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The Sun Never Rises: Chapter Twenty
And Happy New Year to You All
Here we go, 2017, ready or not!
Thanks for joining me again today. More importantly, thanks for joining my main characters. Max and Katie appreciate it any old time someone stops by and shares some love with them . . . love and hope . . . that’s what this ongoing story is all about . . . love and hope!
Where would we be without it?
War Is Hell
He was just laying there, man, not moving. His right arm was bent in a way not intended. There was blood on his forehead. He looked like maybe he just decided to take a nap, right there in the road, to hell with the consequences, sweet little boy, not much older than five or six, just taking a nap as the midday sun hit its zenith and bullets buzzed overhead.
But it wasn’t a nap, you know, unless you’re talking permanence, that little boy hit by a brick, believe it or not, a brick blown a good hundred feet from the explosion, soldiers running by him, me included, such a surreal sensation, killing going on everywhere and that little boy, taking a nap.
I shook my head, shook myself back to the here and now, another damned daydream/nightmare/flashback, whatever the shrinks want to call it, shook my head and there was Katie, looking at me, concern carving worry lines on her beautiful face.
“Did you hear me, Max? I said when we get married, maybe we should think about having children. What do you say to that, soldier?”
What do I say to that?
Ten years ago I would have said “hell yes” and been so damned excited, a little Max to play catch with, as my father had with me, but that was ten years ago and this was now, and now had me ducking for cover when a garbage can lid was slammed down, and what right did I have to bring a kid into this world where his father couldn’t tell the difference between peace and war?
“Can we talk about it later, Katie?” and she nodded her head, kissed me softly, and told me any old time I was ready.
Doing Double Duty
The past two weeks have been busy, what with me doing chores around the home, filling in for my old man, who was still recuperating from the heart attack that damned near claimed him, damned near put him on the ferry for the ride across the River Styx, so it was time for me to step up and be everything my old man once was. The question was, could I do that? Money was running short, too, seems like it always is, right? Katie helps out, as does my sister Jeannie, chipping in parts of their salaries, but they’re only baristas, not Bill Gates, so we’re always robbing Peter to pay Chase Manhattan, and asking Paul to wait his turn. I needed to find work, that was obvious, but what could an ex-grunt afraid of shadows do in the civilian world? The Zoloft was keeping the banshees at bay, but I have enough demons playing tag inside of me to keep me confused on the best of days.
So my mind was a blizzard of thoughts on that sunny afternoon, me sitting at the table, drinking down some coffee Mom had just made, helping myself to a second apple fritter, Katie stroking my hair, and out of nowhere my Mom says, “I forgive you, Maxey,” no preamble, no warm-up, just a simple statement of fact, a mother loving her son.
“I can’t pretend to understand what you saw in that damned war, Max, and no matter how badly it hurt to have you disappear, I know you were only doing what needed to be done. You’re my baby boy and that’s that.”
Are there words that say what needs saying in response to something like that?
“I did things over there, Mom, and I can’t get them out of my head. I didn’t want you to see the man I had become.”
She was quiet for a time, putting away silverware, cleaning the countertop, keeping her hands busy while her mind worked on my words. Finally, she put the sponge down, turned, and looked at me.
“You’re my baby boy and always will be, Max. Tuck that away somewhere and grab hold of it whenever you have doubts. You’re right where you belong, surrounded by love, and don’t you ever forget it. Now I need you and Katie to go to the store for me, pick up a roast for dinner. I’ve just been craving a good roast lately. And stop by the church, please, and remind Father Patrick that he said he’d stop in and pay a visit to your father.”
Going to Church
We found him hauling out the trash in the back of the rectory, Father Patrick O’Brien, seventy-eight years of barely-restrained energy, white-haired, a slight stoop, a slight hitch to his walk, broad at the shoulders, and a smile that would light up the darkest of hearts. Father Patrick O’Brien, the pastor of Sacred Heart Church for the past forty years, the man who baptized me, the man who presided over every important event in my family’s life, smiled when he saw us.
“Max, my son, what a wonderful surprise, and you brought the lovely Kate with you, frosting on a delicious German Chocolate cake, a red-headed burst of beauty you are, Kate. So good to see you both and yes, before you say a word, Max, this old man has not forgotten, I’ll be seeing your father this afternoon, the good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise. Is that old rascal following the doctor’s orders?”
“He has no choice, Father, with my Mom watching over him,” and the old priest nodded his head in complete understanding.
“And tell me, Max, what about you? I’ll be honest with you, son, no secrets between us, your mother is worried about you. She tells me there are still battles being fought.”
“Some days are better than others, Father. This morning the air was thick with lead. This afternoon I’m in the DMZ. It comes and goes.”
The old man nodded his head. “If there’s any sense to it I have yet to figure out what it could be. Man killing man, and for what? Usually some decision made by men who have never fought in a war, men safely tucked away in some office thousands of miles from the shattered limbs. My brother died in Vietnam, did you know that, and it plumb killed my mother, her son dying in a jungle in a country she couldn’t even find on the map. He was my older brother, and six weeks after he died, I signed up for the Army of Jesus. I figured maybe some good could come of his death, you know, if I did my job?
“So there I go again, an old man babbling on. How’s your curveball, Max? It seems to me you once threw a pretty good bender. And can you still sink a jumper from the top of the key?”
There was nothing wrong with the old man’s mind. He was once my CYO coach, baseball and basketball, and he attended my games when I was in high school. Before I could answer he continued with the new line of thought.
“I need a new CYO coach and administrator, Max my boy, and I think you’d be perfect. What do you say? Can you help out an old man in need? This isn’t a favor, by the way, it’s a paying job. Oh, you won’t get rich, but you’ll make enough to give you a sense of worth, something I figure you might be short of right about now.”
Katie squeezed my hand.
“Are you sure, Father? You’d be getting damaged goods.”
“Hell, son, we’re all damaged goods. My favorite character from the Bible is Peter. Read up on him some day, and I’ll see you tomorrow eight sharp. Tell your mother I’ll be by this afternoon by four at the latest.”
Dad was watching a rerun of an old Husky football game when we got home. He bleeds purple and gold, and he’s excited where Coach Chris is taking his beloved Huskies, “all the way to the top, Max, all the way to the top next year.”
I told him about my new job. He smiled, reached for the remote, and turned off the game.
“Father Patrick is a good man. Did he tell you about his brother dying in Nam?” I nodded. “What he probably didn’t tell you was he went to jail no less than ten times for protesting the war. Even as a priest, back in the early Seventies, he took a lot of grief from the bishop for his anti-war protests, the bishop threatening to kick him out of the priesthood if he didn’t stop, and Father Patrick telling the bishop that the Catholic Church had a moral obligation to fight against all wars, that God didn’t put us on this earth to kill each other.
“Anyway, Max, you’ve got a good man covering your six. I’m happy for you, getting that job. You’ll be perfect, son. Now leave me alone, will ya? I’ve got a game to watch. It’s about the only damned thing your mother allows me to do. God what I wouldn’t give for a cigar and three fingers of Jack right about now.”
I thought back to my time on the streets, ten years of rubbing shoulders with the drifters and grifters, the honorable and the disreputable, seeing the worst mankind could produce, but also the best we could ever hope to see, and I thought back to the times before, in the Army, killing men I never knew, men with hopes, men with dreams, men with families of their own, shattered lives littering the sand far away, shattered lives littering the streets of Seattle, and Portland, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Tuskaloosa.
Some make it.
The jury was still out for me.
2017 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)