“You sulky little monster! Shame! Shame!”
Glen woke in a cold sweat, sick with distress. A forty-year-old woman had been beating him with a book and spitting insects onto his naked body. Or were spiders not insects?
Hidari knocked, poked her head inside. “You were screaming.”
Glen deadened his eyes and flattened his mouth into a harsh, unassuming line. “Just dreams.”
“Sometimes this too happens to me.”
The white man boosted himself up on one elbow and scratched the bald spot on his head. “Yeah, I’d trade dreams with you any day.”
“Once I dreamed I was in a pool of blood, drowning, with the heads of infants flowing into my mouth until I died.”
The American stared with some shock. He remembered there was a war on this soil. Colonel Buckner and Shuri Castle, Ernie Pyle taking a sniper bullet on Ie Island.
“I only dream about having a full head of hair.”
Hidari chuckled. She motioned to the kitchen for breakfast.
“Shit, I slept the whole night?”
“It is still raining. This is a slow storm with much rain; possibly the water will do more damage than the winds. I have a tarp, for the plants, but it does not always help. We will see.”
Purple sweet potato and onion. Steady drizzle from a humid sky. Every now and then a gust rattled the windows with keening force, but Hidari never flinched.
“Your glass is shatterproof?”
“It doesn’t break.”
She shook her head, quite slowly. “We are good at typhoons here.”
“In Jersey City one time our windows exploded. My mom didn’t clean up the glass for three weeks.”
Hidari smiled at him from across the table. She filled his plate with yam and fed him tea and afterward examined his leg, which had swollen to the size of a small pig.
Glen had crashed the van into a screen of trees after fucking Kumiko in a deserted corner of Okinawa City. He had planned on killing her and throwing her corpse in the sea, but he’d been so glad and shameful after the deed that he’d drunk himself blind in a bar, pleased for once that he looked more like an accountant than a soldier, ignoring the fact that he had work in several hours. He didn’t consider the typhoon warnings; he squashed any concerns about abandoning duties.
When he was good and drunk he’d started bawling and slewing the van like a kid in his first plastic car, with total ignorance of safety. Dump the girl, sober up, and report for duty. That was his plan. Fucking high and right on that one.
“Tea is more delicious when hot,” said Hidari.
Glen swallowed and forced a grin and hastily, fearfully took a sip. He was terrified. He had fired into a car laden with explosives as it barreled out of the desert, and he had not even blinked. Bronze Star for bravery and a Purple Heart. But this.
He slunk to his room and settled his weight on the edge of the bed.
Heat with no moisture. People said arid, but the word had no meaning for him. He gripped his M-16 and studied the twisting road used only by Humvees and the odd deuce and a half. Behind him like a drab-colored ring was FOB Joiner, which wasn’t a base so much as a waypoint of barbed wire and lean-tos.
“Smoke?” said Joel.
Glen shook out a Marlboro Red and offered it to the man. He wrinkled his nose to adjust the sunglasses on his face.
“No menthols? Fuck you. Fucking one time in Florida this guy busts in, lady was sucking my dick, he starts screaming ‘my wife, that’s my wife!’ I was eighteen. The woman just came up to me at a gas station and started flirting, real heavy. I mean the flirting, her body was great. Face could’ve used some work, but I was covered in acne and just absolutely did not care.”
“You know it. So she’s smoking a cigarette, and I kind of casually point out you’re not supposed to do that at gas stations; just making conversation. And then she says—shit, I remember it better than my wedding—‘you want to show me what else I shouldn’t do?’”
“Hand to God, man. I literally left my car at the gas station to go to her house. It was like right up the road. She gave me a glass of wine, put on some music—”
“Fuck if I know, man. The whole ride there she had her hand on my dick, driving with the other. She could’ve driven through Hiroshima right after the bomb and I wouldn’t have noticed. But so in the house she pulls her bra strap off her shoulder real sexy, probably like she’d seen in a movie, and she asks me to strip naked. I was out of my jeans faster than you could piss out a Sudanese house fire. That woman rode me to goddamn heaven, and it was the best moment of my entire life.”
“Before you met Carol.”
“Jesus, Margery, let me have my dream. Yeah, sure, she’s amazing. But I’m talking about the first blowjob I ever had.”
“First blowjob you had was at eighteen?”
“Late bloomer, asshole. Like I said with the acne. So it was this forty-year-old that did it, and I don’t mind saying it beat anything Carol could do. She’s a sweet gal, but raised real Christian, Methodist. It took her a year to suck past the head.”
Glen sputtered around his cigarette.
“SITFU, kid, I got to talk about something to forget this sweat dripping down my asscrack.”
“So the forty-year-old.”
“Oh, God. What I’d give to be back in that room. I joined the Corps like six months after that, shit. All history. Crazy, right?”
“Look at you all New York. ‘Damn straight.’”
Glen shook his head and puffed once on his Marlboro. “Jersey.”
“New York’s radioactive penis, right?” Joel’s laugh showed miraculously white teeth. He loosened his grip on his gun and stepped sideways away from his squadmate, further into the desert. “It’s hot as fuck here, man. Jesus.”
“He’s from around here, right?”
Joel stared at him out of the corner of his eye until he realized that passed for humor in his partner’s brain. He added a laugh to the great, bright void in which he was standing.
“You’re a weird dude, Margery. You got your own fucking program.”
“That’s why they put me out here with you; make sure you don’t bore the desert to death.”
“Whatever. I know I’m never visiting Jersey; that’s for damn sure.”
“Oh, my loss. If everyone there’s as big an asshole as you, what exactly do I stand to gain in your hometown?”
Glen shrugged in hundred-ten-degree heat. He ignored the sweat rimming the skin under his helmet. “Problems.”
“Exactly. I got enough of those.”
“No bitches, though.”
Joel bared his teeth to the sharp flood of sun. “My wife is a lady, and you will refer to her as such.”
“I’m just saying the rap thing.”
“‘The rap thing?’ Like Jay-Z? You grew up that close to New York and that’s what you fucking call it?”
“I’m way too hot in this fucking uniform to argue the merits of rap music. Is this ‘cause I’m black?”
“You think all black people know about rap?”
“Did I say that?”
“Shit. Jesus, man.”
“You’re putting words in my mouth.”
“Yeah, well I should. Your words suck.”
Glen laughed at that.
The wind huffed along the scrubland, quick and eager to flee the heat. Glen let his chin fall to his collarbone, staring at the bleached soil with a bored anxiety and feeling sweat plow down his cheeks, down the back of his neck. He kicked away a stone in front of him and a scorpion hustled toward his boot. Gold, hardly an inch or two long, it stopped to brandish its pincers and Glen flinched, although he tried not to show it. He made to stomp the barbed monster, but noticed a heat-shimmer of motion somewhere down the road. When he glanced up he marked a dot cresting the ridge up ahead.
“No fucking cars supposed to be coming this way,” said Joel.
“Maybe we should shoot it.”
The dot grew to a dark green Jeep. Not one of theirs.
“Jesus, I wonder if it’s more high schoolers trying to scare us.”
“Shoot them, it’s defense. Or we can’t defend ‘til they kill us, I forgot.”
“We’ll shoot them if we have to, shit.”
“Stop your vehicle!” Glen roared. They held up their weapons and aimed.
The Jeep barreled forward at forty, fifty miles per hour. It bucked as the wheels met the ruts in the ground.
“Stop your vehicle!”
“He hits 550 we open up.”
“Stop your vehicle!”
“Fire on that haji.”
In concert, they sprayed the Jeep with semi-auto shots. Holes opened in the windshield and one of the headlights burst with a pop. Still the Jeep careened forward.
“Fucking light up this rag shit.”
They stood their ground, shooting, oblivious to the day’s heat. The sound of bullets pumping from the barrels was flat and commanding in the empty terrain.
“Fucking blow up our gate,” screamed Glen as he poured ammo into the car.
The Jeep swerved at the last second and flattened Joel against the hood. The driver’s side mirror knocked into Glen’s shoulder and spun him off his feet so the sky flipped. Without thinking of the damage he scrambled upright, grabbed his gun, and fired into the rear of the car until it slowed and stopped. Steam erupted from the engine and leaked out the sides of the hood, with Joel slumped on top. Glen ran with his weapon up and confirmed four dead occupants of the vehicle. Then he shouldered the M-16 and felt Joel’s pulse and hoisted him away from the steam and the crunched glass around the car.
Joel vomited blood down his chin and Glen turned him on his side as Marines streamed in formation from the gate, about a half-mile down the road.
“They’re dead,” said Glen, then: “He’s dead.”
“Get a bomb squad over here. Son, that was exceptional. I’ll be recommending you for some shit, stood your ground, the both of you.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Glen, but he was far away. He peered down at Joel’s slack face, the blood on his battledress.
“Jesus,” someone said.
Time slipped into a blurry trench. Emptiness and crushing, dumb boredom, and then a bomb rolls down the road.
Glen realized he was hyperventilating. Sweat plastered his lips and neck and streamed into his crotch. He sat down, hard.
“Where’s that medic?”
Glen felt hands on him, hot palms on his face, and hallucinated through a question or two. He vomited.
“Is he hit? Are you hit, Private?”
He woke with the butsudan tablet in his hands. Tea and rice and sugary cubes, which he started eating out of some searing compulsion. Because it was wrong, probably.
Hidari, meanwhile, stooped over the sink in the adjacent room, cleaning dishes. Loneliness comes from your great-grandfather, who had shunned connection. Leave him sugar cane. She had left him sugar cane. Did she feel different?
She should call Nayu, recite some prayers with her. The mabuigumi might lift her up from this depression.
“I have always been a yuta, my dear. The reason I suffered is because I refused to accept the calling. All my losses, everything, was a punishment. A tatari. You simply cannot ignore the spirits when they wish to speak with you.”
In the old days, when Ryukyu still ruled itself, every village respected the yuta healer. They diagnosed maladies of the soul and opened paths to restoration. Though it was strange for one to find her calling and depart for the mainland, this was what Nayu had done. And she had been successful. A nonprofit, a charity, a host of eager clients.
Hidari took her cell phone from the counter, began dialing. The black cloud pulsed in her stomach. She stopped. Felt the blade of a knife against her neck.
Glen said, “We need to leave.”