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#3 Jamie in Vietnam
Welcome to the third edition of Story Press. If you missed the second edition, click here to read the short story of Jack, an old man in a supermarket clutching at his past.
Today, I share with you a tale of childhood fantasy, the line between reality and imagination.
#3 Jamie in Vietnam
‘Jungle warfare, kid… is no roll around in the grass…,’ expired the sergeant as he set his cigarette aflame. He took a long, golden drag and abraded the sweat from his temples with his filthy fingernails.
‘It’s hot, sultry… sweaty business. You’ll sweat so you won’t feel your piss… you know what I mean?’
The sergeant nodded and looked down to the dirt like he was looking into the past. The ‘kid’, Jamie, scuffled on the tree stump he’d perched on to listen to the sergeant. He carved into the bark with a pen he had pulled from his pocket. ‘And there are booby traps out here… They’ll catch you that way… the gooks… they’ll torture you. They’ll have a real field day with you especially… young… innocent.’
‘Gook…?’ Jamie was punched by the word. He let out a sort of giggle. The sergeant wasn’t listening. The faint hubris of gunfire cackled from between trees like firecrackers. The sergeant, browbeat, slicked his greasy black hair back and tucked his helmet over his head.
He tossed the fag into the dirt somewhere.
‘You know your mission. Don’t get kidnapped; don’t get killed.’ He looked around him as if uncertain of which way to go and then said, ‘Godspeed.’
Next thing, he’d slunk away between trees, the tall grass, and leaves. His footfall slipped into the past and then Jamie was really alone. He sat on the stump staring at the space where the sergeant stood.
‘What now?’ he asked himself.
The sun was big on the canvas of blue, an aberration to Jamie through his glasses. Wasting no time, he journeyed forth into the Vietnamese jungle. He was happy; he felt at home. He even half-crouched as he walked, as though keeping an eye out for any camouflaged deceit.
His heart was steady, slow. He hacked away the ferns, the grass, and the nettles with a small branch he had found by a dead tree. He hadn’t been allowed a knife on the grounds of inexperience. He didn’t argue. He noticed the sun directly above him. ‘It must be midday,’ he thought. He walked on.
War for Jamie was something of child’s play. It was a game. A trick. An illusion. He dreamt of being strung up at the wrists, dangling and helpless. He could feel the sweat dripping down him and he couldn’t wipe it away with his hands. And when the face of the enemy came up close, grisly and evil, he would spit on it. He’d get a thrill from seeing the spit drizzle, drip, and bubble. He would laugh at it. Because for him there were no consequences. No reality. No intentions. If he was caught, he was caught. If he was gassed, he was gassed. If he was shot, well, he was shot. Yes, it was his dream to have a gun to his head, the trigger pulled, and then to wake up. At least then he would be a man, not a boy anymore.
Jamie came to a small brook where fish capered against the current. He thought about trying to catch one with a spear but then reality got the better of him. He had food in his bag. Suddenly - as often happens in these erratic environments - vast, tepid rainfall tumbled to the earth. Jamie smiled, ‘Ahh, this is real, this is life...,’ he said out loud. He dipped his two main fingers into the wet mud and dressed his cheeks, the way he’d seen in the movies. The sound of the rainfall quickened his heartbeat. He didn’t laugh now.
He remembered what the sergeant told him about the booby traps, and that word he used: gook. What a horrid word. His mother would shut him in his room for a year if she’d heard him use it. It’s a good thing she wasn’t around. A damn good thing.
She would tell him some days before school, as if he was a bully, ‘Treat others how you want to be treated… remember that Jamie.’ And Jamie would nod and remember. If someone called me a gook, he thought, I’d kill them right there on the spot. He laughed a lot at that because he realized that he had no idea what the word even meant. Probably nobody did. Words have a funny way like that, just existing without meaning and nobody even noticing it.
Jamie waded through the jungle. The rain weighed him down. He thought of school and the way Alice Greene looked at him and smiled during Maths. She had scribbled I like your eyes in blue pencil on scrap paper and put it in his drawer for him to find when he came back from break. There were no pretty girls at war. They never taught that in class.
The sun had sunk, leaving Jamie in the half-dark. The chill was too strong for his imagination. His stomach groaned and he ran home for dinner.
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