They trudged through the muck up a jasmine-fortified hill, like Buckner’s boys in the old days. Rain cut slantwise into their eyes, under their clothes, reduced them to strays hunting for shelter. Banyans and cypress below them, behind, bowing in the wind. An old woman and a young, crumbling man.
“Leg,” said Glen, more to himself than anything.
“It is dangerous to walk with it.”
Hidari pushed ahead of him, folded into the gap left by her absent soul, a cave to withstand any shells time might fire. Yet she seemed also to spread, to reach over the rain-blurred lines for a wider space, inaccessible to Glen and his dwindling energy.
Moment of glory in Fallujah, now diluted to a simmering fear and ill health. This was Glen’s trajectory, and the marshy incline was evidence—direction be damned—that he had reached the sour bottom of his life. Here he would die, and be reviled, and survive as a demon in the island’s past.
He thought of his kids. You suffer punishment in youth, vow to reject that unloving parent, and then leap right into the next lap of the cycle like you’d trained for it your whole life. Somehow you could bring a boy and a girl into the future and forget they kept walking around when you were overseas. It felt pleasant, or at least comfortable, to shove that section of his life into a box and stomp it flat and stow it behind some dirty counter in his memory. But they lived, they were real and lacked him in their lives, and he hadn’t said a word to them until September 11, looked into their wailing eyes through the laptop screen, and that’s when he’d found Kumiko and made her his project.
Faced with the nadir of his history, Glen shuddered, and shouldered his burden as best he could, sucking back the guilt, filmed and greasy on his teeth, plus the lingering veil of too much booze, to say nothing of his actual stalking and plotted death. He blocked out the throes of the girl’s bony frame, the sacred place he should be shot for having violated, and he thought of that book, which he’d never read, but which other people who’d gone to college had pored over, and how a lecher who loved children was shown to be a hurt, sensitive, disgusting human like us all. He felt nothing in common with this man—he just felt wretched, knocked by the ache in his bones and the pulses behind his eyes, and for the first time he affirmed the futility of his escape from those moments of power in Okinawa City. In the scathing wind he understood his medals did not exempt him from punishment, and that no accolade could undo the thing in the white van.
“You are slow,” said Hidari, looking back.
Glen examined his wounded leg. Ice-cold, a foreign body to him. He deserved nothing more than to have it amputated.
He stalked on to the top of the incline. Another bitter peak.
“We will both catch cold out here.”
“Find a driver.”
“A driver. Someone driving.”
“Not many out here now.”
“We’ll see someone.”
Glen was correct. But it was a seventeen-year-old boy on a Honda motorcycle, two miles down the road.
“I can’t fit three,” he said in Japanese.
Glen pulled the key from the ignition. He showed the boy the knife.
Hidari said, “This man is a dangerous criminal.”
“What the fuck are you telling him? Get off the bike, kid. Get down.”
The teenager dismounted with a terrified, studied jerkiness, breaking down each motion into its tiniest parts.
“You should go to the police. I live in Tsugunai. Find Tatsuo Koja.”
“Shut the fuck up, lady.”
“Are you really leaving me out here?” said the boy.
“I must see this through, child. I am deeply sorry. If it is any consolation, I doubt I will survive.”
Glen cut the old woman’s arm. He didn’t realize he’d done it at first; the anger had screened his eyes from his arm’s movement.
Hidari didn’t trip, didn’t step back or cry out. She just stood, open-mouthed, watching the blood run down her arm. It was a shallow cut, but it explained her whole purpose in this place.
“So this is what happens to me. After all this.”
“What should I do?” asked the boy. “Is this guy a prostitute?”
“Get out of here you trash monster!”
Glen brandished the knife and lunged without wanting to, obeying some graceless protocol. Hunk of refuse; that was him, a rotten kid in a bathtub with towel-ends for caress.
He sat down with the doctors, the CO, the rosy full-bird colonel who bleated the word “hero” over and over. He saw Joel slumped across the slain insurgent's hood in the desert. Then his eyes, empty and sliding down the roan horizon until they rolled shut. A buddy? He'd never addressed him by the title out loud; though really he was family, more loyal and fun than whoever he'd had back at home.
In his head, Glen begged for scalding black coffee with whiskey in it. The rain assembled itself around him like a cloak, but Hidari saw him for the child he was while she rubbed off blood into the mist.
“I must use the restroom.”
Christ, how long had he been standing? The kid was gone; he couldn’t remember when. And his captive waited with patience, even though she could have fled, she could have done anything.
Glen nodded through a dreamy fog. Evaporate, why don’t you. Leave me here like everyone else saw fit to do. He made no move to guard or watch her.
In the splashed-up soil he resolved a whiff of Kumiko’s mango tresses. He stomped his feet for warmth, but that only soaked more water into his shoes. Still wearing the T-shirt and shorts tugged from a clothesline after the crash, when he’d burned in sobriety’s acid fist. Buried the Affliction shirt and jeans in the sea, lost his wallet in the bar (which had it been, and where?). Sabotaging to fit an image.
Hidari returned to the street, apparently less independent than she made herself out to be.
“I’m sorry,” he said. Water ramped off the fleshy wings of his nose. In his fool's uniform he looked cowed and powerful at the same time, his bald patch winking under a crack of lightning.
“Joined the service,” he'd said one day, chin up at the dinner table that filled his red, vinyl-tiled kitchen, a stained-glass lamp croaking in tiny arcs overhead from when he’d flicked it with his middle finger.
“What does that mean? Like the National Guard?”
“You gotta shoot people soon?”
Glen muscled his microwave beef farther back into his throat. “Yeah. All the bad guys running around in the desert. You don’t want a plane to hit our apartment, right?”
Lydia cringed. She peeled her spirit from her thin little bones that first night, dead in bed for all the good she could do.
How many visits after he PCS’d to Fort Rowan? One or two, maybe a phone call. The kids blurring, changing shape, sprouting hair, busting out teeth and freckles. Lydia wasting into glass, a strnager.
Then Fallujah and al-Anbar, sixteen months, and he’d turned around and went right back in with no hesitation. War is hell, home is purgatory. Hell offers sharp emotions.
It was 2013 now, September. Two weeks until he was thirty-two and a Private, First Class. He reviewed the long line of demotions, careful failures to prevent his hero status from sinking in its claws and making him worthy of respect.
“You are not going?” asked Hidari, by the motorcycle.
It was unclear to either of them how long they had been standing.
Glen eased himself onto the bike, good leg first, and groaned as he lifted the tender one. “I don’t want to, now, but shit.”
Hidari was forced to hug him around the waist. Ignominy at its highest: embrace the captor and blot out flashes of post-war privates between her legs. Kissing her, spitting their gibberish in quickened tones, spurting over face or limbs or into the womb that thankfully dried up after a solid year of sex work. Three miscarriages she’d had, one right after another, and then nothing. Closed up shop. Don’t respect the body, the body moves on.
Hidari hung her head as the bike buzzed and tossed up twin waves, filling her nose with cheap gasoline. Loneliness from her great-grandfather, who had spat at the town priestess. Sugar cane. She smelled Glen Margery’s sodden back, and cried, but she kept her grief silent. A small comfort. She knew how to cherish what the rest passed over. She sought the threads of peace in her life and pulled them as close as a worried heart allowed.