I’m sitting in front of my apartment, watching no traffic go by, smoking the first Pall Mall of the day, when I see little eight-year-old Jason turn the corner two blocks down and head straight for me.
He walks purposefully, marches even. He stops in front of me with his chest pushed out and announces:
“Big Poppa says you couldn’t have been in both battles at Fallujah.”
“Fine,” I say, take a drag off my cigarette, and look away north, pretending he’ll let the subject drop and move along.
“Big Poppa says: ‘There weren’t any Marine Infantry divisions that took part in both battles.’”
“Fine,” I say.
“Big Poppa says: ‘It’s just like a Marine to lie about what combat he did and didn’t take part in.’” He lowers his voice when he quotes the old man.
I roll my eyes skyward as I drag on my smoke. Jason’s great grandfather drove tanks across Europe under Patton half a century ago. He’s regular Army. A little inter-branch ribbing is to be expected.
Jason stands there, looks at me eagerly. Since I first moved into the apartment a few weeks ago, Jason has been the go-between for me and his great grandfather, whom I’ve never met face to face. We’re like two old war buddies sending each other chess moves in the mail. That’s how the old man thinks of it anyway, I suppose. He’s probably lonely and wants somebody to trade stories with about the old days.
Jason is still waiting. He comes by once a day, twice at most, in the morning when I’m sitting in front of the apartment with a smoke and coffee or in the evening when it’s a smoke and whiskey. Sitting on Main Street watching nothing happen is one of my main occupations. I don’t have a television.
“Okay, are you listening?” I ask him.
The kid nods eagerly. I drop my cigarette on the ground and stub it out with the bottom of my service-issued shower shoes. The plastic lawn chair sways with my movements.
“You tell your grandpa …”
“Great grandpa,” he corrects.
“Do you want to hear this or not?”
He nods silently.
“You go tell him that I was part of operation Vigilant Resolve in April 2004 as part of the 2nd Battalion 1st Marines, based out of Camp Pendleton.”
The kid nods, paying close attention. He’s trying to keep all the numbers and locations in his little brain.
“Do you need a pencil and a piece of paper to write this down on?” I ask him.
He shakes his head “no.”
“I then volunteered for Operation Phantom Fury in November 2004 and was attached to Regimental Combat Team One as part of the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines, also based out of Camp Pendleton. You got all that?”
The kid nods. I can almost see the seams of his head straining to try to keep all those operations and dates straight. I look down to light another smoke. When I look back up I’m surprised to see him still standing there.
“What?” I ask him.
“Big Poppa says you used to play football.”
“You’ve been showing him how to Google again, haven’t you?”
The kid smiles slyly.
“No football today. You go tell him about Fallujah. We’ll do football some other day.”
He nods eagerly, then turns and scampers back the way he came, eager to retain as much of the information as possible. Maybe he’ll be able to hold onto one more detail for his great grandpa, one more number, because he runs instead of walking.
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Literary Fiction, Noir, Pulp Fiction, Short Stories