Author: Theresa Schimmel
Location: Wakefield, R.I.
Theresa Schimmel is a retired educator who lives in Rhode Island with her husband, Steven. She enjoys reading, writing, and swimming. She has two grown sons, and a large extended family. She has been writing short stories for most or her life, and attends a weekly writing group.
The Vigil by the Window
Josh stares at the white haze, looking for shadows. There is dust everywhere. He feels it in his nostrils, layered on his uniform. Rigid in a tattered chair, he sits surrounded by sandbags lobbed on top of each other and chunks of plaster fallen to the floor. Everywhere in the town of Ramadi the work of the American bombing is evident. Rivulets of sweat trickle from his matted hair to the Kevlar vest pressed up against his neck. He scratches under his helmet with his left hand, keeping his right steady on his M-16 trigger. It rests heavily on his left knee. Flies buzz lazily in and out the open window. His eyes are not diverted. The noon sun bakes the silent street. This is his second day on this post. Yesterday he had counted the bullet holes in the wall- seventy-eight. The shrill piercing sound of rocket-propelled grenades had stopped, leaving a deafening silence.
He is vigilant by the window, waiting for them. They had come before, like moles scurrying from their holes. Brandishing AK-47’s, dodging in and out of alleyways, they had grinned. He remembered that. They were kids, younger than he, some of them. And they had grinned. Millar got hit yesterday. Josh saw the hit as they rode in together. The blast tore Millar’s kneecap open. Josh twitches, recalling the bits of bone that struck his face, bone now pressed into Iraq’s dusty streets. He fingers the scrap of paper in his left jacket pocket. Millar and he had exchanged addresses and phone numbers to contact family members “just in case”. Josh would call Millar’s family when he got back to the base. He’d tell them that Millar got medi-vacked to Germany. He wouldn’t tell them about the screaming, their son’s contorted face, or the words of the medic. “This guy will need an emergency amputation at MASH unit before his flight to the American field hospital in Germany.” Millar was a top-notch basketball player. They’d played one on one, but Josh could never take him. He tries to picture him lobbing the ball up from a wheelchair. Weren’t the new prosthesis limbs almost like the real thing? One of his buddies had told him that. Despite the heat, he shudders with a sudden chill.
His stomach rumbles. No longer did they receive three meals a day. He could reach for the packaged ration in his pocket, but couldn’t do so without putting his weapon down. He would wait. A calendar on the wall to his right caught his eye. He had nearly forgotten that today was his birthday. A year ago he had gone barhopping with friends to celebrate his twenty-first. A year ago he was taking courses at the local community college. Now six months into his tour of duty with his National Guard unit, he feels he has aged six years. Closing his eyes, he licks his lips and imagines the wet cold froth of beer going down his gullet. Kicking the sandbag in front of him with his hob-nailed boot, he winces and feels his toe begin to throb. Anger was the easier emotion. Anger kept him pumped, alert, ready. He slides his gloved finger up and down the trigger. He’d named her Julie, after his first lay. She’d been his constant companion in high school before moving away. He hadn’t heard from Julie in four years, but the strawberry scent of her hair and silkiness of her skin was still a fresh memory. He rubs the barrel of this cold hard black Julie pressed into his crotch. She now is his constant companion.
Ping- he heard it in the distance. A rock, a bullet. He wasn’t sure. His heart quickens as he sits upright. A flurry of dust rises in the window before him. The pounding of his heart almost deafens the sound, but he hears the shuffle, senses the enemy. Julie reacts. She pumps a spray of bullets into the street. She hits her mark. Josh leans out the window. A thick red pool of blood seeps from a boy’s skull. One arm is tossed above the head. The other still clutches a brown paper bag. Oranges roll through the red puddle, creating streaks of blood. The dates from the market lie plopped in the middle. Josh stares at the swirls of crimson, orbs of orange, circles of brown, an abstract painting on Ramadi’s main thoroughfare. The eyes are looking at him. Dead eyes – deep brown. Josh leans on the sandbags and pukes out the window.