rounds are cheaper than ravioli

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
this is a story that i had the first page of for years and then entered the story into a contest for sci fi and the rest suddenly came together. it connects nicely to another short story i have, such winds as these. you'll see why when you read it. hope you enjoy.

Submitted: May 31, 2019

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Submitted: May 31, 2019

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Rounds are Cheaper than Ravioli

 

You’re poor. Your father works all day and most nights at gas stations and feed lots. He comes home wreaking of chickens, chicken shit, and dollar five premium unleaded. Sometimes he bounces the truckers at the Go-Go bar on Interstate 151 for some extra cash.

He’s not a bad man, just a man with no luck and going nowhere; not with you and your three younger brothers.

You are thirteen when you mother leaves, so you do the cleaning, you do the cooking, and you get your little brothers off to school. When they misbehave you yell at them, but they don’t listen. You beat them, but still they don’t listen. At school, class is hard. You don’t understand things. You fall asleep in the back, snoring through presidents and basic math.

There comes a bad time when your father doesn’t make it to the supermarket. His breath smells strange, and he takes to bed. The Virginia winter sets in and you and your brothers go hungry. There are holes in your socks; your toes get cold. One Saturday morning, while watching old cartoons of Elmer Fudd chasing Bugs Bunny around with a rifle, you look up at your Granddaddy’s Twenty-Two phaser above the love seat; the love seat with the worn through arm rests revealing yellow foam. You pull the 22. phaser off the wall, and go behind the double wide, your home, the home with no wheels. The home that once had wheels when people in your family were going places. You hold the rifle steady. You’re scared to fire because you only weigh a buck-oh-five dripping wet. You see a squirrel behind a tire, the tire lying on its side with ice and brown leaves inside. You aim in on the squirrel. He freezes. You freeze. The world freezes. Does he know Jesus? You squeeze the trigger and pink mist colors the snow.  The odd whiz of the rifle and puff of air from its ejection port have messed up your hair. You lower the rifle and your spirits rise. You are going to eat tonight. When your father comes home and sees the squirrel, he is proud of you. It means a lot. He skins it and guts it for you. You cook it and soon you hunt for every meal. Rounds are cheaper than ravioli. You hit everything you aim for. Your brothers bring their friends to watch you. You drop high-flying birds from the sky, fast running rabbits on the ground. Mice no longer scurry in your domain but explode in red bursts on trees, leaving behind impressions of their last positions. Older boys lay pennies on the white plastic picnic table, one hundred yards behind your house, in the woods. You hit those too. This older kid, Elijah, shouts out, “Dang! You is a natural!”  

Soon your family talks about you. They speak of you with smiles and your name floats over steaming coffee while people visit and sit in the kitchen. You’re no longer mentioned with a frown drowned down with a shot of whiskey. No longer are you an unfortunate burden to the old man, a statistic waiting to happen. You’re not the product of his accident during his pit stop at a truck stop with some waitress who is now long gone. No longer is your town a rest top on the way from Norfolk to D.C. People come to see you shoot. You are entered in contests and win, all of them. You set records. There is prize money and blue ribbons, free turkeys, camera flashes, and tasty apple pie. You are written of in news articles that your neighbor proudly shows you on their Comp-phone. People come to your home, your winnings put wheels on the trailer again. You’re going places.

One day the mayor arrives at your house. He arrives in his nice shiny hover vehicle. It is all black and chrome, some great chariot for some great man. He speaks with your father out in the yard. Your father shakes his hand and smiles. You try to hear, but they are too far away, and the engines hide their voices. When you ask your dad what it was, he says he has a new job. Everyone is happy. There is cash for little socks for little warm feet.

The next week on Thursday a man and a woman come wearing deep blue uniforms with patches on their shoulders and stripes down their arms. The patches have a logo you have only seen on a poster in the window at the recruiting office; the office in the strip mall with three empty store fronts. The patch shows a white earth on a black background and a small ship flying around it with a swoosh. The man has three chevrons. The woman has two. Under all their chevrons are crossed rifles. The man has two blood stripes down the seams of his trousers. Your father shows them the love seat and they sit together, holding their large white hats in their laps. They sit below the 22. phaser rifle that now hangs on a plaque on the wall. It is higher now, out of the reach of your brothers, and that’s a good thing. The Sergeant, as he’s called, smiles a lot, praises the coffee. The woman he brought is pretty, but she does not speak or smile.  She is thin, the muscles in her face are visible. They talk about opportunities and gifts, responsibility. But you can only remember one thing, it was the third word they spoke, paired with the fourth. “Hi, we’re space Marines from Quantico…”

You don’t know Quantico, but you know space, and your great uncle was a Marine in Vietnam. You’ve heard of space Marines from the bullies at school. Space Marines are new. They are the bravest of the brave, the best of the best. Some say they are pulled from other branches and services, other neighborhoods, and the toughest parts of far away cities. Rumors abound but you can’t believe half of what you hear. Some say none of it is true, that they don’t exist at all. But here they are, sitting on your love seat talking of war in the heavens.

They smell of cigarette smoke, cologne, and hair spray. The woman tells her story, and talks of her hard life in the city projects before the Space Marines. She talks of how it changed her, of all the Marines have given her. Her tale is short. Her time in the service also short, only a few years, but in that short time she has already been to the space station and her next trip is to the moon. Every day there are new technologies, new challenges. It is not easy, but every step they take is a step towards a better world, a better future, a better defense. Without warning she looks you straight in the eye and asks, “You think you got what it takes to be one of us?”

A quiet spell falls over the room. You look at your father. He has all the answers. He will know what to say. But he just looks back at you and smirks. “Your future is your own, kiddo.”

“I’ve never really thought about it,” you say, trying to slow everything down, trying to get a handle on the moment, but failing, failing as one might reach into a fast rushing river to slow the current down. Deep down you know you want to go. You want to be a part of it, but you don’t want to make the same mistakes others in your family have made with their lives. “Can I take some time?” you ask.

“Think it through? It’s a big decision. We can respect that, but don’t wait too long. The other services will be by soon. And our next launch only has so many seats.”

After they leave your mind is racing. You fall back on the couch and try to catch your breath. You stare at the ceiling. You can hear everything in the trailer. You listen to your father turning the faucet, how it squeaks; how the floor strains beneath him. You feel the business card in your hand, the weight of the paper, the raised lettering. You can smell the remnants of the cologne and hair spray.

“Why me, daddy?” you ask, not looking at him, but then you turn to him when he does not reply.

You father stops in mid-turn towards the coffee maker with the pot of water in his hand. His face softens a little with a smile, it’s not a happy smile, but a knowing one, like the kind you receive when you question why adults lie, or when the people at the government offices weren’t very nice to you. It’s the wisdom smile, the smile that says the world isn’t what you thought it was and I can’t protect you any longer from certain things.

“They chose you because you are in those ignorant years, the same years where you think you know everything.”

“I thought they came for me because I could shoot, I mean, that’s what he said.” You tell your father. You are kind of angry with your daddy. Is he jealous? Is he jealous you have done more in your life than he has ever done in his?

In the weeks that follow the other services contact you. The army soldier was nervous, the Navy guy was late, and the Air Force only called.

You sit on the stoop night after night turning the card over in your hand. On some nights your father sits down beside you. One night he asks what you are thinking about. You look up to the stars, through the tops of the barren branches, and you ask him. “You think God exists beyond earth? I mean, if you say a prayer in space, you think its answered?”

“I would imagine. I’d like to think that God follows people wherever they go. Why you askin?” Your daddy furrows his brow.

“Well, I mean in Corinthians, it says something like, for though we live in the world we do not wage war as the world does. Doesn’t say nothin about space.”

“Well, your grandfather used to say there ain’t no atheists in foxholes. So, I’ll venture to bet, there ain’t no atheists in rockets neither. Otherwise, I’m bettin a whole bunch of prayers are goin to waste.”

“So, you think he does?”

“Is that what you’re worried about?”

“Daddy, I’m worried about a whole mess of things.”

Your father admits he is hesitant too. He hems and haws like the chickens in the feed lot, but day after day you can’t shake the idea that this is for you. This is what you were made for, why god put you on this earth, to leave it. Besides, what are you going to do with a skill like yours around Virginia besides get into trouble?

This idea, the idea of space, the moon, other planets, all reminds you of something the English teacher has on her wall, some words by that guy in England who wrote a long time ago. Something about such winds… Such winds as these scatters young men through the world, but you’re a girl and going to space. Still, it fits, somehow. This chance, this visit from the Space Marines, they will take you farther than at home, just as the quote says. Farther than at home where small experience grows.

“Daddy,” you say one night as you push on your knees to stand up, “I’m gonna do it.”

Many months later you’re headed for the moon. You sit in the hull of a ship, a ship with no windows and cramped spaces, exposed pipes, tubes and wires. You listen to the groaning of the hull. You listen to the griping of your squad mates. You’re annoyed by their nervous chattering. They remind you of racoons who used to get in the garbage cans. You wonder at this decision you made on the back stoop of your trailer. The decision you made five hundred miles away, six months ago, in an out of shape body, with an brain housing group that did not know anything about weapons or dead float, that was wholly ignorant of drop suits or jump speed, suit seals or radiation exposure times. You sit on the launch pad wondering if you will make it through the next thirty seconds of your six-year enlistment. You can’t take it back, you can’t go back. Your locked in now. Your ready to ship out, ship off, to launch, your good to go, your high speed and low drag, one of your nation’s elite. You sigh and take a deep breath. There is a loud boom and you clench your jaw so tight your teeth hurt. A violent shaking shifts your helmet forward. You pull on the straps of your seat trying to hide yourself in the deep cushions from all the danger that’s around you. The idea that just yesterday a rocket malfunctioned and the crew of two hundred souls were obliterated before they left the launch pad drifts through your head. You swallow some saliva with your fear. You try and breathe; you try not to throw up. A knocking starts in the troop chamber, then a loud droning.

Private Tex nearly scares the vomit out of you when he gives a rebel yell. Your squad is masking their fear. All but one. A wet sloppy sound hits your ears. Someone’s breakfast has just hit the deck. You look to Private Carlton. He is across from you and he’s opened his face mask. He spits and wipes his lips with the back of his sleeve. He mouths the word “sorry”. You give him a thumbs up. He returns it. You’re not convinced; that either of you are A-Okay. The ship starts shaking so hard you push your head back to stop your teeth from chattering.

“Hey Carlton!” you shout. You try to take his mind off the launch. Get him grounded, let him know he has friends.

“What does U.S.S.M.C. stand for?” You ask him.

“United… States… Space… Marine Corps…,” he answers nervously. He can barely talk, and you can barely hear him above the jarring, vibrating, shaking, and droning of the ship. As if to herald the final phase before launch Tex yells again, “U.S.S.M.C! Baby!” Tex shouts. “You signed soooooome motherfuckin contract!!” he adds with his heavy drawl. “We goin for a ride!” He laughs, but you find none of this remotely funny. The rockets hit their audible apex of preflight and take off is signaled with another boom louder than anything you’ve ever heard in your life. You’re sure you’ll have hearing damage. No wonder why they say space is so quiet. Everyone is deaf by the time they get there. 

 


© Copyright 2020 Jeremy Walsh. All rights reserved.

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