By Victor Laszlo
He lay there face down for two whole days and nights, and maybe longer, halfway on the sidewalk and halfway in the street—the curb arching his back, his arms tucked into his sides. He almost looked like he picked the worst place to count down for a game of hide-and-go-seek.
They took a defensive position in a building adjacent to the corner where he lay dead. The front was moving fast and there wasn’t much time for picking up. Perhaps that would come later. Every time a truck or tank rolled by, they would expect him to get run over. Like kids rolling horse apples in front of the school bus they made bets on which set of dually tires would squash his head. They would hoot and holler and jump around but no set of tires or tracks would hit him. At the last second they all just went around him. And so they grew bored of the game. And so he lay there to get hot and cold and bloated in the street.
Matthews spent much of his watch transfixed by the man, the body, in the street, as did most of the Marines on forward watch that day. There wasn’t much to watch, anyway. The two streets that came to a head just across the intersection where they were posted were bustling with military traffic. There was little chance of anything kicking off. The northernmost street adjacent to them was a major artery in and out of the city, and so it was already being well guarded and looked after by S1. Still, they had to be alert of vehicles, and improvised suicide explosives.
“How do you think Billy died?” Matthews asked.
“Billy?” Gabe asked.
“That’s what we’ve named him,” Matthews said.
“Right there in the street, like a feral cat,” Kuimby replied to Matthews’s first question. He knew Billy’s name because he had given it to him.
“But what do you think killed him?”
“The war killed Billy?” Q said rhetorically. The question seemed preposterous. He had just returned from a short supply run with Cujo and the talk of death did little to take his mind off the war, where he liked it to be. When he thought about any future combat he felt uncertain. They were all hungry for action, but now there was a body just lying in the street. He envisioned, and even accepted, a particular death for himself to dampen the anxiety, and that wasn’t it. He had to accept that maybe all deaths in war were more or less the same, and that was something he didn’t like thinking about.
“I can’t see any blood. He looks like he just laid down halfway in the street and died,” Matthews said.
“Think he was trying to get a tan?” Q asked with a sarcasm he gave up halfway through the phrasing.
“Not face down he wasn’t,” Cujo said.
“No use wondering. There’ll be plenty of Billies to come,” Gabe said.
“Will we Billy?” Q asked.
“Most likely you will, Q,” Gabe said.
Q thanked the sergeant for his vote of confidence with a shrug and tilt of the head.