by Bruce Holland Rogers
1. The Hardest Question
My marines bring me questions. “When do we get to shower?” “Sergeant, how do you say ‘Good afternoon’ again?” “Sarge, where can I get more gun oil?”
I have answers. “Tomorrow, maybe.” “Maysuh alheer.” “Use mine.”
Answering their questions is my job. But when Anaya was shot and bleeding out, he grabbed my arm and said, “Sergeant? Sergeant?” I understood the question, but damn. I didn’t have an answer.
2. Foreign War
No U.S. soldier who could see that kid would have shot him. But that’s long-range ordnance for you. Calder stood next to me in the street, looking at the pieces. “We’ve come so far from home,” he said, “that we’ll never get back.”
“You dumbass,” I said. But a year later, I stood on the tarmac hugging my child, thinking of that kid in pieces, and I wasn’t home.
3. Decisions, Decisions
In morning twilight far away, my men are making up their minds:
What’s that guy carrying?
Friend or foe?
I should be there, helping them decide. My wife and my parents do their best to make Christmas dinner conversation around my silence. An hour ago, I was yelling at Angie for turning on the damn news. My father, carving, won’t meet my eyes. He says, “White meat, or dark?”
Stories by Bruce Holland Rogers have won a Pushcart Prize and have been translated into over a dozen languages. His forthcoming collection, “Thirteen Ways to Water,” will be out in September. Rogers lives in Eugene, Oregon.