Debris from tonight’s last fix, an aerial nav radio likely to see action in Vietnam, lay around Tomby’s workbench, deep in the echoing shop hangar. Only thing left was to make his workstation clean for its day-shift Marine. He whisked bits of solder and wire ends into a dustpan, wielding the whiskbroom hard against bench and floor, like he could push the minutes, make them move faster. But oblique glances at the moonlike clock confirmed time was a slow bastard.
Night shift was good for one thing—less chance of guys hammering at you to go into town. Only he didn’t like leaving the hangar in the pitch dark. He always timed it so he wouldn’t be leaving with Stan and Howie. Cretins.
He kept cleaning until he heard those two move up the aisle, spewing about some girl, some bar. Braying into the vault of the hangar, fading as they left. He emptied the dustpan, stowed his tools, scanned the area, and headed up the aisle toward the dark of the vast open door and the last of the stars. A few guys were still cleaning. He straightened his fatigue shirtfront and centered his belt buckle as he passed.
Outside, he breathed. The tight place in the small of his back eased as he walked. He’d shower. He wouldn’t wait till daylight like usual, after they’d all cleared out—fuck that. He’d get clean, get some sleep, and blow this sinkhole. He whistled a little and looked for a moon.
“Hey, Marine,” called a voice emerging from the hangar. It didn’t sound like anyone he knew.
A second voice shouted, “Hey, we’re goin’ down to Shit Street for a tea party with scones—wanna come?” They were gaining ground. Tomby kept walking, fists tightening, the small of his back tightening.
“Was it sump’m I said?” one of them asked.
“Nah, he just don’t have much appetite for the stuff we eat.” Loud chuckles.
Tomby was steady all over except for the beat inside his skull. He kept his stride even. The two moved ahead on either side of him. Not from his barrack, he noted.
“I hear you’re a faggot,” said one, like small talk. “That true?” They all walked through a stripe of light that buzzed from the top of a pole.
“S’what I heard,” said the other. “Howie and Stan had this girl in Honolulu, said ‘where’s that pretty boy?’ But Miss Pretty don’t want it.” He turned to Tomby. “Do you, Miss Pretty?”
So the cretins spread that around. Of course.
A step away from his barrack entrance, they gave way, laughing. He lurched to the door, jerked it and entered, closed it silently and listened. They wouldn’t invade while the day-shift guys were sleeping, right? The voices were less distinct but penetrating. He turned up the narrow aisle. Sleeping guys lined the walls in their racks. Bulges in the cretins’ two racks. He paused at the foot of his own, last on the left. A dapple of gray window light draped his footlocker. He reached in, felt down under the folded skivvies, found the old hunting knife and slipped it free of its sheath.
He walked back to the door, listened, knife in his fist clamped to his beating chest. Above the beating he made out voices, fainter, still laughing.
He walked back up the aisle, stiff knees, shoulders, everything. He sank onto his rack. Breathe, he told himself. He uncoiled his hands and rested the knife in his lap. That was crazy, the knife. Last thing he needed was them carrying that Honolulu story to the CO. The road to Dishonorable. A ruined record. They knew it, he knew it. He’d stay out of their way, shower in the a.m.
Tomby’s shoulders jerked him awake at the sound of a bunch of footlockers banging shut rapid-fire against the backdrop of every voice in the place at top volume. At least they had ignored him so far. Maybe they thought he’d gotten up and dressed early and was just relaxing on his rack. Had they come close, they might have smelled the dried fear on these fatigues he’d slept in. In a few minutes they were gone, and he headed to the showers.
Once he felt the water hit his shoulders, he thanked it. That a bit of warm water could feel so good—every time—amazed him. That it could caress the achy places while washing away the sweat. Just like back home. He wanted to hold on to that feeling. He needed to.
But dammit, it was not enough. Nowhere near enough. Not compared to—everything! A life! He slammed the shower wall with his palm as the scene rose: him creeping up the dark aisle, the knife and the tremor in his hands. His voice stuck like a growl in his chest—fuck it! He slammed harder, tried to yell—fuck all of it! But it turned into a sob—again, after all his resolve—and he wept in silence and let the water take his tears.
This is a gripping story, so well done. I was engaged from first paragraph to the last, first wanting to know more, then rooting for Tomby and feeling heartbreak for what he was going through.
Thanks so much, Laura!
Riveting and poignant.
Thank you, Shirlee!
Heartbreaking. Portrayed the emotional turmoil so well.
Thank you for reading and commenting on my story, Lois!
Beautiful opening, sucked me right into the story, each line has tons of depth, and detail
Thank you for your kind comment, Fin!
Thank you, Fin, Lois, Shirlee, and Laura. I’m so glad my story struck a chord for you.
Powerful, haunting story beautifully told.
Well done, Laurel. The story left me wanting more.
Good story! I like a tale that makes me feel empathy for the protagonist. This one did, I really hate bullying in any form.