Contest Entry: A Place For Tears


A heart tugging, beautifully written entry by Sherri.

———

It was the screaming that I woke up to.

That and then the cold flush of itch and wetness I felt around my feet, ankles, and fingers. It was the heat that pressed inward on me, like flame to wood, and the trickle of dirty sweat that slipped from my brow.

I moved my arms and felt wreckage. A sharp piece of something cool scraped between my fingers and it followed by the burning smell of iron at my nose. There was a large crash and an explosion in the distance—a bomb? I lifted my eyelids, and at first was lost in grey, red, smoke, and flames. But it all drifted away in the crackling wind.

Sand bit my eyes because I no longer had lashes to protect them, it blew around me and pooled in the crevices of my uniform. Had it drifted into my throat? Scratchiness overwhelmed the linings and the wet streaming from my skin seemed to be trying to quell it. There was no water, no food, there was nothing left.

I cough.

It feels like my guts and my blood are trying to come up. I feel the linings of my stomach and my lungs strain and stretch like muscles worn from overuse. The sky above me is dark, and offers me no information of where I am. I sit up, though, with great effort.

There are bodies on the ground. Eric Samson, one of the young boys on the team, lies face down. He is covered in sand and debris. His jet black greasy hair, which looked that way even after a wash, was feathered around his face and matted. Eric’s fingers were wrapped tightly around a little keychain of a pink dog. The girls and I used to tease him about it, but we knew what it meant to him.

I pulled my legs to the side, and felt thankful that they still worked even though they are battered. My boots are ripped and damp, the skin on my feet broken and worn down by at least three layers. It hurts to stand and to walk. I’m on my feet now, how, I do not know. I feel like a walking corpse. I wonder if my eyes are sunken, if my hair looks like Eric’s.

I walk in a stoop, for I do not know how safe I am. You never know. The enemy is always around you, always watching and waiting. They expect there are some alive, that is why they bombed again just now. We would do the same, and probably are. On their side there is probably a scene just like this one.

I kneel down beside him and brush his hair from his eyes. They are open, and let my hands shakily slide the lids down. It will make him look more peaceful. Reaching over him, I grab at the corner of a desert tan tent that has been torn to shreds, and pull what is left of it over him. From his hand I pry free the dog and take his tag. His wife and daughter deserve this much. I’ll have to hope I can get it to them.

My eyes rake over the destruction. Tents are collapsed, and I see bits and pieces of the men and women I once knew well as my friends. My eyes close, and I feel the same, excruciating dry aching as I cough again.

This is no place for tears.

When I stand up again, I move under what is left of a tent. It is shaking violently in the sandy wind, and the pole that holds it is bruised with black from the fires and bombs. It leans to the side, and I think of my grandfather, who served before me. He used to walk that way when he came to visit, always leaning to the side. One of his legs had been torn with shrapnel.

He was someone I had always looked up to. Mom used to tease that he couldn’t hurt a fly, and he would just sit there and smile, happy to let her think that way. The truth had been in his eyes. He could see the people that he had killed, see the ones who had died and left him behind. They were like ghosts in his memory, always there, always present.

There is shuffling behind me and I turn slowly, peering out from beneath the flapping fabric. Lieutenant James is searching the field. His dark skin, sun-baked from the desert sun is splattered with blood and smudges of black. He seems to be squinting, but it is too dark today for it to be the sun. He must have lost his glasses.

“Are you sure you can see well enough, Lieutenant?”

I follow the direction of the heavy voice. A medic, Jordan Calliper, is with him. I take this as a sign that everything is safe. My heart beats heavily, and I take a step forward, out from under the tent. There is a strange pain that strikes me in the heart, and tingling that slides along my arms, numbing them.

I feel the coarse grains of the sand cutting into my knees, and they are running toward me. My lips move—they push me down—my hand lifts—they hold me still. The world whirls—I see the face of my son—and I disappear into a murky blackness of memories.

“Mommy! Look!”

James is standing by the house and laughing as Cameron trots up to me with a small cornsnake writhing in his hands. I kneel and take the creature between my fingers. Cam’s green eyes twinkle in delight.

“Wow, look at those markings.” I say, admiring the checkered belly and patterns of orange and red.

He giggles, and James has reached us. He runs his fingers playfully through the boys dirty blond hair.

“That’s what he wanted.” He shrugged, looking at me as if he thought I was going to kill him.

I smile. My love for animals is as big as his, and Cam’s. This was his seventh birthday, and the last one we would share with him before we were both drafted overseas.

There is a coolness drifting over my body, like fresh sea air, and the aches and pains feel soothed. The sound of my husband’s voice lures me to open my eyes. I expect to see him, but instead see the white ceiling and walls of a hospital.

“She’s making a steady recovery, Lieutenant. The strain and loss of blood brought on a mild heart attack.”

A heart attack? I find myself frowning. For me to have one while I’m so young, I never would have thought about it. I hear the sound of a door sliding open and the squeak of it drifting closed again. Has the doctor left?

I turn my head to the side and see my husband looking down and speaking to someone just outside the room. The window doesn’t allow me to see whom, so I close my eyes and rest. Hopefully he will come back in soon. I want to see him, to speak with him.

I’ll need to get Eric’s things to his family soon. It must be one of the first things I do after I see my son. Eric will never see his wife and daughter again, and bringing a piece of him back is the least I can do for him. The door opens again, and I hear not one, but two sets of footsteps.

“Mommy! Look!”

I pop my eyes open and attempt to smile stupidly at the voice I know so well, but Cam is holding a large orange snake in my face.

“Blaze got bigger!”

“I told him not to bring it, but he wouldn’t hear of it.”

James chuckles, and takes the snake from him, allowing Cam to wrap his arms around my neck.

“I missed you mommy.”

“I missed you too,” I say, wrapping my free arm tightly around him.

I cry. He cries. And I catch a glimpse of James turning his head to the side.

This is a place for tears.

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