After high school, I left the country and Jason joined the Army.  His ASVAB score was high and his recruiter had promised him his pick of available positions in the Army, college tuition, a pension, and a thousand assurances that a man with his talents would never see any combat.  A thousand of these things were not on the paper he signed.   

A year later, he was training as an infantryman at Fort Lewis, Washington.  He got a weekend pass, and I drove down to see him.  The car stalled just outside of Bellingham.  I called his hotel and told him that I would be late.  He said he would just meet me in Bellingham, that he wanted to go there anyway.  We got a hotel room, bought a bottle of booze, and played poker late enough into the night to enjoy the whiskey-warmed comfort of sirens that were for someone else.       

He had a deck of cards with tanks on them.  On one side of each card there was a picture of a tank.  The other side featured information about each tank: its physical dimensions, weapons range, whether the tank belonged to an ally or an enemy.  He used these cards to study for battle simulations.  I asked him if he had ever destroyed any friendly tanks by mistake.  He said no, but that he had tried to blow one up on purpose.  What happened, I said.  He said that he had blown up an enemy tank that he'd thought was friendly.  Why, I said.  I didn't study very hard, he said.  I meant why blow up a friendly, I said.  Because it was a game, he said.  Just like poker, I said.  Not like poker, he said.      

On Tuesday night the sirens began to spook him.  He asked me if Vancouver was expensive.  Yes, I said.  Especially the booze.  

"Do cops really ride horses there?"

"I've only seen them in cars."

"Do the sirens sound the same?"

"The same as what?"

"As the American ones."

"I think so.  I guess I would have noticed if they didn't."

Later, after Jason was shot and killed, I sat in a Gastown pub with a whiskey that warmed nothing.  The sirens were all for him.  It was hard to tell whether they sounded different than the American ones, or if it was just Doppler and distance.


Damon Barta lives in Vancouver, British Columbia where he disingenuously romanticizes 
the prairie winters of his youth and pretends to loathe the rain.  His most recent work 
has appeared in Staccato and Necessary Fiction.

Someone who barely survived the Army once showed me a deck of cards much like the one described in this story.  While "The American Ones" imagines a different fate for the bearer of these cards, it confronts certain fears common to narrator and author alike.



Copyright 2009