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Line of Sight

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: January 27, 2019

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Submitted: January 27, 2019

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“Then came the war, and I went with the rest
To learn my lessons, with death as a guest...
The days and nights that I spent overseas,
The bombing of cities, of people, of trees...
...that Hell...”
~Gertrude Tooley Buckingham

 

Waves caressed the coastline where the lone soldier strolled, tossing pebbles into the surf. Fiddler crabs scuttled back and forth as the lazy tide encroached and receded on the beach, leaving shells, starfish, and seaweed scattered in its wake. Jellyfish dotted the sand with their gelatinous bodies. Tidepools captured a variety of miniature life forms: translucent baby squid, orange shrimp, and tiny white crabs. A small, dilapidated dock stretched fifteen feet into the water, a place for fishermen to tie their sampans. The bay appeared smooth and tranquil, occasional turbulence roiled in the water farther out. The heat leaned on him in his dark fatigues, the salinated water coated his boots in a white brine. The air carried the weight of the substantial humidity and bore down on him. His army-issued sunglasses did little to thwart the blinding glare of the sun.

The private, soaked in his own sweat, watched for anything unusual during his patrol: an out-of-place fishing boat, a villager hurrying away down the sand, a disruption in the tideline. To each, he gave more attention, then moved on. As he walked, he noticed how the cerulean blue sky contrasted with the midnight-blue sea. He observed a couple small black dots materialize above the horizon: seagulls, albatross or perhaps herons. He would be able to identify them shortly, as they appeared to be headed toward the shoreline. Puffy white clouds floated aimlessly overhead, no hope of rain today to cool him.

Against orders, he removed his helmet and set it down next to his rifle on the long, broad, piece of gray driftwood that had washed ashore days ago. Except for the heat and lack of even the slightest breeze, it was a peaceful, beautiful day. He smiled.

The young man’s thoughts drifted to his home and family. He struggled with a decision about whether to propose in a letter to his sweetheart back home or wait until he’d returned from his tour of duty. He worried that his having been gone the better part of a year, she may have found another, nearer, more attentive and available. He still received sporadic mail from her saying she wished he were home, but the tone, if not the content, seemed to have changed. Possibly, he thought, it was his imagination and fear that was making him suspicious.

He attempted, without success, to pull up her face from memory. He could remember easily enough how they first met and he closed his eyes, reliving the moment with pleasure. She’d been a waitress at the local café.  He, a simple mechanic, worked nearby. He spent his breaks and lunch there every day so he could watch her. She was beautiful, in an understated way, and she made him laugh. Why couldn’t he recall her face?

During his solitary duty watches, he had plenty of time to envision any manner of scenarios. Was she seeing someone else while he was overseas? Was she faithful? Was she mocking him with her letters, or was she genuinely heartsick as she’d claimed? He knew he longed for her with all his being but continued to wonder if she missed him as much.

When he’d first arrived in country,’ as they called joining the U.S. war machine stationed in South Vietnam, he’d received several letters and packages from family, friends, and well-wishers every week. Lately, if his captain gave him one piece of mail a month, he was grateful. His friends in the states had other responsibilities and concerns. No one had time to write letters these days. It seemed to him, people back home didn’t realize how long the days and particularly the nights lasted here. He felt forgotten, even by his family.

Although he hadn’t seen any action since his arrival, his job was to be alert at all times. He did his best to comply, but the monotony often outweighed the anticipation. He patrolled the same stretch of beach every day, watching the water, watching the sky, watching the people. Nothing ever happened.

The metal shelters, or ‘hootches,’ where the soldiers lived, were stifling during the day and simply darker at night. One morning he woke to find a huge brown rat standing on his chest, looking down at him while he slept. Flustered, he’d knocked the rat off, then shot it, careless of anyone else in the vicinity. He’d been reprimanded by his sergeant for that stunt and ordered to work latrine duty for a week. The private decided he’d happily endure his punishment again, if need be, to avoid the possibility of being bitten by a filthy rat.

Sitting down on the driftwood’s edge, he took a long look around his little corner of the world. Not seeing anyone or anything of interest, he decided he’d write a letter to his parents and let them know he was doing well but was bored. He knew they’d prefer his boredom to his being wounded or killed. Truth be told, so did he.

Dear Mom and Dad,

I’m sorry I haven’t written in a while. The mail is pretty irregular here, so maybe that’s why I haven’t received anything from you recently? Not to worry, I know you’re busy with work and the house repairs you mentioned in your last letter. It’s just monotonous here. I’m not sure why I’m needed where nothing goes on. I patrol the beach in a small cove, waiting for something to happen, but not sure what. I watch the fishing boats out in the bay during the morning, and I look for sea life that has washed ashore, hoping for anything unusual.

Not sure if I told you about our unfriendly neighborhood sniper. Every evening, as we get ready to eat dinner, he decides to start shooting. No one has been injured by him, but we haven’t managed to hurt him either. At first, it was exciting to have an actual enemy in our midst, but now it seems to be a game. He torments us like a buzzing gnat. You swat at it but don’t really care if you hit it or not. After twenty minutes of contained chaos, we go back to our meal.

I’ve been thinking about proposing to my girl and would like your advice. Should I wait until I come home or ask her in a letter? I want her to know how much I love her, so she doesn’t think I’ve forgotten her. But I’m worried she won’t think it’s romantic enough asking her to marry me in a letter. What do you think? I’d appreciate your opinion.

The country is so beautiful here: lush foliage, mountains in the distance, bright blue and aqua seas. It’s a shame there’s a war going on. Of course, where I’m stationed is where other soldiers come for their R&R, so no worries, I’m nice and safe here.

My tour is done in six weeks, and I can’t wait to see everyone. I wanted to ask your thoughts on another matter, even more important than the proposal I mentioned. I know I’m young, but I feel it’s urgent to request this from you now. I’ve been…

******************

Palm fronds obscured the beach while sand piled high in random patterns. Crabs’ legs, fish heads and the burst remnants of all previously living things in the cove lined the shore. Fallen trees had collapsed the small dock, leaving only pylons standing. Waves collided into each other, then smashed into the seashore, obscuring the coastline and dragging the leavings back into a watery grave. Dark clouds concealed the previously clear skies as debris continued to rain down in torrents toward the ravaged earth. Floating momentarily on the water’s surface, the unfinished letter, with its unfulfilled dreams, sank into the murky depths.

It was five minutes after the bomb.



© Copyright 2019 C Stark. All rights reserved.

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