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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Page 1--Glistening Trinket Fall--Ryan Mattern

The music plays and around she spins with one leg arched up, foot pressed against her calf as if to make a “P”. She would turn all day and every night if allowed, the lights reflecting off her porcelain face and hair causing shadows to dance along the wall. On her island where she imagined looking up to see the pots that swung from the hanger above her head, she was loved by all who sat with their chins in their hands, watching her go. She stopped only momentarily to smile at the onlookers, cast marble eyes upon the dishes that rose and fell like buoys in the dishwater, and pray for someone to tickle her spine with one more twist of the key.

There wasn’t an eye depriving her of attention or a breath let out in anything other than of a sigh remarking on her beauty. Except one. Huddled underneath the armchair was a boy holding tightly to his slingshot, dreaming of something he ought not to.

He peeked over the end table at the girls standing in the kitchen in a circle around the trinket who spun to her song. Slowly the girls became permanent fixtures around the island, not moving for anything, frozen in awe of their toy. His cousin Jessie was the oven. His sister Elle a garbage can, her mouth stuck open. He then looked at the trinket, seeming like the only living thing in the room. She smiled at him. Taunted him. He rummaged through his jean pockets, casting out an arrowhead he found by the old Indian furnaces, a brittle grasshopper that crunched like wax paper between his fingers, and dug out a rock just the right size for the job. He set his wrist on the table and loaded the rock into a pouch in the center of the elastic. He held his right hand, with the loaded purse underneath his right eye, the left one closed. With his aim dead-on, he began pulling back and counting. He heard his old man’s voice in his head: Remember boy, when you’re lining up your shot you need to count while you pull back, depending on what it is you shoot. One for a bird. Two for a squirrel. Three for a cat.

Never learning the proper technique for shooting glass and porcelain, he figured “four” would do the trick. By the time he counted that high, his arm was clear behind his head and shaking from the tension. He felt the pressure in his teeth like they were about to turn to dust. And just when his shoulder felt like it was going to pop out of the socket, he released.

Like most boys his age, he was forced into manhood. He had a summons to report for basic training in Cincinnati one week after his eighteenth birthday, just past his high school graduation. He had seen so many guys done up in their pressed green suits and hats leave on a bus only to come right back into the holler inside a box, hugged by an American flag.

He listened to stories, on the Greyhound to the city, about all the atrocities people had seen or heard about in the jungle.

“I heard Jimmy Corbin got his head blowed clean off while he was takin’ a leak,” the guy sitting next to him said, while rapidly opening his fist, emphasizing an explosion. “He was still standing, leaned up against a tree, pissin’ all over himself when they found him.” He said it matter of fact like it was no different from the radio calling for rain. He imagined seeing Jimmy as the jock he remembered, with a wet ring around his crotch and legs. He didn’t know why, but he thought of Jimmy’s football helmet, alone on the long bench that stretched along the center of the locker room at the high school.

When they arrived at the base, they were lead to their barracks to drop off their packs, then were immediately ushered into a room of barber chairs. He watched as his hair, curly palm fronds over his eyes and ears, fell down his neck and tumbled across his shoulders delicately, like the wind was too afraid to make a noise. When it all reached the floor, it left him looking like a butchered tree; bony, bald, and exposed.

After weeks of physical training, and a newfound muscular physique—loose skin now clung tight, weak arms and legs now sculpted from marble—he learned to fire a rifle from a bulldog of an instructor. Here he excelled. He felt like he was seven again, looking down the sight and lining up a shot, ready to obliterate whatever there was. Accuracy flowed from his fingertips and in through the chambers of his weapon every time he practiced. Other cadets were not as fortunate.

“Men, let’s all start mourning for Private Abrams,” the instructor yelled, brown tobacco juice flying from his mouth to Abrams’ face, who recoiled in disgust. After the spray he looked like his nose was bleeding maple syrup and his eyes were leaking a polluted river. “Abrams is gonna die out there! This sloppy fuck couldn’t hit a slope at point blank!”

Like feathers being plucked from a chicken, glass pieces of her body glistened in the lamplight as they exploded into a million shards of themselves. The girls’ eyes swelled up and they cupped their mouths, turning away as if they were witnessing murder. Their screaming symphony collided dissonantly against the boy’s victory cry. He crossed his eyes, stuck out his tongue, and twirled clumsily, mocking all who loved the figurine.
He would always chase that sense of ruin, feeling a life inside of the weapon he wielded, but would never truly comprehend the nature of accuracy.

He had been in country for almost four months when he took over for a discovered sniper. He would go into the bush for days at a time, returning to camp only by the cover of nightfall to stock up on supplies. Out there he answered to no one, moving about from tree to tree as he saw fit. Tracking game just like his old man when he would shoot coyotes inside of the property line; the boy would tag along firing rocks and BBs at whatever he could.

One afternoon, during a routine aerial patrol, he heard a commotion around one of the camps he had been monitoring. Through his scope he saw home. There were a handful of Vietcong soldiers sitting in a circle, cheering and whistling at a woman dancing in the center of them. They drank from their bottles, laughed and threw cigarettes butts at her as she snaked and twisted to their liking. Her black hair whipped and furled around her tanned face as she cocked her head in confidence. She arched her back and touched herself, revving up her audience to a dangerous volume. Then, like the universe from nothing, she sparked an inextinguishable flame in his heart. It was a bell chiming throughout his body, stopping him from blinking and causing him to salivate. It was then that she arched one leg up and spun.

He already had his finger on the trigger and begun counting in his head, all the while humming the song to which the figurine once danced.

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