Kin (short story)

The is a story I wrote for a contest recently. It is based on a song ‘s music video  “Devastator” by For Today. If you want to know if I captured in relatable contents to my story from the music video check it out for yourself and then decide.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gJHf95Iz4k

Synopsis:

 James is the only surviving brother after the end of the war in Vietnam. He finds himself unable to cope with his brothers’ death after forty years and hasn’t gone to his two brothers’ graves.  His son then persuades him to go and James reluctantly concurs. Through out his journey to the cemetery James begins to reminisce with himself about the memories he and his brothers shared together. Good and bad.

“No matter what happens, we are kin…andwe always will be.”

“No matter what.”

“Higher than brothers.”

“Higher than ourselves.”

“More than kin.”

“We are one.”

Kin

Dad, you need to do it.” my son says to me.

We are sitting out on our back porch, waiting on Mrs. McCabee to come home to me. The sun is shining today; beaming down on our heads in its haughty wrath. I love the sun but that joker makes a mess of my skin if I stay in it too long.

My son is twenty-five years old. A man in is prime. He is the oldest of three… boys: James Jr.; Victor who is twenty; and Thameson, he’s seventeen. I wanted the last one to have a more…creative name. But that boy is more ordinary than the sun itself.

Jr. (the one I am talking with) is my closest son. Almost… like a brother to me.

And that is exactly what we are talking about.

I… can’t, Jr., I can’t bring myself to go down there.” I say.

He looks at me with a mixture of sympathy and anger.

He sigh.

You’re not going to feel any better if you don’t go. Forget about what Granma and Granpa used to say. You know that none a those things were true. You deserve to be here. I’m happy you’re here-in fact- I wouldn’t even be alive if it weren’t for you. I could care less that those old folks didn’t want to see us. I don’t care, Dad. But. You. Need. To. Go.”

My hands are shaking- with age as well as nerves- because I am looking at my Jr. for the first time and seeing that he is no longer the little boy that used to play in the dirt but a man with so much more sense than his Pa that I could cry and have no problem with him seeing me.

I am so proud of him.

I shake my head.

Dad…”

No, not that,” I say, “do you know how proud I am?”

He smiles wearily at me.

Probably not. But!- your praise is not going to get you out of this.” he laughs.

I sigh and laugh a little myself because he is right.

Alright…” I say as I wipe those stubborn laughing tears away from my eyes. “

James’s face brightens and he clutches my shoulders firmly.

You are sure?” he ask.

I nod.

Do you want me to go with you?”

I think about it for a moment. It would be nice to have him along but this was something I had to do alone.

I grab his shoulder just as firmly before answering.

No, thank you, but… this is something I need to do on my own.”

He nods. His face is content but disappointed is clearly there.

You know I would love for you to come with me,” I say, “ but this has gone on for forty years. I have to go alone.”

He nods again, this time with more understanding in his eyes

You will call me if you can’t handle it.” he says. And it wasn’t a question.

I smile at him and clap him on the back.

Yes, Sir!” I laugh.

~

This is what men are supposed to do!” my father bellowed. I was nineteen at the time, my oldest brother, Scott, was twenty-two. And my youngest brother, Travis, was eighteen. We were all standing in front of our father listening toCaptain C. McCabee; veteran of world war 2, explain to us the importance of serving our country. “No sons a mine will sit around this house while there is a war going on!” We had been trying to avoid the subject for several years. It had been a few years into the Vietnam clash and at the time it seemed like it would last forever.

Pa, we could die,” said Scott as he rocked on his heels, “and you’d still have us running around out there?” Travis had been quiet the whole time and so pale mama had thought he had fallen ill. The truth was; he was afraid of Pa. So afraid he would try to do everything just right. Pa didn’t care how old we were, he’d beat us at thirty if he lived to see the day.

My Pa’s face had gone hard with anger.

You will go there,” Pa said, slowly enunciating each word, “you are gonna serve this country.”

But Scott didn’t hold back and nod like Travis would’ve done. No, Scott bared his teeth at our father and cursed him to his grave.

Pa looked at Scott with this look so horrible I was afraid he would kill his son.

Charles, I need to talk to you.” Mama said. I hadn’t even noticed she was in the room. I thought she had gone to fix supper.

Pa got up slowly and rammed his shoulder into Scott; scowling at him before he left the room with Mama.

You. Are. Crazy!” Travis hissed. He was shaking so hard I had to grab hold of his shoulder. He jumped a little before glancing to see that it was just me.

‘This boy is not going to last in the military.’ I thought.

Scott didn’t look at our brother, only at the swinging kitchen door Papa had just walked through.

I wanna kill him.” was his curt reply.

W-what?” I said. I wasn’t really surprised, just taken aback because he had the guts to say it out loud.

Hell maybe we all outta go up there,” Scott continued, “at least when we get back it would be an equal fight.” He scoffed and stomped out of the room.

“Jesus,”Travis whispered. He finally stopped shaking but he was still paler than snow. “Scott is losing it.”

I nod my head and take Travis by the wrist leading him to through the front door to find Scott. He was sitting in an old rocker our Granmama had given to us. She died some time ago but that rocking chair was still as sturdy as it was when it was new.

Scott,” I said leaning on the old white railing with my arms folded, “we all know he’s gonna make us sign up and go.”

I sighed, hating the realization in my words.

I continued.

I know… Scott?” I started feeling worried. Scared.

He looked up at me. He hadn’t really been looking at me while I was talking. Just gazing out at the hills and the sunset.

What if we don’t survive?” I asked

He shook his head.

No.” he said. “We will. We are brothers, James, we’re gonna protect each other no matter what.”

I heard they like to separate kin…” said Travis.

Where did you hear that from?” I asked.

He shrugged.

Bobby Jordan said his cousin and his brother signed up a few years ago. Said they separated them and and Bobby’s cousin’s brother died in combat.” he said quietly.

Bobby J also likes to make up stories, Travis,” Scott said, “I wouldn’t bet on that story being true. And even if it was?- I wouldn’t let them separate us.”

Travis relaxed finally, and little color returned to his cheeks.

I was about to tell Travis that I had gone to the brother’s funeral myself but Scott gave me the “Don’t you even think about it” look so I backed off.

I patted Travis on the back instead.

Boys! Suppers ready!” called Mama.

I glanced quickly at Scott and he gave me a hard look.

I shook my head slightly so that only he could see it and he raised his eyebrows at me.

He started to smile.

I didn’t.

Travis never saw our silent discussion. He was busy staring at the sunset just as Scott had been doing moments before.

I was worried about Scott; he’d been acting out with Pa and lying more often than Mama would’ve been happy with. She was one of those “True Christians”. The kind that judged everyone who didn’t believe what they believed.

I despised her more than Pa sometimes. I had seen her treat a gay couple as if they were walking shit. I had seen her treat a Negro woman like a disease.

‘Those times are over, Mama!’ I wanted to scream at her after witnessing that. I never had the gull to stand up to either one of my parents. I was ashamed of them, yes, but they were still my one way ticket to life.

But Scott- Scott was different now. Since the war started he could feel Pa’s eyes on us. He knew what he was thinking. He knew it was inevitable. Pa wouldn’t rest until he screamed “Cowards!” at us. And even that was unlikely to happen because Pa would’ve hated to announce that his seeds were cowards. That would’ve been the end of him.

I wouldn’t be surprised if that had been Scott’s plan.

Scott was clever like that.

We all walked into the kitchen to have our supper. Pa was sitting at the head of the table glaring at Scott. Mama was staring at Travis. She was just as worried as I had been.

We took our meal quietly. Careful not to make too much noise chewing or moving forks and spoons around.

Later that night Pa had us go to bed early.

Boys need to get up early and head down to the office,” he said, “see if they still taking some back up.”

I cringed when he clapped Travis on the back right before we went upstairs. It was loud and overbearingly enthusiastic.

Travis nearly fell over when the weight of his hand hit him.

Scott just kept walking, unfazed by the noise and what the clap meant.

When our door was closed Scott let us have it.

That sonofabitch!” he hissed. Throwing his shirt in the corner with vehemence.

Travis jumped. He hardly ever cursed himself and hearing it always made him start.

Keep it down!” I hissed at him, “I’m not in the mood for a beating tonight.”

He scoffed and shoved his way past me.

‘What is wrong with you?’ I silently asked.

And, as if he’d heard me, he looked over his shoulder and rolled his eyes a little before shaking his head.

I’m sorry, Trav,” he said, “I’m just so sick of this war. I’m sick of Pa encouraging death! This is ridiculous! What if I don’t want to fight!

He’ll call you a coward-” Travis started

I don’t care!” Scott cut in, “I’d be a coward with a life!”

Travis shrugged in defeat and got himself ready for bed.

After Travis left I spoke up.

Stop yelling.” I quietly said.

He was about to protest but then just decided to sit down on his bed.

Why did you lie to him?”

Because if I didn’t he’d be scared to whole time. He’d probably die of a heart attack before we get there. You saw the look on his face. He is terrified. It’s bad enough Pa is making us go but the fact that he knows Trav is that scared- and still making him go? Why do you even wonder why I hate him so much?”

You can’t just lie to him like that, Scott. He would’ve gotten over it when we got there. As for Pa? You don’t hate him, don’t say that-”

I’ve always hated him!” he laughed, “You mean to tell me you didn’t notice? Wow- I’m a better actor than I thought if I fooled my own brother. You think Trav could tell?”

I just shook my head.

It’s not funny, Scott.”

What’s not funny?” Travis had come back from the bathroom. His face was swollen and pink.

He’d been crying.

That Pa fell down the porch step a few years ago,” I lied, “Scott still thinks it’s funny but I said it’s not since Pa gashed his leg open from that.”

Scott looked at as if to say “Who’s the liar now?” and quietly walked out of the bedroom to take his turn in the bathroom.

Travis looked at me skeptically.

Alright.”

I sighed.

I never liked lying. Especially to Travis. But it felt like he always knew when we were lying. He’d give us that look as if to say “I’m not stupid, I can see the truth in your eyes.” it was a scarey thought.

But Travis just kept on staring at me.

Jesus!- will you stop that.” I laughed

Tell me the truth, James.” he said quietly.

I had almost forgotten he was eighteen. Nearly a man and no longer a child.

Trav,” I said, “do you hate Pa?”

He cocked his head and looked off in deep thought.

Then he straightened himself and looked me straight in the eye.

Yes.”

Why?”

Stupid question.

Don’t act like you don’t hate him too. I see the way you look at him. You look disgusted, sometimes downright hateful. You’re very bad at hiding your feelings, James.” he said with a bitter laugh. “Whatever though. He wants me to go to Vietnam?- I’ll go to Vietnam. It has to be better than staying here with them.”

He threw the towel he had hanging over his shoulders in the corner along with Scott’s shirt and blew out a heavy sigh.

Look at the bright side,” he said, “Scott gets to let out all that pent up anger.”

I was shocked.

I didn’t know he noticed Scott’s attitude.

But of course I’d been underestimating Travis for awhile now and it suddenly seemed a lot less surprising that he did know.

~

You’re sure you don’t want me to go?” my wife, Annalynne, says to me We have been married for twenty-seven year and I still love her to death. “It’s a long drive and we wouldn’t have to stop much if we took shifts.”

She is the sweetest woman I know. Always looking out for me; making sure I’m fed; loving me when I needed loving; cursing me out when I acted like a fool.

I love that woman more than anything but I can’t take her with me. I love her but I don’t want her to see me struggle with what I have to do. What I’ve been needing to do for forty years.

Yes, I’m sure.”

She frowns at me and takes my hand in hers.

You be strong for me, okay?”

I nod and kiss her forehead.

I pick up my bag and load it into my old friend Dellie. Dellie is my 86 Silverado. Got her a little before Jr. was born. This girl has gone through a lot with me; pot holes, broken fenders, thunder storms. I love this truck more than I’ll ever love any expensive sports car.

Be safe, James.” says Annalynne. Tears are gliding down her puffy red cheeks. I kiss her and hold her for a moment.

Where’s dad going?” I hear Thameson ask.

The grave yard.” Jr. whispers.

Oh… crap.” I hear Victor mutter.

I nearly laugh at them.

‘Am I really that bad?’ I laugh to myself.

I give each of my sons a long hug goodbye.

Be careful.” says Victor, clapping my back.

Be safe.” says Jr.

Be strong, okay?” says Thameson.

I look at him and see that worry is written all over his face.

‘How much do you know?’ I silently ask.

He blinks and I see his eyes start to well.

He is so much like Travis; so emotionally connected to his family. So smart.

I grab hold of him for another hug.

When did my sons get so grown?” I ask no one in particular.

Annalynne smiles but tries to cover it up with her fingers. I love when she does that yet I hate it because I can never see her smile. The tears are still there and I wish I could brush them off. But I know she wont let me. She loves her tears and she’d want to shed them for me.

I let go of Thameson and get into my truck.

I live in about eight hours away from DC and I have to trips: one at a warehouse to pick something up; the second at motel for sleep.

I drove down to the abandoned warehouse where my brothers and I would go to get away, share secrets, hide secrets. It was our sanctuary.

Two hours later I’m surprised to see the old building is still standing.

It has to be sixty years old now. Old brown bricks finely chipping away with age. Some of the windows were broken, gone, or just plain filthy.

But I love this building.

It holds all the secrets in my past. It holds my whole past. It holds my brothers’ past.

I rode the old elevator to the top floor; its old chains creaking with the weight of the metal box as it rose higher.

~

Hey! I found these bandanas on sale at that old Stop N Shop,” Scott said, “We can take em with us when we go in. They are red so we know who is a brother and who isn’t”

Aren’t we all supposed to be brothers?” I asked. I was sitting in an old plaid chair in the corner of the run down room on the top floor the abandon warehouse. “Military personnel and all? We have to treat them as brothers as well, right?”

Trav nodded in compliance while he sat on the floor fixing his uniform.

That doesn’t mean they are blood though, James.” Scott said a little too darkly.

I like them!” Travis burst out. He knew bad energy when it traveled the room. “It gives the three of us a personal-homey touch. And it would be nice to be able to separate my real brothers from strangers. Makes me feel better knowing we can tell each other apart.”

They would also make for fantastic targets as well.” I mutter. I never liked the idea of having red scarves hanging from our uniforms. They looked like some kind of betrayal to me.. and targets for the enemy.

What’s that, James?” Scott said with a mockishness to his tone.

I shrugged and played with my fingers.

He scoffed and tossed one of the scarves at me.

I’d love to wipe his filthy blood up with this thing one day.” He uttered. He was talking about Pa.

Travis stopped tempering with his uniform.

You may not get the chance to if God hears you say that again.” he said quietly.

God has nothing to do with my wishes.” Scott said. He tossed Travis his scarf. “He never listens to them anyway. Otherwise Pa would’ve been dead a long time ago.”

I hopped out of the chair and treadled over to the selfish bastard I called me brother.

I shoved him against the window.

You won’t get a chance to do SHIT if you die out there.” I spat at him. “You’ll never know… I may be the one to wipe you blood one day, Brother.”

He shoved me away.

And I stared at him for a moment before I left the building.

~

The elevator reaches the top floor and I walk out and head for the cupboard where most of our secret stashes had been kept. I open it and there they are. The red scarves Scott had bought for us. I burned my own a while back but I put theirs away in a place I knew where no one would find them. One of them was hard and dark from old blood.

Travis’s.

The other was spotted lightly with hard spots of old blood.

Scott’s.

I sniff away on coming sobs and tuck the scarves in my pocket.

I close the cabinet and head back to the elevator. It rumbles and shakes on its way down but I don’t care. I wouldn’t even care if it fell and killed me. But I can’t think like that. No man can think like that when they have a family at home they love so much as I do. My heart aches when I think of things like that. Death and suicide. I’m too old to be thinking about that nonsense. Sixty-six years old. If I wanted to do it I would’ve done it when I was relieved. Not after I made a family.

The elevator is down and I stride back over to my car. Dellie sits there in the hot sun waiting patiently for me to drive when I’m ready. I stick the key in the ignition and continue on towards DC cemetery.

~

Move! Take some damn cover, marines!” Captain Gain shouted at us. “Jesus they gave me all the idiots!”

We were being shot at by men I didn’t recognize. I couldn’t bring myself to move or shoot. But Scott seemed to be having a field day.

He was shouting and cursing and hooting and hollering and gloating. He was having too much fun murdering Man.

Travis would stick with me and only shoot when necessary. He protected me. Which shocked me at first because Scott and I had been worried that we wouldn’t be able to even get him on the plane. He was brave though. Braver than Scott. Unlike Scott Travis didn’t enjoy murdering people. He made sure every man he shot moved on with his eyes closed.

I don’t want there spirits floating around preying for revenge.” He’d told me.

I had only shot a few men and with each one it took me a long time before I was able to shoot another. Even longer a time before I didn’t care anymore. Unfortunately that time didn’t come until after I shot a little girl in the head. Because we were told to eliminate all civilians in the village. I cried that nigh in our camping barracks, silently but the tears were there. Travis saw me shoot the girl and made me go back with him to close her eyes. He sat on the edge of my bed with his hand on my shoulder trying to calm me and barely succeeding. I felt like a coward for shooting her. But she would’ve been killed anyway. There were too many brothers covering the area for her to escape.

I grew used to it though. Killing innocence; planting bombs; signaling air strikes. I grew to become more and more like Scott. And that scared me more than being shot at. All those years we were there with short vacations that we never used to visit home and then we would have to go right back and be the murders we pretended not to be.

We were in a jungle at one point. A very random place for an area that was mostly city and desert. But we were there. It was hard to see around the leaves and the trees. We were looking for a campsite that held some kind of nuke or an airstrike. I don’t remember. I only remember what happened in the process.

Travis was leading our group, he had been promoted to Sergeant not too long before our mission so he too Captain Gain’s place while Gain led a special task force. Why they didn’t have the honor of pursuing this quest was beyond me and still is.

The campsite was guarded by a large tan brick wall. We heard distant voices and assumed they were in the tents so we moved up a little faster. Never assume anything in the middle of a battle field. Especially when it’s quiet and empty. Travis let a lower rank check the corner before we moved in to the base. The marine was shot in the chest by I Vietnamese man with large shot gun. Travis shouted to everyone to open fire and we did.

The man shot Travis in the throat before another marine got him in the head.

It felt like time slowed down when I saw Travis falling to the ground, blood pouring out of his neck and his eyes rolling back into his head. He fell to the ground with a wet splat.

Keep moving, McGee!” Shouted another marine. He got my name wrong but I knew he was yelling at me.

I stepped over my brother’s body and helped clear the base. When it was clear and me succeeded I ran back to Travis. He was already dead though. I don’t know why I expected him to be laying there smiling up at me. His neck was practically hanging on by a thread attached to his body. I screeched something horrible right then. Another marine, Private Thomas, ran to me.

Oh…” was all he could say and then he backed away. I know I had to move, we were lying in the open in front of the hole in the wall. I knew I would’ve been an easy target. But I didn’t care. I took my time. His eyes were wide open so I closed them. We killed the man that killed him so there was no need for further revenge. I took the the red scarf off of his belt loop and held it to his neck. A reminder that this is his blood on his scarf, that his his own blood was shed during this ridiculous battle. I put the scarf in my pocket and got back to my feet- face stoic and ready to get back to work.

Travis L. McCabee

KIA

19670

Vietnam

~

I made it there in a blink of an eye it seems. I hadn’t expected the cemetery to be so big, and full. I wonder around the tombstones looking for his name. It looks like it’s not in any particular order so I really have to hunt for it.

I should have gone to the funeral when I had the chance.

I couldn’tbring myself to go though. Not to his funeral. Not to either one of their funerals. I didn’t want to be the last brother standing. The one that others would pity and probably shame for not committing suicide like a normal survivor.

That never made sense to me; why suicide was the answer to all the former military man’s anguish.

Why not love?

Why not peace?

We killed for seven years. Heartless bloodshed and murder. Killing children and women. I was glad to be released. I would’ve shot myself if they had kept me for the remaining years.

I scour the field with heartfelt determination. I’m not leaving until I find their graves. I owe them that much. In some ways I felt like Travis died for me. As if he steppe in front of the gun to protect me. And maybe he did. But I know he was protecting everyone, he treating everyone like his brother. He protected them just as much as he protected me. He never even bothered Scott almost as if he wanted him to get shot but I knew that wasn’t the case either, he just knew that Scott could take care of himself. At least for that time being.

Scott lasted as long as I thought he would, but he died in a way the surprised me. I thought there would be a lot more blood.

I don’t remember where he was when Travis was killed. Probably somewhere miles away shooting random villagers. He liked that part for some reason. Maybe because whenever he shot an older man he felt like he was shooting Pa. The smile on his face proved that much.

I nearly trip over his grave, Travis’s. I was so caught up in my head that I stopped looking. But here it is.

Sergeant Travis L. McCabee

Soldier, brother, beloved son, and honored war hero.

KIA, Vietnam, 1970

I have never seen a tombstone look so wrong in my life, but I sat his scarf in front of the stone and placed a large rock on top of it.

I say the words of our prayer; voiced aloud for the wind to hear me, for my brother to hear me:

“No matter what happens, we are kin…we always will be.”

“No matter what.”

“God cannot separate us”

“He cannot destroy this bond.”

“He cannot taint our blood with evil.”

“Kill our song.”

“We cut the palms of our brothers hood.

“Press them together…”

“Face to Face.”

“We bellow the words so that you can here.”

“We are higher than brothers.”

“Higher than kin.”

“Higher than ourselves.”

“More than kin.”

“We are one.”

“Until the end…”

I open my eyes to find my vision blurry and burning. I’m crying, for the first time in twenty years I shed more tears for my little brother Travis.

I get up off the ground with little difficulty and start for the next grave.

~

It had been several days before I saw Scott again. I hated that I had to wait so long to tell him. I begged the tellers not to send word to Scott because I wanted to tell him myself in, in person. It felt like years had passed instead of days. When I saw him he was… bigger. He carried an M16 on his shoulder and walked with the air of proud man.

It took all that I had to keep myself from gagging.

I was surprised he couldn’t see the wariness in my face. The tightness of my lips, the tensity in my shoulders. He just smiled and grabbed me up in an aggressive bear hug.

He slapped my back with a heavy hand.

“What’s up, Brotha!” he said so loudly I was pretty sure he’d been drinking.

‘Great!- the day I tell my older brother that his youngest brother is dead it has to be a day when he is stoned!’ I thought.

“We need to talk,” I said, he tried to protest but I already had him by the elbow and dragged him to an empty barrack.

He yanked his elbow out of my hand.

“What the hell is the matter with you?”

“Shut up for a second.” I said plainly, “I need a minute.”

Scott let out a long sigh before settling himself on a bed.

I glared at him for a moment. Looking in his eyes to see if he knew. He looked at me in a way that said “What do you want weirdo?” and crossed his arms.

He really didn’t know. Which was good that meant the tellers hadn’t given him the message.

But it irritated me that he couldn’t tell that something is wrong.

‘Had it really been so long that he couldn’t read me anymore?- feel the loss of a close kin?’ I thought.

“Travis.” was all I said and I saw Scott’s face turn a deadly white.

Then he turned red.

“You don’t know that.” he muttered so quietly I hardly heard him. “He could be MIA.”

“I was there, Scott.”

He jumped off the bed and got in my face.

“You LIE!” he spat at me.

“Why would I lie about this?” I was so calm I knew it bothered him.

“You were supposed to protect him! Why did you let that happen? You know he was scared to even come here and you leave him for those assholes? What the fuck is wrong with your stupid little head! Why did you let that happen? Why did you let it?”

He kept asking that question but more to himself than to me.

He started to cry and dropped to his knees.

I can’t talk to Scott while he cries. We both (Travis and I) knew that nothing got through to him when he was upset. So got down on my knees and wrapped my arms around his shoulders. I let his tears fall on my should. Staining that one spot on my right shoulder permanently with salty water.

It took him awhile to get himself together. I had to wave a few of our brothers away, they knew what was happening and understood. They left us alone and guarded the door.

When Scott finally got himself together he took out his scarf and cleaned his face. There were still stains on his face but I didn’t bother to tell him that.

He’d wash his face later anyway.

He looked up at me his eyes were red and puffy and his face was also red. The green of his eyes looked like bleeding grass.

I let him go and he slouched against a bed.

“What happened?” he asked.

“He was shot in the throat, with a shot gun.” I said matter-of-factually.

He shook his head.

“Where were you?”

“I was several feet behind him.”

“Why weren’t you next to him?”

“I didn’t need to be.”

“Apparently you did because he dead now!” he scowled at me.

“Don’t put this burden on my shoulders.”

“It’s your fault.”

“He didn’t need me to protect him!”

“Yes he did! He was scared-”

“He was never scared! He protected me and a whole platoon! He was a freaking leader, Scott!”

“Who the Hell gave him that job?” he said in a voice so high I laughed.

“I have no idea.” I laughed.

“This isn’t funny.”

“No. But it is ironic.”

He thought about it for a moment.

“We-we should probably stop estimating people’s abilities.” he said quietly.

I started laughing so hard I cried and Scott laughed right along with me. We looked like two fools laughing at something no one else would understand. But to me it felt like we were young again. When we used to make various unstable forts and challenge each other with who could tell the grossest ghost stories in the middle of the night. Hiding in the fields when Pa was in a bad mood. Talking about how ridiculous the girls were in our high school. We even dared Scott to date a girl named Tabitha Tabbs. They only dated for a week because Tabitha claimed Scott was a pervert. Scott was grounded for a month but we still had fun with him; made jokes, shared stories about our own personal experiences.

It felt like we were home again.

I told Scott everything Travis did for us, about the way he treated the dead, what he did for me after I shot a little girl.

Scott listened to all of my tales in silence and with a small smirk on his face occasionally.

“Alright so he had spunk, I get it.” he laughed.

I nod in agreement.

There was a loud knock on the door.

“Get up! It’s time to move out!” said a booming voice.

We stared at each other for a moment. We knew we were going to be separated again. Scott fought on another level and for different reasons. He had been moved up early and so we hardly ever had missions together.

We said our fair wells and until next times and left the barracks as if nothing valuable had passed.

Back to work.

Back to murder.

~

It is getting late, sunset isn’t too far off and I suddenly wish that I had brought one of my sons with me. I’m starting to feel the ache of loneliness that I had predicted might come if I came here alone. I thought I was prepared for it but I can hardly say that I am. My feet and back are aching and I’m sweating like a man hard at work. I brought a bottle of water with me but it is about half empty now.

I start to think about the moment I came home, after I served my time.

My parents were notified about my brothers’ deaths. They were disappointed that neither of the deaths were mine. I was nothing to them my whole life; like dust in the crannies of corners. My mother cried and cursed Jesus while my Pa yelled at me and blamed me for their sons’ demise. I took it all in calmly before I spat the truth at them. I told Pa about how much Scott and Travis hated him; about how Scott even planned on killing him when he got back. I told Ma that I despised her just as much as Travis despised Pa. I told them I didn’t give a shit about what they thought about me and that I tried me best to serve this damn country.

Pa had hit me so hard I fell and Ma screamed at me to never bring my useless ass back to their property again. Pa said that if I did they would shoot me dead and let the crows have me afterwords. They said all of that to me while I was down. After I left them I kept telling myself that they were just upset and that they handled grief differently. I did too. But when I went back a few weeks later Pa aimed a rifle at me. I hadn’t recognized him with that weapon in his hands, aimed at me. I thought he was a stranger who wanted me off his land. I was wrong. It was Pa and Ma was right behind him yelling at me and flipping filthy gestures. I held my hands high in surrender and left their property for good.

I haven’t been back there since. I sent them letters telling them that they have grandchildren but they never wrote me back. But I kept at it.

~

A year after Travis’s death Scott and I finally had a task together. It was a seemingly simple task all we had to do was clear out a warehouse the enemy was using as a sniping tower. Scott was back to his usual cocky trigger happy self and I was just…me. It still hurt to kill but I had gotten so used to it that I did it automatically. Like blinking.

The building was fairly empty save the six guys we eliminated on the first through third floors. There were eight floors. We took our time, acting silently and stealthy. Scott looked like a born hunter the way he moved was too graceful for a man who had to have training. He was so quiet that if I fell behind I would have a hard time finding him again. But of course all I had to do was follow the bodies. He was ahead of me by a floor. I lagged behind to watch our backs. My heart was pounding the whole time. I was expecting someone to jump out and blow my head off.

When I finally made it to the top floor with Scott he held up his left hand signaling me to stop. There was a man at the window with a sniper in his hands. Scott was observing him; sensing his senses. The man was leaning on his left leg so that told him that his left side was dominate. He could hear better with his left side.

Scott approached the man almost casually and made a quick pst sound before he smashed the guys skull in and shot him in the head.

Again tried not to gag.

My brother was murder machine. Cold and skillful.

He leaned out the window to check the rest of the area and suddenly his head lurched all the way back and he felt to the floor with sickening thud.

My mouth fell open and I nearly fell to the floor.

I rushed over to my brother as quietly as I could crouching so that whoever shot him wouldn’t shoot me too. But when I got him I saw that there was a hole in his forehead that obviously went through is skull and out the back.

A silent rifle.

I radioed my Captain and explained to him what happened.

“Christ- have you people ever heard of duck and cover?”

“JUST SEND US SOME FUCKING HELP!” I couldn’t yell but my voice cracked when I said that.

He said he was sending help right away.

Three other men were shot down by the same silent rifle. There were only four when they made it to the top floor. They froze when they saw who it was that I was holding in my arms.

Private Kennedy was the one that shot down the rifler and called in a pick up for us.

I thanked him and he nodded. I saw the pity in his eyes, I knew it was in every single one of heir eyes so I didn’t look at either one of them.

I let them carry my brother out in a body bag and place it in the helicopter.

I had taken his scarf before they got to us. I dabbed at the tendrils of blood that glided down his wound. I put it in my pocket it and walked away with my brothers.

I had no more kin. But I still had my brothers.

~

I found Scott’s grave under a young elk tree. It read only:

RIP

Scott K. McCabee

Honored war hero

KIA, Vietnam, 1971

My parents must not have gone to his funeral to arrange for the words to be put on his stone.

I sigh and place the scarf in front of his stone not unlike I did with Travis’s except I didn’t say the prayer.

Instead I say “I told you so” and pat his grave soil. “Pa would’ve been proud though, right?”

I laugh bitterly and walk back to Dellie.

The stars are out thought it’s not quite dark yet. A gentle breeze is gliding through the air, kissing my cheeks and flailing my beard. I spread my arms and embrace the wind letting tears fall free from their cage.

I have done it.

After forty years I have finally come to my brothers’ graves.

And survived. Just like I survived when I was in there.

I hop inside my trunk and make my way back home feeling content and happy. I felt joy that I thought I could only feel when my sons were born.

When I finally reach home it is Wednesday afternoon and my son, Thameson, is sitting on the porch with a letter in his hands.

I get out of my truck and walk over to him. He gets up by stays where he is.

“This came for you yesterday,” he says, “says its from a Mrs. Talia McCabee. That’s Granma’s name, right?”

I gently take the letter from his hands.

I wonder why she hadn’t just called or emailed.

Just like the old fashioned hag I knew before. Ninety-three years old and still doesn’t want to use a computer.

I shake my head.

“Yep… that would be her.”

“You want me to read it?”

“No, I don’t mind,” I say, “who knows it might be an apology.”

Thameson feels the bitterness in my tone and scrunches up his face.

“How did it go?” he asks instead.

I smile.

“I feel better for going, at ease in a way. Content. Happy.”

He places his hand gently on my shoulder.

So much like Travis is he.

He smiles at me.

“You did an amazing thing,” he says, “I’m proud of you and so is everyone else. They are out getting you a congratulations cake.”

We laugh at this and shake our heads.

“Really? That wasn’t supposed to be a secret now was it?”

He blushes and shrugs.

I shake my head and let out a short laugh.

“Go ahead and unload my bag, I want to read this.”

“Sure.” he says and gives me a quick hug.

I sit on the step and open the letter.

Its script is written in delicate curly hand but fairly large print all the same.

This was definitely hand written by my mother.

Dear…James,

I know it has been a long long time since we’ve spoken and I wouldn’t blame you if you decided to ball up this letter and burn it but I have to tell you. It’s only right and you deserve to know. Your father passed away a few days ago. Died in his sleep. I woke with a dead man in my bed, James. Do you know how scary that is?

Anyway, I’m writing to let you know there’s going to be a service for him this weekend 10 o’clock on the dot. I would love to see those kids of yours. Though I’m sure they are practically grown men by now. I know you must think I’m an awful woman and I don’t blame you in the least but please come to the service. I need you there. I need the family.

I know it was wrong for us to treat you the way we did and I know these sound like empty words to you but I truly do mean it. I am so sorry!

I hate that your father’s death brought me to writing this so so much. I know I wouldn’t even try to get in touch with you if he were still here now (well at least she’s honest) but I need you hear with me. I don’t want to be alone.

Please think about it.

With all my love

Mama

I ball up the piece of paper and toss it to the side. Not out of hate but just because. I wondered if Pa would’ve reached out to me like she had if she had been the one to die instead.

Probably not but a guy can dream.

I laugh under my breath and shake my head. Thameson is on his way up the walkway with my bag and my keys.

“What’s it say?” he asks.

I smile at him.

“You wanna meet your Granma?”

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