Flop Sweat

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
A tale of indecision and incompetence that leads one home.

Submitted: August 30, 2014

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Submitted: August 30, 2014

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Flop Sweat

 

 

At the rattle of arms he flops.

His blouse sponges fetid muck as he clenches to hold his piss, Jesus how’d they hassle him if he wet his pants.

To his mind this is the most horrific of events.

Prone, trembling, he sweats in his ineptness as he waits.

Unknown to him, a volley of metal has slain the remainder of his squad, leaving him utterly alone. As he lies in the filth, his mind wanders to seven days prior when he was still in the world.

* * *

Amidst the carnival of troops massing, plump Juanita of liquid eye bids him farewell.

“Honey,” she whimpers, cleaving to his chest with her right hand on his cheek and her left at the nape of his neck. “Promise me you’ll come back to me.”

He senses rather than feels her nails.

“All I want is for you to come back to me, please?” 

Twice her eyelids shutter. A tear tumbles down her cheek. As his hands rest upon her shoulders, the muscles beneath judder.

With a deft weightlessness, he moves his palm over her raven hair, akin to silk. Her eyes beam from her uplifted face. His hand slips down her back and the air is perfumed with a vanilla whiff.

Crowned she is with swollen, dark lips, and in her graceful nose and elongated chin, he perceives an inheritance. He conjures a vignette populated by a Castilian conquistador and a Mayan maiden, the mingling of whom creates the exquisiteness of her line.

Her tears evoke her fair nature initiating his reciprocal welling up. This he fights off by tensing his fists. “Inamorata, I will come back, we will have our life, I promise.”

Machismo on display for his fellow Marines compels him to pull away from her and lift his duffle bag. He hefts it to his shoulder and backs away.

She runs towards him, throws her arms about his neck and kisses him intensely on the lips. This desperate act is her futile attempt to force him to acknowledge her unquenchable thirst for him.

Juanita withdraws, enabling her to see his face in full, “I love you, you are my life, please come home, fill my belly with babies.”

“I will Juanita, I will,” he says. The cause of her desire is a mystery to him, but he loves her all the more for it.

He harbors a deep appreciation of her expressions although they expose him to mortification should his fellow Marines become aware of the sweet nothings murmured one to the other. So he’s cautious, whispering childlike, absorbed in his timidity, and seeking to avoid embarrassment as his comrades are within earshot.

Still reversing he conveys to her she has not touched him. She surrenders. Her arms release him and fall even as his anemic assertion is as a balm to her ears, “I love you too, Little One.”

With that the formation absorbs him.

* * *

Two days later found him standing at attention honoring the patriotic dead, his predecessors in country.

He watched as they were loaded into the plane that he and his compatriots so recently vacated for their flight back to the world.

There to be immersed in their loved ones’ blubbering.

* * *

The next day he reports to the gunny sergeant.

He stands at rigid attention while the gunny’s nose is positioned six inches from his own.

The gunny points at Diluva, who has been ordered to stand with his back to the pair with his upper torso bent forward and away. This position provides him with an unobstructed view of Diluva’s ass, and he knows full well that if he looks any way other than eyes front while at attention he will invoke the ire of the gunny.

The gunny snarls, “Look at Diluva’s ass, keep your eye on it, when Diluva pisses, you piss, when Diluva shits, you shit, when Diluva eats, you eat!”

Slightly the sergeant’s head turns towards Diluva but with eyes still fixed upon him. “Diluva, don’t do anything stupid and get killed. I don’t want this candy ass to get hurt. Get with it.”

 * * *

A patrol of nine went out the next day. He kept his eyes glued to Diluva’s ass. They carried M-16s, a grenade launcher and an M-60 machine gun. One fella had a .45 pistol. A truck conveyed them out of Chu Lai to the jump off.

What scuttlebutt did he hear? They are to be in the grass for several days.

 * * *

They amble along seemingly disorganized. However, he notices they preserve an interval, maintaining exactly the same order, with scouts out to the front, sides and rear.

There is a strict discipline to their shambling.

* * *

Deep in the shit on the third day, they get hit.

* * *

Foul sludge cakes his face. Grenade bursts ring in his ears. In his nose, the jungle’s musty earthiness is overpowered by the reek of blood, ripped muscle, broken bone, tattered sinew, exposed intestine, the strident tinge of burnt nitro, and the stench of piss and excrement.

Sweat courses from his temples and soaks his blouse. Flies similar to the bluebottles back home invade his nose and eyes. He snorts to expel them.

A throttlehold on his sixteen squeezes the blood from his hands, paling them. With knees pulled up to his chest, his breath will not catch. He gasps in auto response. A dry tongue licks at his mouth cotton. Fear forestalls an unclenching of his fists, preventing him from grabbing a canteen to relieve his dry mouth.

The sergeant’s admonition to maintain sight of Diluva’s ass prompts a thought: I should get a line o’ sight on Diluva. 

Minutes pass and fear petrifies him, erasing from his mind what he has been taught.

Fists beat his head. He pounds his forehead in a vain attempt to make his mind recall the teachings.

(What he fails to remember is that the V.C., having learned that after an ambush the Americans will rain napalm down on the offending troops, quickly melt away. Later, snipers will clean as necessary. He might remember if the napalm came but it did not.)

The terror of his situation paralyzes him. In desperation, he wills enough courage to raise his head to locate Diluva.

His field of vision is obscured by a corpse lying just in front of him.

Reluctant to reposition, he compensates by listening intently. The bugs buzz, the birds sing, and the monkeys howl but there is no sweet sound of English. He can hear the breeze through the trees.  Frantically he bears down to listen for his companions’ voices.

Fear constricts his abdomen and thrusts him back into his refuge.  The cramps force him into a ball, compelling him to release his weapon.

All the while the refrain, this is my rifle, there are many like it, but this one is mine. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life, runs through his memory.

The spasms in his midriff induce an ache. He lies back in the hopes of its easing. His contracting stomach radiates an excruciating pain, primal in its potency.

 * * *

Closing his eyes, he is transported to an illusionary world. He frets over the kind of house he will be able to buy for Juanita. The basics include a cape cod with louvered shutters, a fireplace and a real dining room. The front door is painted Gettysburg barn red.

* * *

Slumping back against the edge of his hollow, he thinks of the myriad of grisly sights to which he potentially will bear witness.

Will he keep these experiences from Juanita? Will he fold them into the plethora of secrets withheld for the protection of their relationship, for the protection of their sensibilities, for the protection of their love? Will she not do the same? Will these hidden enigmas protect them or will they putrefy, corrupting their love?

 * * *

His hand goes up to assure himself his helmet is in place. Cogently, he thinks to wring out his bandanna even as he realizes the futility of the act.

Twisting around, he reaches for his canteen. He takes a swig, then spits out the water along with the accumulation of dried saliva caking his tongue and the insides of his cheeks.

Swallowing a draught, he places the canteen where it will be handier. With simple delight, he runs his moist tongue around the inside of his mouth, smiling at the pleasure. The humidity of the forest floor steeps all, exciting in him a perception that the air is water, fine mist. But it’s a vapor that prevents him from cooling. Grogginess grips him.

He wonders that people choose to inhabit such a hellish land. Compared to his world, this bug infested, sweltering stink hole is like something Hollywood types would dream up for a horror movie.

Occasionally, his fear boils up. When it overwhelms him he fades, loses control of his faculties. Sweat soaks his utilities under his body armor and his lungs fail to process his breath. He sits with his back towards the eviscerated man.

At this remove he is able to calm himself with the soothing view of the green, brown, and yellow foliage backlit by shafts of sunlight.

Myriad animal sounds form a backdrop symphony.  He waves the flies and no-see-ums from his face. With revulsion he begins to ponder leeches.

* * *

Imagining, sitting on a garden bench as he awaits Juanita.

* * *

He thinks there should be a sufficient back yard so the children would have a place to play. He wants a workshop in the garage. He does not find it pleasant to work in a basement. There had better be a room for Juanita to do her hobbies and crafts.

* * *

In short order the multitude of agonies begin to tear at his already-stressed nerves, fraying them further. He wonders how much of this he will be able to endure before he gives over to lunacy. 

* * *

Leaning back on the edge of his pit, blowing, with thoughts of how he should build a play set for the kids, he contemplates metal, and then thinks that wood will be best.

He considers how to design the platform. The slide will have to be metal. A rope to climb is required, as well as a ladder. He must keep a pirate’s ship rigging in mind.

* * *

Subconsciously, he hazards the remainder of the patrol is dead but as yet he cannot or will not admit it. He continues to focus on finding Diluva so that he can keep an eye on him and be safe.

* * *

He will probably have to rebuild the garage. Garages of those older homes are too small for the kind of workshop he has in mind.

 * * *

Lying back, looking up at the millions of stars in the blackening sky, he is unable to recall the heavens thus arrayed in the world.

He reminisces of evenings when he and Juanita having finished dinner would lie on a lawn by a church or in a park. They would lie on their backs on a blanket, looking up at the stars and holding hands. Maybe she would have her leg across his.

She would say something like, “Aren’t the stars beautiful, Honey? Aren’t those astronauts lucky to be able to go up into space? Wouldn’t it be great if before we die we might be able to take a ride in space?”

“Yes, Little One it would,” he’d mutter, conscious of the danger involved in such an activity and not quite sure he would care to risk his life for the sake of a sky lark. His style is more a drive in the country on a Sunday afternoon, maybe a stop at a farmer’s market or an ice cream stand.

He fantasizes about how Juanita will give him instructions. “You have to paint the basement with water sealant paint so it will not be damp down there,” Juanita says as she explores the house discovering all that needs doing, “and the floor too, you have to paint the floor with epoxy to give it a nice finish.”

“Yes Sweetie, that is on my to-do list.”

“Well, Honey, I want it done before they bring the washer and dryer. Once they’re installed I don’t want to have to uninstall them and then reinstall them again.”

“Yes, I understand,” he’d tell her.  She really doesn’t know what is involved in installing and uninstalling but from somewhere she has gotten the idea that it is not the thing to do.

* * *

A surge of dread immobilizes him. Previously his fright focused on his not knowing what the enemy might do to him. Now he fears that he will have to rely on himself alone.

Sweat bursts from his pores. In short order, his face and greens are soaked afresh.

Laying his head on the putrid earth, he breathes the odor without recognition, his mind not functioning.

The craving to slide away into oblivious sleep blankets him.

Panic induces panting. Fright amplifies his thinking that Charlie can hear him. He forces himself to belay his gasping. The use of seasoned Marine terminology emboldens him and he lies quietly.

Then realizes if they can hear him, he can hear them. Listening with extreme focus to the slightest sound, he searches for their presence.

* * *

The thought occurs to him that there must be a talker on the other end of the radio waiting for his patrol to check in. When they don’t, someone will be sent to find out what happened.  If he waits, they will show up and find him.

Of course they will have to wait until it is light to make such a foray but surely they will do it in the morning.

It’ll be best if he just stays right here and waits for them to come.

* * *

The idea that a superior power exists and could rescue him morphs into the idea that God will attain his relief. Given his lifelong aversion to religious beliefs, he smirks at the thought.

It seems nonsensical to trust in some magical sky being who possesses the power to alleviate all suffering but withholds His hand because He wants man to exercise free will when in fact many of the calamities that accost the human race are well beyond any remedy to be obtained by the exercise of adherence to His word.

He thinks about what a laugh the mythical God will have, observing him repudiating his belief system because he finds himself in a circumstance from which deliverance does not appear eminent.

No, he will not spit on his life to assuage his fear.

* * *

Nervous exhaustion has got the better of him. Falling into reverie he hears Juanita saying, “We need a house with a bedroom for us, a nursery and a guest bedroom. Anything smaller just won’t do.”

“Yes dear, I believe that is doable,” he answers, thinking of the money he can save from the extra combat pay.

“I like your idea of a dedicated dining room. It will give the place a sense of elegance,” she says as she smiles and runs her hand over his hair.

* * *

Released from his reverie he returns to reality and surprisingly, he senses he can feel the weight of her ample breasts. The authenticity of the simulated realism startles him.

Juanita complains about her weight occasionally but she knows he likes an extra bit of meat just fine. She feels really good to him–her full ass, the soft feel of her all over. He appreciates the heft of her.

* * *

“We are going to need a patio out back.”

“Yes, Little One.” Here is something he has no idea how to do. The patio will require a self-help book from the library or maybe Home Depot.

Juanita’s interest in the house and conformity of their thinking pleases him. It is in this mode that he sees Juanita in the most favorable light, her naked intelligence shining.

There is about her none of the cuteness of women who propagate coquettishness. Nor is there anything of those who don with dark intent a cloak of false skittishness and precious manner.

Juanita walks boldly in her aptitude and pluck. She is a woman of substantial value who will brook no depreciation. He is wonderfully proud of her.

* * *

Roused by what he does not know, he looks out from his lair, peering into the black ink without effect.

He listens, straining to separate the sounds and identify one that will indicate men as opposed to the chorus that indicates animals.

His nostrils register the decomposing compost.

The ether carrying its load of humidity adds weight to the atmosphere and suffocates him. It makes him gather his breath as though the air lacks sufficient oxygen to satisfy his lungs.

* * *

Juanita shares his comprehension that they will have to start small and work their way up. The days of privation will prove to be the incubator of their life stories, anecdotes for future lunches, dinners, parties: a treasure-trove of memories.

He envisions time to enjoy the ecstasy of the shared piece of sweet, succulent cake or chocolate breakfast donuts, or the once-a-month steak dinner with cocktails followed by the slow walk home from the bakery or the steakhouse, hand in hand, her head on his shoulder.

Sometimes his arm is around her neck as she giggles about piddling matters, filler for the fundamental joy of one another’s company. They bathe in the warmth of their ever-evolving love.

* * *

Her practicality lends itself to purchasing the first round of furnishings for the house at flea markets, tag sales and auctions.

They go together. “Look Honey,” she says, pointing to a three cornered stand with carved legs, suitable for a spot at the end of the couch towards the big window. “Wouldn’t that be perfect?”

“Yes, Sweetie, that would be great at the end of the couch. Let’s see how much the man wants.”

He turns to the man. “How much do you want for the triangular stand?”

“You have a good eye. That is a fine piece. It works in a number of places. I don’t know? I have twenty-five in it, so I would have to have fifty.”

They shoot a shocked look to one another. “Well, Juanita, let’s keep shopping.”

He touches the top of the stand with his fingertips, gazing wistfully at it, and then looks back to Juanita.

Juanita, hesitant to go, lingers by the stand. “Okay, Honey,” she concedes.

The gentleman steeped in the art of negotiations is impressed by this display. He wonders whether they rehearsed this drama or if they have been antiquing so long that this salacious routine evolved organically. The possibility it is sincere does not enter his mind. In deference to their skills he says, “Make me an offer.”

Juanita, with bloodhound face, looks at the man, “Oh dear, we couldn’t do more than twenty five.”

Now the man is truly intrigued. Since these two seemingly have no scruples. Making a bid for what he told them he had in it. As much as calling him a liar. “You seem like a nice couple, just starting out, so I guess I can do thirty.”

Juanita jumps forward extending her hand and yelps, “Deal!” She grasps the man’s hand before he can rescind the offer.

The man is paid and they dance away with the piece, hearts brimming with joyous avarice.

* * *

They place the piece at the end of the couch. “Isn’t it grand, Honey? I polished it up and it looks even better than before,” Juanita says as they pause. His arm is about her waist. They admire the piece and indeed the whole room.

Their world is being slowly assembled from the cast offs of their community blended by their imagination. They are appropriately proud of what they are accomplishing.

* * *

He can now feel the thumping of his heart, thinking at times he can actually hear it. Believing the tension of the night is beginning to unravel his psyche, he considers what he might do to calm himself.

He doesn’t even know which way is out. Instinct suggests south, but which way is south?

He must haul himself out amongst the dead and search about in their blood sodden clothing for a compass. The thought disgusts him.

Picturing the congealed blood resembling the lubricant pools on the floor under the machine tools at work, he can hardly imagine how it will be now after the passage of several hours.

* * *

Casting about in his mind, he tries to develop another method—he can guide himself by the sun, he can follow a stream—but in the end he knows the compass is best. He must find one.

Pulling himself forward on his belly, he inches along crab-like. He searches the nearest body as carefully as he can. He keeps exposure to the thickening blood to a minimum, and then wipes the gore on the corpse’s clothing.

On the third man he finds a compass. Scurrying back to his crater, on the way he gathers up the M-60, ammo, a sixteen, the grenade launcher and rounds.

In the compass face glow he is able to detect the needle against the rose and determine south.

He considers what he should take with him. Water is a no-brainer. Although the canteens are heavy and will weigh him down, tiring him, they must be borne.

After considerable thought, he decides three canteens will be sufficient. If he runs out, he can risk collecting water from a stream. Any bugs he contracts can be killed by drugs when he reaches the base. 

* * *

His previous thought to stay put and wait for a rescue no longer carries any appeal. The Viet Cong could attack and waste him long before any rescue force arrives.

Now it is clear to him that he must move, even with the chance that he will move right into them. Better than sitting here where they know his exact location and he risks being overrun. If he moves into them he has a chance to fight his way through and evade them.

* * *

Juanita would want him to move. Not one to wait for something to happen, she makes things happen. That is her way.

When they first met, she said, “Hi, my name is Juanita,” as she stood up from her desk chair and offered her hand.

He was so taken. He was a little stunned. Her hair was pulled tightly back into a bun, so that the hair on the sides of her head shone. Her make up brightened her whole face without being overdone. Her dress looked expensive to his untrained eye, with large pleats in the skirt and a fitted bodice. He could not see her shoes. She looked like a model in a magazine.

“Hi,” he answered, extending his hand to grasp hers a little too tightly.

“You have quite a grip,” she smiled.  Her teeth were white and even, her lips dark and smooth, her hair shiny black. Her dress was so crisp and clean he thought he could smell flowers. He had to shake himself from his musing.

“Please take a seat and tell me how may I help you?” She sat and continued to conduct herself in a completely professional fashion, surprising for such a young lady.

His inclination to jest was obliterated by her style and bearing. Thus he was disarmed and off balance.

“I would like to open a checking and savings account.”

“Have you ever had either before?”

“No, this is my first.”

“Do you know what kind of accounts you want?”

“I want a checking and savings account.”

“I understand that.” She smiled again, taking the sting out of her remark. “However, we have several types of each. Have you done any research to understand the benefits of the various types?”

“No, I haven’t done any research. I want just the regular kind of checking and savings accounts.”

“Here, let me explain to you the various plans.”

“No, I don’t want an explanation, just the basic, regular checking and savings account,” he said with the slightest show of touchiness.

Maintaining her grace she responded, “OK, there is the non-interest bearing checking account, where you just keep a minimum of five hundred dollars and there are no fees. If the balance falls below five hundred dollars then there are fees, understand?”

“Yes, I understand,” he said, chastened.

“With the savings account, you keep a minimum balance of two hundred dollars and receive an interest rate of prime minus one, understand?” She tweaked him along with her pleasantness.

“Yes, I understand,” he said, now charmed.

After several minutes of filling out various forms and the issuance of checks and a check holder, the deposit of funds into the two accounts, they rose to say goodbye. “Should you have any questions, here is my business card,” she said.

He couldn’t help noticing her height. Her eyebrows were at his nose level. “I have written my home number on the back of the card in case you want to call,” she said demurely.

He looked down at the card, turned it over, and looked back at Juanita saying, “I am certain I will want to call. Goodbye.”

“I look forward to it. Goodbye.”

He held the card in his fingers inside his pants pocket as he left the bank, confident that his feet never touched the ground.

* * *

He has but to wait until dawn to execute his plan. Settling in, his mind flows to the times they were abed, his arm over her side, his hand nestling her soft, hefty breast.

* * *

Lying in the morning fog, he’s convulsed by a chill, soaked as he is from the sweat and humidity. He wonders that in all this time he has not had to take a shit. Now thinking about it might compel him. He hopes that he will not have to struggle through that mess.

* * *

Waking from a doze, he blinks to clear his eyes, imagining an eerie light suffusing the jungle. Quickly, he realizes that it is not his imagination but the false dawn. The sun is not far off.

* * *

Rising up on an elbow and inventorying his supplies, he racks his brain for any error he will regret once he is in the jungle and beyond redemption.

A ubiquitous increase in light without any source helps him settle in again. He will wait for the source to arise, and then begin.

* * *

He thinks of the jungle, unable to differentiate between this tragedy and the thousands of others that have taken place throughout the night within her bosom.

Thousands of predators have successfully stalked their prey. The quarry keeps a constant vigilance, always at a heightened state of anxiety, ready to bolt at the slightest suggestion of danger. Once aware of the hunter, the hunted’s fear is ineffable. The chase, with its almost inevitable outcome links the prey transmuted to victim in death throes.

How is his case different? How is the jungle to know?

He stabs the ground with his knife, shouting inside his head, I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die.

He grips his left wrist which hand holds the knife with his right hand as tightly as he can. The pressure focuses his emotion brings his ranting to a close. Now the tears come in full flood. His only want is not to piss his pants.

* * *

The creep of time maddens him. An eternity passes until the sliver of sun shines above the trees. Then it broadens, freeing him to go.

But he hesitates, contemplating again the rescue mission that is sure to be sent.

Once in the jungle there will be no way for him to be located. If an accident should befall him, he would lie there while his rescuers might miss him. No, he should stay.

Then Juanita speaks in his mind, “Get going, make it happen, you can’t rely on others. Make your own destiny. I want you back in my arms. I want to have your children, get up, and get going.”

Her voice in his head is so real he almost says, “Yes, Little One.”

With that he drops to his knees and begins to crawl up and over the edge of his refuge. As attuned to his surroundings as any of the other victims who have fallen throughout the forest that night, he hopes Juanita 

***

Du’o’ng lies frozen after the shot. Fifteen minutes pass. His target does not move, nor do any of the other Americans. The site is clean.

Arranging his sniper rifle across his arms, he slithers backwards through the underbrush towards his troop.

He is hopeful of a breakfast of croissants baked by the old lady whose mother had been a pastry chef for the French.

He wonders flittingly what the remnant of the Americans will be. That is the old.

Du’o’ng crawls along. The sweet bouquet of his homeland’s rich earth fills his nostrils.

His thoughts are of his mother sweeping the ground in front of their home with Lanh, his beautiful wife, sitting in the entrance way, her belly round with the baby they eagerly await. That is the new.

The End


© Copyright 2020 jeffrey a paolano. All rights reserved.

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