By Alex Myers
Featured Art: Trees Against the Sky by Alfred Hutty
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with
his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. (2 Samuel 11:1)
He was halfway to Ramstein, the dust of Afghanistan still on his boots, when it finally hit him: home. In April no less. The cherry blossoms would be spinning down from their trees, sweet, light, floating. It was a military jet—noisy, hard, and sidewise—that took him to Germany, him in his camis, sand still hidden in the folds, hardly believing he was out of the desert. Four months into his first deployment to Afghanistan and, after the training and orientation at central command near Kabul, he’d spent his months out in the mountains, riding Humvees along what they called the main corridor, though it was pockmarked and potholed and barely paved, and humping alongside mules to little villages. Escorting the arrival of humanitarian aid, waiting while some brain from intel, some secret squirrel, interrogated the village elder.
The plane was full of grunts like him, though most had managed a shower and change before loading up. The metal behind him was rattling and grinding and the men yelled back and forth over the roar about beer, women, steak dinners. Uri rolled up his field jacket, leaned his head back against the plane’s shell. It was too noisy to think, but the men’s voices, that sound so familiar to Uri that he thought of it as one might think of the ocean, the wind, or crickets, natural, regular, reassuring, lulled him off to a fitful doze.
At Ramstein, Uri showered and changed, putting on his dress trousers, the blue jacket with gleaming buttons. He held his visored hat in his lap as a bus transferred him to the civilian airport; an attendant handed him a boarding pass, took his duffel, told him his flight was in an hour. He went to the military lounge in the terminal, turned down the offer of beer, whiskey, coffee, and faced the bank of clocks on the wall; 3 p.m. in DC. Beth would be at work. He took out his cell phone, maneuvered his flat thumbs (like little shovels, Beth had told him when they were first dating) over the keys. “In Germany. Coming home on unexpected furlough.” He hit send, waited for the reply. It came quickly, a quickness that surprised him as he thought of the distance that stretched between him and Beth, here and home, this place and Afghanistan, rendered to nothing by this phone, which bleated in his hand, flashed out a short note, “OMG!” He waited, but nothing else appeared, so he maneuvered his thumbs again, “All well. See you tonight. Love Uri.” Back from her in moments, “Cant
wait. CU soon. XOXO.” He turned his phone off, stowed it in his jacket pocket. His flight was soon, and he was tired, the feeling of grit behind his eyes. He rolled his shoulders, tried not to feel disappointment with his wife’s terse messages. Tried not to wonder at her initial lack of concern, her lack of fear that his return could only mean something bad. She was probably with a customer when he texted, fingers tangled in some woman’s hair, sorting out which strands to highlight, and she’d probably seen his text pop up on the phone in front of her mirror—he knew where she left it at work—and begged off on a quick break, texting one-handed to keep the chemicals off her phone. That was it; just a quick note, all she had time for.
In February, a small snowstorm had shut the capital down. Senator Davidson was in his Georgetown condo, the top floor of a Victorian, looking down at the damp whiteness. An inch. That’s all it took to shut this city down. He’d been in the house and senate for over twenty-five years—had now lived almost as long in DC as he had in his home state of Nebraska and it still amazed him. This piddling amount of snow would never shut down Lincoln or Omaha; it would be just another day on the Great Plains, sturdy corn-fed folks heading off to their sturdy corn-fed jobs. But the district seemed to own one snowplow and a little molehill of road-salt. Just an inch, and nothing in this city moved; the schools were closed and even the Senate had delayed the day’s session.
The street below him was empty of cars, only a little foot traffic—one corner store was open, doing a brisk business in newspapers, coffee, loaves of bread. Across the street, he saw a young woman opening up a hair salon, setting out a sandwich board with the day’s special, “Touch up your snowy white!” Davidson chuckled. At least someone down there had a sense of humor. The girl—young woman—shivered a bit as she settled the board by the curb, then rushed back inside. The sun, just making its way through the low-lying buildings, glared off the salon’s windows, and Davidson couldn’t see inside.
Something about a snow day, about that stark whiteness, flimsy as it was, made Davidson feel like a kid again—released from school, free for the day—except now his appetites didn’t run toward sledding and comics. He took his phone from the table, dialed 1 for Nate, his aide.
“Didn’t think you’d get the day off, did you?” He chuckled, then worried that he was sounding paternal, old.
“No, sir. Didn’t dream of it.”
“Well, good. Got an easy task for you. Make me an appointment, will you?” He checked his watch. “Eleven o’clock for a haircut. At . . .” He squinted out the window. “Capital Cuts.” Pausing, the senator saw the snow was already dripping from the eaves. “Ask for the young woman with long brown hair. The one who works near the front window.” He clicked his phone shut, set it back on the table, watched the sun make short work of the snow, waiting for the glare to pass from the window.
The plane touched down at Dulles in the late afternoon. Sun riding low in the sky, bobbing there, a few hours until o-dark-hundred. As they landed, Uri had his eyes fixed on the clear landmarks, the Washington Monument, the Capitol Dome, the curve of the Potomac. Somewhere in there was the salon where Beth worked, streets he knew. He hadn’t been in DC for long; just since he’d been
stationed at Quantico after his military training. He and Beth lived in a little apartment just outside the base; the commute into the city wasn’t so bad. DC always seemed like a strange town to him, especially seen from the air. Kind of puny. All the buildings were short—there was a law that nothing could be taller than the Capitol Dome—and as a result the city looked stunted, uninspiring.
He tried to think about what came next, where he’d go, as the plane made its final circle and descent, but every time he blinked, this world disappeared and he’d see, for a blinding second, the dingy palm trees, the world achingly beige, a road stretching out ahead of him, not like a ribbon, not like an American highway, a smooth tongue of passageway from Point A to wherever you want to go, but like a snake, ready to bite, and he couldn’t understand where he was. He thought of his buddies, his barracks where he’d barely had time to say goodbye, just grab his bag and balls and go. Gunner’s resentful growl, “What the fuck, Uri? You quitting on us?” And Gomez from the toilet, “Drink a keg for me, man.” And that was it. He’d left, like a thief in the night. Even with his eyes open, the city swam before him, in and out, now close, now far away.
When he got off the plane and claimed his duffel at the carousel, he saw a man, on the short side, dark hair, dark suit, glasses, nothing much to look at, holding a sign with Cpl Wojciechowski printed on it. Spelled correctly, this name that spilled out over both sides of his uniform’s breast pocket, that made him the only man in his unit called regularly by his first name, Uri. Odd, he thought. The two men stepped toward each other.
“I’m from Senator Davidson’s office, Corporal Wo . . .”
“Just call me Uri.”
The man smiled, but flatly: this was a request he wasn’t programmed to obey. “I’m to take you to the Senator’s office. Shall we?” His hand swept toward the airport’s automatic doors.
She had her fingers deep in the senator’s hair, tips digging pleasantly into his scalp. He wanted to close his eyes to savor the sensation, but he also wanted to look at her in the mirror, drink her in, her sleeves pulled up to her elbows, her dark hair tucked behind her ears and falling in gentle curls down her back. She wore rings on her fingers, and these clicked softly together as she ran her fingers
through his hair, rinsed the suds out. Her name was Beth, and he had never wanted anyone so much in his entire life. He had a brief thought of Abby, his wife at home in Nebraska, the sweetness of her, the figure she had cut in college when they met, now gone to roundness after three children. He felt a pang of gratitude toward her that she had resolutely remained in the Midwest, disdaining his offer to buy a larger house in Alexandria or somewhere, wanting their children to have a normal childhood like hers, leaving him free to relax here, under Beth’s hands. How glad he was to be wearing the concealing black cape over his lap. Leaning back in the chair as she toweled his hair dry, measured it
between her fingers, he listened to her talk, the easy talk of someone whose job it was to make people comfortable, who serves the public. He listened fuzzily, answering minimally—just a trim—trying not to be fussy, not to sound self-aggrandizing as he told her he was a senator.
“Yes. From Nebraska.”
“No kidding. My husband’s from Nebraska, grew up there.”
He didn’t let the word husband give him pause. “Really? What part?”
She waved the hand with the comb in it. “Near Omaha. We don’t go back much. He’s in the military.”
“Good for him.”
Beth shrugged, met his eyes in the mirror. “Hard to say it’s good . . . he’s in Afghanistan right now.”
She snipped from the top of his head, and the damp lock of hair slipped down behind his ear. Far away, thought the senator, hardly listening to her talk about bases, deployment.
“It must be hard to have him gone.”
She blew air through her lips, ran both hands through his hair, pulling up a few strands for closer inspection. “I’ll say.” But her eyes didn’t meet his in the mirror this time, and he took this to be a good sign.
Uri sat silently as the big car moved through traffic. Nate, up front next to the driver, turned around periodically to ask if Uri needed anything. Uri just shook his head, but he wondered what Nate would do if he said yes—order the car stopped? Dash out to the nearest store to satisfy his whim?
Cars came rushing at him, headlights blaring, and he had to shut his eyes against this world, wished he could shut his ears too. Most of all, he felt like he was waiting for some louder noise, that familiar spike of gunfire, for one of his buddies to yell—then it would all mean something, all make sense. But the car pressed on, cutting a slim line through the stacks of vehicles, peaceful, normal, and Uri couldn’t help but wonder where he was being taken and why.
A week or two after the Senator’s haircut, Nate, in casual attire, had stopped by Capital Cuts at the end of the workday. Beth was sweeping up the day’s locks when he came through the door; she looked up quickly.
“Sorry. We’re closing. I should have locked the door.”
He wiped his feet on the mat. “I’m not here for a cut. Just looking for Beth.”
She stopped sweeping. “That’s me.”
“I work for Senator Davidson. You just cut his hair . . .” Beth nodded, and Nate continued. “He’s got a big day tomorrow, interviews on Meet the Press, Good Morning America, you know the drill. All this attention about the troop requisition, the armed services bill. And he was wondering if you could come by his office, give him a quick trim . . .”
Beth looked at Nate, the glasses and fresh cheeks, like an eager college boy.
“He would have made an appointment, but . . .” Nate spread his hands in defeat. “It’s been a busy day.”
Beth pushed her hair behind her ear, looked at her watch. There was nothing she had to do, except a long commute back to Virginia, an empty apartment, dinner for one. “Okay, sure.”
“Special rates, we understand.” Nate smiled and led her out to the Lincoln Town Car, held the door for her, let her take the plush back seat by herself. Like a queen, she thought, as the car slipped away from the curb.
The city slipped past her window, the somewhat familiar twists and turns and traffic circles to get to the Congressional Offices. When they’d first moved to the area, before Beth had been settled in a job, and Uri was busy on the base, she had gone to the museums, toured the White House. She had visited Congress as well, a walking tour that had pointed out not only the well-known dome, but
the office buildings and auxiliary halls as well. The car pulled up in front of one of these buildings and she followed Nate inside. It was evening, after hours, but pages and aides and GodKnowsWhats bustled along the halls, portraits of importance with their sheaves of folders and attaché cases. She stuck close to Nathan, her bag with scissors, clippers, and comb clamped against her side.
Senator Davidson’s office was not what she’d expected—as she strode through the busy halls, she had in mind the office of Mr. Tyler, her high school principal, a foyer with a bench for waiting miscreants or supplicants, a stern secretary who managed a phone, a word processor, a big wall calendar; the inner office with a metal desk, chair on wheels, file cabinets, certain hallmarks of authority like diplomas, trophies, pens in fancy stands. She wasn’t expecting the hive of assistants and aides, clicking away at laptops, murmuring into cell phones.
“The staff room,” Nathan explained, hanging his jacket on a rack. “Okay?” He led Beth to a door and they entered what looked like a standard sitting room: couch, coffee table, easy chairs, bookshelves, low light from lamps. Beth wrinkled her brow, surprised. “Have a seat.” Nathan indicated the couch and walked across the room, knocked on another door.
Feeling weary, Beth sank into the couch, watched Nate put his head inside the next room, heard his voice but not his words. Then he turned to her again. “The Senator’s on the phone. Just for a minute. Can I take your coat? The bathroom’s right through here if you need it.”
He left to hang her jacket up, the door clicking behind him. Just then, Senator Davidson came out of his office. Smiling, he nodded at Beth, “Thanks for agreeing to come. I really appreciate it.” His voice held a convincing note of fatigue, as if it had been a really long day, even though the rest of his body conveyed strength, energy. He stepped to the sideboard. “Drink?” Before she could
reply, he had two tumblers in his hands, offered one to her.
“Better not. I wouldn’t want to mess up your hair.”
He laughed, too loudly, she thought, and set the glass back on the sideboard. “Okay. For later, then.” He took a slug from his own drink then set that down as well; his eyes met hers, shied away. “I think the bathroom will be best.”
Beth nodded, followed the Senator out of the sitting room. He dragged a chair with him into the surprisingly spacious bathroom, settling it between the shower and the sink. The towels here were embroidered with the seal of the senate and she studied the odd little sign as she unloaded her gear, its familiar shield of stars and stripes, eagle and olive branches, as well as the strange red cap on
top, the axes and scrolls at the bottom. She plugged in her clippers, and realized that she had forgotten to bring a cape; she didn’t make house calls often.
“I don’t have a cover for you. Sorry,” she said.
“Don’t worry,” said the senator, shrugging out of his shirt and tie. “I’ll just brush it off when you’re done. I can always take a shower, I suppose.”
In his undershirt, he looked younger, Beth thought, though not in any way reduced—he was a man who didn’t need clothes to make him look powerful. The trim barely took ten minutes. She brushed the hairs from his ears and neck, walked around in front of him to brush his forehead. Through his suit pants, she could see his erection. “Pitching a tent,” her older brothers had called it. The senator caught her gaze and smiled, unembarrassed, like it was a joke between them. Before she could fully register this reaction, the senator stood, crowded close to her between the sink and the shower, and pulled out his billfold. He handed her a crisp hundred.
“Sir, that’s too much,” she said.
But he just took out another, pressed it into her hand. “Nonsense, Beth. I appreciate the house call. Now, how about that drink?”
He was never overtly aggressive, never grabbed her or forced her to do anything. For a while, it was just the two of them on the couch, sipping at drinks, he still in his undershirt. They talked about places they’d been, lots for him, not so many for her, so she focused on where she wanted to go. She sipped her drink and he refilled it. She could have left at any time, but Nate didn’t materialize as
she expected he would, to usher her though the maze of corridors.
In fact, it was she who made the first move, lifting her hand to the senator’s face to brush off a snip of hair that she’d missed. A simple gesture, one she made dozens of times a day. She didn’t mean anything by it. Just doing her job. But he held her hand there for a moment, took it in his own, then kissed it, moved it to his lap. Even then, she could have stood up, left—she knew which door was out—but the senator had this power to him, a force that pulled her in, his voice low and confident as he told her how beautiful she was, the warmth of him beneath her hand. She thought of the fact that he would be on TV the next morning, how she could lie in bed and watch Good Morning America and see his face there, know she had cut that hair, kissed those lips. Here in this hushed office in the depths of the halls of Congress, as he slid off her pants, unbuttoned her shirt, moved above her on the couch, she felt safe.
When she got home that night, she unpacked her bag, cleaned the clippers thoroughly, put the hundreds in her sock drawer, reminding herself that he’d paid for the haircut.
After that, she was surprised by how easy it was. She tried not to think of his wife in Nebraska or Uri in Afghanistan; that was the only hard part. The senator’s condo was across the street from work, so convenient that she didn’t go home for nights in a row. She read emails from Uri, full of slang she barely recognized, talking about him being at an ant hill or finally getting liberty, and acronyms that she thought she had, at one time, understood. She could almost remember early dates when he had explained them to her, patiently, winning her over. But now they were just so many letters. There wasn’t a map or a dictionary that could help her understand where he was, what he was talking about, and as she read the messages scrolling across her phone screen, she felt more and more that he was lost, like one of those ancient explorers who had simply sailed off the edge of the map. Sometimes he got to a phone and called her, his voice small and metallic; the calls were often dropped abruptly and she waited, tense and unsure, for this to happen, never wanting to get too involved in the conversation, almost looking forward to the termination. Even over the lousy connection, she felt him reaching out, clinging to her, fingers sticky—like a toddler who has eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich—and the thought of it made her want a shower, to get clean.
There were no pretensions about her relationship with Senator Davidson. He called her or, more often, Nate did; he let her into the senator’s condo, where she waited, watching people move on the street below her, realizing she’d been watched like this too. There were no dinners out, no swanky senate parties, no risk of discovery. There were weekends without him, weekends when he flew back to Nebraska to campaign, to fuck his wife, to do what he was supposed to, but mostly, there was just him, sometimes tired, sometimes full of bluster.
“This damned war keeps dragging on,” he’d said one night as she rubbed his shoulders. Then he’d paused as if realizing what he’d said, giving features to the shadow between them. He fell silent, but she usually watched the news between customers at the salon, and often caught sight of him—hair always neat and trim—railing against troop buildup, against endless and unwinnable wars,
and she wondered if he knew what he was asking for.
Some mornings there were bills in her pockets, a couple of hundreds, always after she’d given him a trim, always for the haircut.
Then the senate was in recess, spring break, just like college kids, she thought. Back at her apartment with the picture of Uri on her nightstand, sharp in his dress uniform. She didn’t clean or dust, just worked her hours and took long walks, barely ate, slept lightly all night, felt within her something shifting, though whether it was a piece sliding into place or a shard breaking away, she
couldn’t tell yet. Beth wasn’t surprised when she was late on her period that month; she was stressed, she’d lost some weight, so she didn’t say anything to the senator before he left. But when she was three weeks late, she stopped by the pharmacy, bought a pregnancy test kit, and waited in the bathroom, thinking no, no, no, thinking of the mess she’d made.
She didn’t want to call the senator, not with him at home, so she dialed Nate, not knowing what to say except, “I’m pregnant.” Silence. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know who else to call.”
“Are you sure?” His voice so mechanical, but then his concerns were not with her. They were with the senator, with his own career, with the future.
“Yes. No.” She explained the test.
“And are you suggesting it is the senator’s?”
That was a cold hand on her neck. She felt her shoulders tense. “Of course. There’s no one else.” She thought about what was unsaid: I’m not a whore. I’m not even sleeping with my husband.
Uri found the walk through the halls of the senate office building tiresome, following after Nate, the endless doors and crowds. He kept his gaze straight ahead, felt the fatigue in the way his chest trembled with each breath, the jet lag, the panic that was milling beneath his skin in this foreign place, all these strange people. And the confusion: where was he? And why? At last, he was in the senator’s office, the senator before him—a tall man, Uri’s height, powerfully built and not gone to seed. Dark hair with gray at the temples, perfectly trimmed. Uri quickly scanned the room, its corners dark with evening, the doors leading to God knows where.
“Corporal. Good of you to come.”
“Sir.” Uri wanted to correct him; he wasn’t a corporal. He was a lance corporal, and though the distinction mattered a lot in his world, he doubt it made a bit of difference to the senator. He disliked the man’s easy smile, the knowing look that he gave Uri, the way that he suggested he knew him, knew what he wanted. He didn’t know shit.
Senator Davidson waved to the couch, but Uri stood still.
Uri shook his head, but the senator pressed one in his hand anyway, cold, ice clinking against the sides.
“As you know, I’m Senator Davidson. You’re probably wondering why I brought you here.” The senator took an armchair, crossed his legs, propped his drink on his knee. In military settings, it was normal for a superior to sit while an inferior stood, but Uri dredged up the recollection that this was not SOP in the civilian world, and so he sat down on the couch, his knees bending reluctantly, and tried to set in motion the gears of propriety: sip the drink, lean back, engage in conversation.
“Well, you grew up in my district, and I never ignore a hometown boy.” He sipped, looked long at Uri, the lines of fatigue and confusion—this would be easy clay to mold. “I wanted to hear from you how the war is going, the report from the ground, as it were. There’s a big bill on the horizon, and I want to do right by my constituents.” He smiled, showing neat bright teeth. “So, I pulled a few strings and got you home leave. You understand?”
Uri didn’t, but he tried to answer the senator’s inquiries about equipment, command, terrain, the questions seemingly endless. Nate filled both their drinks and Uri clenched his jaw against the weariness that threatened to topple him.
“Well, young man, I’m sure you’re tired. Sorry to have taken so much time from you. I’m sure you’ll want to get home to your wife. Nate will drive you.”
The aide stepped forward, put a hand on Uri’s shoulder, a motion that startled him, and he pulled away, stood up suddenly.
“Sir. I should report to my commanding officer at the base.”
“Nonsense. It’s all clear. You can go home tonight.” With a wave of the senator’s hand, he was dismissed.
Uri followed Nate to the car, slipped in. “I’m sure your wife will be glad to see you,” said Nate from the front seat. The orange light of the streetlamp illuminated his face, the fixed smile, and Uri forced himself to nod. Respond, he thought, communicate. It felt as if he were frozen, or as if he weren’t really there, just a ghost, a memory. As if this were a dream and soon he’d wake up, find himself under canvas, asleep with his boots on, the other men snoring beside him. That was home, he realized. That was where he should be.
When the car stopped at his apartment, he barely recognized it. “I’m not sure if this is it,” he said.
But Nate peered out the window. “Yup, this is the right one.”
He tugged the duffel bag from the trunk, carried it up the steps, reassured by its weight. I’m real, it seemed to say. As he took the steps, slowly, he thought he should have called Beth from the car, just to let her know he was on his way; he didn’t want to shock her. But she opened the door before he even knocked, stood there in the bit of light escaping from inside. He told himself she was beautiful, that he was glad to be home. Barely feeling her touch as he stepped past her, Uri dropped the duffel to the floor and raised his arms—now I should hug her, he thought, each motion labored, unnatural. He closed his arms around her, surprised by how small she felt, how thin; he could feel the bones beneath the shirt, her skin, the very marrow of her. She shuddered in his arms and he stepped back and watched her cry, knowing he should hold her. Watched her with eyes not of a husband but of a soldier, the way he would scan a road for debris, scan a line of Afghans huddled to pass through a checkpoint, looking for the bomb, for the terrorist, for the piece that does not belong. He saw her.
“Uri. I can’t believe you’re here.” She reached for him, but he stepped away.
“I shouldn’t be. My whole unit’s still there. I don’t understand what’s going on.” His eyes flicked over the apartment, and he willed himself to find the familiar there, but even the pictures on the wall, him and Beth on their wedding day, nieces and nephews he should know, were strange to him, revealing people he felt he’d never seen before.
In front of him, Beth stopped crying, pulled herself together, faced him. “Well, I’m glad you’re home, soldier.” She reached for his hand. “Let’s make the most of it.” She tugged at him, but his hand was limp in hers, dead weight, every inch of him unresponsive.
Cars passing on the road outside threw squares of light across the wall. Each one made him flinch. “I can’t,” he said, dropping his hand to his side.
Beth bit her lip, staring at the man in front of her, a stranger, cold in his uniform, his eyes unfocused, distant. She couldn’t touch him. She knew this.
She watched him phone the base, saw his mouth move without hearing his words. When the car from the base came, he shouldered his duffel and looked at her—a look that made her turn away, that said he knew her, had known her, did not forgive her.
He meant to say, “I’m sorry,” but the words didn’t come out.
She looked pale, almost sick, he saw, in the one glance he took as he stowed his gear in the car. He wanted to say something, but none of the words would make sense. “I can’t stay. Can’t touch you. Can’t sleep with you, knowing that half a world away, my guys are dodging RPGs.” He gave her that last look; her eyes were not on his but seemed to look at something or someone inside her,
and he drove away.
When she could no longer see the taillights of his car, Beth went inside, called Nate. “It didn’t work,” she said when he picked up. “Uri’s gone.” She hung up.
On the counter was a bottle of wine, a fancy one, nothing she’d ever buy for herself. The senator had bought it for her, for tonight, had Nate bring it over the previous day even though she knew that Uri would rather have beer any night of the week. She put the bottle in the cupboard; this was no time for drinks.
The Senator’s unannounced visit to the base the next morning caused a minor kerfuffle. The C.O.’s schedule was hastily cleared and the guards effected a rapid change for crisp uniforms, muttering amongst themselves about how this was a clusterfuck, and don’t these bastards have stuff in Washington to keep them busy?
Uri, who’d been waiting to meet with the C.O. to confirm expedited shipment back to his unit, saw the senator’s sleek Town Car slither through the gate and took his cue to go back to barracks. Within an hour, he was called to the C.O.’s office, a room with both the bluster and the sparseness of military décor. He stood before the senator and the C.O. who said, “Son, you’ve got a break here in your deployment. Nothing to be ashamed of. Lots of guys would be happy to be in your boots. Just get yourself some R&R.” His eyes slid momentarily from Uri to the senator, a fraction of a glimpse, and Uri wasn’t sure if the look was meant to convey meaning to him or to the senator. “We’ve got good support staff on the base, folks who can help you . . . get settled stateside.”
“I’m fine, sir. I just want to get back . . .”
The senator nodded. “Thank you, Colonel.”
The C.O. rose, gave Uri one last appraising look before leaving the office, and Uri felt, seeing the softened glare of those eyes, that he’d passed some sort of test.
Senator Davidson also stood, paced the floor. There was something about him that offended Uri, the nervous energy overlaid by a patina of control and jocularity, the flawless appearance: expensive suit, handsome tie, that impeccably trimmed hair. Uri stood still, willing himself to calm and patience. Eventually, the senator stopped pacing, faced him.
“You’ve been in the thick of it, young man. Why not have some down time?” A big smile. “I could arrange for stateside service. Maybe a little stint as a recruiter . . .”
“No.” Uri resisted the urge to step toward the senator, to bring him up short with physical proximity. “No, Sir. How can I stay here, what with my unit, my buddies, putting their lives on the line. For me. For you.”
Senator Davidson nodded as if he understood. “Just a night. You’ve traveled all the way here. I’m sure your wife will want to see you, spend time with you, before you ship out again.”
“My wife understands I’m a soldier. She understands what’s best for the country.”
The joint below the senator’s ear jutted out as he clenched his teeth. The man in front of him, eyes like two cups of coffee, what did he know? The senator had been young once, a young man on a college campus, had signed up for ROTC training, what he’d calculated to be the safest course of action in a war that looked like it would never end. He remembered the Selective Service paperwork, the notices from the draft board, the unexpected—the never, in fact, duplicated—jubilation when the draft had ended, how something inside of him that had been crouched, defensive, could now stand up and be free. He wasn’t going, would never go.
The man in from of him was in the khaki service uniform of base life. Drab and dull. What did he know? Three nights ago the senator had slept with this man’s wife, pulled her warm little body on top of his. This man had no idea what he was throwing away. What a fool.
The Lincoln Town Car merged with beltway traffic, the endless lines of cars intent on getting inside the capital’s girdle. Nate read the creases on his boss’s face as clearly as newspaper headlines. Failure. A temporary defeat. This battle lost. He kicked around for a change of topic, shuffled the pages in his briefcase for the schedule of senate hearings, votes, debates. “The War Bill should be up in the next few days.” He held the briefing sheet in front of him. “Extended troop deployment, additional equipment requisitions, budget expansion.” He flicked his eyes up to the senator’s face, but Davidson’s gaze was fixed on the unmoving traffic outside the car window. “You’ll be voting against . . .”
“Yes. I’ll be voting yes.”
The Humvee ground its way across the pockmarked road, the men in back swaying with the motion. The stale air, the heat pressed against them. Only eight in the morning and Uri’s shirt was already soaked through.
“Crazy man,” called Gomez over the roar of the engine, the crunch of the tires. “Crazy. You could be at home and you’re here.”
Uri smiled, said nothing. Yes, he was back, back to the desert and the gunfire and DC seemed like nothing but a dream. On the return flight, he’d puzzled over what had happened, tried to figure it out. Something didn’t fit, something didn’t make sense. He thought it must have been some test, and even though he wasn’t a religious guy, didn’t wear a cross around his neck like so many of the guys over here, he thought it was like the devil trying to tempt him, that trip home. And he was happy that he hadn’t given in. Was sure Beth would be happy too, if only he could explain it.
For now, the Humvee bumped and rolled and the sun rose overhead, already it was blinding, turning the road into a puddle of glare, until there was no chance to see what lay ahead.
Alex Myers is a teacher, speaker, and writer who works for gender inclusion in schools. His debut novel, Revolutionary, was released in 2014 and his most recent novel, The Story of Silence came out in 2020. Full details can be found at alexmyerswriting.com