Monday, March 30, 2009

LNHFCOJ Update: Chapter 1... Again

For those of you who have been following the project, this is probably about your fourth time or so reading this chapter. I resubmit Chapter 1.


Chapter 1

Late Night, Day 1: Adam Blue and the Eyes of the Cosmos

 

The universe flung itself to and fro, dramatically slinging its bits and pieces against each other. Galaxies collided, their spiral arms wrestling in a mockery of the spectacle in their midst. The petty rustling of mankind had drawn the curious eyes of the cosmos to a splintered desert nation. The icy fingers of death were snapping a catchy tune, and humanity was stomping and clapping in time with every ounce of enthusiasm it could muster.

---

The airstrip used by the Coalition Forces in Baghdad sprawled into the desolate quiet of the Iraqi night. Private Adam Blue stood airsick and stupid in the rough gravel pit on the east side of the tarmac. The far off lights of the Baghdad International Airport hung dully in the mottled black air like tallow candles creeping beneath the whispers of the full orange moon.

“Look at you, Adam. You and your friends look so brave.”

Adam squinted upward at the muffled sounds of adoration. He removed his ballistic goggles so that he might take in the full round face of his admirer. He could then see the charitable curve of her lips and he could know better the bunched lines formed at the corners of her eyes as she beamed down upon him. His hearing, however, was no better for it and so his own face held tightly to its pinched display of puzzlement.

“All of you are standing down there, dressed up like soldiers and looking so strong and fine. I am both proud of you and frightened for you.”

“Huh?”
            “You look like heroes.”

“What?”

“Take out your earplugs, dear.” The moon mouthed slowly.

“Speak up, please.”

“Take out your fucking earplugs, Blue!”

Jane hammered a coiled fist against the back of Adam’s helmet, the meat of her hand bounced harmlessly away from his armored skull. He spun around to face his squad leader. It was clear from her forward leaning posture that the time for negotiations had passed and that Adam had squandered her patience. He complied.

Adam tugged at his ear protection and the silence was vanquished by a brilliant burst of sound: the world flooded with noise. Adam placed the tiny yellow buds into an empty grenade pouch. The shuddering of black hawk helicopters washed over him; their mighty rotor blades beating angrily against the dome of the sky. Adam could hear everything: voices, chewing gum popping, an enthusiastic breeze whistling through the slick barrels of machine guns, and he could hear the faint crackling of distant bamboo chutes. Somewhere far away, there were pandas chewing contentedly as they conspired not to fuck. He heard the murmur of a billion Chinese laughing at a dispirited American zookeeper who had grown weary of the lack of romance in his professional life. More immediately, there was Jane, open-mouthed, breathing in and out with quick irritated pants and waiting for Adam to speak.

            It should be stated that Adam's brain was a nest of glistening madness, a lump of tissue riddled with pulsating veins and some fairly cockamamie ideas about the universe. Amongst them, the idea that things which were, were in fact not, and things that were in fact not, were. Over the years he’d learned to hide the fact that he was, for all intents and purposes, completely bat-shit insane.

            “I don’t know. Maybe they just don’t like one another, Sergeant. I don’t know that it’s any of anybody’s business but their own. I don’t understand love.”

            “What the fuck?”

            Adam mused silently on the nature of love. It was a mystery to him. He knew that he loved, his heart was bursting with it. He loved the enduring beauty of existence and the goodness that the human spirit could do. Knowing how he loved did nothing to help him understand what it was that moved lovers and whether having that knowledge would allow one to move them. He worried that they might drift apart, individually repulsed by scripted third-party overtures. Love, he feared, was not bound by the romantic logic born of good intentions. The idea that love ‘conquers all’ was an unproven theory which, even if true, did not guarantee that love could be instilled through actions. This suspicion made the American agenda in Iraq seem that much more daunting and improbable. After all, if America couldn’t coax a couple pandas to get it on, what hope could they have to form a lasting national unity amongst the juxtaposed interests of historically opposed ethnic groups?

“I think we may have overstepped ourselves when we decided to manipulate hearts and minds. We should have gone after their hands; they’re a lot more predictable.”

“Again, what the fuck, Blue?”

“Well, it’s just that if you can control someone’s hands, it doesn’t matter what their heart feels or what their brain thinks because you control the actions. Of course,” Adam clenched his jaw against his realization, “then, again, you’ve caged the heart and what good can come of that?”

“Alright, that’s great. Ground you gear, grab your weapon and let’s go get some chow. I’m going to find Potter. Don’t forget your weapon.”

            “So we’re fending for ourselves then?”

            “How do you mean?”

            “Hunting.”

            “Hunting?”

            “You told me to get my gun. What are we supposed to be hunting?”

            “We’re not hunting anything; they won’t let you into the chow-hall if you don’t have your weapon.”

            “Why?”

            “Shut the fuck up, Blue. Are you hungry or not?”

            “I am.”

            “So drop your shit in formation. I’m gonna find Potter.”

            “Roger, Sergeant.”

            Jane dwelled, staring at him for a moment before turning back to the mob of soldiers shedding their equipment. She wove through their bodies, around the mounds of camouflaged bags and doodads, disappearing into the mass of soldiers. Adam trailed behind her, looking for his place in line. He scanned the name tags, each sequence of letters painting an intimate portrait of the other members of his platoon. Each name had a face and vice versa. Adam shucked himself, dropping his equipment in a heap next to the pile labeled ‘Potter’. This was his place, at the far left of the row, furthest from the seat of power in the squad which was denoted by one’s relative rightness to the other soldiers in the line. As far as the Army was concerned, Adam was always less right than anyone else in the unit, regardless of how wrong they might be.

            Cowboy loomed above the formation. The old salt tipped back a shot of whiskey and wiped his whiskers clean. He tilted eastward on his dusty leather boots and let out a long hoot.

“Oooeee! Would you listen to them smug sons of bitches!” He sang in his western drawl. “Pandas! Chink sons of bitches think they’re so clever! Hidin’ their evil ways behind fuzzy faces. Like we’re gonna forget what they are on account of them exportin’ a couple critters. Cultural exchange? No thanks, y’all got nothin’ we want! Fuckin’ commies.” Cowboy snarled out the last word, pouring equal parts contempt and hatred into its syllables. Cowboy was stuck in the Fifties. In his mind, the Cold War raged on and pandas represented everything wrong with Sino-American relations.

            Adam's brain was a soggy clump of crazy snapping off millions of electrical impulses at the speed of light. His brain couldn't slow down, it twitched and tangled as fast as teeth sparkled. With every breath he took, his mind spun circles through loopholes in outer-space. Cowboy stumbled through those hoops and curlicues. His breath wreaked of booze, his tongue stumbled over slurred advice. His grizzled face was all pins and needles and his chin quivered with lack of sensation; he was an alcoholic. No one had the heart to say so: not Adam, and certainly not the moon.

            “Hey, darlin’. La Luna mon chair!” Cowboy called out, looking affectionately upon the blushing pock-marked face of the moon. He tipped his hat backward, his feet creeping slowly out from underneath him until he was forced to grab the massive seal of his belt buckle for balance. He hiked his dungarees up, pulling himself forward and grinning sloppily at the object of his francophonic flattery. The moon hid her abashment behind a veil of slow moving clouds. She had self-esteem issues, a result of her ruddy complexion and yo-yoing weight.

            “Hello.” She peeped, hidden behind the gauze of condensed air moisture. Still, the embarrassed glow of her face hedged the fringes of the clouds, painting them a timid custard haze. The pair fell into an awkward silence, as they always did when words failed between them. Cowboy quickly changed course, turning towards Adam.

            “You ready for this, buckaroo?” He asked.

            “I don’t think so.” Adam replied.

            “Well, you just do your best and things’ll fall into place. Usually do.” The whiskey in Cowboy’s blood lent backbone to his air of rugged confidence.

            “You’re a good kid. Ain’t nothin’ bad gonna happen to you.” He said, nodding with a wobbly reassurance.

            “I hope not.” Adam said. He couldn’t help but feel that the matter of his life and death was completely out of his hands. That sort of thing was decided by men far away, men with far more stake in what Adam was doing than Adam himself.

            “Blue!” A voice belonging to Sergeant First Class Ulysses S. Alcott bellowed. “Pick it up! We’re leaving!”

            Adam scrambled to gather his gear. His unit wouldn’t be going anywhere for hours, and everyone knew it. Everyone that is, except Sergeant Alcott, whose complete faith in the Army had filled him with the delusion that somewhere there was someone who knew what the hell was going on. There wasn’t.

            Across the sea of bobbing heads, through the mire of dusty air, Adam could see his friend Peter Potter at the edge of the crowd standing by the battered plastic shit shack. Jane was at his side. They watched with disdain for a moment as Alcott mustered the troops into formation, then with the utmost discretion they absconded to fill their bellies. Adam was left hungry.