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SHOULD I HELP her or should I move on?

On the spur of the moment, I make the decision. As a human being she doesn’t impress me. Disheveled and dirty, her clothes torn and her face haunted, she lies in the middle of the street, kind of bunched up and folded, like a dirty rag negligently thrown on the ground. She’s moaning and seems in pain.

I look down the dusty city street, if you can call this crummy mud-hut-cement-block-sun-baked place a city. Nothing moves. I can’t rely on that. Snipers live in rubble and I won’t live if I don’t stay sharp-eyed and alert. I squint against the brightness of the noonday sun. Dirt, trash, broken things, bad smells all over, not a nice place to be. I keep my M-16 at ready.

My immediate guess puts her on the short side of the angry mob we’ve been chasing. I’ve seen it before. War is lousy business! Maybe the ghosts of this ancient place are invisibly tugging at her, tugging at us all, playing their serious and silly games. I wonder briefly if she has family, how hurt she is. I wonder how much time I dare take away from the cover of the buildings.

I don’t think much of myself, either, just at this moment, but that’s another story. I might tell it if I come out of this with all parts attached. Being in the Middle East with a company of Army buddies has its comforts. We have each other’s backs. Even though we’re not Marines, it’s Semper Fi all the way.

Yeah, we act and react the same way. It’s something that happens when men are thrown together and have to face an enemy. They get close or they get dead. Some of us get dead anyway and that’s the luck of the draw. God’s will, if you’re a believer. Plain bad luck if you’re not. Doesn’t change a thing. You still get mashed, smashed, hashed, mutilated and rendered like so much meat, or like I say, plain dead! I think death’s a relief, after some of the partial people I’ve seen leave here on the light side of a body bag.

I, like, go away for a moment. Suddenly I’m home.

Little Bobby, my kid brother is looking me over and I hear him saying, “What happened, Mike?” and I reply, “Land mine.” And my lip begins to quiver and I feel like I’m going to lose it again, and I turn my head, and I know everyone is watching and I can’t help it and oh damn, why didn’t I die? How can I live, a piece of a person?

 And I lose it and everybody is embarrassed and Dad says, not unkindly, “Son, get through it. Life is worth it, all the same. We’ve got you back and you’ve got your family and you always will…” and he stops because he can see it’s not helping and everyone is wishing they were someplace else, especially me.

 And all the family who were just congratulating me for returning home from Walter-Reed, they start to leave the room because they can’t take it either. My sister Jenn’s got a big heart, but she goes away cursing the government and the enemy and my bad luck and I don’t want to be here. Why can’t I go away? This is so hard!

 I snap back. I’m in Tikrit and I’m in the middle of a dirty street, grid point alpha, and I’ve got to help this woman, this poor casualty of a lousy, stinking war! My company has been ordered to retake it from the insurgents.

Where the hell did these people come from? Don’t they understand? We liberated them from a bad man, a bad ruler, a dictator who built palaces on the backs of its citizens. Yeah, you people out there who are giving us all the trouble, I’m talking to you! Don’t you understand? All we want to do is to go home! Why don’t you be nice and let us go home?

I call back to my corporal, “Get a couple of men and give me a hand with this one. Let’s get her off the street.”

“Okay Sarge. Murphy, Smitty, give us a hand. The rest of you men, stay down!”

We gather around the woman and bend down to help. She looks up at us with hate-filled eyes. Her hand moves under the dirty rag she’s wearing and she does something…

ÛÛÛ

April 24, 2009. An impeccably dressed Major, stiff and erect, rings the doorbell at 560 Whilley Street, New Preston, New York. In a few moments, through the lace-covered oval glass of the door, he sees a curtain draw briefly and fall back. The door unlatches and opens, ever so slowly. Without preamble, the Major says in a modulated but businesslike voice, “Mrs. Emily Granger?”

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