Friday, December 30, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Peggy

In the rear of the taxi, his fingers kept breaking and cleaning an imaginary M4. At the hospital, as his half-senile mother explained how it had happened, all he could think of were all the unsecured rooms. Even walking to hers, he imagined Bull Ridge. Its stink, and its birds that sounded like rocket screeches, and its casualty rate. Bull Fucking Ridge, which he’d been praying to leave for three months.

He stood at first. It felt right, to remain standing if Peggy couldn’t sit up. His sister looked so thin in that big bed. They didn’t have mattresses like that in Afghanistan. Nor did his unit have anyone who’d know how to stick tubes up your nose like that, or any of all the blinking, beeping and line-charting machines that kept her bed company. On Bull Ridge, all they really had was glorified tourniquet training.

Suddenly he had to sit. He only knew it when the chair creaked under him. They had chairs that bowed and creaked like this in Afghanistan. That felt too much like home. He leaned over her, as though to prostrate in apology. Her sheets were thin enough that he could feel her warmth through them.

They didn’t have kitty pajamas in Afghanistan. He was a little surprised they’d changed her into them, surprised enough that he reached out and pinched the terrycloth to convince himself it was there. Either Mom had put them on her, or the aneurism had hit while she was in bed. He guessed they could hit you while you were asleep. A lot of things could, which was why he slept with his back to walls now.

As he pinched the pajamas, her wrist rolled and bumped into his knuckles. It sent sparks through him; they didn’t have women in Afghanistan, or family. Well, a lot of people had family there. Afghanis, certainly. Just not him.

He ran his fingertips over her hand in the misplaced hope that she’d react. She didn’t. He wrapped his right hand around hers, then brought up his other hand and added it for good measure. It was a sort of wishful thinking he hadn’t felt in months.

Peggy’s face had never looked so narrow. She was a moon-faced woman, thanks to Dad’s genes. Here and now, something about the aneurism had robbed her of that shape. Her face’s curvature was stolen by sallow flatness. The closed eyes, the smoothness where there should have been feature: these they had in Afghanistan. In O’Hara, and Menendez, and Jesus Christ, the raw pink and the little blood around her nostrils could have been Windham’s as he’d slipped away. But Peggy here had not taken three to the chest at the wheel of a Humvee that should have been armor-plated.

They had armor-plated Humvees in the United States.

He couldn’t stop his eyes from following her tubes, climbing up to the sighing apparatus that helped her breathe. His breathing hitched. Still folding her one miniscule hand in both of his, he apologized. He apologized for thinking about what the Bull Ridge guys didn’t have, and for not being a neurosurgeon right now, and not knowing what aneurisms were, and for still envying everything she had, and for these tears, and for a moment, he apologized for fearing that his unit would materialize and kick his ass for showing those tears. He leaned so far forward that his forehead pressed into her sheets, and he couldn’t help but loathe himself for thinking those sheets felt nicer than anything they got on Bull Ridge. He mouthed this all to the woman who had once been a girl who had laced him wreathes of flowers.

He was so occupied mouthing apologies that he couldn’t see her lips moving, too.


  1. Some powerful stuff there, John. PTSD, love, longing… great stuff.

  2. A powerful piece of writing John, shows I think some of the torment that his experience had left him with, and yet also the desire for something different, something that takes the pain away. But it is that last line that captured me the most:
    "He was so occupied mouthing apologies that he couldn’t see her lips moving, too."

    That last line captured the guilt he felt for comparing what he had with what she had, that it seemed to consume him.

    Maybe I've interpreted this all wrong, but that's how it came over to me. ^__^

  3. This is strong stuff, and I love the fractured thoughts and images - the way you bounce from the current scene to memories.

  4. Simply incredible. My favourite piece of yours so far. Thanks, John.

  5. Powerful. The war in his head more real than the war he fought, the longing for something most everyone else would find horrific. Still thinking about this one. Probably will for some time. Peace...

  6. I think you're levelling up writing wise. (I think you're a higher level than me already btw :P)

    A couple of times recently I've been really blown away by your stories. This one and the one where the protagonist is watching the girl (sorry I forget the title)seem on a different level.

    Keep it up!

  7. John, this is absolutely riveting, extremely good writing.

  8. Marvelous, intense writing, John. You should really be proud of this one.

  9. Larry, did you read much PTSD into this?

    Helen, I'm interested in your interpretation. How do you feel the last line is about his guilt and nothing else?

    Deb, I wanted to echo the way minds get stuck in undesired places. That might have been the point of the piece. Thanks, Deb.

    Linda, it has to be more real in the present, even if the past was more tangible. That can go for a lot more than war. Do let me know what emerges from your longterm thinking.

    Peter, I'm now feverishly flipping through my archives to figure out the mystery post. You didn't mean Dawn Defines ( ) , did you?

    Jack, Steve and Tony, thank you for the kind words. Did any element in particular strike you guys?

  10. Most of all I love the examples of the sheets and his unit and the Humvees and all the things he's not supposed to be thinking about. The mind is not that easily controlled and battened down and he was still carrying very raw and vivid experiences with him. A sense of guilt at not being omnipresent and omnipotent both for her and for his unit, he's faced directly with this lack of control over our circumstances that we mostly try to ignore. Very human piece.

  11. Powerful stuff, with a hint of redemption. I really liked it. Well done. :)

  12. You have a real talent for getting inside character's minds and bringing them to life.

    And such a touching story, a great way to end this year's run of awesome fiction. Look forward to more next year. Happy New Year! :)

  13. I actually shivered at the end of this piece. I too, think it is one of your best yet.
    You recently told me you had a soundtrack in mind when reading one of my stories. I had Hell Broke Luce by Tom Waits running through my mind while I was reading this.

  14. Such a beautiful, brutal piece. I can really see a big man broken by this. It's perfect.

  15. Powerful. Very very powerful. I saw lots of PTSD, guilt and love, too. :)

  16. This certainly packs a punch, sir. You've fit a whole lot of both regret and resentment into this, but I dunno, I read that last line as being full of hope. His presence HAS had an effect, and he's been able to do a whole lot more than the neurosurgeon he wishes he was. Brilliant stuff.

  17. I like the way you weave together the details of the soldiers life with that of his sister. The end has a nice punch and seems to add a touch of theme about not noticing that which is in front of you.

  18. Stunning Mr W.. This is an incredibly moving piece of work...The great thing about your writing is how you manage to suck the reader into the story and it just won't let go..One of your best..(but they are all bloody good, so that's a tough call!)

  19. POW!!! - this one is a powerful read my friend. I love your descriptions - and the torment he is experiencing and the longing for something new is really strong - great stuff

  20. Sorry it's taken me a while to get back, my stupid gmail's been putting all my mail into the spam folder - go figure?

    I guess I thought it was about his guilt, because she was lying in bed ill and he was comparing what she had to what he didn't have over there.

    I have a simple mind John^__^

  21. A nice story of longing and regret, of being unable to see the present hope when all you have is the past torments rising up in your mind.


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