by DB Rhys
IMAGINE ME, moving around a cramped apartment, on the mend. I look like an old man, but I’m not. I feel like it’s been centuries, it hasn’t been, but it feels like it has. Depending on the time of day, if you were to come over unannounced, you would think I was a crazy old coot who shuffles about mumbling to himself. You wouldn’t be wrong, that’s what centuries feel like. It’s what being on the mend looks like. A grunting, foot sliding, gassy, hunched over empty shell.
You’ve seen it before, a cartridge ejected, falling, tumbling to the ground before spinning around in circles. Slow-motion concentric circles. That’s me. Lead spent, powder burnt. A mechanism of war turned mothballed warrior. Like a samurai with no masters. Left wandering the landscape, a rogue. No missions to brief, armies to train. Stuck, in a holding pattern, while the runway crew clear the strip of unexploded mortar rounds and double stacked landmines. Waiting, like always, on the word.
I can’t have pets in my apartment. Which is decidedly a good thing since I can’t take care of myself, not really, not anymore. I don’t have any friends who stop by. But that’s my fault, I don’t like anybody I’m not related to. And who wants company really, when you’re on the mend? Hunched over, drooling, staring off into nowhere-in-particular-land, forgetting for the moment that breathing in is a requirement. At the last possible second, your body remembers and it brings you back, but just for a second. Then nowhere-in-particular-land pulls you in again.
I miss people. I don’t like them as a rule but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss the smile of a pretty girl. Especially the one who takes my money at the drive-thru and gives me smelly bags full of high-saturated-fats and triple-daily-allowance-calories. I don’t speak to her. Not even for one of those little condiment packets. But she still smiles at me every time I pull up to the window. She’ll never know how I feel though. Not at the drive-thru. Not on the mend.
Have you ever played the dating game, What’s That Couple’s Story? You know, when you’re out on a date with, your date. Silly moments between appetizer and entrée, and entrée and desserts and check. You spy, you and your date both spy, on another couple on a date. And make up who they are and what they’re talking about, where they’re from and where they’re going after dinner. It’s stupid I know. But somehow, even though we can agree it’s stupid, everyone I know does it. And guess what, even though it’s stupid and we all agree it’s stupid, every time, it’s still fun to pretend. I haven’t been on a date since we flew into that holding pattern circling the airport.
That couple, the other couple, they’re on the run. I know it’s odd that a couple on the run would find time for a date, but even a couple on the run, needs to keep the romance alive. And everybody has to eat, we all have that in common, even on the run, romantic or not.
He used to be a man, highly skilled and trained from only the best places, used to getting his way, until he didn’t anymore, after they broke him. She was a poster child. Big posters. Billboard sized. Hard to hide on the run, with your face out there in the big open skyline like that, in plain sight, as a poster child—for everyone to see.
The militant faction of the NAACP is after her. They want their membership card back, or higher dues, hard to tell for sure which they want more. He’s white. He’s not white white, but he’s white and she’s an uncle Tom. But she’s a she and not an uncle, and her names not Tom. And the klan, those skinheads, they’re fighting mad too. She’s black. She’s not black black, but she’s black enough and he’s not a racist.
I’m sure their stories about me are of the crazy guy in the corner booth who huffed too much gasoline and fried his brain. But they don’t know what centuries make on the mend look like. And even a crazy guy, even if he did huff gasoline and fry his brain, needs to eat, date or no date, romantic spy or not.
I don’t wear a trench coat, maybe I should, but it’s already summer and that’s just nuts. I like my shorts, they match my headband and the bracelet the nice lady gave me from behind the desk. My shoes don’t match my shirt, but they’re both white, one a little less so than the other. But maybe someone should still call the militant arm of the NAACP anyway and lodge a complaint, for them both being kind of white.
They let you keep your own clothes here, which is either good or bad depending on how clean they are. Some people aren’t very clean. But they don’t want you to say anything about that, not here, not anymore, not after the last incident. “Some people can’t help it.” That’s what they said. That, and “some people don’t care, not anymore,” not here. But they don’t want you to say anything about that either.
The drive-thru girl, the one who smiles at me holding my smelly sack, she’s not a drive-thru girl. She’s the cafeteria lady and she wraps Jell-O in biodegradable clear plastic sheets so we don’t mess up our clothes, our own clothes, the ones they let us keep here. You don’t taste anything, not right away, not like normal. You have to wait about thirty minutes and burp, or maybe bring it back up, but just a little or else you’re messing up your clothes.
To me she’s a perfect five foot six and one hundred twenty pounds. She’s got naturally blonde beautiful hair and a soft tan that shows off her gleaming whites and crystal blue eyes. I’d say a B-cup, maybe a C. More like a B+, if they make that. That’s how she looks to me. Even though I know she’s not that girl. She’s the cafeteria lady. The typical, sorry to have to say but true, short, old, plump butted, whiskered chin cafeteria lady.
Can you imagine what the blonde bombshell would look like with the cafeteria ladies whiskers? Long enough to braid and put in green beads in that dangle. Five foot six inches one hundred twenty pound blonde bombshell goddess, with B+ boobs and a bleached goatee beard, wearing a stupid looking hair net.
The blonde bombshell is really Eve. I’ve known her forever, that’s how she makes me feel. I see her everyday. Anywhere I am, she’s there too. Two peas you might say. Soul-mates. I don’t remember when exactly we met the first time. But man did she know how to leave an impression. A doctor who fancied himself a woman’s-man and thought he knew a little something about women, told me she wasn’t really there, not anymore.
“Different planes you two,” that’s what he said, “you know that, right?”
I told him, “I’m not nuts.”
“I just meant, all things change, ” he said, “you’re paranoid.”
“Is it paranoia if it’s true.” I said.
I don’t like when sheets wrinkle up and you have to lie on them, on the creases. The creases cut into the skin, eventually, if you lie on them long enough. Eve used to smooth them out for me. She would hum a little song to herself, I never knew what it was called. But she would hum, and run her hands down the long length of the mattress until everything felt like it was just perfect.
“She was just twenty-six.” I said.
“She’ll always be twenty-six.”
I came to during one of my operations. There was Eve telling me everything was,
“—going to be just fine.” In the recovery-ward she looked after me too, never leaving my side, not that I can ever remember. When my eyes opened, she was there.
She was a nurse in 2006, stationed at Balad, Iraq. It was one of those bigger places where the soldiers all wore clean uniforms and played volleyball in the sand. I had been off fighting a real war, until a bright light changed that. First thing I saw when the eyelids opened was an angel. I thought I was dead, and the angel’s name was Eve. That’s what I remember about Eve, she was an angel, my angel, and everything was going to be just fine.
The cutters cut and sewed the right things and got me put back together enough to fly out they said. And Eve was going with me, to take care of me. That’s what I remember they said, about Eve, she was going to take care of me, because that’s what angels do.
“Just in case,” they said, “until you get to Landstuhl, two helicopter rides and a plane.”
“Because frankly,” they said, “you got a long way to go.”
I had a dog when I was a kid and no kidding his name was Petey. A little dog about twenty pounds, black and white and dumb all over. I couldn’t teach that dog anything. He never brought the ball back. He wouldn’t sit. And every morning when all of the creatures would wake for the day, he would pee on the electric fence separating the cows from the gravel road. I didn’t have a rooster. I had a Petey, who peed on an electric fence every morning, apparently for kicks.
“Did you ever want to pee on the fence?” The shrink said.
“That’s retarded,” I told him.
The noise that dog made after his little stream hit the wire would wake a fossil. I heard Eve make that sound, once, when the second helicopter didn’t make it to the plane. I was buckled in. Strapped down and wrapped up in more layers than a kid playing out in the snow. They couldn’t have done anything else to me, those bright light makers, so they took my angel, my Eve. And Eve was supposed to be taking care of me. That’s what they said. That’s why she was here, but I was thinking about Petey.
I was told, later, it was a rocket to the tail-rotor. A direct hard hit. Smoke and dust kicking up a brown-out on the inside. Small flames burning from the panels of electronic buttons and switches. A bundle of wires sparking up right against Eve’s head. Her pinned, unable to move, the way you can’t move once electricity gets its bite into you. Her eyes wide open, watching over me. Taking care of me, because that’s why she was here. That’s what I remember about the crash: Eve’s eyes, watching me.
I woke up in Germany some time later and I thought I knew what had happened. But to be honest, the days have never separated themselves and it felt like I was an alien abduction story. Anal probes and bright lights and beeping sounds, weightless. Because that’s how you feel when you’re on your back, being wheeled around, just lying there, weightless, alien abduction or not.
Eight months and fourteen surgeries later I get a shrink forced down my throat who thinks saying things out loud makes them go away—they won’t, not ever, not for me, not here. But I get to keep my own clothes. That’s what they say, so it’s more homey and less freak show.
“What’s she wearing when you see her, her uniform?” The shrink says.
“White. Like an angel, with a burn mark right here, just on the side by her temple. Some blood over her eye, drips down by her mouth.”
“You see blood,” he says, “what does she see?”
“She can’t talk to me, not anymore, not after that.”
An old guy taught me to play chess, one of those quiet Mississippi types. He never ever said a word. He would just frown when I did something I wasn’t supposed to do and spit in a metal coffee can when I did it right. Chess is a quiet man’s game. There’s a lot you can say about it. The horses are drunk and can’t ride in a straight line. Kings are wimps. We’re all pawns to be sacrificed—whatever.
Here in nowhere-in-particular-land none of that matters, no one rides straight. The red pills in the morning, the white ones for lunch, the blue ones, they all put you to sleep. If you’re one of those lucky people who can still sleep. Makes you being alone easier, for somebody, but they never say who.
My bracelet is scratchy; it keeps me up at night. It’s orange and doesn’t match anything I own, except my headband and shorts. I think they do it on purpose. Makes you stand out. There’s only ten of us here, so it makes it easier to tell who belongs from those just visiting, this messed up freak show of ghouls. No one visits though. That’s my fault, like I said before because I don’t like anyone I’m not related to. And even then, it’s close to iffy.
“You liked Eve.”
“I will always like Eve.”
“Even when she, shuffles in here?” Dr. Shrink asks.
That dog I had, the one named Petey, the one who wouldn’t bring the ball back, the one who didn’t sit and who peed on the electric fence for fun, he walked funny. I guess I would have too, hunched over, on the mend. He walked like his front half and his back half didn’t belong together. And maybe they didn’t, because of the electric fence, but he didn’t seem to mind. Maybe he was just a damn stupid dog. But Petey, what a dog, damn stupid or not.
“She still smooths out the sheets.” I say.
“She’s supposed to take care of you. That’s what they told you. I think … the last thing she ever thought about, was you.”
They don’t make you feel bad, not here, not in nowhere-in-particular-land, not on purpose, not with the red pills, the white ones. The blue pills before bed don’t make you feel great, but if you can sleep, if your one of those people who can, then it’s not so bad. Mostly there’s just the drooling, sitting in a plastic chair, waiting for your body to remember to breathe in again. But that’s what centuries feel like. It’s what being on the mend looks like, with your own clothes so it’s more home, for someone, but they never say who, we’re not supposed to talk about that, this freak show.
“You know, to her, it’s always going to be yesterday? It’s eight months, fourteen surgeries ago, everyday.”
They don’t make you feel bad, not here, not on purpose, not in nowhere-in-particular-land. This is what I remember they told me, about the red, white and blue: it won’t cost you anything.
DB Rhys is a retired U.S. Army Combat Medic who deployed to Iraq in 2005, Kuwait in 2007, Afghanistan in 2008, 2010 and 2013. All with the 101st Airborne Division.
DB writes mainly 1st person fiction.
He has one eBook available on Amazon and now spends his time in the Philippines volunteering his medical knowledge for charity groups.