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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Military · #2021214
vignette, a first person narrative of marine's first day back from war
         Standing on the second floor of the barracks, I inhale deeply, the thin Mohave air, and gaze upon the eastern ridgeline as the morning twilight glimmers from a far off distance illuminating the sky with sharp rays of gold that pierce into its auburn shield and tear through the violet sky fading upon the far off west, as I exhale and smile.
         I look down the long catwalk into it's shadowy exit where hear a lone pair of feet stomping up the stairs, the footsteps were heavy, and along with the jingle of a heavy key ring I assumed it must be the duty.
         Sure enough in the shadowy staircase appears tan desert digital utilities and a green web belt, and with quick pivot he disappears down the side of the building with his thudding footsteps fading along.
         I return to staring out upon main side observing each of the many barracks with the open views of their catwalks and empty rooftops, a blue SUV drives slowly in front of my barracks with its windows down, I can faintly hear 'Going to California' by Led Zeppelin playing on his radio.
As the sun rises above the ridgeline the sky begins to shift to a light blue, morning comes quick in the desert, within minutes the sun will break over the ridgeline and misery will be in full swing in the desert oasis.
         Distantly I hear a single voice yell:
         "Company! Atten-tion! R-ight, face. forward, march. Double time, huuh!"
         The sarcastic groans of agony from lower enlisted echo and cause me to smile for the second time today.
         I inhaled deeply through my nose and the aromatic stench of sulfur-ridden sewage from lake Bandini ripped through me for the first time in eight months, a disgusting beacon of safety, of civilization, of home. A trademark to 29 palms known by all its unfortunate residents.
         My stomach turns and groans unsatisfied by the abundance of alcohol and lack of food. I see 4 separate groups of three and four marines strutting up the walkway between the rows of company offices on the left and barracks on the right, they are all dressed in desert utilities.
         A glistening flash on the collar of a sole marine sending the arms of all the marines in the first group to the bill of their cover, the other groups see this and confer their intelligence with one another. Gradually, as the officer walks by, salutes are rendered from each of the groups to which he hastily honors and they all cut.
         'I wonder if that ever gets old,' I think to myself. If I were an officer I would scout paths not commonly used to avoid the onslaught of greetings especially at morning hours. But I'm no officer, and I have no understanding of their breed, 'I think I will get some breakfast.'
         I'm still in my desert utility bottoms and instead of changing into civilian clothes I just throw my blouse on, grab my cover and walk off. The officer has long since disappeared into one of the many offices on my right as I reach the walkway.
         The first barracks building is completely vacant, each floor is clear including the roof. The first office building however is not, with shiny brass glistening all over the 'covered area' outside. All the ranking officers are having their morning cigarettes and coffee, they laugh and jeer one another similar to the manner us lowly enlisted do.
         I look back to see my barracks building is equally vacant. A group of three marines are walking behind me their blouse sleeves rolled firmly, I look at my down at my sleeves stained with sweat slightly tattered and faded to a near khaki tone they flail wildly with my arm movements so I button them on the loose slot. I hear faintly in the distance cadence being sung, and repeated. I reach to my back and rub my smooth broke in utility blouse, my heart stops.
         'Shit! My rifle,' I thought as I quickly spin around and take half a step, I stop myself quickly and laugh, turn back around and continue walking.
         The second barracks building is vacant except the second floor where three marines jog hastily down the catwalk. The office building adjacent to it is holding morning formation, close to 200 marines are standing at ease talking in a near whisper waiting for their commanding officer's appearance. The loud quick clotting of boots down stairs beckons from the right. A loud booming voice from the formation bellows:
         "Lets go Holson, you've got thirty seconds till you're UA."
         The three marines running across the second for catwalk shoot out of the stairway and sprint to the mass formation and disappear into one of the inner columns. Another loud voice commands:
         The crack of boots colliding in unison jolts me, I moved faster and quickly scan the third and last barracks building, on the third floor a marine is running with his entire ruck sack, on the back end of the building rows of marines are standing with ruck sacks wearing flack jackets and Kevlar helmets. From the rear left I faintly hear a stern voice say:
         "1st platoon all present, and or accounted for."
         The final office building is barren.
         I look back to see my barracks building in the distance a marine in desert utilities is pacing across the second floor, probably the duty. The group of three marines is still walking behind me.
         In front of me is a massive parking lot half filled with cars. To the left of the parking lot is IPAC, the admin building for the entire base, on the right is the chow hall. I break my stride to the right and pace quickly through the parking lot. The pavement is hard, and without potholes I focus on my footsteps, I focus on the cars around me, I look back to see the administration building, there are three groups of marines congregating outside. As my head is turned I hear a faint hissing from the front, as I swing my head forward a gust of cold mist sprays my face.
         A sudden jolt of reality, another 29 palms trademark: the 7th marine's chow hall mist. Just a simple reminder of civility and safety, I am in America.
         A woman sits at a desk at the enterance checking meal cards, I say hello and show her mine, I sign my name and write my social security number next to it on a clipboard on the desk. There is no line and very few marines are in the eating area, I grab a trey, a plate, glass, spoon fork and knife and walk to the buffet, the first cook greets me and I get some rice with gravy and sausage links as well, I then walk to the end of the buffet and order a western omelet, after 3 minutes the eggs are on my plate and I walk quickly to the corner sitting area.
         I set my tray down and get a glass of milk an apple and an orange and return to my corner table. Before setting down I stuff the apple in my right pocket and orange in my left.
         With my back against the entrance wall I can see the entire chow hall, people entering, leaving, eating; alone and in my silence I eat the first American meal I have had for nearly 8 months. It is mediocre and delicious at the same time. The fresh jalapes in the omelet crunched with the hickory bacon. The muddy gravy on the steamed rice is the polar opposite of the trey rations version I was lucky to occasionally indulge in between days of MRE's. The tiny shriveled sausage links however, were terrible, just as they always were, just as they'll always be.
         The group of marines that followed me up the walkway emerged from the buffet, laughing they walked together and sat at a table next to the booth I was in. I stared intently at my omelet as they placed their treys on the table got their milk and sat at their table.
         They quickly started discussing their doldrums as administrative clerks.
They spent much of their time assuring one another that they could've been infantry if they wanted, but they wanted to do a job that would prepare them for the civilian life, one made the comment that if he were afforded the opportunity to deploy he would. He further stated that he would request to be attached as an infantryman so he could show everyone that admin can do anything a grunt can do.
         My fork clattered against my trey as I imagined plunging the tines deep into the clerk's leg I would scream in his face all the things every grunt has ever wanted to say to a POG. I decided the best thing to do would be to put down my fork, so I did. I grabbed my glass and slowly drank. The thick creamy milk was far different than the sweet goat milk I'd come accustom to, it slid slowly to the back of my mouth as I swallowed I close my eyes and for a moment I am at my childhood home, drinking a large glass of milk after running two a day football practices in the humid summer days in Kentucky.
         A sudden jolt of adrenaline shoots through my body as ceramic plates crash to the ground next to the exit. I choke on the milk and drop my glass; milk floods the trey, ruining my omelet. The clerks next to me find this amusing and laugh while staring intently at me. My hands shake more and their laughter grows.
         I say nothing, grab my trey and walk slowly to the exit, I can feel beads of sweat forming on my brow, my chest feels as though there is a heavy weight pulling on it, the collar of my skivvy shirt is on fire and I can feel my face entering into a new shade of red. I drop my trey on the dishwasher's conveyor belt and walk out the chow hall into the desert and under the sweltering Mohave sun. I put my cover on and walk off to far side of the chow hall. I reach into my pocket and grab my pack of cigarettes, only one remains. I slide it into my mouth, light, inhale deeply, and exhale. I can feel my skin cooling; my chest feels lighter, as I wipe my brow.
         "One pair of shower shoes," a voice demands from my left. I turn my head to see the rows of marines bent over in front of their gear searching for the cheap black sandals marines treasure so dearly, one of the few things that somehow stick with marines from boot camp to EAS, inefficient as they are.
         Through the side window I can see the clerks all standing up to leave, I snub my cigarette out and march hastily towards the parking lot.
         'I need cigarettes,' I think to myself as I walk briskly through the parking lot, scanning the pavement and the cars alike.
         "COMPANY! ATTEN-TION. Platoon sergeants, take command of your platoon, and carry out plan of the day," a familiar voice bellows.
         "Aye first sergeant" a group of voices say in unison.
         To my left where once was a barren lot behind a company office stood columns of marines dressed in green on green pt gear.
         'All the things to come in the near future, but not until after the grand post deployment weapon cleaning and turn in,' I think with a stern grimace.
         I walk past the admin building down the wide driveway, past the admin building is the regimental office, between it is an uncovered area littered with marines in rolled sleeves and high cut hair. Surely they're discussing issues of grave importance, like cover sheets, new templates used for power points, or perhaps they are merely pontificating the theoretical exploits of heroism they are certain they'd display in a theoretical world where desk jockeys where trusted with live ammunition in a warzone they'll never see.
         'Infantrymen and headquarters marines have a very unique relationship,' I thought laughingly as the heat around my collar returned. Amongst the infantry it's commonly said that if you aren't infantry then you are there solely to support it. Headquarters will claim that that without them the infantry couldn't exists. That obviously is incorrect, Spartans didn't have admin offices, nor did the romans. They had their weapons and they had their enemy. That is all an infantrymen needs: a rifle, and an enemy.
         Beads of sweat are pouring down the side of my face as I veer left and walk in front of the regimental office down the main drag of the Marine Core Air Ground Combat Center. The face of the three clerks laughing at me burn in my head as my mouth goes dry.
         I imagine them two years younger; seniors in high school, walking into their recruiter's office saying something like:
         "I want to be in the marines but I want a job that will offer me life skills that can be applied in the 'real world'"
         When really what they are saying is:
         "You guys have the coolest uniform, I want one, but I'm not willing to die to wear it, and I don't have it in me to kill. All I want is some easy money and free drinks every time I go to a bar."
         'Without admin the infantry would thrive,' I thought grimly, 'the only thing that would be missing without support is the majority of soft skinned high and stupid's that call themselves Marines.'
I want to scream: "You'd all be squeaking by in community college going to house parties, slipping roofie's in some sorority girl's Bahama momma." Into the group, but I don't, I just walk along.
         I wipe my brow and walk faster I'm passed the office building and passing the taco bell, where there are three men standing on the roof, one of them is on a cell phone. I slide my hand up my back and come up with nothing but air.
         "Shit!" I say loudly as I spin around and take another half a step until reality wafts over me with the sent of refried beans and processed meat, another beacon of civilization. I'm in America.
         I take a deep breath and cross the street and walk quickly to the package store. I scan the parking lot and the mass of cars quickly my body begins to cool, the sweat that's gathered around my collar and chest now feels cool and my tense body beings to relax.
         'In and out,' I think intensely, 'get cigarettes some water and a few beers and get out'
         I walk through the main door and into the 'seven day store'. I walk straight to the back I grab a gallon bottle of water from the cooler turn around and walk through the isle staring straight ahead. I see slivers of heads in other isles, some are on cell phones, some are in civilian clothes, some are laughing with their comrades but most just search intently at whatever they are there to acquire. I walk past them all to the front of the store and go to the beer cooler and retrieve a 12 pack of light beer, I walk to the front of the store and pull out a carton of reds from the display case. I turn around and get in line to check out, I am third in line so I stare intently at the hairline of the marine in front of me. It's a low reg, he's a short termer. I imagine in a few months my hair will look similar, I'll be more laid back with a perpetual smile with the knowledge that soon all this will fade into a series of distant memories. The man at the counter steps off and the marine with the low reg steps forward, sets his basket on the counter and greets the cashier. She scans the contents of his basket, as she puts the first items in the bag I sense someone gets in line behind me, he is in civilian clothes. I just stare at the hairline in front of me. I feel a hand touch my right shoulder and I jump.
         "Take off your cover," some staff sergeant in uniform tells me.
         "Roger," I respond, I put the water on the ground and put my cover in my cargo pocket with my apple. As I retrieve my water the marine in front of me walks away with his bags, and I step forward.
         "Hello," I say forcing a smile, "how're you?"
         "I'm doing good, yourself?" she responds with a much more genuine smile.
         "Fine," I respond.
         She has deep blue eyes and glowing blonde hair, I inhale deeply and her perfume flows through my nose and hits me like a bucket of cold ice, I begin to swoon as I exhale. I remember the passionate letters I would receive while away from home, sprayed with perfume.
         "Will that be all?" she asks still smiling.
         "That'll be it," I say with a much more genuine smile as I hand her my debit card, "you smell really nice."
         "Well thank you," she says, her smile widening.
         She hands me my card back with a receipt, I sign it and hand it to her, put my card in my pocket, grab my bag and walk out. I walk hastily through the corridor into the parking lot my pace picks up, the woman scent still lingers in my nose and on my mind. Of all the tenets of American civilization, the most fundamental precept is the beauty of our women. There is no trauma of war, no misery the cant be all but cured with the smile of a woman, connecting eyes and inhaling their sweet aroma.

         "Hey devil, cover!" a voice calls out.
         I look up to see a Major standing in front of me. I put my water on the ground, reach into my cargo pocket, grab my cover, place it on my head and salute. He returns it, and I say to him:
         "You're my first salute in eight months, sir."
         "Well, it was going to happen eventually, welcome back," he says as he shuffles by.
         While women may be the cornerstone of civilization, devil dogging is canon within the corps whether in safety or war and no matter the mood can send you into a spiral of animosity and frustration, deserved or not.
         I walk onto the long stretch of road that I stared out on when I awoke this morning, I can see my barracks; there are marines on all floors in civilian clothes, no one on the roof. To my right is the base theater where I spent many days listening to chaplains and doctors preaching statistics of suicide amongst marines as well as STD's. For now though it is clear at all angles, including the rooftop. Next to me on my left is the first admin office I passed on my way to breakfast, I remember the slew of officers I saw there earlier and decide to cross the street.
         As I cross I inhale through my nose; the woman's scent is gone, and the putrid stench of Bandini returns. I walk through the battalion parking lot quickly scanning the neatly paved road, I observe the cars around me and shuffle past then all up the hill on the side of the barracks and jog into the stairwell up the stairs and across the catwalk to my room. I unlock the door and slide the water into my room with my foot. I put the bag on the bed I open the 12 pack an get a beer, I get a pack of cigarettes open it and grab one, I walk out side open the can and take a swig. I put the cigarette in my mouth, light it, and inhale.

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