Packed inside myself I’m scared. The rifle angles down to the left across my body. On full auto my finger’s hooked outside the trigger guard. Feeling the sun steam through the damp towel around my neck, I want to turn a canteen upside down behind my head. Not enough water left in the canteens for that. Damn windless heat thumps me through the flak jacket.
We cross an open field of cracked earth and yellowed grass that crunches beneath my boots. Toes cracked and bleeding, heels aching, my swollen feet fester in the canvas and leather as heat worms up through my soles. Twin belts of gun ammo cross my chest, triple canteens hang off the back of my belt. An M-16 bandoleer is slung over my shoulder, and the magazines inside clink gently. Two grenades, like giant steel eggs, hang smooth and round off my flak-jacket pockets. C-ration cans clink against the sticks of C-4 explosive in my trouser kangaroo pockets. I hate being in the open like this.
Breathing shallow to keep the burn out of my lungs. My big leg artery pulses with fear; my crotch is laced up tighter than my jungle boots. My eyes sting as I scan the valley left to right, right to left. One foot in front of the other. The sun crouches up there like a big animal with its jaws open and growling.
Too scared to let my mind wander, I do anyway. I remember a girl back in the World — her face, the way she looked at me when we ate ice cream. Heat and water loss scramble my thinking, makes my tongue thick. Stay here, don’t drift, I tell myself. Easy to get sun drunk. Easy to sleep walk. Shake it off, bite your lip. I do and taste how the bitter bug juice mixes with the sweet copper of bleeding gums and the salt that drips off my nose.
I talk to myself. Mumble is more like it. Watch where you put your feet, look for movement, for a wire, a vine, stick and stone signs, a slight depression, for geometry — a straight line, circle, triangle, for what doesn’t belong. Don’t stare, you’ll get hypnotized. Scan. Doing it without thinking, repeating the movements like an endless rosary, my Marine squad stretches a hundred meters single-file along the floor of Happy Valley.
I’m driving home.
The car with the ribbons turns off. I go straight. Rolling down the windows, I crank up the radio and scratch Jack between his ears. He likes his window all the way open. He moves to put his face in the breeze. You want to do something for our troops? Bring them home.