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         Billy weasels out of the backseat lap strap, presses his wet nose to the tiny triangle window and fogs his view.  A tin Maxwell House coffee can’s water, dangerously close to the rust edge, there since Holy Scepter cemetery was built, about to spill. He hears only a countdown in his head. Billy’s young, muscle-locked frame is cocked and spring-loaded, like an orphan fawn, restless in the safety of the roadside hollows right before a leap into certain steel-grille death. Dyed-blonde mom reaches over and yanks the chrome handle toward the fabric rips in her Datsun’s interior roof.  Billy slams the front seat into the dash and bolts across the lot, disappearing into the first lane of graves.  “Billy, wait!” shatters the summer silence and vanishes into the high-noon sunshine that casts beams of light in every which way when reflected off the black Rust-Oleum-painted spears that barricade the perimeter, protecting the alive us from them at permanent rest.

 Plots outline around machine-cut granite stones, stones march down sodden rows all in perfect formation with names after names and ages after ages and dates with letters like Romans like Romans like legions of Romans and Billy runs past the years, decades and centuries staining them into a single blurred moment of time. His first visit, the one before now, Billy was mesmerized by the etchings traced his bitten-trimmed nails along every single “Dearly Missed,” “Beloved Always,” and “Heaven Called Back His Angel” until he reached his father’s grave. No way could he have known that when his request to visit his father was met with a “yes” that he would have only a few minutes with his father before she would tug his arm and drag him back to the car.

A few pocket-hid plastic green army men rage a tiny war on the chiseled fierce-gray surface of father’s non-elaborate, flowerless grave. Natural blonde and hair cut tight to the scalp, his father always chose the medic when they played war on Sunday mornings, careful to balance each soldier in the den rug’s cigarette burn holes. “The medic?” Billy would question, and his father would tussle his boy’s dirty-blonde locks and remind him: “No one shoots the medic, my boy. Besides, they have a special guardian angel. Medics will never die in battle!”

Billy would close his little fist around his selection from the leather action figure case, which was really father’s old shaving kit, and revealed his favorite to his pop.

 “Grenade guy, huh?”

“Yup,” Billy would smartly smile and say.

“Knew plenty of them. Plenty. Funny thing is if you’re not careful—Blamo! There goes your good letter writin’, girl huggin’ hand.  Never play on the base’s bowling league again that’s for darn sure.”

Billy swallows hard, remembers his father then and how his throat dried at the idea of his own fingers flying through the air. He thought his choice over and over a few thousand times since then, but always decided back on his grenade thrower. Billy leans close to the stone, feels its cool grainy scruff upon his delicate cheek, cups his hand around an imagined ear and places his pink lips a hair space away and whispers: When I grow up I’ll be a doctor like you. For now, I need to blow stuff up. 

Each stiletto spike stabs the earth and sinks Billy’s mother about three inches into the mud.  How many times? How many times? she mumbles until she is a good arm’s length away.

“How many times, Billy? How many? You don’t haul off like that.”

“You’re only worried about making your date?”

“What?”

“I know. You have your “out” shoes on.”

“Leaving. Now!”

“Battle’s not over.”

A sudden grab! His arm yanks and the soldiers fall. A desperate reach.

            “My platoon!”

 He saves all but one. One falls through his delicate fingers and is camouflaged in the summer grass. A last over-the-shoulder look back as she pulls and drags. Billy stumbles, tumbles, heels over toes, toes over heels, and his sneakers scrape across the near-vacant lot. She forces and belts him into her bug- yellow hatchback with side-panel rust. Billy tosses the men onto the seat. His machine gunner and radioman are sound.

“The medic never dies. Come on.”

“What? What are you saying back there?”

“Have to go back. I think I left him—The medic! Left him behind!”

“We are not going back. I’m already late. You’ll have to learn to live without one.”

“Like you?”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?!”

Next he locates his barbed-wire crawler, his pistol-toting general. Finally, his grenade thrower— poised in furious yell, arm outstretched and fist full of thunder— half hidden in the backseat seam.

“Wait! Stop!”

“We are not going back, Billy, he’s gone.”

 Her maroon faux-leather overnight bag, visible to Billy in the hatch, is stuffed and unzipped. It falls on its side as she spins out of her space and floors her Datsun toward the front gates.

“So I’ll be staying at nanas? Maybe she will bring me later to check.  He could still be there, waiting for me in the tall grass.”

Two men wearing coveralls and tan work boots start their orange and black mowers, each select a separate lane. Mother and Billy look as the very first calf-high blades are sliced down to the dirt and the shredded bits explode out of the bag-less side of the mower. The back of Billy’s head smacks the headrest as she first-gear guns it into oncoming traffic, and Billy turns his head to look out the back window. A bowl of dust, dirt, gravel, grass, and one tiny green army man billow into the air.

Gone, Billy whispers to the amorphous cloud.

 Vanished forever in enlistment green.

           

         Mark A. Tambone is a proud Paterson native that currently resides in Wayne, NJ. He is a full-time Assistant Professor in the English Dept. at Passaic County Community College, which is located a few short blocks from the historic Paterson Great Falls. Mark enjoys reading, inspiring his students, and walking Holliday, his Australian Cattle Dog. You would be hard pressed not to find him enjoying the beach, hikes, working out, cooking and exploring new chefs and restaurants. Mark is currently enrolled in the M.F.A. program at William Paterson University, and he is mentored by Dr. Phillip Cioffari.



 


Eventually, we all must relinquish our toys. Some willingly, others not so. But with each, always, the nagging ache of loss lingers hard.









 





  


Copyright 2009