“Well, so much for digging a hole and standing our ground, huh?”
“Isn’t that what we were told to do in basic training?”
“Don’t know. Never took basic training.”
“Father and two brothers are in the Manitoba Army. Didn’t want to be a disappointment. Enlisted two months ago on the day I turned eighteen. Fast-tracked into combat.”
“Oh? You don’t believe in the cause?”
“I wanted to be a Doctor. My Dad said that was for pussies.”
“Where’s your Dad now?”
“He lost both legs in the Battle of Kelowna.”
“I was at that battle!”
“That was a hell of a battle.”
“You kill anyone?”
“Coupla’ oilheads from a Northern regiment. Fort MacMurray, I think. Tough as hot hell, rusty nails, stainless steel.”
“They attacked like they were protecting something.”
“The papers said that was an important location for us to control.”
“Fighting them is like fighting werewolves or vampires. Albertan soldiers don’t die easily, and then, only when you hit them in certain spots.”
“So . . . ”
“I hit the right spots. Eyes, stomachs, balls.”
“You ever think of home?”
“Oh. Sorry. Real shame about Toronto.”
—Get a load of these two. Sitting in a hole at the Battle of Lloydminster site. Dressed in their red fatigues. The war is over, fellas! You didn’t hear that coalition forces took Alberta last month? You don’t read the papers? You don’t watch the news? Didn’t see the ceremony where they cut the province down the middle and gave half to Saskatchewan and half to British Columbia? What about the fundraising galas where everyone and their dog wore the commemorative lapel ribbon? Those events with flagrant and beautiful celebrities packed into their prewar cocktail-klatch outfits? ‘Your donations help us rebuild Toronto,’ they said. Sincere as sleeping cows, they all were. How much they raised now, dear?
—Fifty bazillion dollars
—Thank you, dear. You didn’t see that they raised fifty bazillion dollars, fellas? You know how much fifty bazillion dollars gets you?
—It gets you a new CN Tower, honey!
—That’s right! It gets you ten new CN Towers!
—Oh, they’ve committed to a tenth now?
—Take that symbolism, goddamned oilheads!
—Come on now, honey. The Treaty was signed. We’re friends again.
—From a low-flying airplane, Nouveau Toronto’s gonna look like an industrial version of
Easter Island. The hard arts of architecture! Ten braced fingers surrounding the fresh palms of the city.
—Is Easter Island the place with all those erect artifacts?
—Too cute, dear. Too cute.
“Are the tanks coming?”
“It sounds like they’ve been coming all night.”
“I haven’t heard a sound.”
“Silence always sounds like someone preparing to me.”
“I thought this was supposed to be the Battle of Lloydminster?”
“That’s what the orders said.”
“We must be early.”
“First on the bus, first off the bus.”
“Early to bed, early to rise, fish like hell and make up lies.”
“Getting cold, kid?”
“Passed cold. Almost dead.”
“When I was five, I learned the word fuck.”
“That sounds about right.”
“I remember how excited I was to use the word. Me and a friend, both. It was like a
tattoo that we wanted only certain people to see.”
“Who’d you show it to?”
“There were girls.”
“I know where this is going.”
“And me and my friend, we had a plan to say ‘fuck’ a hundred times in front of them. Impress them something else.”
“To show them how cool you were.”
“And so during lunch recess we told them to come sit on the baseball bleachers with us.”
“Like a double date.”
“And even at five, you know it’s no thing to say a word consecutive-like . . . ”
“So we introduced the fucks into normal conversation: One. What’s in your fuckinglunch? Two. Fucking peanut butter and . . . Three. Fucking jam.”
“Did you get to a hundred?”
“They started crying after three.”
“They became a lot less pretty to us. We were too young to see something attractive in something like a crying girl.”
“You were all kids, after all.”
“And then they left. There didn’t seem like a point to us finishing after that.”
“It can be a vulgar word.”
“There are worse.”
“Of course there’s worse.”
“So we finished our lunches on the bleachers. Silent. Except I could hear my friend’s chewing. Pictured mashed up sandwich wedging into his molars. His little salivary gland enzyme spit thrusts. The roll of food into vulgar little balls at the back of his throat. He gulped his swallows and then he went after the milk, the milk, and I don’t think — ugh, the milk — we ever ate lunch together again.”
“What did you have for lunch?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Come on, I know you do.”
“Fruit juice box. Ham. Cheese slice. White bread. Mayonnaise.”
“I hate mayonnaise on cheese. I’d sooner starve to death.”
“You like mustard?”
“I’m gonna pop my head out, take a look and see if anyone’s coming.”
“Are you sure? It’s liable to get shot off by an oilhead sniper.”
“True. But we’re soldiers. We can’t be wait-and-seers.”
—Dear, come look at this. The handsome one is popping his head out of the foxhole.
—I find them sad.
—That’s what makes it so funny.
—They are a grotesque pair.
“I don’t see anyone.”
—Stop laughing so loudly.
—Did you see how quickly he dropped back into that hole when the adolescent one said, ‘snipers’? Hey, you’re laughing too, dear!
—This is sort of funny. Though I do feel a little bad. The handsome one has a bright future ahead of him if he can get out of that hole and into a suit and two-car garage family residence. Do you think he’s Italian?
—I guarantee he’s Italian.
—It seems a shame to laugh at fear of snipers. Snipers are a healthy thing to be afraid of.
Was it not just last year at this time when the word sniper was no laughing matter?
—Time heals all wounds, dear.
—I don’t believe that.
—We bandage wounds. They become scars. Or sometimes wounds decay and die and webury them. Scars to scratch, tombstones to visit. We like to be reminded of wounds through architectural erections.
—Is that Socrates?
—Not every thought is Greek.
—Since when did you get so philological?
—Are you really asking me that question?
—The war is history, dear. Enjoy it.
“We got anything to eat?”
“Ham. Cheese slice. White bread. Mayonnaise.”
“Yeah, sorry, kid. I assume there’ll be rations when the rest of the platoon arrives.”
“Ham. Cheese slice. White bread. Ketchup.”
“Ketchup on sandwiches?”
“Your legless father?”
“My dead mother.”
“I’ve never heard of putting ketchup on sandwiches. Met a Quebec soldier who assaulted his eggs with maple syrup. Where was your mom from?”
“They do weird things with food there?”
“Not as a rule. I don’t think.”
“Where does someone learn to put ketchup on sandwiches?”
“I guess the pleasing sensation on her tongue taught her. Or maybe it was something she tried when she was pregnant. Aren’t they always saying that about pregnant women — that they mix food in weird ways? Or maybe she lived in Quebec once.”
—Quick, come here, dear. These two twits continue their fascinating discourse on sandwich toppings.
—It just doesn’t stop. I love this!
—A conversation on sandwich toppings is a perfectly sane conversation to have.
—The adolescent one puts ketchup on his sandwiches like a Frenchman or some such.
—Really? That’s almost unreasonable.
—You want to laugh, I can tell.
—Mind you, it’s eccentric. But I doubt there’s a person alive who doesn’t have some quirk of personality that he’s proud of, even if it’s ripe for a teasing.
—Don’t you get the authority mingling here, dear? These two think they are in the middle of a war, and the most profound thing they can think to speak of is what they spread on their ham sandwiches. It’s like that play.
—It is a bit like that play.
—And that novel too.
—Yes, like a mix of that play and that novel.
—But not exactly like either one. Black and white combine to form an infinite number of
—I wonder when the last time someone was able to invent a shade of grey that had not been seen before. An elegant tint which one might truly marvel over and declare, “I’ve never seen such gray!”
—Nothing is new anymore. Thoughts, words, shadows, scenarios. Recombination of recombinations.
—Though nothing’s old anymore either, honey. Just look at all the repetitions of repetitions.
—What a commentary reality can be on reality sometimes. This perversity intoxicates me, dear. Makes me drunk, then dizzy.
—But these boys aren’t in the middle of war, so it’s perfectly natural conversation, isn’t it? By accident, they are in spite of themselves, acting quite rationally, no? How far is Lloydminster from here?
—No you don’t! Do not ruin this!
—I’ve wanted to take a trip as of late.
—Yes, we are going to Toronto when the restoration is complete.
—Let’s go to Lloydminster and find those boys! Let them go home to their families. Let’s liberate them, dear.
—Oh, don’t use the L word.
—Please. Can we?
—That hole is their home! Didn’t you hear them? The adolescent one’s dad thinks he’s a pussy and will never think him anything but the brother who didn’t die at Seven Days at St. Boniface! And the handsome one’s family was killed in the attack on Toronto.
—The handsome one didn’t say that explicitly.
—Didn’t you see his eyes when he said where he was from?
—No, I wasn’t looking.
—Look again. I’ll show you.
“You ever think of home?”
“Oh. I’m sorry. It was a real shame about Toronto.”
—See! Right there! His head tilts just so.
—It is an odd thing to see sad eyes on a handsome face. A bit like a solar eclipse ruining the best day in June, wouldn’t you say?
—Neither of them has any place to go except that hole. By taking them out of that hole, you take away their purpose.
—How does them sitting in a hole give them purpose?
—While the handsome one is in that hole he enacts his revenge, strength, potency, danger, duty, action, love, savagery, identity, place, time, history, use. . . .
—Lots of invisible adjectives, honey.
—And the adolescent one?
—The same things. But add hope. Hope that his legless Dad will think him bigger for sitting in a hole and waiting for the reinforcements. You take him out of the hole, and you take his hope. You want to be responsible for that, dear?
—How often does the moon get a chance to get between the sun and the earth?
—A couple times a year maybe.
—How often are handsome and adolescent fellas at war?
—Never fought one. I could hardly venture a sophisticated guess.
“I’ve never known a pregnant woman.”
“But surely you’ve heard the rumours.”
“I had a wife.”
“She was in Toronto too?”
“No matter how many black uniforms go down at the end of my gun, it’s always gonna be in my head that none of them were likely part of that attack. Like killing cats because raccoons dig through your trash.”
“You ever kill anyone in Winnipeg?”
“Did you still live there during The Seven Days at St. Boniface?”
“Yes. I remember we hid in the basement all seven days — my mother and I. Ate meats from tin cans. Dried fruits and grains from plastic bags. My mother would pick out the cranberries having convinced me I didn’t like them. I remember my father’s stare away from me when he left us. I wasn’t old enough. Not allowed to enlist under Coalition regulations. My older brothers wore the bright red Coalition uniforms: cherry and immaculate. The red gleams brighter in my memory of their uniforms than the dull truth of ours.”
“Uniforms that camouflage your own blood. Oh Canada.”
“They both bled out.”
“That was a necessary battle.”
“I don’t miss either one of them.”
“Your brothers didn’t die in vain.”
“I don’t care if they did or they didn’t.”
“You won’t die in vain.”
“Who says I’m gonna die?”
“You said you were cold.”
—What’s that, dear?
—I’ve drawn one of those solar eclipses.
—You’ve found a scientific hobby?
—I just don’t think it’s right to spend all our time staring in on those two boys’ delusions.
Privacy is a dear dear thing.
—The handsome one has put his arm around the adolescent one.
—Honestly! He’s just cold.
—I don’t think so! Look at the way the adolescent one stares at him. No soldiers I’ve ever heard or read of have their eyes as close as that!
—Love among soldiers is platonic love.
—Again with your Greeks! Ah ah ah, I think they are going to kiss!
—They are not going to kiss.
—Look how his lips quiver.
—They don’t quiver, they shiver.
—That’s a quiver if I’ve ever seen one.
—His face is blue.
—Why are you so intent on having those two boys kiss?
—Because it’s inevitable that they would. It would be the first thing they did that made sense and I’m a fan of predictable outcome. Those studies where two rats are confined together.
—You are not comparing Coalition soldiers to homosexual rats! I know you would not dare!
—Like prisoners, then.
—Not to mention the proclivities of your darling Greeks. Older lovers and their younger
beloveds. Pederasty was like smoking. A vice not everyone took pleasure in, sure, but it certainly wasn’t prevented by legality.
—But they were hardly confined: your theory falls apart under the evidence.
—Your darling Socrates had a young beloved, likely!
—Should we be talking about this, dear?
—Why shouldn’t we?
—We don’t know an awful lot about the subject.
—What’s to know?
—I want to go back to my drawing.
—Then you’re going to miss this.
—I want to go to Lloydminster.
“What did you do that for?”
“Say we never get out of this hole.”
“Soldiers’ lips never touch.”
“Say we never leave. Say we die here. Say we wait here forever, waiting for the rest of them to come. And say, say that they find our bodies rotting here. And say the battle actually happens. Say that our corpses are here, already in the ground, and the battle is fought right above our bones. Say flesh falls all around us. Say blood that isn’t ours splatters into the hole. Say we are counted among the dead as though we were part of the battle. And say, say our side wins and we are lumped in as heroes. Say our names are put on a wall, that we are remembered on certain days. Or say our side falls and history brands us with lives of the losers. Say we’re trapped in all ways, always.”
“Say I kiss you again. Another effort.”
“No. You adventured. That’s plenty.”
“Say I move away.”
“Stay warm where you are. But we’ll need a change in subject, I suspect silence will not do after that kind of event.”
“I’m thinking of an object.”
“Animal, vegetable or mineral?”
“Smaller than a breadbox?”
“Could I lift it?”
“Is it a tank?”
“Is it a car?”
“Is it a jeep?”
“Could anyone lift it?”
“Is it man-made?”
“Is it the Earth?”
“Is it the sun?”
“Is it the moon?”
“How was that?”
“Fairly predictable. Though worth the effort.”
“Do you hear that sound?”
“Like tiny cracks of the ground?”
“This is it, kid. Johnny get your gun and all that.”
“I’ve never fired a gun.”
“Don’t hesitate. Let the blood run cold. Head down. Aim and trigger.”
“There’s urgency to the steps. Five, four, three, two . . . ”
“What do you want your last word to be?”
“—Hello, fellas. I have something to tell you.”
—Dear, get out of the way. I can’t see. Don’t tell them the war is over. You’ll run
How bright is their red? Blood bright? It seems like it would be. A red I could never understand from this awesome time and space. When you return, could you tell me just that?
Please return. When it’s over.