this detumescent excrescence ... but somebody was calling my name. It was my wife. She'd backed her truck at high speed right up to the entrance. She was hanging out the driver's side window and yelling for me to get into the truck! ... what a terrific lady! She'd have been fine flying chase on recon extractions! I almost stood there in marvelous appreciation of her perspicacious courage ... this sexy broad had real guts! ... and a microsecond later, I implemented her impromptu exfil program.

          Keeping my hook buried in his neck, I reached down and clipped onto his belt ... being a little rushed, I probably grabbed some overlapping tummy as well ... and swung this sorry sack of shit into the back of the truck. I scrambled on top of him, changing my hold from his clothing to the bed lashings, and called out for her to leave. I told her that all the trash was loaded, so we could now go to the dump! Running in four-wheel drive, she fishtailed out of the lot onto the highway, putting up a smoke screen of burning rubber. As I looked back, the chauffeur was standing slack jawed, and the bodyguards were finally outside, but unable to shoot. The cool breeze felt wonderful as we raced away.

          I don't know how they got onto us so quickly, but I could hear the approach of a siren. I lifted up and looked around, hoping not to see what I heard. The more I looked, the louder it got ... and then I turned off the alarm. I looked at my wife's picture on the nightstand, remembering how beautiful she was. I was back in my sister's garret, and this was trash day. I pivoted out of bed and maneuvered myself into the chest harness. As I padded into the bathroom, I remembered the dream. I doubted that today would turn out like that vision, but one could always hope. I have a dream. I dream that my country will heal and unite; and that our promise will stand for all who want to be uplifted. It would be so lovely.

by Erin Galloglass
... who is a combat disabled veteran, a bookseller, and freelance writer; his work has appeared previously in this magazine.

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