Author: Darren Swift
Location: South Wales, UK
Darren Swift is 40 years old, and after travelling the world with the military has finally decided to lay down roots and settle in South Wales. As well as being a husband, father, and IT Specialist, he is also studying for a degree in English Language and Literature. He has no social life.
His work can be found in the American publication A Flasher’s Dozen, Gold Dust magazine, Wingspan Quarterly,
and in a previous edition of Raving Dove.
Making it Home
It was still almost a good half-mile walk, but he could see the house, now. It looked the same as it always had, rain beaten and sun blanched. Even the windows held the same tattered curtains that flapped in the afternoon breeze. In the backyard he could see his daddy’s red car, something that annoyed him slightly as it should have been under the tarpaulin. His dog lay in the dust of the stoop, sleeping as he always did.
He stopped for a moment and brushed imaginary dirt from his uniform, then looked up at the sun burning down in the late August afternoon. He was not sweating; he was used to the heat after living most of his life here. Even his last 18 months were spent in the heat of the boiling pot known as Vietnam.
He ran a gloved hand over the medals pinned to his chest and then started to walk the last few hundred yards home.
“Whiskey fiver, this is Whiskey control. Do you have contact? Over.”
The sound of the radio in Seb’s ears startled him and he nearly opened fire into the empty jungle to his front. They had been on ambush duty for nearly three hours and had not yet seen one Viet Cong pass through their lines. He keyed the mike twice for a negative and went back to watching the dense vegetation.
The boys here are very good to me and look after me and everything. I cant tell you what I been doing but I promise you Im doing my best to be a good soldier. I hope you have been cleaning daddy’s car for me like you promised. give fracture a big kiss for me I miss him as much as you.
Im making it home.
Seb put down the pen and re-read what he had written. His head hurt from having to form the letters but he was pleased with what he had done. Some of the other guys got Doc or College Kid to write theirs’ but not Seb, he was far too proud to ask for help.
“You finished writing home, Seb?” asked Davey.
Seb flashed a smile at his young friend. “Yeah, want me to write you one?”
Davey laughed. Seb liked that, as Davey was always quick to laugh. “No thanks, man, I ain’t got nothing in the world to write to or for.”
Seb laughed with him. “In that case I’m gonna tell you again about how I’m gonna drive my daddy’s car down Main Street when I get home, my dog by my side, both of us shouting hello to the ladies.”
“No, please no – not the 1953 red Chevy pickup truck story again!”
“It all began when my daddy died and left me his truck…”
The bullets came thick and fast, shredding the leaves from the trees around them and showering them with green confetti. Seb lay face down in the dirt, hoping beyond hope that nothing would come his way. Davey was somewhere to his left, and through the cacophony of gunfire Seb could hear him moaning, asking alternately for his mother and Jesus.
With the firefight receding into the near distance, Seb rolled over until he was alongside the prone figure of his best friend.
“Tell me ‘bout your car, Seb, tell me how we’re gonna drive down Main Street together wit your dog.”
Seb began to tell him how they’d look so proud in their uniforms, how people would wave flags for them, and how they’d stop at the end of main street and go for sodas at the Dairy Queen.
Seb continued talking long after the light faded from Davey’s eyes.
I made day 265 today it won’t be long and soon Ill be home. I got your letter last week. Please tell cousin robyn Im sorry about fracture biting her and ill buy her a soda when I get home. Ive not got a lot of time now. I’ll write you soon. I’m making it home Momma.
“You writing to mommy again, Sebby?” asked Davey’s replacement. Seb looked at him with disdain and then ignored him. Seb hadn’t even bothered getting to know him, knew only that he was from Brooklyn and that everyone called him “New York”.
“I’m talking to you!” Davey’s replacement said, his body language telling more as the shoulders became squarer and the peacock chest filled out the dirty fatigues.
Seb looked the younger man straight in the eyes, narrowing his own so that his would-be opponent knew what he was dealing with. The younger man tried to hold his gaze, but he saw past the whites and into the horror held within eight months of jungle living.
He turned away. “Didn’t mean nothing,” he muttered, as he slouched away towards the latrines.
They screamed as they fell. Seb had never got used to that and today was no different. He crouched beneath the trunk of a huge fallen tree as the mortar rounds screeched their way in between him and his comrades.
Worse than the screaming was the quiet following a mortar attack, because that meant that it would only be minutes before the Viet Cong would come charging through the American lines, their yellowed faces twisted into grimaces of fury and hatred, their weapons constantly searching out the living.
Ten months of living this way had taught Seb to stay still for a while, wait until they came running through and then react accordingly. Others were not so wise.
“Wowee! That was some noise!” shouted New York as he got to his feet and looked around at the devastation that surrounded them.
The bullet entered his right temple and exploded out from the left side of his head; skull and brain matter flew in all directions before New York’s glazed eyes fell, along with the rest of his body, into the soft vegetable matter which covered the ground.
I aint got long left out here now. Im hoping it goes really quick. I just want to be home now. Im looking forward to driving my car down main street and seeing all my old friends. Please can you give her a good shine and if you have some of the money left that I sent you can you buy fracture a new collar.
I love you momma, Im making it home.
Seb ran as hard as he could, his lungs dragging in the wet humid air and expelling it in huge gasps. The ambush had been quick and frightening. Efficient in its execution, it had felled most of his colleagues before anyone had known what was happening.
He looked up at the jungle canopy and tried to see the direction of the sun so that he could orient himself before he ran again. Behind him he could hear his pursuers thrashing their way down the path he had created.
He took a deep, muggy breath and started to run; a direction was chosen only because it was away from those chasing him.
The jungle began to thin and he sensed the paddy fields ahead, an open space that he would have to cross in plain view of the hunters behind him. He considered changing course but instead ran on and burst through the foliage into the large clearing.
The Viet Cong regulars who sat eating their cold rations were as surprised as he was as he ran into their midst and then through their number before he hit the dyke in middle of the heavily irrigated field.
He had managed thirty yards before he heard the first bullet whine past his shoulder. He tucked his head down and pumped his arms for all they were worth.
His tired breath rasped over his vocal chords.
“Making it home, Momma. Making it home.”
As he neared the house, Fracture looked up and sniffed the air. A strange look crossed his canine face before he began barking and ran through the gate to meet Seb. As he did, Seb heard the sound of his daddy’s car starting; it came from behind the house, turned onto the dusty road and drove away towards town.
His mother appeared from the other side of the house, a large wad of dollar bills in her hand.
He was just about to call her when she looked in his direction.
“Fracture! Damn fool dog! Barking at thin air! Git in here now, come on!”
Fracture ran back towards the yard, stopped, looked back once and gave a bark of recognition before disappearing into the open door of the house.
A hand came down hard on Seb’s shoulder.
“You made it home, Seb. C’mon, you can show me Main Street.”
Seb smiled one last time at the run-down house he had once called home and followed Davey into the dust raised by the disappearing Chevy.