On the cold slab of his piss-and-puke scented bench, Perry’s been dreaming without sleeping. Within the damp cement walls of his cell, his thoughts have been drifting through time, as if each empty shell casing that popped out of his rifle was a lifeboat rowing him back toward the war he escaped from. Perry misses the friends whose bodies he stumbled through, blinded by shit and shrapnel. Perry feels no guilt for what he’s done both back then and now. In this new war of his he regrets not settling on a new definition of “victory.”
The bullets tore through the side of the outhouse while he was staring at a picture of a girl he missed. His pants were up, which was a small mercy and despite the heat and stink of the latrine, it was still better to rest in that small solace of shade when compared to standing by the barracks while the sergeant raised hell throughout the camp. They had been told to expect an attack every single fucking day for two months straight, so everyone was surprised when the mountain men came in guns blazing. The outhouse tipped over before Perry could even stand up. It was on its side over a ditch when he finally managed to crawl free with fresh, bleeding holes along his arms and legs, scratches ripping across his face. The pool of shit he was swimming in spilled out into a ditch. Because of the bullet in his thigh, he had trouble standing as he kept slipping and falling back into the muck and feces. To think, all of that excrement was what him and his dead and dying friends had created after digesting and turning to waste their rations and special care packages that amounted to little more than cheez-its and the occasional fully-melted chocolate bar that had to be licked off the paper. When the medics and later, doctors, finally got ahold of Perry, they were full of wry jokes about how he’s lucky if he doesn’t get E-coli from the infections along his many open wounds.
“Oh boy I wish I could wash my brain,” the man in the cell next to Perry says, with a strange singsong pitch to his voice.
“Shut up…” Perry says, remembering a man, who was really just a boy, called Micky, who would always run his jaw a mile a minute whenever they were in the field together. Something to do with nerves, it made Perry want to blow the kid’s brains out himself ... until he stumbled past what was left of Micky’s body while he was wiping shit from his eyes.
“I know you, I know you brotha, your sista’s a hell of a fighter. Little miss Million Dollar Baby she is. She beat my daughter’s ass!” Perry recognizes the man through the void. It’s Cranked Up Bill, who’s more of a town mascot than the local high school’s Chieftains. Cranked Up Bill, father of three, with lips chewed near damn away and so many track marks scattered along his arms that he’s something of a saint, considering he can even stand up and appear to be breathing. Perry’s nerves and arms and the back of his neck still feel like there’s electricity dancing through the air, but Perry can remember, for the most part. He can use his brain, kind of, though it’s like he’s in two places at once. Like he’s traveling between the now and the then.
“Y’know that brats been real nice to me ever since, shame my moral convictions kept me from doing it myself.” Cranked Up Bill’s bald with an impressive red beard from ear to ear. The old disciplines that still course strong through Perry leave him wanting to pull apart the metal bars between them and pluck out each one of those hairs individually.
“You’re not right.” Perry’s lips feel like rubber, and it’s hard to talk. He doesn’t feel himself talking. He kind of wants to scream. If only he could stop fucking shivering. There’s something like another gunshot or bomb, way off in the distance, but Perry can hear it, through the walls. He starts breathing heavy, then he thinks of how a dog breathes and then Perry starts panting, with his tongue out.
“You a real show, god damn. You are a walking salute my friendly friend. Ya PTSD, poor twitching sonnova dame, I dunno, you’re PTSD Perry, that’s who you are. Boy, word spreads quicker than a lick of fire. Ol’ deputy dragged me in here a minute after I heard’ya while I was by the store, trying to get my free beer. Y’know, I think I heard you shooting off up in the Downbrick neighborhood, but maybe it was just more of these damn fireworks. You like a sniper in a lightning storm, huh?”
“You don’t know bout no spark from a rifle, you never been burned.” Perry finds himself spitting on the cell floor. He’s disgusted with himself, if only because the familiar sense of his lip being packed full of tobacco is missing.
“You really are a loon. I’ve lit myself on fire more times than anybody I know can count. Let me ask ya something, before we go getting so unfriendly we forget what kinda salutatious day it is. Why’s the flag on your military guy uniforms always facing backward? Yer army uniforms. It aint on the cop ones, I was looking at longdick’s and his was facing normal, all stars facing left like.”