A Very Serious Matter | The New Engagement
A Very Serious Matter

A Very Serious Matter

By Mark Elzey

8:53:31 AM  Thursday March 2, 1968
Binh Dinh Province - Republic of Vietnam

"What was that? It sounded like a watermelon hitting the pavement after it got tossed out the back of a pick-up. Yeah, that's what it was—a watermelon. Holy shit! My ears hurt. I'm immersed in a pink and then red fog, so hot and wet. I can't breathe. Everything is pink. So much pink. This doesn't feel right. It's warm and wet like a warm cozy blanket. So peaceful. So warm. It smells like bacon frying."

San Ramon, Arizona May 15, 1967

"Is that bacon I smell?"

"It sure is. Your mom's cooking up a storm," said my father. "Do they let you sleep this late in boot camp?"

"Absolutely, they'd let me sleep till noon if I wanted to. Hell, dad, the sergeant even serves breakfast in bed."

"Is that so?"

"You bet, dad. It's the new Army, and I don't have to do anything if I don't have a mind to."

"Speaking of Sergeants, your mother sent me back here to get you up for breakfast."

"What time is it?"

"Six-fifteen, and you'd be wise to get out of bed before your mom comes back here to get you. She's making your favorite breakfast."

"I'll be right there."

I sat on the side of the bed and lit up a smoke, and then watched as the orange light of the morning sun came over the Tortolita Mountains. I thought about how much I was going to miss my folks and my two brothers and most of all my girlfriend, Patty.

9:08 AM Thursday March 2, 1968
Binh Dinh Province - Republic of Vietnam

"What's going on with him?"

"Right now he's on the top of my list. We need to look at everyone. Are choppers on the way?"

"We have one, for sure. Do we need more?"

"Ask me in a few minutes. Right now I'm still trying to figure out which end is up. This is a fucking mess."

San Ramon, Arizona, May 15, 1967

I can hear the shrill sound of my mother's voice as she bellowed at the top of her lungs that breakfast is pert near done. I grabbed my smokes and went to the kitchen. I saw my mom standing in front of the stove frying bacon with a cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth.

"That bacon sure smells good, Mom."

"Well, good morning, sweetheart. Here's a piece for you while you wait."

"You want some coffee, son?" asked my father.

"I'll get it, dad."

"Ah, go on sit yourself down. I'll get it. A little sugar, right?

"Yup, that's right."

"Do biscuits, gravy, two eggs over easy, a couple strips of crispy bacon, and coffee sound okay to you, son?" asked my mother.

"Are you kidding, mom? I feel like I died and went to heaven."

"Here's your coffee son," said my father as he set the cup on the table in front of me.

"Everything looks fantastic. Thank you."

"We're just glad to have you home, sweetheart," said my mother without turning away from the stove.

"Hey dad, where did you say Joe was today?"

"Yesterday he and some kid from town took some cattle up to a little ranch north of Showlow," answered my father. "They didn't get back after midnight last night. Joe and Peggy are coming over this afternoon for your going away party."

"You don't have to throw a party."

"Son, I don't have to do anything but pay income taxes and die. Besides you don't think we're going to let you go off without a little get-together," said my father.

"Well, I guess not," I answered as my elbow accidently knocked a fork off the table. My mother turned around from the stove. "Jack did you just drop a fork?"

"Yeah, mom, I'm sorry. I'll pick it up."

"Don't be sorry. That's a good sign. Dropping a fork means that there is company coming, and that's a good omen."

"Mom, where do you get all that hocus pocus stuff?"

My dad kicked my leg under the table and gave me a "don't go there" look.

"Son, It's not hocus pocus, and you'd do well to take heed," answered my mother. "Dropping a fork is a sign that good company is coming. Guess what? We're having a party for you tonight with all your aunts, uncles, and cousins."

"Mom, that's fine. I was just pulling your leg."

"I'll tell ya another thing you never want to hear is a hoot owl, Jack."

"Is that right?"

"You dang right. It's a sign that great pain will fall upon you. Everyone knows if an owl starts hoot'n that's a sure fire sign that someone in your family has died. A great unbearable sorrow will fall upon the family."

"Son, what time did you say you had to leave tomorrow morning?" asked my father.

"My flight is at seven AM. I fly to San Francisco, hookup with my unit, and then tomorrow night we head out to Guam. Then on to Saigon."

"Let's not talk about that," said my mother as she stood at the stove facing away from us. My father got up and patted her shoulder, reassuring her that everything was going to be fine.

9:16 AM Thursday March 2, 1968
Binh Dinh Province - Republic of Vietnam

"What's going on?"

"This guy needs to get the fuck on a chopper. He's barely holding on. He'll be lucky to make it another ten minutes. We need to get him on a chopper as soon as possible!"

"What about the others,"

"Three dead and six wounded. Like I said sir, this guy has to go right now."

"Will two choppers do the job?"

"Yeah, I think so."

San Ramon, Arizona October 7, 1966

Patty Gainer and I had been a couple since our senior year in high school. She was in her sophomore year at Arizona State with hopes of becoming a schoolteacher.

"Jack, I'm getting hungry," said Patty'

"Let's wait a little bit, then we'll go to Bob's Big Boy and have a burger."

"Well, Mr. Jack, I'm putting my clothes back on."

"Come on, Patty. What's the hurry?"

"Are you serious? What are we going to do in this dinky little fleabag of a room? We've already done it three times. I mean, don't you ever get tired? I swear you gotta be the horniest guy in the entire state of Arizona. You paid fourteen dollars for the night, and the damn TV doesn't even work."

"Did anyone ever tell you how good looking you are with no clothes on?"

"Let me think. Well, you did only a hundred times in the past hour."

"Patty, do you realize if you ever went naked outside all those freckles would show up all over. Wouldn't it be fun to play dot to dot over every square inch of your freckle-covered naked body?"

She didn't appear to be as impressed as I was about the dot-to-dot suggestion.

"Jack, I wonder about you sometimes. I swear you have a one-track mind. I'm starting to think you're some kind of pervert."

"Yuppers, that's me, a serial dot-to-dot sex maniac. I'm disappointed that you're just now finding out. Why don't you hop in bed and we'll see what pops up?"

"No, no way. It's not going to happen. With or without you, I'm going to get dressed and get something to eat. You know what?"

"What?"

"That movie with Elvis Presley is playing at the Pioneer Drive-in."

"What movie is that?"

"I think it's called, ‘Frankie and Johnny'."

Out of nowhere she looked at me and sensed I was trying to conjure up the nerve to say something.

"What?" she asked.

I reached over and grabbed a yellow envelope out of my pants. I opened the letter and handed it to Patty. Immediately her eyes welled up with tears as she noticed that the envelope was from the government.  Her eyes switched back and forth from the envelope to my face.

"What is it?"

"Here, read it yourself."

"No. You tell me."

"I got drafted."

She touched her chest, looked as though she might wheeze. "Oh my God. Are you serious? When did you find out?"

"A few days ago."

"Can you get out of it?"

"Yeah, right. I have limited options in that regard."

"When do you go?"

"In January, after the holidays."

"That's terrible," she said, visibly shaken.

"I have an idea."

"What?"

"Let's play dot to dot with your freckles."

"Stop it, Jack! It's not funny. They could send you to Vietnam. You shouldn't make fun. This is a very serious matter."

"Trust me, Patty. I know it's serious. I'm not at all excited about going into the Army, but they didn't ask for my opinion."

"What do your mom and dad think?"

"I haven't told them yet. Tonight we're having dinner with them. I thought I'd tell them over dinner."

"I can't be there when you tell them. For Christ's sake, Jack, I'm doing everything I can not to start balling right now. No, no, no. You have to tell them on your own. No way."

"Okay, I'll tell them."

"Oh, Jack. What are we going to do?"

"Funny you should ask. I got an idea."

"I'm serious. Quit joking around."

"How about we tell my mom and dad that we're going to get married? What do you think of them apples?"

"Oh my God, are you serious?"

"I sure am."

"Oh my God, this is so bad."

"Don't you want to marry me?"

"Of course, I want to marry you, you jerk. What am I supposed to say to my friends who will want to know how you proposed to me? Am I supposed to say that we were both naked as a couple of horny jaybirds in the sleaziest rattrap motel in Arizona?"

"God, you really just scared the hell out of me! For a second I thought you didn't want to marry me. Just make something up. Who gives a shit?"

"Ah, Jack, that's so sweet. Really, it's beautiful. Oh my god, I don't know what to say!"

9:19 AM Thursday March 2, 1968
Binh Dinh Province - Republic of Vietnam

"Take this guy. He's in deep shit. There's an OR waiting for him. Go, Go, Go!"

San Ramon, Arizona May 16, 1967

"Jack are you sure you got everything you're supposed to have in the car?"

"Dad, all I have is that duffel bag, and I put it in the trunk myself."

Joe, my older brother, smirked. "You know, Jack, you're my kid brother, and I don't want to hurt your feelings, but that uniform makes you look almost smart."

"Gosh, thank you Joe, you're making me get all misty."

"Is Patty going to the airport with us?"

"No dad, she said she couldn't bear watching me leave."

"Just think, little brother, with you being gone, the Palms Motor Inn, up in Mesa will most likely go broke," said Joe with a grin.

"I don't understand, what's that got to do with anything?" asked my father.

"That's Joe just being himself. Dad, would you check to see what's taking mom so long?"

"While dad's gone let me give you some advice from a caring older brother who has been around the block a few more times than you."

"Joe, the only reason you've been around the block more than me is that you got lost."

"I'm only trying to give some advice because you're my kid brother and I care about you."

"And?"

"All I wanted to say was that you're going way over there all by your lonesome. Those gals over there are mighty fine looking, and it won't be too long before you want to get a little Vietnamese poontang. Just beware, little brother, I hear they got some bad shit over there. You don't want to be taking a piss some morning and have your pecker come off in your hand."

"Thank you, Joe. That is so touching. I'll keep that in mind."

"Boys, I don't believe your mom is going to the airport with us this morning."

"What's going on?"

"One of her boys happens to be going off to a war, and she's scared stiff that she'll never see you again. Why don't you go in and talk to her for a bit? Then you can tell her goodbye. We're in no hurry, so take your time. We'll be out here when you're ready."

"Can I bum a smoke from you, mom?"

"Sure, son, help yourself."

"How ya doing?"

"Not worth a hoot in hell."

"I'm sorry, mom, I really am."

"It's not just you, son. It's everything. These days everything seems all jimmied-up. I'll be damned if I can figure any of it out. More than anything I ever wanted in my life I don't want you to go to that place. I just don't know what I'd do if you were to get yourself hurt or killed."

"I don't have a choice. Besides it's the patriotic thing to do."

"Excuse me, but I don't feel a damn bit patriotic right now. Everybody and their brother have told me how proud they are of you. Well, if they're so damn patriotic why don't they sign up for the Army themselves? It's easy being patriotic when you're rich, and your son is in college and doesn't have to go do the dirty work. You're too damn young to know what you're putting at stake."

"I understand, mom, and I'm sorry. I'll be as careful as I can and I'll be back home before you know it. I promise."

"Son, you don't know that. I know you have to go and there ain't any sense in dragging this out. Be careful, boy. I'll pray for God to watch over you every day until you come back home. You hear?"

"I hear you, mom. Thank you."

She hugged me as if she'd never let me go.

"Go on now, boy. Goodbye. Remember, I love you."

9:26:31 AM Thursday March 2, 1968 ~ Mobile Army Surgical Hospital ~ Binh Dinh Province ~ Republic of Vietnam

"Sir he's dead."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes sir, I'm positive. You're wasting our time. There's too much damage. There's no pulse. Nothing."

"I'm calling it. 9:26:31AM. Nurse, you fill in the details. I've been going for almost thirty-four hours I'm getting some shut eye."

7:03:31 PM Wednesday March 1, 1968 ~ San Ramon, Arizona.

"What was that?" asked Joe as he got up and turned down the volume on the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.

"What was what?" said Regina as she listened. "I didn't hear anything."

"I could have sworn I heard something."

"Old man, you're starting to lose your marbles."

"You may have a point," Joe answered as he peered through the window to the front yard.
Regina came to the window to see what Joe was looking at. Just as she arrived a hoot owl perched itself on the branch of a small Mulberry tree in their front yard.

Their eyes made contact. The owl gave a haunting call before vanishing into the darkness of the night.

Join Us!

Mercy, ingenuity, nuance, complex truths, guts and honor still matter! Join us in proclaiming so by purchasing, or giving the gift of, a print subscription (2 issues per year) to The New Engagement.

Subscribe

Follow Us

"You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive."
~ James Baldwin

Help us spread the ethos of compassion and understanding by joining our social media networks and sharing generously!

Contests & Prizes

Flash Fiction Contest
On May 1st, we announced the winners of our Flash Fiction Contest: Thomas Garcia (1st), Rick Krizman (2nd), and Rios de la Luz (3rd). Read more.

The James Baldwin Literature Prize
It is with great pleasure that we announce the winner of The James Baldwin Literature Prize of $1,000 to Hafsa Musa. Read more.

The New Engagement

The New Engagement endeavors a novel approach to discovering, introducing, and showcasing writers, artists, and filmmakers, by providing them digital and print platforms, while encouraging and supporting their social-consciousness.