The frozen rain she encountered at the mailbox drove into her face like shotgun salt as wind funneled around the northwest corner of the Olympic mountains. Black ice on the roads throughout Oak Harbor kept Katherine Mouton homebound in the week before Christmas 1972, but the growing Nestlé’s Quick situation would soon need addressing and she prayed for relief.
On Thursday, the 21st, it warmed enough for her to go after the holy trinity of Cajun food: onions, bell-pepper, celery. Chicken, flour, cooking-oil and other sundries she added to the list wrote “S” inside a circle, the memory jog for sausage whereas she’d prefer to have written the “AU” for the Andouille preferred in Christmas gumbo’s Acadiana wide—but smoked sausage would substitute this Christmas whereas some things, cannot be replaced.
She also needed milk.
Milk. If only they had Borden’s. Oh God! She thought. It would make their Nestlé’s taste better than cane syrup. On the matter of Nestlé’s Chocolate Quick? At four teaspoons per glass twice daily for Conner, one in the morning, and one glass at night, a tin of mix lasted on average one week and no Nestlé’s on Christmas would be the bitter aftertaste to a present Santa wouldn’t be delivering—her husband. His father.
Outside, dark clouds sick with moisture muted the sun. Katherine paused in the dimness of the hallway watching her son illuminated by TV light from a Magnavox console, face hypnotized by Dastardly and Muttley’s perpetual contest with Yankee Doodle Pigeon. She turned and streamed through a hallway of memory lane towards the closet past a family photo at Ebey’s Prairie and Deception Pass during snowfall, and a novelty booth color portrait of her and Alex Mouton glued onto a round four-inch button with a stickpin made at the Sugar Cane Festival before he joined the Navy.
It resided in a small cypress frame behind glass.
Christmas anticipation and the joy of families thankful to be whole for the holidays seeped into her home like radio waves unobstructed by paper walls around an emotional fortress.
Electricity charged the air.
She avoided news but knew by osmosis the end neared as radiated in faces and pouring off the skin of wives she had limited contact with. She avoided looking directly at neighbors, shuttling kids hither and thither between home and car returning with Christmas packages bought and wrapped in Seattle. They invaded her periphery from the kitchen window despite staring down through murky dishwater at hands nervously splayed across submerged ceramic plates.
The Christmas approaching would be for her the saddest on record. She expected the news, she felt it in her bones and still, not a word. One Knight Rider’s crew wound up POWs in Hanoi, a SAM atomized another into a mist over the Phu Qui railroad yard and despite eyewitness’s, no one knew for sure the fate of her husband shot down above the 20th parallel on 5 May 1972.
Nearing the hallway closet door, she traced her hand in a slow line along the last foot of paneling to the crack and jumped the molding to the doorknob and touched it apprehensively as if it were the hasp to Pandora’s box. Inside were the items of life and smells that overpowered the scent of mothballs in a coffee tin she’d placed for the purpose of masking.
She retrieved their coats from cedar hangers and stood on her tiptoes for the crochet black-n-gold Saints hat with gold pom-pom up on the shelf.
Back in the living room, Conner hadn’t moved an inch and once at his side, bent to his level saying gently, “We need to go to the store baby.”
Leaning forward towards the tube, she pushed the TV’s clunky knob off. Without protest, he stood and let her help him with his coat.
Whoops and wolf whistles for sex symbol Jane Fonda welcomed her onto a stage erected in a day atop a scalloped green plain which descended gently into the gates of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. On stage center at the head of her idolaters bussed en masse from Seattle on her dime she noted the disgruntled, impressionable soldiers swept from the G.I. Coffee houses outside of Fort Lewis peppered into the crowd by her order. She cast a gaze across the crowd’s cardinal points pausing briefly as performers do to pervade in them a sense of belonging. Overlooking each, some in there swallowed a lump or harbored hearts that skipped a beat in their chest with the glancing sweep of her eye as though she’d actually seen them—but could not fathom nor choose to face that for her, they held no further significance beyond that of pencil dots on blank, white paper.
Hiding a grin with the simple upturn in the corner of her mouth, long manicured fingers tugged at the hems of her bellbottom jeans. She sucked in her belly and then pulled at her blouse hoping they couldn’t see the baby bump Tom Hayden made; probably while still in North Vietnam.
She had a girl.
She preferred a boy—this time.
Subconsciously she knew she’d behold a boy child in locum for the love her father denied and reduce her dependence on limitless suitors du jour that only whet the pangs of her void.
Before introductions, before speaking, before cueing the FTA troupe to enter, she spotted Donald Sutherland in her peripheral vision, off in the corner after the chorus he’d lead moments before taking the state, his long face, his sad hound dog eyes emptier since she left. He’d shadowed the baby’makers the entire day since Tom arrived from Vancouver that morning.
Jane intentionally held her eyes on him long enough to catch his eye. He must know, she thought. As easily as Donald entered her pasture during Klute; easy despite his Lois and despite her Vadim, he must know Hayden plowed her now. Although she couldn’t navigate life without a strongman at her helm, she did know that a weak man hopelessly grasps for the threads affection, despite the death of enamor.
Cruelty didn’t stem her furtive glances, allure she poured like sweat. Sensuality and hints in a mannerism flitting or fleeting a moment an insecure man questions whether it occurred at all, apparitions like a ghost leaving you standing there with hair on end wondering. Jane, despite the biological commitment growing inside her, she thirsted for the liqueur of Sutherland’s desire, she needed the go-go juice of a drunkards craving, she needed his—she needed the control.
She needed him as proxy through the door of middle America slammed closed by glomming onto the North Vietnamese and damning herself in enmity of American veterans forever. Like Donald, she procured weak men for the notches dividing their worth until a hundred times right of the decimal; but not zero.
Vadim took eight years to divide, Tom would take 16, Donald took only two and her father, whose love she couldn’t divide by or add until the bittersweet end, Henry Fonda was the conundrum of her greatest zero.
A helper wheeled a podium in front of her and clipped the microphone into its holder and thumped the foam with his fingers. He looked shyly at Jane and nodded; she blinked at him and he slunk away.
Behind the podium her posture relaxed and she let her pooch extend as it had wanted to. Placing both hands on the corners, she looked down at the cue cards she’d taped to it before going on. Now time to push the FTA movie and Tom’s IPC she thought.
By December 1972, Richard Nixon had enough of obstinacy at the peace table in Paris with the North Vietnamese and when talks broke down again, he announced sending B-52s over Hanoi on December 18th to deconstruct their resolve. Big Ugly Fat Fuckers, BUFF’s, delivered in spades and sent American leftist into sulfurous fits of rage.
Suffering a backlash of her summer vacation in North Vietnam, recommended by Hayden, Jane and producer friends cobbled together tapes and interviews of the FTA’s first tour in ’70, recalled the FTA and got them back on the road to promote the film and promote her image—at least among friendlies.
As Nixon made his announcement, they were already doing shows near Fort Lewis. Told an A-6 squadron had recently returned from Linebacker, she set the cast out of Oak Harbor with a three-day protest planned into the day before Christmas.
As Katherine finished with Conner’s coat, she watched cars from the neighbors to her sides leaving their drives and heading up Torpedo road towards base. In five minutes, she followed only to get stopped by two MAAs blocking the way onto base via Goldie Road.
“Base closed?” She asked the head MAA in a heavy pea coat through her half-cracked window.
“Yes ma’am,” he said warm and slow with a drawl decidedly south. “Jane Fonda’s in town lead’n a ruckus outside the main gate o’er west.”
“I see.” Katherine said, shifting uncomfortably. “Well, I got to get items for a Christmas gumbo at the commissary and if she holds me back, I think I’m going to like her less.” Katherine stressed her usually dormant Cajun accent.
“Where you from?” She asked.
Spying the blue officer’s sticker on her Belvedere’s chrome bumper, he smiled widely an Airedale’s wife was kind enough to give him the time of day, much less be interested in his home state. “Biloxi—” he paused. “Ma’am.”
“Hun, you’re so lucky to have such pretty beaches when all I’ve got back home is a mud-pit called Cypremore Point,” She smiled.
“It’s getting back to pretty now ma’am. Camille messed us up pretty fierce.”
“Oh, I know, well—can I still get on base at the other gate?”
“Yes’m. They’re just letting folks in and out real slow, ’cause the protesters keep blocking the road and trying to crawl over fences to get at the Intruders on the ramp.” He said.
“Why the hell?” She meant to think but said barely under her breath.
The sailor bent forward, both hands on his knees putting him at eye level with Katherine. “Nixon got tired of their bull over there and he’s got B-52s bombing Hanoi to the Stone Age he says. Hadn’t you heard?”
“I avoid the news….” she craned to see his nametape. “…. Petty Officer Gorton.”
“OK ma’am. You can move along,” he said and asked, “say, your husband fly the Intruder?”
Katherine forced a smile, fidgeted and gripped the wheel tightly in her right hand as she rolled up the window before shifting the Belvedere into drive.
He did, she mouthed behind an almost closed window.
He read her lips.
Watching her pull away he bit on his bottom lip and stomped his feet on the ground a few times sorry he’d asked.
She was sweet.
Gawd I feel like shit, he thought.
Turning onto Ault Field road, she made her way to the gate where another MAA stopped her short.
“Dependent?” He asked.
Scribbling, his eyes traced the lines of her car as he wrote down color, plates, dings and dents.
“Husband’s name, rank, place of work?” He raised his voice over a discordant noise akin a spastic child having at it on a to xylophone. The tinny drum noises; that what’s from a toy pulled by a string geared to fling drumsticks on pastel metal plats giving off aluminum ululations which, in the fleeting moment, mimicked music for the uninformed with the tightest of squinched eyes—but the hokum afloat atop it brought on a malevolence she’d rather not embrace.
Back over her left shoulder, introduced by the scripted chanting and piano score she’d heard in crescendo approaching the gate, a bald black man in a taupe dashiki decorated with red paisley attacked his guitar supported by twirl of men around him banging banana drums as he sang about freeing Angela Davis, releasing all the political prisoners, US out of Vietnam now and a litany of other demands on a grand scale, international politics of a very real world light years beyond his capability to comprehend.
A stage hand drug two microphones onto center stage five or so feet in front of the backdrop of an Ole Glory, her stars replaced by a peace symbol. A hand wheeled a piano from behind a scrim backdrop out of one side and sophomorically banging three “notes” to see if it made noise. A group, including Donald Sutherland formed on the opposite end.
As they organized, as the crowd wondered silently what comes next, dashiki guy, guitar slung as Johnny Cash sometimes did rushed into the group signaling the piano player with a nod a nod to begin a dong, ding-ding, dong-ding-ding, dong-ding-ding piano rhythm leading him into his ditty enjoined in a chorus by the group.
They sent me to an outpost in old Monterey,
Where I worked hard to get my M-O-S,
Decoded these words to read F-T-A
And their meaning I hadn’t a guess.
Free the Albanians?
Future Teachers of America, who’ll write these on a latrine?
Foxtrot, tango, alpha, help me,
Tell me what does it mean?
The ditty’s end cued Donald Sutherland out of the chorus. Flapping his long arms, he traced a sweeping arc across the stage like a Goony bird to a microphone. He wore a soldiers’ Green Beret—from where who knew.
Pantomiming a telephone held to his right ear, Michael Alaimo, a sort of rheumy looking Italian Gilligan, stood at attention in a disheveled conglomeration of Army uniforms, an officers combo cover perched on his birdlike head.
Sutherland joined him at his left side lifting a hand to his ear pantomiming a phone also.
Beginning the skit, Alaimo kicked Sutherland in the shin like knocking him from an imaginary stool.
“Excuse me private. Do you have change for a quarter for a telephone call?”
“Yeah,” Alaimo said. “Yeah!” He boomed. “You don’t address an officer as yeah. You address an officer as sir, didn’t you learn anything in boot camp? Now I’m going to give you one more chance—now.”
“Private—” he paused. “Do you have change for a quarter?”
Donald Sutherland erected into beanstalk at attention and smiled, “Nooooooo sir!” He said, saluted, flapped out his arms and swept another arc back across the stage to the ding, dong, ding, ding of the piano ditty and dashiki guy sung—
I went down to that place
And looked square in their face
After they read out an order to call me—
Won’t you go please to murder across the seas
And for us commit mass genocide?
No, no, no. So, I won’t fucking go
To commit your mass genocide.
It ain’t humanly right—
No North Vietnamese ever ordered me to fight
Never flew over my hometown to bomb me
Fuck the Army!
And the Marines!
And they Navy!
They yelled, shoving black power fists into the air.
Their taunts chased Katherine onto the air station, but all she really heard was fuck this, or fuck that afloat on rippling ululations of piano ding dongs led by the African choragus.
She shrugged it off.
She drove to the commissary.
She got everything she needed off the shelves, pushed Conner along sitting in the cart with paper bags towards the car, loaded the six brown paper bags, took her seat, gripped the wheel and sighed because she didn’t much feel like waiting in line to leave the base. She pumped the gas pedal slowly three times and turned the ignition.
Once started, she revved the Belvedere hard three times and didn’t care who looked. She liked the shake of the wheel in her hand, the hint of exhaust invading the cabin loved the way the torque shook the car from side to side. If she’d had it in drive, the Belvedere would’ve squatted like an English bulldog at the start line of a race after a cat.
At the gate, guards were letting families through in onesies and twozies after a call from another guard further down the road who’d swept the ditches for lurkers. Earlier in the day, students from the UW got caught throwing bags of feces at passing cars. Katherine learned this later from a neighbor.
Cleared through, stopped and rolled down the passenger side window to hear what was happening on stage. Approaching a T-intersection into housing named Cherokee, a small group stood there in warpaint listlessly banging on drums holding signs reading Indian names for the Indians, not roads. One in the group wore a full-on Plains Indian headdress.
Katherine fiddled in her purse for a pack of Wrigley’s Spearmint.
It took only a day for lot to metastasize the areas a few hundred yards around the stage area. Tents and shanties built from built from Visqueen, cardboard and shipping crates scavenged from local businesses popped up. Some had made the effort do drag driftwood from the beach for lean-to’s. Katherine noticed radio wires strung between trees like capillaries that wired into a reasonably new looking, well kempt tent out near the main road.
It sprinkled and a growing wind threw moisture into their slogans on white banners swirling their tempera exhortations into the tinted tears of a saddened carnival clown. As the wind picked up and gusted at times, the weakened paper tore, ends hanging like the sleeve of an amputee’s arm.
Refuse pits sprouted near the tree line at a copse of evergreen and at night they burned them for warmth.
In the distance, people on the outskirts here and there pumped fists and flipped her off. A quarter mile behind her, she watched about five or so protesters pour into view, sit down and link arms across the road.
Good thing I made it out, she thought but the party was still ahead of her. Dozens more lined the road on either side ahead of her either readying to march the gate or slime over to the stage. Some beat on drums of varied size and all swayed from their hips to whatever tune played in their head. Up near the intersection, vigorous movements of others shaking tambourines with the rhythmic coordination of palsy sufferers, but it all stopped suddenly—as they turned and stared towards the stage.
Sounds of whoops and wolf whistles rolled off the stage and poured into the opened windows of her Belvedere overpowering the tuned hum of its big block V8. As that noise settled, she heard the amplified wunk, wunk, wunk of thumping on a microphone. Katherine saw a woman on stage behind a podium gripping its edges for support and blinded by lights in her face. She wore a brownish turtle-neck, wore a shag hairstyle and propped heavy black rimmed glasses on the end of her nose. Katherine figured it Fonda before she opened her mouth.
Done studying the four corners of her crowd, after hands pulled the lectern before her and after she placed her hands upon it and pursed her lips and pushed her glasses back up on her nose and looked down once again—the whistling and catcalls ceased and the crowd grew quiet, the only sounds that of instruments being put down on the stage. The electric lights cut lines of heat through the chilly air warming her, the sounds of their generators humming in the distance. Here and there, the wind would pick up and she could hear the sound of it blowing the earlier rain off the leaves and throwing them onto the ground.
Jane had notes.
Jane had knowledge.
Jane had what the North Vietnamese fed her and what the Tom Hayden chose to tutor her from the Pentagon Papers.
Jane pulled her hands from the lectern, adjusted the microphone to her mouth and spoke.
“It is our responsibility, all of us, no matter whatever country you come from realize that although there are fewer troops, grunts, grunts, snuffs, peons, whatever you want to call them in Vietnam, there are more Americans dying, more yellow people dying every day than ever before because of what we are doing. We are dropping more than 2 1/2 times the tonnage of Hiroshima on Vietnam each week. That’s a terrible thing to imagine,” She said. “I’ve been to Vietnam, I’ve met with the POWs, I’ve seen things— “
Katherine Mouton slowed the car and pulled off the road, flipped the heater into medium and rolled down Conner’s window. “Baby if you’re cold crawl into the back.” Which he did.
“I saw people who had vomited themselves to death from the toxic gases Nixon perfected. I saw civilian targets bombed. I saw dead women and dead children riddled with plastic. People are calling me a traitor because I spoke to the pilots on the radio. I’m not ashamed because I am concerned about their soul—I mean, I know what basic training is, it’s not possible for the pilots to know what they’re bombing because they can’t see the targets. I told them we must not become robots, it is not possible to punch buttons and pull levers knowing what kind of destruction they’re doing to women and children. That’s why we’re here. That’s why I’m here in Oak Harbor with the show to keep the war on the front pages so the people don’t forget, so the people don’t believe the administrations lies.”
Katherine had thrown an arm over the seat and found herself angrily digging her nails into the vinyl. Unawares, Conner played with bits of Tinker Toy in the back and cracked his window half down without her noticing.
“Because of the bombs we are dropping, the chemicals we are using there are babies being born with flippers for hands, no eyelids, soft palates, soft skulls, because of the things the pilots, our government are dropping on Vietnam from their Nuclear attack carriers in the Tonkin Gulf and from the B-52s bombing Hanoi. The administration is destroying the land so it won’t grow crops for a hundred years, they are killing the livestock with bombs and cannons. The soldiers on the carriers loading the airplanes know it, the soldiers fueling the airplanes know it and the pilots dropping the bombs know it and they’re saying, “we won’t do it anymore.””
At the end of the road, at the t-intersection for Ault, an MAA jumped up and down waving his arms for Katherine to move along. She didn’t see the three men that peeled off of the crowd and crept her way. Then Jane pinched her nerve.
“When I went to Hanoi, I visited seven of the POWs held there and I can tell you,” She said. “they certainly don’t want this war and they believed that if hoping Nixon were reelected, they’d be there forever.”
Jane Fonda looked out over the crowd grinning broadly. “Phil Donahue asked me on TV if I thought they were brainwashed. But you know, I asked them if they were brainwashed and the just laughed and said no. They told me they were being treated well enough and get to read Time and Life and News Week and the New York Times and uh— “
It was as though she had the remnants of a headache. The base of Katherine’s skull to her shoulders became heavy, her spine felt like lead and she felt courage she’d been carrying for so long begin to drain from her. She fought to keep her head up, the whole time seeing the MAA still waving but she looked right through him.
“They asked me to tell their families they’re being treated humanely and lenient. The living conditions are sparse, sure, but they are better off than the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese know that if we had to live the way they did we’d probably die because the Vietnamese live on a handful of rice a day. The POWs have all kinds of activities, creative, sports activities. They were very strong, healthy, interested intelligent men thinking new kinds of thoughts because of the books they were reading on American history given to them our...our own American history. Isn’t that something?”
Katherine kept her head up, gripped the steering wheel. Fuck her, she thought, ashamed a moment she even thought it. She rarely cursed, not even in the privacy of her mind. She didn’t listen anymore as Jane spoke with conviction of her fed opinions involvement in Vietnam, the bombers hitting Hanoi, Nixon, Americans killing, Americans raping, Americans committing genocide and her tacit chaste of the North Vietnamese. She reminded her crowd about the FTA’s purpose in joining hands with the Indochina Peace Campaign to keep the Vietnam War in the headlines and kill support for South Vietnam.
“Your father’s a baby killer,” the granulated rasp of a smoker’s voice said. Katherine smelled him from the back, a malodorous juxtapose of sour clothes and body odor. Exhaling, his breath of the dead permeated the car and when she caught him leaning into the back window at Conner, she noted his striated lips on a sallow face. In his eyes, long thin strips of chewed pink gristle seem to float like bacterium around dark pupils. His skin stretched over his skull like the desiccated pelt of a dead animal under a desert sun.
She locked eyes with him in the mirror as he hovered in the window like a vampire.
When he grinned at her, she gunned the Belvedere.
Gas poured into the four-barrel jaws of the carburetor, the Belvedere’s nose squatted then lurched them forward like a train, humming Detroit poetry accentuated by a fading deathly howl as she pulled away. See, Katherine had had an altercation with a shopping cart weeks before loosening a piece of chrome trim from the passenger side quarter-panel like a witches slivery crooked finger.
The intensity of her reflection in the mirror shocked her, her pupils contracted to needlepoints, the hue in her eyes a shade she’d never seen and she tasted her anger. Focusing well behind the car, her face changed and a sparkle lit in her eyes, the right corner of her lip upturning into a widening smile at the travesty unfolding behind her.
Apparently one man went around the front of the car to creep in her window, but she thumped him when speeding off. Unfolding a hundred yards back, two shabby men mouths agape in rictus howls of agony, jumped like popcorn in a lidless blistering pan. One clutched his face like Munch’s Scream hopping one-legged in tiny, abrupt circles alongside the man who leaned in the car, now doubled over embracing a spreading crimson stain on the stomach of his yellowed t-shirt imprinted with the words Viva Che’.
The MAA, with partner, barreled past her to apprehend the men she’d hit and whatever crowd at the end of the road, watching it unfold parted and let her pass quickly by.
Katherine barely slowed at the T.
She turned right towards the Puget Sound filling her windshield with the Olympic mountains. Relaxing some, her tongue found blood on her lip, which she’d bitten. Calmly, she leaned over to the glove box, removed a tissue, dabbed the blood then remembered to look in the backseat.
Conner laid flat on the seat hands behind his head. “Fast mommy,” he said.
Balled up, she tossed the tissue on the floorboard leaned back, flicked on the radio and eased off the accelerator. Late in the afternoon, the sun began setting but over the Olympics, the sky had parted allowing her a beautiful view of a setting sun throwing the last of its rays against the darkness over Oak Harbor.
In that moment.
In that time.
On that day, in that part of history.
Knowing what was occurring thousands of miles away where her husband, either alive or dead existed—she felt a hint of resolution, the stress release at the instant before sleep. She sensed the uncertainty would soon be over with another telegram.
You see, Alex Mouton loved the view of the Olympic mountains. He loved the conditions as they were now, with a sunset framed by breaks in darker clouds. She knew what this meant, this shared appreciation of a similar condition she knew her husband loved — as if it were a message from somewhere above, it meant the end was upon her.
At home, she removed a bit of ashen meat snug in the ragged piece of chrome. She wiped the blood off the metal with a rag dipped in Clorox then sprayed Lysol throughout the car to against the lingering smell that really existed in her imagination.
On stage as it happened, Jane Fonda continued pushing her point oblivious to the goings on Ault Field road.
Word traveled fast around the Intruder community. In a day, the squadron’s Junior Officers descended onto the lingering followers and delivered Navy justice in the form of fraternity paddles adorned in squadron stickers, gold wings, and officer’s crests. On the back of each, were the names of all the men the squadron had lost written in indelible black ink.