General Fiction posted November 20, 2021 Chapters: -1- 2... 


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You can't fix or repair anything without a #2 Pencil.

A chapter in the book Concertina

#2 Pencil

by Yardier


"Lee, wake up! You're having a dream," Dawn said with alarm as she fumbled with the bedside lamp.

Lee sat up quickly in the soft light, rubbed his eyes, and tried to control his breathing. Images of the dark and unctuous Mekong night drained from his mind and slid between the headboard and mattress, where it gathered into an insidious pool that lurked beneath their bed.

"Lee, honey." Dawn sat up cautiously and scooched beside him and placed her face against his shoulder. "This has got to stop. It's getting worse…."

"I know," Lee whispered with his head hanging down. He reached up and touched Dawn's face with a thick, calloused hand, not so much to comfort her but to make sure she was real, and the dream of an overwhelming firefight was over. As the shaking from his terror receded, familiar objects in their bedroom replaced his panicked sense of helplessness with comfort and security, mostly select photographs of their wedding, their golden retriever Sam, and of her sister's children playing at the beach. There was a well-used reading chair next to a small bookshelf stocked with self-help books on gardening and how to raise a family. Ten years ago, it would have been filled with Soldier of Fortune and gun magazines and the Time-Life series on the Vietnam war. Still, his wife decided those tasteless periodicals written by bloodthirsty and ill-mannered men did not belong in her bedroom and, one day, while Lee was at work, threw them into the garbage.

Lee didn't say anything about the incident nor confront her; he figured it was a wife thing, and besides, there wasn't anything in those books  he hadn't already seen or experienced in 'Nam. With that capitulation, Lee tried to live a life much like his wife envisioned the bookshelf; clean and orderly with an underlying idea life would get better, and they would remain happy if things were clean and tidy.

Initially, it was easy for him to agree with his wife's philosophy. Because, for the most part, staying alive in Vietnam meant being prepared, something his father impressed upon him as a young boy and a value he disciplined himself to build upon and retain. However, as more and more time went by in his marriage, he began to suspect everything would be fine only if, like those tasteless periodicals, his service to his country and Vietnam experiences could be thrown out with the garbage, never to be acknowledged again.

But it wasn't that easy.

As his wife had said, things were getting worse but what she meant and what he understood to be getting worse were two different understandings.

"I can't keep going on like this, Lee… I need my sleep too."

"I know," Lee said with fatigue.

Earlier in their marriage, Dawn was eager to hear of Lee's combat experiences and often bragged to others about them as if he were some unique jungle hero and then goad him to embellish the stories even further. It was an uncomfortable encouragement causing him to avoid any conversation regarding Vietnam altogether. He became increasingly unsettled at social events as repressed graphic images merged with social smiles and mindless banter while he sipped wine he found increasingly bitter.

It was just a matter of time, but he finally quit talking about Vietnam altogether and began drinking. But unfortunately, he was good at it. He hid his alcoholism from everyone, and even with the occasional drunken rant on his back patio, no one suspected he had a problem. But he knew he did and was fully aware he would have to address the issue sooner than later to stop the dreams, the dreams that were growing with frequency and horrific clarity.

Weary and unsettled, Lee looked at the alarm clock on the nightstand and saw that it was 4:30. "The sun would be coming up soon," he thought, "and today is going to be another scorcher… three digits of hell."

"I mean, can't you talk to somebody? You know, down at that place where all the old soldiers are…?" Dawn asked.

Lee leaned over and kissed Dawn with dry lips that barely touched her cheek. "Ya."

Dawn lay back down and rolled over with her back to him and said to the wall, "Please don't take this the wrong way, you know I love you, but… if you keep waking me with those 'Nam dreams as you call them… well, I think it would be better for you to sleep in the guest bedroom… until, you know, you can be… I mean, sleep normal."

Lee swung his legs over the edge of the bed, stood up on the deep-cut light blue carpet that matched the bedroom curtains, and briefly enjoyed the pleasurable soft sensation beneath his bare feet. "Normal?" he thought as he approached the bedroom door. "What's normal anyway?"

"Lee, it's 4:30; where are you going?"

"To see somebody," Lee said as he quietly shut the bedroom door.

 
~~~~

Lee and Dawn Morrison were married in 1970, the year after he came home from Vietnam and, except for a few apartment rentals in Bakersfield, lived in the same factory manufactured home in Greenfield for the last fifteen years purchased with the help of a V.A. loan. Greenfield is a rural community located just south of Bakersfield in California's great San Joaquin Valley sporting a post office and liquor store conveniently located at the intersection of two county highways. If the residents needed anything else, they drove over to Pumpkin Center or Lamont. Greenfield is not the center of valley agriculture, but the dwindling remnant of Okies that make up Greenfield's demographic potpourri will tell you differently. Dawn was one such person, and she'd tell anyone within earshot that she is proud to be an Okie. She would tell them how her grandparents left the Dustbowl behind and scratched a new life out of San Joaquin's fertile soil. The listener came to painfully realize in great detail if it weren't for the produce planted and harvested by Okies, the world would have starved. This genetic enthusiasm enabled her to become a docent at the Weedpatch Migrant Farm Worker Museum just down the road. This non-paying position is also why Lee drove his father's hand-me-down1964 Ford pick-up truck fifty miles a day across the valley to a reasonable paying laborers job at the B.N. Helle Oilfield Products plant just outside Derby Acres.
 
~~~~

After shutting the bedroom door carefully, Lee padded through the darkened house more by memory than sight. It didn't take long before he felt the plush carpet beneath his feet change to cool hard linoleum and, with the help of the glow from the double oven's clock, made his way through the kitchen to the laundry room where his wife required his work clothes and boots to be stored.

After getting dressed, Lee stepped out onto the utility porch, unzipped his pants, and relieved himself on a potted gladiola at his feet. His wife thought it was struggling to survive because it was heat-stressed. It didn't matter to Lee; he found it increasingly easy not to care what his wife thought or why. And, depending on how many beers he drank the night before, the daily urine baptism on the gladiola could be vigorous. Small victories are what win the war, Lee thought as he zipped his pants up and, with manly purpose, walked down the side yard to what mattered to him.

When Lee's father, Leland, died from a sudden heart attack at the young age of fifty-eight, he left Lee a near-perfect and mechanically sound 1964 Ford pick-up truck. Lee approached the truck parked curbside beneath the glow of a streetlamp as if it were an old friend. He smiled as he unlocked the door and stepped into the cab and sat on the springy bench seat. Then, trying to shut out the memory of the 'Nam nightmare, he recalled the bittersweet moment when he first inherited his father's truck; it was pure and clean and almost brand new, as his mother would say. With the truck came a complete set of master mechanic's and carpenter's tools in their respective tool chests on rollers. Over his lifetime, Leland had gathered practically every tool available for any repair job required of him at any time except for that unexpected early morning heart attack. So Lee was not surprised when he opened his father's carpenter's toolbox to see a half dozen sharpened #2 pencils along with block planes, hammers, hand saws, chisels, and a brace with auger bits. Leland may have made his living as a mechanic but found his joy in woodworking. "Be prepared," Lee thought of his father's wise words. "You can't very well use these tools without a pencil, and without the tools, you can't build or repair anything… simple."

Lee inserted the key into the ignition, started the truck, and let the perfectly balanced engine settle into a smooth idle. At the same time, he pushed the cigarette lighter in and waited for it to pop back out glowing cherry-red to light his morning cigarette. He rolled the driver's window down, leaned over, and rolled the passenger window down using a pair of vice grips permanently squeezed onto the window crankshaft and waited for the lighter… nothing. He put a cigarette between his teeth and pushed the lighter again, still nothing. Finally, he pulled the lighter out and looked at the cold dark coils, and muttered, "Damn fuse." He started to put the lighter into the dash ashtray to remind him to check the fuse later, but it was stuffed with cigarette butts and ashes. What a bunch of crap, he thought as he reinserted the cold lighter back into the receptacle on the dash. He turned the dome light on, filling the cab with a yellow glow that brought back memories of the first time he rode in the truck as a teenager. He and his father brought the new truck home from a Ford dealer in Barstow with smiles on their faces as wide as the highway. He also remembered how his mother proudly told him it was the only thing his father had ever purchased 'brand new,' and he deserved it for all the crap he put up with as a mechanic.

Lee knew there was a book of ancient matches in the glove box somewhere because he had put them there after finding them in the still 'brand new,' never used dash-board ashtray when he inherited the truck. His father didn't smoke. If he did, he probably would not have smoked in his pride and joy. Lee, feeling with his hands more than looking for the matches, rummaged through the glove box stuffed with expired vehicle registration papers, gas receipts, and a couple of delinquent parking tickets. He felt past an old pack of gum, a small plastic container of fuses, and a well-used beer can opener and found the matches.

It's gonna be a good day after all, he thought as he struck a match and lit his cigarette. He inhaled deeply and, as the first hit of nicotine spun his head, noticed his father's handwriting on the matchbook cover. It read; Be Prepared. Lee smiled at the thought of his father writing his life's mantra onto a book of matches with a perpetually sharpened number two pencil, then placing the matches in an ashtray he would never use. He turned the matchbook over to see if his father had written anything else and instead found a Bible verse embossed in faded gold lettering; 'Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.' Matthew 24:44.

Lee put the matches in his shirt pocket next to his cigarettes, turned off the dome light, and considered the idea that his father might have been a religious man. He knew he was a good, hardworking man but religious…? As a family, they seldom went to church, and both his parents drank an occasional beer or two, but did that make them sinners bound for hell…? Lee couldn't answer those questions and, after this morning's disturbing nightmare, didn't want to think about it either. He had someone he needed to talk to and had more than a few miles to cover before he got there. He took another deep drag from his cigarette then exhaled a steady plume of smoke through his nose. Relaxed and comfortable with purpose, he put the truck in gear and pulled away from the front of his house with the sound of a week's worth of empty beer cans rattling on the floor.

 



Book of the Month contest entry

Recognized


The title Concertina refers to razor wire used to secure a combat perimeter. It is also used on prison walls. It is designed with barbs and razor type hooks intended to snag a person from entering or attempting to escape a secure area.

Concertina, in the context of this novella refers to psychological and spiritual entanglement. Specifically, it refers to a Vietnam combat veteran who is ensnared by the deepest and darkest fetters of torment and denial. Those fetters consist of alcohol abuse, guilt, and resentment.

There is only one way out of the snare.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.


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