Sweet Christmas. After that last update, as some of you know, I hit a wall in my work. It has taken me a month to write this chapter. That's one part laziness, two part self-defeat and one part Grand Theft Auto. I know. The guiltiest contributor to my non-contribution was self-defeat. Once the chapter started kicking my ass, the ass kicking snowballed. For example, I spent about two hours on an off last night working, and I came up with about a half page of work. Not good right? Better than I've been doing over the past month. I woke up this morning, and I kicked its ass, I knocked out the chapter and I'm ready to move the hell on.
Having this blockage has certainly helped in a number of ways. I realized a number of problems with my book that I will now, instead of being unaware, ignore. Yay? You bet. I can worry about some of the smaller character and narrative problems when I have a manuscript finished. So without further circumnavigation of the proverbial bush here's the chapter that throttled me for a month, in its entirety. Please, I would appreciate any feedback you have. I know this isn't my best work, but I really need a third party to look this over. I've lost my perspective on this piece.
Late Night, Day 29: A Dog's Whimper
Adam sat atop a high and crooked chair. He scanned the tightly packed rooftops of eastern
. His jaw worked circles, cracking sunflower seeds open; his tongue pushed the shells to the front of his mouth and he spat them into the shadows. Silence seemed to climb down from the cloudless sky and settle on the city such that the grinding of Adam’s teeth and the plopping of sunflower shells filled the air. Baghdad
Cowboy slumped heavily against the moon in a deep drunkard’s slumber. His legs were flopped across the spectacle of night, his toes pointing haphazardly at nothing. The machinery of the universe went on without him, whirling circles and creating conundrums for physicists with nothing better to do than ponder the architecture of majesty. Subjects of wonderment were not in short supply. Existence was notably prolific in matters of scientific intrigue and beauty.
Adam’s attention sprang from rooftop to rooftop, warily assessing the plump shadows of pigeons adorning the flat-topped houses. In their perches they were ominous gargoyles overlooking the open caskets of the city’s motley side-streets. Adam knew, beyond any doubt, that danger lurked in the unlit catacombs of the world below. The acidic stench of burning tires wafted down there, hinting at the hellacious flame-belching creatures that prowled the Iraqi capital during curfew hours. Adam could imagine them, with their jutting spines and hooked claws, combing through the garbage strewn alleys and searching for helpless human beings as the burnt fumes tumbled from the razor-sharp thickets of their mouths.
Peter snapped the quietness by unsnapping his Kevlar helmet. He tossed it to the wooden table separating him from Adam. Peter shook his head, tossing beads of sweat around him.
“I’m bored.” He announced.
Adam shrugged half-heartedly, not particularly caring whether or not Peter found guard duty entertaining. The significance of his gesture was lost on his companion, either obfuscated by the darkness of the night or by the cloud of self-involvement that perpetually blinded Peter. In effect, Adam did nothing.
“You know what makes me crazy?” Peter asked as reached for the pack of cigarettes Adam had left on the table.
“No. Not really.” Adam answered.
Adam knew what made him crazy, his brain. Adam couldn’t reconcile the astounding differences between his imaginary world and the real one. They were equally convincing to the point that Adam dared not take one more seriously than the other. In this respect, he wasn’t much different than most soldiers; he lived in one world and believed wholeheartedly in another. His world had less bureaucracy.
Peter waited expectantly for Adam to prompt him to continue. He tucked the cigarette between his lips, and stared over the military paraphernalia cluttering the top of the table between them. He leaned backward and ripped his body armor open. The dank odor of trapped sweat issued forth from his exposed uniform. Peter tilted forward, leaning so low over the table that the radio’s LED light haunted the features of his face.
“Do you want to know what makes me crazy, Adam?” Peter asked again, mustering a bit more force in his voice.
“What makes you crazy, Peter?” Adam replied.
“A lot of things, the war for example… Here we are, the richest nation on the planet, and we’re puttering around with guns in the third world. We’re the most powerful country ever to exist, and we’ve got nothing better to do than come here and kill innocent people. The irony is that we can provide for ourselves, but we’re here to rob them blind.” Peter said as he lit up a stolen smoke.
“What about freedom?” Adam asked.
“Who said anything about freedom, man?” Peter replied.
“Colonel Mack did, Adam. Tell him that. Tell him the truth about this country, and how you’re all doing the best that you can. Tell him that you’re making the world a better place.” The moon whispered.
“Colonel Mack believed in freedom.” Adam pointed out.
Adam’s fingers loaded a sunflower seed into his mouth, positioned it, and then cracked it open. His tongue went through the rote process of aligning the shell behind his puckered lips for ejection. Pressure built behind the shell and it exploded into the night, departed to whereabouts unknown. Adam pushed another seed in to fill the void.
“Look, I’m not going to dance on the guy’s grave, but fucking hell, dude. How were we supposed to take him seriously? He talked a lot, but it was all tow-the-line bullshit, you know that right? He was either a liar or he drank too much neo-conservative Kool-Aid. Either way, war is the providence of fools and a paradise for thieves.” Peter said.
“What’s that make you then?” Adam asked.
“A fool, I think,” Peter quipped, “but the first step is admitting you have a problem and we have problems, Adam. Human rights violations, corruption, torture, cronyism, political apathy, the works, man. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, there’s so much that’s wrong with our country, and with this war specifically. Take us for example, how symbolic are we? Right here, right now, we’re sitting in the dark with loaded guns, waiting for something terrible to happen. We’re a microcosm of
, man.” America
“We’re a microcosm of the whole universe. Everything is sitting in the dark and waiting for something terrible to happen.” Adam said. He spat the shell of another gutted sunflower seed. The dusty terrain of the floor was littered with the remains of Adam’s conquest. The husks were twisted in silent repose, their jagged mouths agape at the world.
“The universe is gorgeous.” The moon demurred as she laid Cowboy down. She tilted his worn hat over his eyes and beamed affectionately upon him. “It’s so beautiful and full of love.”
“You have to work hard to see the love.” Adam lamented.
Peter sucked in a lung full of smoke, and exhaled.
“Do you ever wonder why you’re here? Why you’re not safe at home? Why you’re putting your neck on the line to further some rightwing politician?” Peter spouted.
“Sometimes, I wonder what it’s like to live in
,” Adam said. “…but no, man. I don’t worry about that crap. I’ve got bigger problems.” Paris
Adam cataloged his worries. Being in
ranked somewhere south of lurking pigeons and somewhere north of accidentally drinking urine. Indoor plumbing was a faraway luxury and empty bottles spared lazy soldiers the trouble of seeking out relief. The risk of putting lips to human waste was real; the risk of being eaten was probably not. Adam wasn’t taking chances. He sniffed every water bottle skeptically before slaking his thirst and kept a wary eye on guard against Colonel Fretter’s terrifying smile. Iraq
“That’s ridiculous, Blue.” Peter said.
“Really? I just like to know what I’m putting in my mouth.”
Peter’s brow pretzeled above his eyewear, perspiration ran through the salty draws formed by the rearranged topography of his face. He contemplated the silence in the wake of Adam’s cryptic admission. In the Army, any reference to putting anything in one’s mouth was typically followed by a heartless appraisal of one’s dick sucking capacity. As a matter of fostering his self-anointed image as an enlightened soul, Peter had trouble reconciling his compassion for oppressed minorities with the day to day jawing of military humor. Cleverly, he shifted his attention to a passing convoy of Iraqi soldiers.
The white pickup trucks slipped from the blackness beneath a groaning concrete overpass bridging Route Werewolf. They shot through a police checkpoint, and for a moment roared parallel to the walls of FOB Bastion. In the back of each truck, an Iraqi gunman clutched an RP-46 light machinegun that had been fastened to a mount built into the open bed. Other soldiers lounged against the battered sides, hanging their heads like upside-down dogs in the rushing torrent of air. Their individual features were inscrutable behind their drenched ski-masks. The convoy carried on into the distance, unaware that they had broken the boring passage of guard duty and saved Peter from compromising his sense of self-righteousness.
“Nice masks, assholes.” Peter snapped.
“Yeah.” Adam agreed.
“So anyway, dude, this is imperialism. We are the evil empire, and dreaming of greener pastures isn’t going to change that.” Peter said.
“I don’t think I’ve done that at all.” Adam objected. “Green pastures would be a relief. You should see my dreams. They’re horrible. This morning I woke up sweaty, everything stank like apple pie. Apple pie guts smell like cinnamon and sugar. They made a pie out of me, Peter, a fucking pie. I swear to God, I could taste it in mouth.”
“That’s out there.”
“See? That's some of this shit I’m talking about. Here, we’ve been in country for a month and you’re already suffering from post-traumatic stress. You were sentenced to a lifetime of psychological instability. For what?”
Adam said nothing.
“Hegemony. That’s what. We came here looking for weapons of mass destruction. Where are the nuclear missiles? I haven’t seen any mushroom clouds. How about the chemical weapons? The anthrax? Anything? Let me put this into perspective for you, Adam. You and I are subjected to the inherent evils of war so that we can bolster the inherent evils of big corporations. Our politicians are bought and paid for, our government is bought and paid for, and you and I, by virtue of association, are bought and paid for. We’re just commodities… seed capital sent to a foreign market to increase oil revenues, expand the market, and establish the American brand. When big money and government become one and the same there is no dividing line between what constitutes an empire and what constitutes a monopoly.”
“What’s that mean?” Adam asked as he propped an elbow onto the table, leaning closer to Peter.
“Oh, Adam, you don’t want to know.” The moon moaned.
“I want to know.” Adam emphasized.
“It means that we’re evil, Adam. Every single person that puts this uniform on is an evil son of a bitch. Either by choice or by ignorance.” Peter said.
“What about you?” Adam asked. He was fairly convinced that he wasn’t evil, but was willing to give Peter a chance to convince him otherwise.
“I’m different, Adam. I’m a witness to the destruction of
. I’m going to blow the whistle on this whole fucking catastrophe. I’m going to report every fucking war crime I see.” Peter announced. He took a hard drag from his cigarette and exhaled. A curtain of smoke rose from his mouth over the mirrored surfaces of his eyeglasses. Iraq
“How many do you have so far?” Adam asked.
“None yet,” Peter replied, the flame of his cigarette alighting his scowl, “but I’m watching and listening to everything, man. I will be the agent of this army’s integrity. When it stumbles, I will be the voice of record trumpeting its failure.”
“What a little asshole.” Cowboy mumbled as he rolled over, his hand clung to his crotch unceremoniously as he loosened the denim around his balls.
Peter saw himself as a herald of better things, a higher conscience slumming amongst morally impotent stooges. He held fast to the elitist idea that goodness resided in the minds and not in the hearts of men. He believed that ignorance begat villainy, and he was mostly right, except that sometime ignorance was the product of a neglected heart. For all his intellect, Peter was an ignorant son of a bitch and his heart was a lonesome sparrow.
“I find it ironic,” Adam began, “that Americans have no trouble questioning the value of freedom... when it's not their own at stake.”
“Horseshit, and I’ll tell you why.” Peter said as he flicked his cigarette over FOB Bastion’s grimy wall, paying no mind to the fire that could have erupted below.
An ear-rending blast erupted in the distance rattling the chain-link fence wrapped around the observational level of the guard tower. The concussion flattened the cloth of Adam’s uniform against his balmy skin and knocked an expelled sunflower husk back against his face. It stuck to his cheek. Smoke rose over the charcoal of the
skyline. It pitched vertically, upending itself and billowing towards the polished luminescence of the moon. Baghdad
Peter leapt to his feet, clutching his rifle fearfully. He scanned the darkened alleyways, moaning fearfully.
“Oh shit, fucking shit.”
He drew his eye behind the rear sight aperture aligning his vision of the world with death. He jerked the barrel of his rifle from open alley to open alley, searching for assassins.
A clatter of metal and wood exploded from the darkness and Peter let loose a shot. Something yelped, and whimpered dismally. He and Adam sat upon their high and crooked chairs, listening to the sounds of a dying dog.
A pillar of charcoal colored smoke rose ominously from the
skyline, wafting into a black cloud of defeat. Beneath it, a truck of masked men lay burnt and bleeding. Baghdad
The pigeons abandoned their rooftop perches, the beating of their wings roared against the high pitch tone echoing in Adam’s eardrums. He turned away as they descended upon the dog.