Hometown heroes…A short story…

“Killing a man shouldn’t be easy, blowing a kid into mushy chunks of humanity is taboo! Somehow, I’ve managed to do both in this rotten life of mine.”  Bobby Joe sips on some sweet tea as he ponders the time he spent in the Middle East. “One thing about it, they didn’t have Lipton’s sweet tea there.”  Tearing down the driveway, Bobby Joe watches as his nephew slams on the brakes. Exiting the vehicle with a smile, Jamey Ray Ratchet walks over and hugs Bobby Joe. “Hey uncle! Dad said you got home yesterday! How are things?” Forcing a smile, Bobby Joe slaps his nephew on the shoulder. “Things are good, nephew. How are you? Where did you get the Nova?”

“Ah, I threw hay for a summer and saved up some money to buy it from Old Thompson. Then, I went to work at the shipyard and saved some more money to fix ‘er up. So, you out now?” Bobby Joe nods. “Yup. I’m retired.” Jamey nods his head and stares at his uncle for a moment. “You planning on going to work? What was it like over there? Did you kill anybody? Got any good stories about the hajis?”

Sitting back in the yard chair, Bobby shakes his head. “I don’t know what I got planned to do. I will make enough through my retirement to sit at home if I want to. College sounds cool. Maybe, I‘ll give it a go. I ain’t got no stories to tell. Killing a man ain’t supposed to be easy.”

“Well, Tony Rae down at Sunflower says he blew ‘em apart with all the equipment he had access to, and he was in the National Guard! The girls eat him up!” Flustered by Bobby Joe’s unwillingness to give him the juicy bits, Jamey takes off his hat and begins wringing the brim back and forth. Sipping at the sweet tea, Bobby grunts. “Good for him. The Army needs all the heroes they can get. Thanks for coming by nephew. I am jetlagged, so I’m gonna crash for a while.” Sweat trickles down Bobby Joe’s face and he wipes it away with the back of his hand.

Flipping his hat back on his head, Jamey nods. “Alright uncle. I will catch up with you later.” Bobby walks into the house, his mother looks at him and smiles. “You okay? Forgive Jamey son, he doesn’t know any better. Tony Rae gets down there running his mouth and making war sound like a good time. These folks get all caught up in the excitement.” Nodding, Bobby hugs his mom. “I’m gonna lay down for a bit.” Bobby turns on the fan and lies back on the soft mattress. Staring at the ceiling, and the whipping of the fan blades, he descends into darkness.

Waking in darkness, Bobby feels confined. Pushing his hands into the air, he expects to hit the ceiling with his hands. “I’m back in the coffin…Basra.” Taking rapid breathes, Bobby realizes he isn’t in Iraq but rather he is home in Mississippi. “Thank God, I’m not in that stupid coffin!”  Footfalls resound in the hallway. “Son, are you okay? You were shouting about a coffin.” Bobby relaxes upon hearing his mom’s voice. “Yes ma’am. Sorry, I woke you.” Bobby walks into the kitchen where his mom is putting on coffee. “What is this mess about a coffin?” Bobby shrugs. “It’s what we called our sleeping area. Mortars would fall all night and we slept in a tent. The “bed” was a piece of sheet metal on sandbags, and over the top of us was another piece of sheet metal and sandbags. We crawled in the middle and slept.”

“Ok. You want some coffee?”

“Sure, mom.”

“What did you use for a pillow?”

“My gas mask.”

“I know it isn’t easy for you to be home, but I’m glad you made it back.” Wordlessly, Bobby nods. Forcing a smile, Bobby sips the hot coffee. “So, Jamey has grown into a good-looking dude.” Smiling, Bobby’s mother nods. “He has grown. All he can talk about is how his uncle is a hero.”

“I’m no hero mom.” Nodding her head, Bobby’s mom pats his hand. “Son, you may not be, but to him you are. You went to war, you survived and now you are home. Let him think what he will.” Finishing his coffee, Bobby hugs his mom. “I’ll try.” The silence is broken by the growl of the Nova. “Speak of the devil, Jamey is here.” Without knocking, Jamey walks into the kitchen. “Hey Nanny. Hey uncle. I came by to apologize for bombarding you with questions about over there. I’m glad you’re home.” Bobby grunts. “It’s okay, nephew. I guess I’m trying to make sense of it myself. You asked what it was like over there, it’s hot. People go to work, like they do here. They provide for their families, like we do here. They worry about their children, just like we do here. They’re people just like us.”

“Yeah, but they wanna kill us and they blew up New York.” Jamey takes his hat off and starts wringing the brim again. Bobby shakes his head in disagreement, his eyes locked firmly on the floor. “Sure, some of them are terrorists, but they aren’t all terrorists.” Jamey puts his hand up to signal his frustration with the conversation. “Look unc, Tony Rae said they all terrorists and he had no problem doing what had to be done. Anyone disagreeing with him is a traitor or a coward.”

Bobby locks eyes with Jamey and for the first time, Jamey sees the coldness in his uncle’s eyes. “Is that right?” Jamey gulps and stammers, “well, he said that some “soldiers” found any excuse not to do their job. Their cowardice was too much to bear, and that’s why he had to do it for them.”

“I think it’s time I have a talk with Tony Rae.”

“Son, he ain’t worth going to jail over. Just let it be.” Angrily, Bobby shakes his head. “No ma’am. He isn’t going to disrespect the sacrifice of my friends without answering for it.” Without another word, Bobby grabs Jamey by the arm and leads him outside. “Take me to Tony Rae.”

The parking lot of Sunflower has a few cars in it when Bobby and Jamey pull into it. Young folks are gathered around the few cars, all admiring the speaker.

“There we were broke down and hajis hitting us from all sides. Everybody ducked into the trucks ‘cept me. I was gunning and saving lives. If it wasn’t for me, they all be dead in that sandpit.”

Bobby walks up and joins the group. “That right? You’re a hero?” Snorting, Tony Rae leans back against his truck. “That’s what they say.” Bobby nods. “You know what my nephew told me today?” Everyone turns and looks at Bobby. Tony shakes his head no and goes to answer but Bobby puts his hand over his mouth. “He told me today, that you said anyone who didn’t kill the hajis were a coward or worse, a traitor. Do I look like a traitor to you, Tony?” Flipping open the Benchmade knife, Bobby peers deeply into Tony Rae’s eyes. “Do I strike you as a coward?” Tears form in Tony’s eyes and no sound is made as Bobby addresses Tony. A small puddle forms at the feet of Tony Rae. “If I ever hear of you bad mouthing my friends sacrifice again, I’m gonna hurt you, badly. We understand each other? Don’t talk, your voice disgusts me. Just nod your head.”

Vigorously, Tony nods and Bobby removes his hand from his mouth. “Let’s go home, Jamey. Tony needs to change his shorts. The hometown hero made a boo-boo.”

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