He was drunk and feeling rational.
“Ssarge,” Joe said, slurring the “s” only slightly, “Ssarge, I gotta get outta this outfit.”
Sarge looked down at him, one eyebrow raised in an indifference that almost bordered curiosity.
“Joe, think about it; where are you going to go? You were made for this outfit. You were made for this job.”
Joe cleared his throat. His body swayed back and forth, back and forth. “I—,” he started, stopped, started again. “I need to do something else. You can’t expect me to do this job forever, Sir.”
“Can’t I,” Sarge said. “You’re an American hero, you know. At least, you were. Once.”
“That was a long time ago,” Joe said, a little sadly. “Now I’m just…”
“Just what, Soldier? Just another guy in uniform? That’s not enough for you anymore?”
The room reeked of vodka, sweat, and mothballs. He wished they could have met somewhere else.
“ I—I have another life. A light inside me, if you will.” Joe sounded ridiculous, but he kept going. “At night, I’m a performer. I get to be a whole other person. I go by Louisiana Bayou. I sing, mostly covers. I dance. The guys love it. I love it. I know you probably can’t understand what it’s like. To be under a spotlight, instead of under fire. To wear satin or sequins instead of fatigues. To drink umbrellaed drinks instead of stale canteen water. To be adored.”
“You were adored.”
“By you, once. I know. I remember. But you’ve moved on…” Joe stopped.
Sarge took a breath. “It couldn’t last forever,” he said. “Nothing does.”
“Please,” Joe said.
“It’s outta my hands now,” Sarge replied.
“But don’t you think…?”
Sarge couldn’t bring himself to give Joe hope, even though he hoped for him that one day, even if only for one day, Louisiana Bayou could live in the light.
“Ah, well,” Joe said in voice that had reestablished a position behind sandbags and barbed wire.
“Well,” Sarge replied. His head thumped dully, the dust feeling thick in his nose.
He took a last look at Joe, and then slid him back into his plain wrapper, and placed him back in the box, which he looked at the contents of for one moment longer before gentling on the lid.
Sarge staggered to the attic ladder and climbed slowly back down.
“Find anything you want, son?” his mother asked, coming around a corner in the hall, her arms heaped with neatly folded towels.
“Nah,” he said, wiping his brow with the back of his hand. “Give it all to Vi’s girls. What they don’t want, they can deal with getting rid of.”
“Okay, dear. Okay,” his mother said, a little concerned that her son was so clearly intoxicated this early in the day. “You want me to make you some lunch?”
“Nah,” he said, grabbing a towel off the top of her stack, and giving her cheek an earnest but dry kiss. “I’m gonna run a bath. Get the attic dust off me.”
“Okay, dear,” his mother said, thinking a long soak in the tub would do him good.
“Dad’s shaving kit in there?”
“Oh yes. Under the counter. Don’t cut yourself, now. That razor is sharp as dickens.”
“Dickens,” he said.
“Would you rather I swear?”
He thought about it. “No. Of course not, Mom. Gimme those towels. I’ll put them away,” he said, putting the towel he had previously taken back on top, then taking the entire stack out of her arms.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Well,” he said.
“Your bath. Right. I’ll see you in a little bit.” She smiled at her son.
“Sure.” He watched her walk down the hall, to the stairs that led down to the kitchen, to make the lunch that he had told her he didn’t want.
He put the stack of towels into the tidy, sage-scented linen closet. Took one, thought again, put it back.
He walked toward the bathroom, intent, again, on peeling away his own plain wrapper.
Mary Long swept down into our literary e-cave where we were rubbing our hands together like three Mr. Burns' and she took us to task on our mission. She challenged our virtues and inspired our souls. This is all we know about her.