Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bougainville Was Yesterday... And Forever

Brisbane, Australia - December 4th, 1944.

She's eight months pregnant, lonely, and very much in love. She's not seen her husband since she visited him in Townsville and impatiently waits for his letters. So much so that her mother constantly nags her that she's going to go gray waiting for the post. Still, the sense of relief at receiving an envelope more than makes up for the anxiety she feels - never mind the fear she instills in the postman. But something's strange about this latest letter. It's very short... and very odd.

Luv, name our son Theodore Aloysius.

And that's it. No explanation, no signature (though she knows his handwriting), nothing.

Theodore Aloysius? What an ugly name. And never mind the possibility that the baby might be a girl! Oh, he's got a lot of explaining to do when he comes home. "If he comes home" is a thought that never crosses her mind. If a thought could be afraid of its thinker, that one would be more than terrified.

***

Bougainville, Solomon Islands - November 7th, 1944.

He was a corporal in the Australian 3rd Division, the 25th Battalion of the 7th Brigade out of Queensland. Though his rank implied a modicum of experience, he had never seen action. Geographically, the Solomons were but a hop and a skip away from his homeland, but Bougainville was as alien a place as he could imagine.

His unit was taking over operations from the American 93rd Infantry Division, a unit comprised primarily of Negroes. Sure, he had seen groups of aborigines in his lifetime, but never had he seen so many dark-skinned men in one place before. He had barely even realized that America had blacks, much less allowed them into its military.

Though the island was clearly in Allied hands, many of the Japanese - ever the sneaky bastards - disappeared into the jungles and began conducting guerrilla operations. The Americans had been hunting them for a while, but now that their offensive was getting closer and closer to the Japanese home islands, MacArthur and Nimitz were whining about needing their troops. Hence, the arrival of the Australian militias.

As a corporal, he should've known better. Though taking a shit was usually a private act, out here, privacy usually meant death. Grunting away as those horrible military rations tried to make their way out of his system, he never even saw the two Japs in the bush. Didn't even realize that he was making so much noise a blind man could've found him. Oh, the jungle had much to teach.

Lucky for him, the American Negro was stalking the Japs. He didn't know it then, but the Negro was often allowed to go patrolling on his own. Mostly this was because the Negro's superiors didn't much care what Negro soldiers did, but partially because there was recognition that this particular Negro was as good a predator as any in the South Pacific. A lifetime of tracking 'gator in the swamps of Florida and Louisiana did more than aptly prepare that man for the type of warfare here. Hell, the Negro probably even found it fun.

The mixture of gunfire from Arisakas and a Springfield sounded strange. He'd heard Springfield's firing plenty of times, mostly from Americans conducting target practice back in Australia, but had never actually heard a Japanese rifle before. Their reports even sounded yellow.

The silence, though... that sounded the same that it sounded back home.

Soft groaning slowly broke the quiet, combined strangely with what he thought was laughter. His curiosity grew, but he waited for his fear to subside before investigating. Starting with a low crawl, he evolved to a crouch as his courage returned. He could see the dead Japanese in the moonlight, both shot several times by the Springfield. The soft groaning was coming from its wielder. The American Negro.

Bullets from the Arisakas had pierced the man through his stomach and his left lung. The wounds were bad. Mortal. And both men knew it.

"C'mon, mate. We gotta get you to the medics."

"Nah, brother. I'm a goner. Ain't no sense in trying to lie to God about it."

He grimaced at the American's words. As an enlightened man - self-professed, of course - he knew God didn't exist, and he couldn't help extending his pity to the dying man's belief. But he wasn't about to argue the matter on the man's deathbed.

"What do you want me to do?"

"Just leave me here. I wanna talk to the stars for a while."

He smiled. Regardless of religious persuasion, he admired how the dying man could greet the end of his world with such grace. He hoped that he would one day do the same.

"What about?"

The Negro laughed between labored breaths and bloody teeth. "What I'm gonna do tomorrow."

He stared at the American, stopping himself from joining the laughter. It seemed to him that a strange man dying in a strange place should have seemed more unusual, but there was a strange hint of familiarity in it. As if something told him that this is how men have been doing it all along. He dropped his rucksack and set his rifle down. "Alright, mate. I can stay."

"Alone, if you don't mind, sir."

The response shocked him. Who would want to be alone as they die? In those words, an alien world only became more alien. He stared at the man for a few moments, then nodded and gathered his equipment. Starting off, he turned and asked one final question.

"What's your name?"

10 comments:

  1. This is really good, mate, especially the Bougainville section.

    It took me a minute to tie the first section to the rest of it, but then I got it. I feel like there is a piece missing, but that may be just me.

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  2. You turned an irritating read into a masterpiece with your last line. I almost didn't read that far — how'd you do that?

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  3. Worked for me . . we're used to these kinds of stories I guess and you have the vernacular down pat.

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  4. Excellent. Perfectly formed, perfectly rounded, perfectly crafted.

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  5. i like the touch there at the end...keep writing...

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  6. yeah, i liked it, kind of saw where it was going, but the road to the end wasn't expected--ya pulled arabbit out of your hat here...must be the merlot.

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  7. It is your endings that get me. Those last lines that you come up with are almost never where I think you are going. The last few paragraphs here were totally unexpected. Alone? ohhhh...

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  8. Three hundred years ago, just this morning. -J

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  9. I hated the "thought - thinker line". Clunker. The ending was clear from a mile away.

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