A more level playing field in Fallujah
[ fiction - july 06 ]
I can't go out like this, Lieutenant Walker thinks. I didn't go to Yale to die like this in the fucking desert.
What's left of Sergeant Barnes' roasted face leers at Walker like something from a cinematic gorefest. Walker's eyes aren't working very well, one semi-closed, but he can see that Barnes is way dead all right. Walker's on the ground. Ears ringing, nearly deaf. Black smoke billows from the Hummer, chopped and gutted like an upside down turtle minus its shell atop a stubby chunk of concrete. A sickly sweet roasted flesh stench omnipresent.
Walker tries to put weight on his blackened hands. Feels too vulnerable in the sand near the smoke. Imagines the fuel tank exploding. Gotta move, gotta get. His hands obey slowly. Like he's communicating with them from the bottom of a muddy lake.
C'mon Walker, move your ass, he commands his body. His hands again try to take the weight until a boot stomps down on one from above. He screams. Or tries to. The searing metal of a hot gun barrel pushes him over onto his back. He gets a glimpse of his torso and it looks wrong. Off somehow. Something missing. What?
Sand nigger babble surrounds him. Louder. Somebody else walking up.
A face inches away from his. Laughter.
"I recognize you. Trumbull right?"
What's he saying? Trumbull? He went to Yale? Maybe. Just maybe everything will be okay. But Walker can't speak. His mouth numb.
"You're not going to make it, you know. Your legs are gone."
"Don't look. It's okay."
The man's rough hand on his chin. Turning his face for a better look.
"Remember me? No? Saybrook. We kicked your ass in soccer."
Walker blinks and he's on a soccer field, wearing the 3-bulls of Trumbull College on his T-shirt. What the? A kick in the shins and the ball is stolen away. He runs. It's Saybrook. He's sprinting down the right sideline.
Both sidelines are crowded with students and he recognizes some. He never was much of an endurance player, just an extra body at fullback for intramurals, and soon he's winded. He stops to catch his breath. Leans over to put his hands on his knees. And they're invisible. But still functional somehow. He rests his weight on his invisible knees. They feel good. The grass is green and soothing. The field beautiful in the crisp October air.
Saybrook centers the ball to a teammate positioned in front of the goal, who attempts a header that sails high and wide left. The crowd gives a collective groan.
The goalie, a marine in uniform, arcs a throw-in toward Walker. Saybrook is charging on the attack. Walker quick passes the ball to Barnes and it hits him in the chest. His face is still a half eaten death's head grin.
There's a whistle. The ref raises a Yellow card and points to Walker for impeding Saybrook's progress. Walker raises both hands to the sky and he's not in New Haven. He's kneeling in Fallujah. The sidelines lined with soldiers and Iraqis. Some living, some in various stages of decay.
And then it's halftime. And a coed hands Walker a water bottle. A coed he had a huge crush on. Cindy. And the scene shifts. They're alone on a doorstep. It's twilight. He's leaning to kiss her pouty lips and she puts both hands on his chest and pushes him back. "No, don't," she says. "I can't date somebody who says such hateful things." Hateful things? "You didn't know I was half Puerto Rican, did you?" And Saybrook's face displaces hers. "You're such a racist," he says but with her semi-lisp. Still wearing Cindy's Yale hoodie, her tight jeans.
It's not fair, Walker thinks. And then he's back on the ground in Iraq.
Saybrook shakes his head and says something guttural. "International students were pretty invisible to you Trumbull guys. Small world though. You have to admit."
The man lets Walker's head drift back. Stands. Grins.
"Lux et Veritas," he says, then aims his rifle and squeezes off one swift shot.