The Insurgents at Home

“Jebiga! This place stinks. You can smell it in the lobby.”

“The Americans have a saying. You want to eat eggs, you break the shells.”

“It smells like eggs. And shit.”

“That’s the sulfur. Don’t worry. That’s all done. The range hood will clear it out.”

“What are the nails for?”

“You don’t pay attention to anything, do you?  When the pressure-cooker detonates, the screws become shrapnel. Same with the springs, though they do more damage to because they spiral.”

“I got Disney backpacks like you asked.”

“Excellent. We’ll leave them by the skating rink, where the kids all sit.”

 

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Another Hunch

Inspector Lambert squatted next to the body, the worn heels of his shoes tucked beneath his buttocks as he leaned to move a lock of hair with his pen. The side of the man’s head bore the faded marks of previous beatings.

“A boxer, perhaps?” said Detective Girard. “His nose certainly looks it.”

Lambert shook his head. “The muscles are wrong. This is something else. See how this scar has stretched? I have a hunch this was a childhood injury.”

Girard almost rolled his eyes, but then it occurred to him how seldom the flamboyant Lambert’s hunches had proven wrong.

 

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Thank You For Your Service

It was when he came home from his third tour that he knew it wasn’t going to get better.

The second tour was involuntary, what they called a stop-loss.

He’d been home from Afghanistan three weeks when he was ordered to Iraq.

It was the early days, before they knew to avoid boxes in the road.

Three times he saw the Hummer in front of him blown apart by an IED, the men inside transformed to bloody rags.

He still saw them in dreams.

He pulled his truck into the VA parking lot, cranked the Zeppelin.

He opened the glove-box.

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At least 22 military veterans committed suicide at VA centers in the U.S. in the last 18 months, including a Texas man who shot himself this month in the waiting room of a VA clinic.

Veteran suicide is an acute crisis wrapped in a national crisis. Between 2005 and 2016, suicide rates in the general population climbed 21%. For veterans, already taking their lives at twice the U.S. rate, it climbed 26%. More than 6,000 veterans are dying by their own hands each year – nearly 20 a day.

The best way to thank them for their service is to question America’s obsession with war. There is no glory in it, no valor. It is only death and nightmares.

Creepy Goes to the Movies

Creepy looked at massacres with the jaundiced eye of an experienced gamer.

Mass shootings were inhuman, but what was so great about humanity?

It was no different than an ant-hill where millions of identical beings incessantly toiled to bring rocks and food, unaware of their god-like observer or the jar of gasoline he held in his hand.

Creepy considered the Aurora and Las Vegas massacres to be the botched work of amateurs. They lacked fire, literally and figuratively.

He smiled at his rows of mason jars containing home-made napalm, his extra AR-15 magazines.

Creepy knew he’d do so much better.

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We Have a Situation

I doze through the mild turbulence until the plane jolts me awake with a huge bang. We lurch sideways, the passengers unwise enough to leave their seatbelts loose or unbuckled hurtling headlong into the aisle. The engines scream like tornado sirens.

I struggle against the mounting g-force to lift my head. I stare into the ghastly face of the flight attendant as she crab-walks down the aisle gripping the seatbacks like a kid on the monkey bars. “Stay calm,” she yells, her voice cracking with the strain.

The intercom crackles and the captain comes on, his voice a laconic drawl.

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Kitchen Vignette


She gets up from the recliner. She’s wearing her old robe and pink sweatpants. I fix her a plate, pull out a chair for her. She sits down and starts to eat like she’s starving. I know better than to ask when she ate last.

The stove is a disaster. Beneath the towel, charred patties congeal in an inch of greasy water. The whole stove smells rancid, caked with ashy spatters. The calendar on the wall–December 1981, when Pop died–is singed at the corners.

I feel my anger rise. “You’re just lucky you didn’t burn down the fucking house.”

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His Mother Obviously

The patrolman was deferential as he opened the door. “Kept it just as we found it, sir. Nothing disturbed. Made sure meself.”

Inspector O’Neill nodded and stepped in and glanced around the small living room.

Soft eyes, he called it, this way of simultaneously seeing everything and nothing.

First impressions: masculine, almost to the point of parody.

Military clean. Leather chairs, glass table, a framed reproduction of Bird’s Death of General Braddock on the wall.

In the hallway to the bedroom, two portraits: the Virgin Mary, eyes skyward. A lady with heavy eyebrows and a stern mouth.

His mother, obviously.

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Ancillary Casualties

 

Commander Bragg lit his Camel with the smoldering butt of his last one, smoked down to a nubbin.  Lieutenant Roy did not remark on this. The eyes of the world are upon you.

“You’re sure they are all evacuated,” said Commander Bragg. It was not a question.

“One hundred percent, sir,” said Lieutenant Roy. “Triple checked.”

“Because if anyone is in the zone, anyone at all, they’re dead. You understand that?”

“Understood, sir.”

But in truth, Lieutenant Roy was only 90% sure.

Language barriers and the innate stubbornness of the islanders, especially the old ones, made ancillary casualties a real possibility.

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Read the other stories

Figures

My shortest foster stint was five days. That was when the county was laying off social workers and didn’t have time to check up on what was going on in the foster houses.

Let’s just say it was bad and leave it there.

The fifth house was the real heartbreaker, the Garcias.

They were sweet people.

Ten kids, so what was one more?

Mrs. Garcia had this party for her daughter Luz, a Quinceañera. Invited lots of kids from the neighborhood. First time in my life I felt I belonged somewhere.

One day ICE came knocking. They got deported.

Figures.

 

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Desecrating Shabbat

The pool was the main reason Sy had moved into the building. Dr. Schwartz prescribed daily exercise, and what was better than swimming? Get the heart racing without punishing the old bones. Best of all, the time to unwind and think.

Only it wasn’t like that. The pool was always full of these strapping young goys who swam laps as though masturbating in public.

The only time Sy knew with certainty the pool would be empty was Friday night at nine when they were out engaging in mating rituals.

Sy tried to keep Shabbat by praying, but sometimes he forgot.

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