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Stort Stories : by Trisha Johnson
 
Vietnam

 

“It ain’t fair.”

“It’s ridiculous! I mean: we don’t even look like brothers. Paul’s two years older than me and he acts like a kid all the time. Like he’s retarded or something. He always wears black, too – or mostly black – even when it’s a hundred degrees! Mom just shrugs it off. “He looks at the world different to the rest of us,” she says. What does Dad say? “Nothin’,” that’s what! He went out one day for some beer and never came back. I’ve had to be the man of the house since I was twelve. I had to grow up fast, be responsible. I never had time for skateboards, street hockey or shit like that. I had chores to do. Mow the lawn, fix the roof, or paint the garage door, while he just sat up in that room of his, that no one ever gets to look inside, reading some stupid text book till all hours. Now I’m eighteen, and Mom’s married again, you’d think I’d be getting some time to myself, wouldn’t you, but, no, he drags his freaky ass along behind me everywhere I go. He has no job, no car, and definitely no class and yet the girls are all over him. They can’t help themselves. They want to mother him. He just sits there with his head between their tits while they stroke his neck and make stupid cooing sounds. I swear he’s got a huge grin on his face, but you can’t see it, jammed in there like it is. It makes me puke!

“I have less than forty-eight hours before I report for basic training. Paul’s not been drafted. He’s a ‘4F’, with a bad back and crappy eyesight from reading all those books of his. Seems he gets to stay home and be Jody, while I get to go to ‘Nam. He’d better not mess with Suzy while I’m gone. Brother or not, I’ll slit his scrawny throat when I get back. And, trust me, I’ll know how to do it quick and quiet by then.

“Soon as I got home, today, Mom wanted us to go out into the yard and pose for a picture. Paul’s busy playing the village idiot, like usual. And I’m there, right behind him, doing my James Dean impression. Smoldering eyes and everything. Mom invited all the family to a sit down meal. My sister Bonnie already came in from Pomona, with her two kids. I think she’s doing an okay job bringing them up on her own. And a lot better than Mom is ever going to give her credit for. Manny, Mom’s brother, and his wife Becky turned up half an hour after I did. They have three kids. Two are still in college, and the other, Billy, is in jail, serving “three to five” on a possession bust. When I got the draft, Jake, Mom’s new husband, spent a whole evening telling me about the six years he spent in the navy. Never said what he did while he was in, but he’s a short order cook down at the Crescent Grill, now, so I guess he had to have learned how to throw a pizza and nuke a burger while he was serving on the Saratoga. He never saw any action, as he called it, but he knows a couple of guys who just got back from their second tour in ‘Nam. He said they said it’s pretty bad over there. I never thought about dying up until now. I lie awake at night, wondering what’ll happen the first time I have to fire that M16. I don’t think I’ll freeze, but you never know. Buddy of mine, Ray Johnson, lost his big brother, Mike, to a Vietcong ambush. The whole platoon got it that day. Ray enlisted six months ago. He says he’ll skin a coupla dozen geeks as payback for what they did to Mike. Suzy’s coming over tonight and we’re going dancing. I don’t like dancing, that much, but I figure I should make it a special night for her. I guess she’ll have the tough job, sitting home waiting to hear if I got it or not. I thought I’d grown up pretty quick after Dad left us, but I’ve grown up a lot more since that piece of paper came flying through the letter box, courtesy of Uncle Sam.

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