Memories Excerpt at 1,000 words
Miguel sat at the bar of a small, crowded saloon in Saigon. He was on a three-day pass and spent it trying to forget why he was in this country to begin with.
He ordered another drink and turned a quick glance at his friend Billy, who was sitting at a table near the door with a young Vietnamese girl. Billy was an oversized, clumsy farm boy from the Midwest who thought himself a charmer with the ladies. But he was also tough, honest and brave, good qualities a man needed in this place and a friend needed in a buddy. Miguel and he had stuck close since being sent to the same unit in Nam.
Smiling and shaking his head at his friend, Miguel turned back to his fresh drink and took a swig. Something brushed against his leg and he looked down from the tall barstool to see a small beggar boy, one arm missing, his face grotesquely disfigured, carrying a small bag looking up at him. Miguel just turned away from the boy and he continued on his way looking for handouts. Young children, deformed and missing limbs, were all over Saigon; one of the cruelties of this damn war. Miguel, like everyone else who had been there too long, had learned to look through them and past them since he was unable to help them all.
Once again Miguel glanced at his friend, now leaning forward head-to-head with the girl. He noticed the beggar boy stopping only a second at Billy’s table, then being brushed away by Billy, the boy headed out the door into the daylight. Through the light from the door opening, Miguel noticed that the bag the boy had been carrying lay under Billy’s table and it took him only a second to realize what was in it.
“Billy, bomb!” Miguel yelled as he jumped over the bar for protection in one smooth motion. Other military men in the bar took cover under tables and behind the bar. So engrossed in his new lady friend, Billy only looked up, confused by all the commotion before the realization of what was happening crossed his face. He pushed the girl away from the table, but before he could move an inch, the plastic, homemade bomb below him exploded. Miguel screamed his name as he watched his friend tear into pieces before his eyes.
Dani shot up in bed at the sound of a man screaming. Not even awake yet, she instinctively jumped out of bed and ran through the darkened apartment to the open sofa bed where Miguel was sleeping.
“Billy!” he screamed again, loud and anguished, and in the moonlight through the patio doors Dani could see the horror in Miguel’s face.
Quickly she crawled into bed and held him tight, softly cooing, “Miguel, it’s okay. You’re home. You’re safe. I’m here Miguel, I’m here.” Over and over she said this until he finally stopped struggling and grew quiet in her arms.
Dani cradled his head on her chest, rocking him back and forth like a frightened child. Still assuring him he was okay, she was there for him. She ran her fingers through his damp hair, brushing it away from his face, rocking him gently, assuring him he was home and safe. And even as he came to his senses, Michael continued to let her hold him. She was the only woman who could soothe his pain of remembering. It felt warm and comforting to be in her arms, so easy to allow her to soothe and comfort him.
After a time, still holding him, Dani softly asked Miguel, “It was the bar dream again, wasn’t it?” She knew all his bad dreams, the jungle dream, the bar dream, the body bag one, each in detail from when he had told her about them years ago. She was the only one he’d ever told them to, because she had been the only one who had ever cared to listen.
Miguel nodded his head in her arms. “I should have done something,” he said hoarsely. “I should have saved Billy.”
“You did the best you could,” Dani said softly. “No one could control who lived and who died. You have nothing to blame yourself for.”
Dani sat quietly for a while longer, still holding Miguel close. She thought of his pain, of her pain and of the pain they had caused each other. “We make a great pair, you and I,” she whispered, shaking her head. And then, slowly, she lay down under the covers beside him, all the time holding him close, both finally falling asleep from exhaustion. And for the first time in years, Michael slept soundly and dreamlessly, feeling safe in Dani’s arms.
Sunlight streamed through the patio doors across the sleeping bodies of Michael and Dani. He stirred slowly and carefully sat up, not wanting to disturb her sleep, and was surprised to see the clock on the opposite wall read 11:00 A.M. He hadn’t slept this late on a Saturday morning in a very long time, and a smile played across his lips when he remembered the last time he had slept this late. And he had woken up with the same sweet woman beside him then, only a younger version. It was like they’d never parted.
As Michael studied Dani’s sleeping face, he liked what he saw. In sleep she had the softness he remembered, not the look of bitterness she had shown him last night. He thought of last night and how she’d stroked his hair and soothed away his nightmare so tenderly. She was still the same sweet person he had known so many years ago, no matter how hard she’d tried to convince him otherwise. And she must still have some feelings for him other than hatred.
“Good morning,” Dani interrupted his thoughts and looked up at him through sleepy eyes. “What are you staring at?”
“The past, the present, all rolled into one,” he told her, smiling.