At 1445, Davy ambled into Mountain Top Faith Center. A gaggle of veterans were already seated. Some blew on their hot coffee; others were engaged in conversations that ranged from their favorite baseball teams to who was the worst politicians.
A few noticed him when he walked in. They nodded at him; Davy nodded back. He poured a cup of coffee and scooped up a dry donut, then made his way to the back row.
The ringleader of the meeting was a young woman named Betty. She was a psychologist in town, and ‘had a burden for those who returned from war still struggling with the baggage.’ It was nice to hear that. As a member of the church, Betty had got permission from the pastor to start a meeting.
It had been in place for over a year. Many of the veterans that came to it were the original group. They came because it was their safe space. Davy came because his doctor checked up on him. Betty came in and gave everyone her mega-watt smile. People smiled back at her. Davy sat in the back and concentrated on making minimum movement and effort.
“Good evening, everyone. How are you all today?”
A chorus of answers came from the crowd. Davy watched. Betty pulled out her folder and cleared her throat. She began to call off names, those present responded with ‘here.’
“Here,” he said quietly.
She looked up and found him in the back row. She gave him a small smile. One of the ‘original’ members snorted and said, ‘you need to sound off like you’ve got a pair, boy.’ Some of the older men chuckled at the bully’s remarks. Davy said nothing.
Betty cleared her throat.
“I heard him fine, Buster. Do I need to remind you that we are in a church?”
“No ma’am. I apologize for my vulgarity.”
Betty smiled; Buster smiled at her.
“Perhaps, you should apologize to Davy. That way the air is cleared.”
“Um,” Buster began. Davy stood to his feet and waved his hand to silence the man. Betty stared at Davy.
“I don’t need his apology, ma’am. It’s all good.”
“I think it would be best, Davy.”
“Just let me apologize,” Buster started. Davy stood up and walked out of the class. As he neared the door, he heard Betty excuse herself from the group.
Davy kept walking. Betty ran up and touched his shoulder. He turned to face her. Betty put both hands up. She was a beautiful woman. Her blond hair fell to her waist. Her eyes were a clear blue, and Davy thought she must have been the model God chose to represent womanhood. It was her intellect that Davy was drawn to. She was smart, well-spoken, humorous, and quick witted.
“What more could a guy want,” he thought to himself.
“Davy, let me explain.”
“I don’t need an explanation, Betty. I will come back to the next one.”
“Buster needs to apologize in front of the whole group…”
“I don’t need it. The group doesn’t need it. Buster is an idiot. He’s an idiot now, he’ll be one when I return next week.”
Betty shook her head in frustration. She could not understand why fighting men would battle to the death for their brothers and sisters in combat, but they were like a jackal on fresh blood when they weren’t fighting a war.
“Okay, Davy. You win. I’ll mark you present, but I expect you here next week.”
Davy walked out of the church and got in his truck. It was as he suspected.
It was just another day in hell.
Billy and Belle were getting off the bus when Davy arrived home. Belle wanted to visit him again, but Billy wasn’t having it.
“Let’s go see him, Billy. I know he has to be lonely.”
“No, Belle. I can’t go back there.”
“You are such a chicken.” Billy shook his head no. Belle danced around him clucking like a hen.
“Stop it, Belle. I can’t go back. It’s not because I don’t want to go with you.”
Belle stopped the chicken dance and looked at Billy. His eyes were downcast.
“Well, if you want to go with me, why not say yes?”
“Because I told him I wouldn’t go back to his cabin.” Belle backed up and stared at Billy. She started to say something and then closed her mouth.
“Wait a sec. You told him you wouldn’t come back? When did you see him?”
Billy dropped on the bench; Belle scrunched up close to him. Billy shook his head.
“I saw him yesterday,” he muttered. Belle smiled and punched Billy on the shoulder.
“What’s he like? Why did you go? Why didn’t you take me?”
“You wanted to go home. After Gavin called you a, well, you know, I figured I needed to learn to fight. I went to see him. To see if he would teach me to fight.”
“Did he teach you?”
“Some. I was scared to death. He had a gun in his pocket.” Belle’s eyes were the size of half dollars. She smiled at Billy.
“I know how to fight, Billy. You didn’t have to…”
“I like you, Belle. I don’t want nothing to happen to you.”
Belle punched him on the shoulder. Billy punched her back. She giggled and stood to her feet.
“That’s sweet of you, Billy. You’re still going with me. I will explain it to him that you’re my bodyguard.”
“No. No, no, no. Belle, me and him made a deal. If he helped me, I would stay away from his cabin. He will kill me if I go back.”
Belle giggled. “He ain’t going to kill you, Billy. Murder is against the law.”
Billy sighed. Belle knew that she had won him over to her side. She winked at Billy.
“Belle, when has that ever kept anyone from murdering anyone? He told me to remember our deal.”
Both friends departed from the bus stop and made their way home. Jocko and Wilma sat on the porch that was broken on one end. Their eyes appeared dead, but they followed her every moment.
Jocko licked his lips. Belle ignored him.
“Hey sugar bear,” Wilma slurred. Belle hugged her mom and went inside. Her mother’s addiction was nothing new. ‘If it wasn’t Jocko, she’d be shacked up with another loser.’
Belle didn’t hate her mother; she just did not understand what in her life made her so miserable. What did she have to bury under all the layers of drug abuse?
Jocko followed her upstairs. She shut the door in his face. Outside her door she could hear him panting. He knocked on the door.
“You know you looking fine, dontcha? You wanna get stoned, baby?”
“No. Go away.”
Jocko snickered. “Go away. Yeah, okay. One day you will be begging me for it.”
Belle waited for his footsteps to fade away. She crawled on her bed and hugged her bear Mr. George. Belle pulled the bear to her face and cried.
“God, if you’re out there, I don’t want to be like my momma…”
At 0500, Belle slipped out of the house and went to the bus stop. Between the cockroaches and Jocko’s panting, Belle couldn’t sleep. Nothing was stirring. Nighttime in Mississippi is still for the most part. Stars twinkle, a breeze may or may not blow, and humans were on the move to work or what have you.
Sunrise was still an hour away, but a figure stepped from the shadows. As it drew near, Belle began to doubt the wisdom of leaving her house. ‘Maybe Jocko ain’t so bad.’
As the figure stepped into the amber glow of the streetlamp, she recognized the figure as the man from the cabin. She waved at him, he nodded in response.
“Morning,” Belle said cheerfully. He scowled at her.
“Morning,” said Davy. “Just my luck I’d run into this chatterbox. At least it’s not Buster.”
“What brings you out so early? Are you going to work?”
Davy stood by the streetlamp and rested. He had gotten out of shape, and today was the first day of him making an attempt at working his back into fighting condition.
“I’m Belle, and you are…”
Davy stared at Belle. She wasn’t tall, but she wasn’t short either. Her eyes were pale blue, and her teeth weren’t perfect, but she had a beautiful smile. Plus, she was nice.
“Look kid, why do you want to know who I am?”
“Because you look like you could use a friend.”
Davy scowled at her. Belle smiled back; she patted the bench. Davy sat down on the end and leaned back.
“I’m Davy,” he said without making eye contact. Belle smiled.
“You look like a Davy. Did you fight in the war?”
Davy sighed and shook his head. Belle waited for him to respond. Davy stood.
“Look kid,…” he started. Belle stopped him.
“It’s not kid, it’s Belle,” she interjected.
“Why are you out here,” Davy snapped. Belle shrugged and crossed her arms.
“Because my mom is a drug addict, and I don’t feel safe at home.” Davy shook his head. They sat in silence for several moments.
“I’m sorry, kid, eh, Belle. That’s rotten luck.”
“I ain’t scared of my momma. She has a disease. It’s her rotten boyfriend that scares me.”
“So, report him to the police.”
Belle scowled at Davy. She shrugged as to say why.
“They won’t do nothing. Everybody knows who Jocko is and what he does. Nobody stops him.”
“Well, not everybody knows Jocko. This is the first I am hearing about him.”
Belle laughed. She punched Davy on the shoulder. Davy stared at her until she quit laughing.
“So, did you fight in the war, Davy?”
“Yes, Belle. I fought in the stupid war.” Belle smiled and said, ‘I thought so.”
“Why don’t you work?”
Davy stared at her, and she scrunched up her nose at him. A small smile crept across his mouth, but he killed it quickly. He looked away from Belle and regained his composure.
“I am retired, and disabled,” Davy said. Belle stood to her feet and looked at Davy.
“You don’t look disabled.”
“Oh, well thanks. I will inform my doctor of your prognosis.”
She giggled. Davy sat on the bench until Billy appeared on the horizon. He nodded to Belle.
“Here comes your friend.” Belle jumped to her feet and waved at Billy. Billy waved back.
“Hurry up,” she shouted. She turned to where Davy had been sitting, but he had disappeared when her back was turned. She sat down on the bench and waited for Billy. He walked up and sat beside her.
“What’s the freaking rush, Belle? We’ve got twenty minutes before the bus shows up.”
She gestured at the bench. Billy shook his head and shrugged.
“It’s a bench.”
“He was here, Billy.”
“Who was here?”
“The man from the cabin. His name’s Davy. He fought in the war.”
“He was here?”
“Yep. I talked to him.”
“Did he say he was going to kill me?”
“No, Billy. He didn’t say he was going to kill you.”
The bus topped the hill and they stood to their feet. Mrs. Dennis hated waiting for children to get on the bus. ‘Get a move on,” she’d yell if you didn’t move fast enough. She was a mean ole woman, but the school board kept her around for some reason.
The day progressed nicely. Both Belle and Billy encountered no trouble throughout the first part of the day. Their classes passed by quickly, Belle was recognized for her recent achievements. Her classmates applauded her.
At lunch, she and Billy sat in the corner of the room and whispered about Davy.
“Did you tell him about Jocko,” Billy asked. Belle nodded; her eyes shined with excitement.
“I did. He didn’t know who he was.”
“Doesn’t surprise me, I don’t think he gets out much.”
“Yeah,” said Belle. “He seems kind of sad.”
Both were so engrossed in their conversation they never saw Gavin. He approached both from the side and tossed his lunch on Belle.
“Oops, my bad lovebirds. I didn’t see you there.”
Belle looked at her clothes. Her white blouse was covered with chocolate gravy. Billy stood to his feet.
“Apologize, Gavin. Right now.”
“Or what, Billy? You gonna fight me?”
“Billy, it’s okay. I have another blouse in my locker,” Belle said.
“No,” Billy snarled. “This ends today.”
A circle formed around Billy and Gavin. Taunts of oooh, and get ‘em, sounded from the crowd. Gavin rushed in and bear hugged Billy. “The foot is fragile,” the man had told Billy. He picked up his right foot and smashed it down on Gavin’s foot as hard as he could.
Gavin released him with a howl. Billy reared back and punched Gavin in the nose. Blood rushed out, and Gavin’s eyes grew large at the sight of his blood.
Billy wasn’t done.
As Gavin stared at the blood on his hand, Billy kicked him in the crotch.
Gavin fell to the ground. Billy stood over him relishing his victory over the wannabe thug.
“Don’t you ever come back here and mess with us again. You understand me, Gavin?”
“Yeah,” Gavin cried. “Please, don’t hit me no more.”
“Get, boy. Before I forget myself.”
Belle looked at Billy as he sat down. She had left when the fight started and changed her blouse. She caught the end of the fight when Billy had stood over Gavin and given him his opportunity to leave.
“You didn’t have to fight, Billy. I could have changed.”
“It was never going to end if I didn’t stand up to him, Belle.”
She nodded and grinned at him. “It was pretty sweet seeing you give him an out. Thanks for standing up for me.”
Billy shrugged and tried to downplay it. “It’s what friends are for.”
People came by and slapped Billy on the back, some shook his hand. Others just nodded. For the first time in his life, Billy felt like he belonged. His victory was all the sweeter because he had stood up for Belle when she needed a friend the most.
Davy returned home from his walk. He arrived home before too many people in town saw him. Davy showered and dressed into clean clothes. He made a cup of coffee and went down to the sub-basement. He powered up his laptop and opened his word processor.
“War,” he began to type, “is a cruel mistress. I gave my life to her. To right the wrongs, and to defend the weak. It was my opportunity to be strong for someone else, but it didn’t turn out that way. In the end, I was weak. I was broken, and swallowed by the darkness that lurked in my own heart…”
There was too much truth in his statement. He shut down his computer and sipped his coffee. Tears welled up in his eyes, and for once, he did not hide them.
Davy had gone to war with the noblest of intentions, but his intentions were useless. Innocent people on both sides were hurt. According to the news, the war had been shut down. Victory had been declared. The enemy had already recovered much of the territory that lives had been spent to take from them.
It was pointless.
The innocent always suffer…
Davy thought of Belle and her situation. How many times had he seen similar situations both here at home and in the killing fields? The sad truth of the matter was this: It could always be worse.