The Rusty Door
by Craig M. Workman
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
You know, it’s funny — not the laughing kind but the other kind — that in less than a year it seems like my feet have been rolling this cart for ten. I know I’ve only been around for sixteen or so now, so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about, the way old-timers like Grandpa Joe would say, “Just wait until you’ve seen what I have, my boys, and then you’ll know how to feel old.”
But it doesn’t really matter what I have to say about much of anything anymore. It’s me and the garden cart and the pantry and my old suitcase, and maybe a little brother somewhere in there. Maybe.
That faded 305 stared at me as much as any numbers could, I guess, every day since I left that house, and it’s hard to say exactly what they meant. Was is something some secret code, like the book about the door to the Mines of Moria? Was it an address? These thoughts and about a billion others made me realize I couldn’t really tell what was true about anything I ever knew, and I roll on down through the streets of the city, feeling like one of the slugs in our backyard would if it was floating along on the back of a giant flying bird: confused and wondering where in the hell we were going, and how I made onto a bird in the first place. People like me were meant to crawl as much as other things were meant to fly.
My mind is tired. I want to fall apart and hit the ground from flying with wings I never knew how to use. The pantry fed me and kept me alive when I asked it to, but it seemed like I was asking for a terrible thing in exchange for a very small thing the size of a piece of dirt in return.
I can’t say for sure if it’s because our parents were never parents, or if no one anywhere ever cared to show me something different, but there is so much in this world I do not understand. One time a few weeks back, a guy stabbed a little girl in front of me while I was rolling the cart, and he laughed when he did it. He was missing a few teeth like Stanley, but he wasn’t a little kid like my brother. But I also see wonderful things every day, and this surprises me, and it maybe keeps me rolling with my gear.
Almost every day, I see some parent kiss their kid or hug their kid, or someone who is maybe married to someone else with a really clean-looking outfit kiss them and hug them, and I wonder while the only person I remember ever doing that other than Stanley-in-the-pantry or Grandpa Joe was no one but my mom, unless you count a made-up person in a book.
Maybe there is as much good around us all as there is awful stuff, and maybe the war is between either being good to people or stabbing someone with anything you can for as long as you can, with a screwdriver or a needle or with anything else we’re holding to be sure everyone knows you and your kind should not be crossed.
As I rolled around last night, I heard some strange, hollow, scratching sounds from inside the pantry. It was about to be time to go to sleep, and I might’ve been half-asleep as it was, walking dead on my feet. The Letter was written on some stranger paper, paper so thin I could see right through it when I held it up to the sun. It took me a bit to think about how to read it. I had only seen cursive a few times in old letters from Grandpa Joe and in a few books stolen from the library, and had to let my stretched-out brain take a moment.
11 November 1968
Neddy (he said to call you Neddy by God, please believe me)
Hello, buddy! Today, we decided it would be the right time to try to see if you could get this. Our man was so very worried about you, and we figured tomorrow would be too late. I would say this might be hard to believe, but your little brother and you yourself have seen more than enough to help that ship sail all the way down the Mekong. That’s the main river two clicks away, if you didn’t know. I hope you get to see it soon. Ha.
So get ready for it today, my boy. A few days ago, when it was really FUBAR because it’s almost the end of monsoon season and the locker in the CP — Command Post for you guys — started banging and banging. And now I wonder if there was a reason I was in there by myself, but everyone else was on patrol or scaring up some trouble. And when I opened it, this kid came out and he recognized me and I kind of recognized him, even I wasn’t sure I did recognize that kid.
I asked him where he came from, and he pointed at that locker. I asked him his unit, and he held up all the fingers of one hand and one finger of his other hand. After awhile, I knew that meant he thought he was six, or maybe he really was six, but he looked to be eighteen and one-half, just like me.
The only thing that made him look funny was that he was missing a few teeth from his top mouth, like lots of VC do today once my other guys pistol-whip them and stomp them up with that jungle-boot leather. And then I said so where did you come from again, and so then he said take a look at this necklace because it comes from our family and I saw the harp that was brung from Donegal, and I dropped down on my knees in the mud and hurt my knee in a Mangrove root, and I knew that for some damn reason, that kid wasn’t lying about much of anything.
My guys showed up a few minutes after that, and all these guys from my platoon asked who the hell is this greenie, and then I look at him and he looks scared to death with an undershirt and pants — he called them sweat-pants — that don’t fit him and his smile that’s missing some important teeth, and then I think of my father and mother in Osawatomie, Kansas with our wonderful times of Halloween and carving pumpkins with square and strange teeth! and dressing up as the Cooper Clown or as Casper or as a Yellow Dog, and I thought of why he said he was called Stain, and I told them what I could think of right-away:
Guys, I said, this is Jack. He hotfooted across the river after that ambush. He’s folded in until we can get him reassigned. Last guy across.
And now today it’s hotter than the devil’s toenails, as my poppa used say well, like he used to say sometimes and what can I say about today? I believe him and although it doesn’t make any kind of sense to anyone I can tell anyone, but I can tell you, buddy. Does this make any more sense than anything else I have seen? I cannot say that it does or does not.
Why in hellfire would it make sense to see what I see every day and stay alive anymore than it does to see your grandson come through a damn Batallion locker and have him be the same age as myself?
He has told me about the food, and I do not know about that any more than you might know about that, and I am really sorry for that. I guess there’s a whole lot of stuff we might just never know, huh, buddy? Anyway, we now know how much we hope you can come to be here with us, if you might be wanting to do that. And believe me when I say I told our Jack this was not a good idea at all. But he made certain-sure that I knew it was important, and so I need for you to step in as he said he did, and to come here with us, and we will do our best to figure out all the other stuff we do not know anything about, but I cannot have you without my family, even if it is because of me and my family.
Please get here, and we can figure this out together, fighting alone or together. I can not wait to meet you, and we can go stateside and eat beaucoup bar-be-que when we get back to Kansas City with our own and bring everyone home.
SP/4 Joseph A. Reilly
CoA 1/305th Psy-Op
APO to Neddy through this thing
There’s this empty lot I pass by all the time when I wheel around. It’s on Patala Boulevard, near where the really crappy part of town ends and the fancier, remade parts begin, complete with security guards in fancy uniforms and shiny badges. I remember the place that used to be The Lost Sock Laundry down the street. Now, it’s something that says Sushi and Sashimi in the Rain! in bright blue, expensive-looking letters that glow in the dark. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds like the name of a movie or something.
This seems to be another way to know that I don’t know anything and that I feel rusty and old, like that old clock in Mom and Dad’s bedroom that they never set for some reason. I used to show Stan how to wind it just a few times, and then we would listen to it make its click sound over and over, and it clicked slower and slower until we waited for the last click that never came.
This lot seems really huge to still be empty after a long time of nothing being there. The only thing I see there every day is a few leftover bricks, lots of weeds and trash, and a sign with painted words almost too faded to read:
SAY GOODBYE TO ELYSIUM HEIGHTS!
SAY HELLOOOOOO TO PATALA COMMONS!
WE’LL BE HERE BEFORE YOU KNOW IT
And I can’t think of any better place than this one to unload the pantry and make the clicking slow down to nothing.
It’s hotter than the devil’s toenails, as Grandpa Joe told me the other day or fifty years ago, and I’m about to finish writing this last entry in the crummy green spiral notebook I found in a dumpster the day after Stanley went through the door. The heat in this abandoned lot is almost too much to bear, and I wonder how long I can handle things inside the pantry before it’s too much for me to keep up with.
Now that I’ve rolled the pantry to the center-ground of a place where a home once stood, I find myself hoping for another home, even if it is in the middle of another war, even though I have never been in one with bullets and things like that. I’m going to stop writing in a second now, and tape this notebook to the door of the pantry just before I close it in on myself.
Grandpa Joe and our Jack are waiting for me, and I think of that heat and this heat, of that war and this war, of welcome-home meals with lots of empty chairs at the table and that I hope things can change for everyone who wishes for them hard enough.
Copyright © 2020 by Craig M. Workman