By Wyle McClain
The escalating news coverage was making it look more and more probable that Reserve units like Brian’s were going to be called up to go to The Gulf, so when he went out for his daily runs, he began to steel himself for what could come by mentally rehearsing the countless checklists and procedures that were supposed to help keep him safe. What he was not prepared for was how to watch his father take in the nightly news reports on the TV.
Every night, his father would sit upright on the edge of the couch, knees slightly apart, his great hands—soiled and grooved from years of being a home heating mechanic—placed, open-handed, on top of each thigh. As segment after segment came across the TV, he would gradually lean forward in rapt attention, rest his elbows on his knees, and touch his lips to his interlocked fingers. It was the interest of eyes only, the kind of interest Brian remembered his mother having as she searched dense packets of information trying to find other ways to pay for college through financial aid or scholarships. But his father looked very small tucked forward like this, his eyes reaching into the flickering light of the T.V.
And the television was not the only thing he had been studying. There were also the magazines. One evening, after returning from a run that had done little to clear his head, Brian told his parents he needed to take a shower, but when he got upstairs, he went into their bedroom instead. He leaned into the back corner of his parents’ closet and pulled out the heavy shoebox that contained his father’s Playboy magazines. He quickly slipped a few of them out of the box, racked them square in his hands, and headed for the bathroom. The liquor ad on the reverse side of the topmost magazine looked unfamiliar to him, and it was just as his blood began to rush with the prospect of a new issue that he noticed the color on the corner of the bottom magazine jutting out from beneath the flamboyantly-colored liquor ad. It was a dusky, grainy yellow, not intriguing, not a shade one would expect on the cover of a Playboy. For a moment, he was thrilled by the thought that his father had picked up something a little more hardcore like a Penthouse or a Hustler . But, when Brian revealed the full cover of the magazine, there was no voluptuous blonde drawing him in with seductive eyes. He was instead presented with a picture of one of the newer Bradley Fighting Vehicles soaring over the edge of a steep drop-off in what looked to be some barren, southwestern terrain. Inside, he found much of the feature article on armored personnel carriers streaked with bright yellow highlighter.
When Brian came back downstairs, he found his father in the living room looking into the T.V. The roundness of his broad shoulders was not the same—the power that could turn the pipe wrenches and haul a fifty-gallon water heater up a flight of cellar stairs was no longer there. In their place was the image of his father hunched forward on the john, poring over military magazines—reading lines like “the M2 Bradley has a multi-layered skin that assists in deflecting enemy armor-piercing shells”—reading them over and over again, like the Bible’s reassurances of God’s love.