Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Most Perfect Place

The sun descends on the distant mountains like an artillery shell. Two young soldiers are giving each other haircuts on the sandscape of Fort Bliss, Texas. One sits in a three-and-a-half legged chair and trusts his buddy with the clippers. It buzzes up and down his scalp, carving out a symmetrical, Army-standard high and tight.

“My grandfather wore a high and tight until the day he died,” the soldier says, leaning his head to the side as the blade buzzed his scalp. “He was massive. He towered over me when I was little. After working all day, he'd take off his boots, crack a beer, and sit on his reclining chair. He would run his gigantic hand over his chin. I can still hear the sound of his hand against his whiskers.”

“That right?” his buddy says.

“He was over six feet tall and probably weighed 220. He used to stop at the house for his lunch break. Grandma always had lunch ready for him. He'd eat, then drag a piece of bread across the plate to sop up any gravy or sauce. When he was done he laid down right there on the floor to take a nap. I helped my Grandpa wash the dishes, and I would look around the corner to see him there, sleeping face down on the floor.”

“Can you lean left?”

“Yeah, sure. He was in the Army during World War II. He never talked about it, but Grandma said that he was a mechanic. She said that he'd welded some extra steel to the bottom of a personnel carrier he was riding in. It wound up hitting a land mine but no one was hurt because of the steel. I guess he was in the Pacific at some point, and spent some time at Iwo Jima.”

“No kidding.”

“They used to live in Oconomowoc too.”

“Where we drilled before we deployed?”

“Yep. That's where we used to visit them. He kept up a vacation property for some rich guy who lived there only a few months out of the year. There was an apple orchard, raspberry bushes, and a short walk down to a lake. I remember walking into their house and seeing my Grandma elbow deep in fresh-picked apples and raspberries, making jam, pies, all kinds of stuff. Then Grandpa would walk me down to the lake and take me fishing. We caught bluegills, crappie, a perch every now and then. He taught me how to clean a fish. Come to think of it, that is probably the most perfect place I've ever been. Right there, with my Grandpa and Grandma.”

“You ever drive by it when we drilled there?”

“I thought about, but I decided against it. Those memories are so good that I didn't want to mess with them, you know? I just wanted to leave them like they are in my mind.”

“Probably a good idea.”

“Yeah. I figure I'll see those memories again though. When we get back from Iraq. Years from now, when I'm a grandpa and my grandchildren are watching me. When I have stories to tell, like my grandpa told me.”

The buzz of the blade goes silent. The soldier whisks off his buddy's neck, and they head toward their barracks. The three-and-a-half legged chair remains in the fading light, stoically peppered by a sandy breeze. Their footsteps fill with sand until they are gone.

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