Normal. I am tired of being told I should be ‘normal.’
“Davy,” people shouted, “you’ve changed. What happened over there that made you the way you are?” Everybody wanted the old Davy Allan Walker back. No one like the ‘new’ Davy. “He was such a good young man,” people would mutter as I passed them on my way to my new job. They thought their voices were low enough I couldn’t hear their whispers. I could hear them.
The war had changed me, but it changed everybody that fought in it. The impact of war could not be ignored. No one escaped the touch of fate. I tucked every whisper away in my mind, there was no reason to unleash my demons upon them. Still, it pained me to know that I was not accepted for who I was. “You’re only tolerated, Davy. You did the unthinkable for the ungrateful. Now, you’re just a monster no one is comfortable around.”
McCall’s Grocery sat on the corner of Piney Way and Main Street. It wasn’t very big. Mr. McCall hired me when I returned home from ‘the war.’ He was a veteran also. His war was also one that people wanted to forget.
I grew up around these parts. My first job as a teenager was as a bag boy at McCall’s. When I walked in fresh from being forced out of my military career, Mr. McCall gave me a huge smile. He hugged my neck and whispered, “welcome home, Davy.” I met his eyes that day, something I could never do as a teenager. I saw the sorrow in his eyes, the same anguish reflected in mine.
“I don’t reckon you’re hiring are you, Mr. McCall?”
Mr. McCall hired me that day. I was relieved to have a job, even if it was as a bag boy at the ripe age of 29. Mr. McCall had no children, heck, he had never married. As far as I knew, Mr. McCall was a eunuch.
“Have you found a place to live,” he asked. I shook my head no.
“I just got off the bus, sir.”
Mr. McCall raised his eyebrows and stared at me. He pulled out a pipe and stuffed tobacco into it. I waited for him to light his pipe.
“You came straight here, Davy? Haven’t you been to see your folks?”
“Yes, sir. I came straight here. I figured I should have a job before I told them I couldn’t hack it in the Army.”
A trail of smoke wafted into the air from the pipe. You could always tell when Mr. McCall was stressed. He puffed on that pipe, and it smoked up the place like an old coal train engine. Kind of like what he was doing now.
“Couldn’t hack it,” he muttered. “Son, you went to war 3 or 4 times. It’s easy for people to say dumb things about something most would never experience. You ‘hacked it’ just fine.”
I looked around the store and bit down on my lip. In all the years I was gone from Fredericksburg, McCall’s Grocery hadn’t changed. It seemed as if it had rebelled against time and refused to be updated in an ever-changing world.
“Just thought it might ease the blow of me coming home so unexpectedly.”
Mr. McCall banged his pipe against the trash can and took a deep breath. He put his pipe away and placed a hand upon my shoulder.
“Son, they don’t know you’re home?”
“No, sir. I haven’t talked to them yet.”
I guess Mr. McCall thought I should go home first, or at least should have called, but I couldn’t piece things together in my mind. One moment I had a thought, and a millisecond later, I was off on another rabbit trail. Besides, saying that I failed was too hard. Telling my parents of my lack of success made it real. Tangible. I never intended to hurt them.
“Son, you should go home. Screw that, I got it. I’ll get you home.”
A white phone hung outside of the office space. We used it to page one of the managers when things got screwy with the registers. I hated the way my voice sounded over the speakers. My words came out in a maple syrup slow drawl. Everyone always told me I sounded like an idiot.
As usual, I tucked it away. I was young then, well, younger than I am now. Kids are mean to each other. Dr. Rhonda Thom told me before I left the military that it’s part of finding yourself in the world.
I had been around the world, and still haven’t discovered my place in it. McCall’s grocery would be a great place to start looking.
Me and Mr. McCall left the store. He still drove his beat up junker truck. It was an old, rusted out Ford Ranger.
“Be careful where you put your feet, Davy. This ole truck has about had it.”
“Yes, sir.” I placed my feet near the seat. The rusted floorboard was so thin you could see the engine. Mr. McCall shifted gears and drove me home. My momma sat on the front porch snapping peas. She still had the same rocker as when I had left home. Our home wasn’t big. They raised me and my brother Willie in a small mobile home. Nothing out in the country was built to code. Building things to code was a city thing.
Dad decided to add on to the mobile home as Willie and I grew. We helped him build on another room. Then we added an office. Mom was right there with us, handing us boards, painting, doing whatever she could to help us men get it done. Momma looked up when Mr. McCall drove up.
She stood to her feet when I got out of the truck. Momma wiped her hands on her apron and walked down the steps. Tears dirtied up her face when she recognized me.
“Hey, momma. It’s me.”
Momma flew across the yard and threw her arms around my neck. I didn’t know what to do. I hugged her, she sobbed. Mr. McCall stood by and watched. He turned his head so I couldn’t see his tears.
I shed a few tears that day myself. Momma took me by the arm and led me in the house. Poor Mr. McCall waited outside.
“Davy, your daddy is asleep. Oh, he’s going to be thrilled your home.”
“Come on, Davy. My Lord, look at you, son. You’re all grown up.”
Daddy was crawled up on the couch passed out. A basketball game played on the television. We may be from Mississippi, but in our house, everybody rooted for Duke come basketball season. Momma stopped a few feet from the couch.
“Harry, hey Harry, get up. I got something I want you to see.”
My dad cracked one eye open and looked at her. Both of his eyes popped open when he recognized me. My dad got off the couch quickly and wrapped his arms around me. There were no tears, but you could see the pride in his eyes.
“Hey, hand. Why didn’t you call, scab? We could have picked you up.”
“Ah, dad. I just…” I motioned with my hand, and my dad nodded.
“Are you on leave,” dad asked me. I nodded my head and looked away.
“I guess you could say that” I said. “They forced me to retire, dad.”
“That’s a long story, dad. I couldn’t hack it, I guess.”
Mom and dad led me into the living room. It was unchanged in appearance except for the new furniture they had bought. I sat in the middle of the couch; dad sat in his recliner. Momma sat next to me.
“What do you mean you couldn’t hack it,” My dad asked.
“The doctor said I had severe PTSD and other mental challenges. In essence, I was burnt out. They feared I would snap and commit some unmentionable atrocities if I deployed again.”
Momma teared up at the news. She dabbed at her eyes with her dirty apron. When she finished her eye dabbing, she went into the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee. “Good thing too,” I thought, “I could use a cup of coffee.
“I couldn’t keep it together, dad. I was frazzled, burnt out. The doctor said I would never overcome the mental challenges. They retired me.” Momma came in with coffee. We all sipped it. Our silence grew.
“Well,” Momma said, “I’ve had about enough of this talk. I’m glad you’re home, Davy. What do you have planned?”
“I don’t, Momma. I stopped by and asked Mr. McCall if he was hiring. He gave me a job.”
“Where are you going to stay,” dad asked. I shrugged and sipped my coffee.
“I don’t know, I got into town today. The way I figured it; I would look for an apartment tomorrow. Could I spend the night? I’ll be out in the morning.”
My dad walked over and put his hand on my shoulder, Momma patted my arm.
“You are our son. Stay as long as you need to.”
It was nice to be home. Momma and Dad fed me and took good care of me. Everything was fine until night fell. My demons would come out and play in my dreams. I tossed and turned. Sometimes, I would wake up coughing up blood. Many times, I woke up to Momma sitting on my bed praying for me.
One particularly bad night, I was bent over the bathroom sink coughing up bloody phlegm. I felt movement behind me. A boy from ‘the war’ stood in the corner. He held his brains in his hands and shoved them at me. “Why,” he asked.
“You know why,” I shouted. “You shouldn’t have had a weapon on the school grounds! You pointed it at me. How was I supposed to know it was a toy,” I yelled? All the emotions I kept bottled up came out at that moment. I punched the wall until my hand broke. I collapsed to the floor a sobbing mass of failure.
My Momma sat on the floor with me and cradled my head. I cried like the little boy I was once when he was told his grandfather passed away.
“It’s okay, son.”
“It ain’t okay, Momma. I killed that boy.”
My tears angered me. It wasn’t the first hallucination I saw; it wouldn’t be the last. The phantoms of my past sins came more frequently. The boy would show up at my job. My mind created new things for me to witness. Some nights I saw victims of horrendous actions. For example, my interpreter’s family would visit me.
I better explain that part. Over there in the war, the locals had a month-long religious holiday. It was a dangerous time to be an outsider. Some of our local friends would assist us in speaking with other locals. One day, our interpreter didn’t show up. We called them terps. Anyway, one day turned into one week, a week bled into two. At the beginning of week three, our terp’s head showed up outside of the gate to our base. The enemy also brought 14 other heads. They had massacred the whole family; rabid dogs had chewed on many of the faces.
Mr. McCall paged me to the office on a Friday. He sat behind the desk, his pipe in mouth. I walked to the desk and waited.
“What are you doing this evening,” he asked me. I shrugged.
“Nothing, sir. Momma has put on Cowboy stew. I thought I would eat dinner with my folks.”
“Sounds like a plan. After you’re done with your dinner, I want you to ride off with me for a bit.”
“Okay, then. I’ll pick you up at nine, that should give you plenty of time to catch up with your folks.”
As is typical of military folks, Mr. McCall showed up ten minutes before nine. The rattle of his rust bucket truck could be heard in the yard. I bid my parents a good night and walked out to the truck. We rode in silence until we pulled up to the lake.
“Come on,” Mr. McCall said.
He led the way to the small cabin that stood on the edge of the lake. I walked down to the pier while Mr. McCall unlocked the door. The moon was full that night, its beams danced on the water. The beauty of that night was not lost upon me. Words floated through my mind, for once, my brain didn’t dart from one subject to the next unchecked.
Mr. McCall stood at the kitchen window and watched me. I didn’t know it at the time, but he knew I was ‘off.’ After I finished soaking in the night air and the beauty of the moonbeams dancing, I went into the cabin.
“Take a load off,” Mr. McCall said. I looked around the cabin. It was small but somehow spacious. I sat on the couch.
“This is a nice place,” I sad. Mr. McCall smiled and nodded.
“It was my father’s hidey hole. If he and mom had a bad day, they came out here. Everything seemed better, heck, life was better when they were here.”
“Thanks for bringing me out here.”
“You’re welcome. I know that getting adjusted is tough. When I returned home from war, America had turned its back on us. I felt betrayed. I’m sure it’s the same way with you now.”
I said nothing. There was not anything that I could say about what I felt.
War took everything from me. My hopes For a normal life were dashed upon the rocks after I killed my first man- Davy allan Walker
Mr. McCall and I stayed at the cabin the whole night. We didn’t talk much. He had a bottle of moonshine, ‘shine to the locals, and he sipped it under the moon. I sat on the edge of the pier. My mind was calm. It was the strangest thing I’d felt in some time. There was no buzzing in my ears, my mind was not leaping from one subject to the next. For the first time in a long while, I could think.
“You okay, Davy?”
“Yes sir. Thinking,” I said as I rapped my finger against my noggin. He nodded and lifted his little brown jug in understanding.
Mr. McCall passed out in his swing, his grip on the bottle tedious at best. I didn’t sleep. The sun peeked through the clouds. I heard Mr. McCall stir behind me.
“Did you get any sleep,” he asked. Davy shook his head no.
“No. I watched the water.”
“I guess I passed out.”
“Yes, sir. You passed out at about midnight.”
He scratched his arm and grunted. The mosquitoes were ferocious last night. He continued to scratch.
“Why didn’t you wake me up? These freaking mosquitoes ate me up.”
[Next Body Paragraph]
The mind, my mind, was in shambles. my thoughts were smashed together in a smorgasboard of unclear rememberances. I was going mad.
We came back to town Saturday before noon. The clank and pow of Mr. McCall’s rust bucket announced our return to civilization. He grumbled about those ‘darn mosquitoes’ and continued to scratch at the bites.
“Well Davy, did you have a good time last night?”
“Yes, sir. Thank you for taking me out there.”
“You’re welcome any time, son.”
I nodded. We remained silent the rest of the trip. It wasn’t an uncomfortable quietness. It was a comfortable silence between two friends.
“Can you come in tomorrow? I need someone I can trust to help open.”
“Yes, sir. I will come in.”
“Okay, Davy. I’m going home to sleep off this hangover. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He pulled up in the driveway. Momma sat on the doorsteps shelling peas. Daddy wasn’t outside, but Davy was certain he was busy, nonetheless. I got out and headed for the doorsteps. My mind was not calm anymore, but it wasn’t as frantic as it had been.
I sat beside Momma and helped shell the rest of the peas.
“Where did you go last night, son?”
“I went with Mr. McCall to his father’s cabin. It’s out by McAlister’s Lake.”
“Ooh, that sounds lovely. Did you have a good time?”
“I did. It was calming. Momma, I’m sorry about the other night.”
“You have no reason to apologize, son. I hate what they did to you.”
“They didn’t do it to me, Momma. I did it to myself.”
“Still, you’re my son. Your daddy and I are proud of you.”
Davy didn’t know what to say to his mother. His hallucinations came and went. Some days he had none, the next he was swarmed with the remembrances of deeds he had committed.
“I have to work tomorrow. Mr. McCall wants me to help open.”
“I’m glad he hired you, Davy. You need to be around people. It’ll help you adjust to the real world.”
Adjustment was a word that made little sense to Davy. “I was adjusted in the military. Then, I was ripped up by my roots, called unfit, and thrown to the wolves.”
It did no good to cry over spilled milk. What was done, was done. Tomorrow was a new day.
Jake Travers, Milt Whitman, and Danny O’Shea waited outside of by the soda machines for McCall Grocery to open. All three boys were 17. Jake Travers was the alpha of the three. He’d spent his childhood and the ensuing teenaged years abused by his mother’s numerous boyfriends. It was no wonder he had developed into an abuser and bully himself.
Davy and Mr. McCall along with a few other employees rushed about the store. Mr. McCall and the cashier Sharon counted money and set up the tills. Sam, a high school junior, set out produce. Davy straightened up shelves and put out stock.
At 0800, Mr. McCall unlocked the door. The three boys walked through the doors and headed down the cereal aisle. Davy was ‘fronting’ the shelves. Jake nodded at his three cohorts. They gathered around Davy.
“Where’s the Cocoa Puffs?”
Davy pointed at the cereal. “Right there.”
Jake moved close and leaned into Davy’s face. He pushed a finger into Davy’s chest.
“You gotta problem helping me? Do you think you’re too good for us hicks?”
“Sir, I showed you where the Cocoa Puffs were. Please remove yourself from my space.”
Milt and Danny snickered. Jake jammed his finger in Davy’s chest and leaned back into his face.
“You want it, boy? Come get it.”
“What’s going on here, Davy?” Mr. McCall stood at the end of the aisle. He had watched the scenario played out. “Davy kept his cool. Thank God, all I need is for Davy to unleash his rage on a bunch of ragtag kids.”
“They needed help finding the Cocoa Puffs, sir.”
“Why are they in your face?”
“They misunderstood my directions, sir.”
Jake Travers shrugged and smacked his lips. He nodded to his buddies and scooped up a box of cereal.
“It’s whatever old man. Have a good day with this retard.” Without another word the boys left. Mr. McCall walked over to Davy and put his hand on his shoulder.
“You did good, Davy. You were disciplined, you kept your cool.”
Davy nodded his head in agreement, but inside his demons screamed for release. They wanted to be turned loose and allowed to stomp around. “Getting a job in the public eye may not have been such a good idea,” Davy thought.
It was too late now.
[Chapter 3] — Revelation
The day passed quickly. As is typical of a lazy Sunday, the grocery store seemed to be the choice meeting place for the town folk. People rushed in and bought a few things for dinner. Others meandered throughout the aisle looking for the best deals. Davy helped bag groceries when the lines grew too long.
It didn’t take much for Davy to forget the tense situation from earlier in the day. After all, kids were going to be kids. His demons had grown quiet. They remained dormant if Davy avoided confrontation.
Confrontation. Davy had trained for years to know what to do when danger presented itself. He had trained his mind, his body, even his reflexes, to react when confronted with danger. This morning, he had been prepared to end the life of the three boys for nothing more than the sheer arrogance of youth.
Davy was scared. He was so close to a mental breakdown. “God, I need help. Someone must help me recover. What do I do?”
At the end of the day, Davy walked into the office and sat down in the empty chair. Mr. McCall shoved the money into the safe and spun the dial. He gave Davy a small smile.
“You did good today, Davy. Thanks for opening up.”
“Yes, sir. Mr. McCall, I wanted to thank you for giving me a chance.”
“You’re welcome, son. What’s going on?”
“It’s not going to work out, Mr. McCall. I wanted to kill those kids this morning. I would have if you hadn’t shown up.”
“No, you wouldn’t have Davy. You’re better than that.”
“It’s nice of you to say so, but no I’m not.”
“Son, what are you saying?”
“I need to quit, sir. I need some air, and a long walk. I don’t want to be this person anymore.”
Davy walked out from McCall Grocery and started down the road. Lil’ Brown River ran through the town. He decided to take a stroll down by the river. “Maybe the sound of rushing water will calm me down.” A small goat trail ran along the bank. Davy followed it and listened to wind and the gurgle of the river.
Jake Travers watched Davy leave. A sardonic grin crossed his thin mouth. His friends had left, but he’d stuck around to finish what he started with the ‘new guy.’ As with most bullies, he wanted his prey to be afraid of him.
Travers trailed behind Davy. The highway was less than a quarter mile away from where Davy stopped. He looked out at the river. His mind cleared and he smiled. Then, he heard the snap of a branch. The crackle of the branch was followed by the sound of heavy footsteps.
Davy stepped to the side and turned to face his attacker. It was the kid from earlier. Hot rage boiled in his veins. The kid was in a full-blown sprint, Davy let him fly past. The kid tried to slow down, but his momentum propelled him past Davy. Large rocks littered the bank. It was standard practice to line the shore with them to solidify the bank against rising water.
“Oh crap,” Travers cried out as he rushed into the rocks.
Davy watched. Travers tried to apply the brakes, but his foot got caught between two rocks. The snap of his ankle sounded like a gun shot across the open water. Travers continued down and bashed his head against a stone. His blood splattered against the rocks.
“Are you okay, kid?”
Travers didn’t respond. Davy picked his way carefully down to where the kid was. He put two fingers on the kid’s neck and felt for a pulse. He had one, but it was faint. Davy pulled the kid’s denim jacket off and wrapped it around his head wound.
Then, Davy utilized the Fireman’s Carry and followed the goat trail. It led him to the highway. A couple of cars were pulled off the road. On the bank below him a few people fished.
“Hey,” Davy called out. An old man looked up at him. He cupped a hand to his ear.
“I have a wounded kid here. Can you take him to the hospital?”
The other people looked up at Davy. The old man reeled in his line and started toward Davy. He followed the path up to where Davy and Travers were.
“Say again, young’un.”
“I have a wounded kid here. He rushed me on the bank. I stepped out of the way, and he flew out onto the rocks.”
The old man knelt beside Travers and lifted his eyelid. “Hmm,” the old man said. “The kids got a concussion. I’ll get him to the hospital to be checked out.”
“What’s your name, sir?”
“Jim. I was a medic in the Army. I went to school on the GI Bill, got my medical license. Last year I retired. Closed down my practice and decided to spend my retirement fishing.”
“Okay, Jim. I’m Davy.”
“I know. Mr. McCall is my best friend. He spoke very highly of you.” He pointed at the makeshift bandage on Travers head. “You did good, son.”
Davy watched as Jim drove off in the direction of the hospital. He was unsure of what to feel. “What was that idiot kid thinking? Why would he attack me?” Whatever the reason, the kid had done more damage to himself than to Davy.
He made his way toward his parents’ home. The long walk did him good. Davy encountered no more backstabbing kids on his journey. The farmhouse appeared on the horizon; twilight had fallen while he traveled. The lights burned brightly in the house.
Davy’s dad sat in a rocker on the porch. He was reading 1984 by George Orwell. He watched as his son drew near.
“How was work,” he asked without looking up.
“It was fine, dad.”
“Mr. McCall came by. He said you quit.”
“Yeah, I did.”
Davy’s father was silent for a bit. Davy sat in a rocker next to his father.
“You feel out of place, don’t you? Like you don’t belong. You can’t make heads or tails with what’s in your head, right?”
Davy nodded and stayed silent.
“No one can tell you how to marry it together, son. You have to find a way to make it work.”
“I’m a monster, daddy.”
“No, son. You’re not. You’re a man who did what he thought was right. You drew a line in the sand, and you did not falter. The price of your devotion is found within your scars.”
They sat quietly on the porch. Davy thought on his father’s words. Life would never be perfect, but maybe, with a little time and patience, maybe Davy would find his way home.