Pa decided to join the Bonus Expeditionary Force. After dropping Ma and the youngsters off at Uncle Vernon’s, he let me ride the rails with him from our home in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, all the way to the Washington Freight Yard.
He lowered the window an inch and the dry air now flowed past his temple. Though he had arrived in Kuwait five days ago, he was still feeling some jetlag edginess. The road stretched out flat and straight. Nature here had the color of an oatmeal cookie, most houses too. Some were a bit lighter in color, like an oatmeal cookie bleached in the sun. They formed an unbroken line right off the freeway, three-story facades with columns and small, frequently shuttered windows. None of this had been here back then. The country had come some way since Mr Sodamn Insane’s drubbing.
Sleep in any odd alley came piecemeal to Chris Banntry (and never luck, he would add, if anything else.) He called it bonesleep or curbsleep, or a number of other things, just as long as minutes of it were sometimes accompanied by a kind darkness. He liked the minutes where his bones could soften for the merest of moments and his mind go blank and his stomach cease its horrible arguments, and the insects, the ants and other crawling enemies, might take a night off from arduous labors. The darkness, inevitably, could bring enemies of all sorts with it, or the strangest of friends.
He limps home from the war with a lopsided gait. A cripple with a dark green uniform hanging on his gaunt frame. They stare at the colorful ribbons and shiny dangling medals on his chest as they avoid his vacant, hollow eyes hidden in bony valleys of dark flesh.
In the bedroom, upstairs, front corner, blind amid the toss of linens he had known intimately for seven long years, in touch with passing traffic and summer conversations when the windows were open, Jack Derrick lay in the middle of sound, in the middle of darkness. His left leg, or most of it, set upon by diabetes and the perfection of the surgeon, was elsewhere; his right hand was stained by nicotine, the index finger and close companion yellowed as shoe leather, and those fingernails bore fragments of that same deep stain. Gray, thin hair, most of it about his ears except for one thatch above his forehead as if an odd bird, at length, would roost there, drooped like fallen stalk. The stubble of his beard sprouted as off-white as an old field of corn waiting the last reaper.
“Here I am,” says his imperative argument in an undertone, “eighty-seven frigging years old, my knees gone to hell and back, my gut talking about all the beer I’ve sailed my life across, barrels of it talking to me all at once, and this little kid out in front of my house crying his head off. This little kid, this little shaver, one of the ones we did our thing for, our future.