The United States of America.
Ladies and gentlemen, the United States of America.
A great place from which to begin to get lost.
A scam, a sham, a floorshow, a full-time funtime wonderland. A full-body scan, an “in the out door.” Whereupon things, being such as they are, a desert night with desert floor. Will get you nowhere. With a flare of rockets. With a shady past and four or five second chances, it sounds good to say this, ladies and gentlemen…
ladies and gentlemen….
this is your last chance. The great white hope, the linoleum calluses on your hands, your feet, your face. The mouth, the teeth, the tip of the tongue. All lit up and nowhere to go. A floorshow for the boys, the end of the world as local color, the end of the world as we know it. Out in the desert a succession of nights, a secession of night, a badass climax to a plain and tall fairytale. Out from under your skirts a Kalashnikov, maybe, or a supply line and I don’t want this to sound like I’m making this up I’m not making this up I’m making this up.
You go along to get along. Freely moving around within the borders of, is this where you actually live and where do you live and who are you anyway, tied to a chair in an otherwise empty room on party night, a nice face and a nightlight to call home.
A desert full of accusations. The hills have eyes; if those guys were real they’d already be dead. Beyond all comparison. The green of night-vision having a life of its own, a place to call its own, a pink mist. Ladies and gentlemen,
as if after a long silence
as if after a long silence
forget everything you thought you knew and pedal-metal it. Four to the floor because that’s the way the bodies pile up, stay where you are and nobody gets hurt. Instead of a lifesize action figure, instead of a monster truck with slit windows for bows and arrows, instead of the slings and arrows an otherwise empty room.
A glimmer of promise. The desert floor is mostly continuous. The war is always somewhere else, and where are you, and who invited you, and how much time do you have to react, and what are you hiding, and what are you.
A loose association. A loosened tooth. Loosely defined intentions; consult a physician. Or you’re golden and powernapped and here again the premise of the sun goes down, which sets the stage. It’s not about a 50 meter drop from a helicopter. It’s not about boxers vs. briefs, late nights with hired help, party nights, late to the party, ladies and gentlemen, you say, ladies and gentlemen
but this is not permitted
But you’re getting ahead of yourself again. Back to the beginning, dehydration and HUMINT and PSYOPS you could be someone somewhere right now, a first person field test, an otherwise empty place to call home.
Casings as big as fat fingers. As big as severed thumbs. You know the history of violence, you don’t need to get into it, that old glow. This is your floorshow, you say, ladies and gentlemen
plus all the waiting
a cloud produced at noon by a stream of piss hitting the desert floor. And you could call yourself a witness of a certain kind, a certain attenuated way, you hold still and wait patiently for what comes next, between the bursts of artillery there’ a lot of silence to archive and deal with.
If those guys were real, you’d say, they’d already be dead.
Late night into a field search for altered scrub brush and what’s a better nightcap than a few fired rounds. A few odds and ends and evidence. A contental drift. There’s fire at eight o’clock and you’re in the back seat decluttering your head for the floor show, a lot of directionless noise
the shots at night, no fire from the muzzles or somewhere you lost it, a million new strategies for dealing with the populace, a million eligible bachelors in a million well-worn rooms, pacing. A kind of war room of the mind. Ladies and gentlemen, you would say, allow me a few moments of your time.
Allow me to say something on your behalf.
Allow me to bury you.
Forty minutes of nonsense noise and then it’s lights and sirens and a pot to piss in. A series of internal crests and valleys. You were out there you would say with kneepads on and face twisted and hands burnt and an endangered species of specimens and if you hold your breath, a brushfire. Written out of the history books. Lost menace and the gunmount above your head thuds hollow, or the gun is placed against your arm, pressed close enough for safety. This is you welcome wagon; this is what your world is like. This is your best guess, wolves in a wolfpack. Calculating the odds.
The world is full of burning dogs.
Go back where you came from and massage the details, the M-4, the M-15. You don’t accidentally get your face twisted off in a clean flash and you’re the witness, all you can do is white tent it with a pot to piss in. Even the taste of the water is subject to change, you get your chipped ice from the PX because who knows what’s still buried in the desert floor.
And there’s still a lot of space to cover but it’s way over there, a lateral slide, now you know where you are exactly and it’s not a high desert, it’s not a sandbox in Central Europe, it’s not a lost cause, it’s a host of afflictions. Like a rash or pest. This is your best guess, fifty-cal or gun it, sand in every crevice and the bad guy hotel blown down by the wind. And that’s just the past.
The past is what, you might have said, you might have witnessed. In sum or in part, a few jerking bodies and some professional blood. A few internal puffs of smoke, ladies and gentlemen, you would say,
where are you now
where were you when
what can we do but pack light and practice hand-to-hand. You get yourself down on the desert floor you get your big ideas organized you get your boot heel in his open mouth and step down hard.
You get yourself lost. The United States of America, a place where you can get yourself lost. A few disciple-ready face men by the roadside. A place where you can learn how to tote a gun.
Believe me, ladies and gentlemen, you would say, these memories are not yours, and never were, and what’s more the tape runs out before the story ends. What’s more the false witness, the collateral damage, the line in the sand. If only,
you would say, if only.
False starts and pressed flesh and flashed grins. You suit-and-tie it to the office block if you’re a lucky stiff. A few years off your life from staring at a meaningful flicker. The chairs knocked over in the war room, the class dismissed, this history is not yours and never was. Maps and legends for afterhours. Alone in a room with nothing to do other than wait, you would say, and no history, no circumstance.
Whatever you have to do to save yourself.
Whatever it was you did that set the rockets off. Your vocabulary stripped down because it’s May it’s night it’s in the past or you never were actually shot or it was all collateral noise. A promise or premise from which to start. With or without a bleeding heart.
Whatever you have said, you’d say, is yours alone and said and done. A sad clown and the setting sun.
You’d say, lest we forget. You’d say lets shake on it. If your past were real it would already be dead.
The wheels roll and the civilians get out of their cars in the desert in order to scream and what’s of note is it’s wordless. Call of the wild.
Ladies and gentlemen, you’d say, a few sad songs burning down the house. A last chance. A civil war from which to go forth,
ladies and gentlemen,
ladies and gentlemen. You’d say,
all of this is in the past now and you can come home with a dent in your head and an internal sea of glass.
Ladies and gentlemen this is contemporary history, you would say, this is the story of your life, the past is boots on ground and if you were real you’d already be dead and this is how you say goodnight—all you do is say….
Fast lights out.
Nicholas Grider is the author of the story collection Misadventure (A Strange Object, 2014) and a chapbook under the name Owen Merth (Imipolex, 2015). He lives in Milwaukee and you can find him on Twitter but he’s not sure that’s a good idea.