While I’m really psyched to be selling some stories, I feel a little bad about not posting them on here anymore. So here’s a chapter from a book I’m working on. It’s not as explicit as the stories I’m selling, but i think it’s good and it works on its own. I hope you enjoy it!
After the war ended, the dance halls were flooded with veterans drinking and dancing away the trenches. And Jack was with them, tall and strapping, the stars gone from his eyes.
I don’t know what I had expected when he came back. I hadn’t waited for him. I hadn’t written him. I hadn’t let myself think about it, really. He crossed my mind, of course, and I missed him often. But the more I heard about the war, the more I knew that he might not come back. That he probably wouldn’t. Forty thousand men were dying every week, and that was just on our side. And if he died, I would not know. No telegram would come for me, no bereaved friend or relative. If I found out, it would be by the rumor of the tenements, or by some strange chance at the Bestlaid. That uncertainty left a cold fear at my core. I couldn’t let myself think about it.
So when he walked in, still in uniform, I didn’t know what to do. I ran to him, of course, and he swept me up into his arms and spun me around like we were in a romance novel. But when he put me down I felt a distance between us. He reached down to touch my hair. I’d bobbed it while he was away and he touched my short hair with a look of loss in his eyes.
“Do you like it?” I asked, trying to keep the conversation jovial.
“You look beautiful. You always do.” He said. But the loss stayed in his eyes. “I guess things really are changing these days.” I got the feeling that he wasn’t just talking about my hair. He suddenly seemed so much older than me. Something inside him was stretched taught as a bow.
“Do you want a drink?” I asked him. He nodded, looking around uncomfortably. “Do you want to get it somewhere quieter?” He nodded with much more confidence this time.
We left the bar and just walked. We didn’t have a reason or a direction, we just went east. Away from the pressing bodies of the Bestlaid. Away from the roar of the elevated train. We walked toward water and silence and anonymity. He didn’t talk for a long time, neither did I. We bought beers and a box of crackerjacks somewhere and drank on the grass in Tompkins square park. I tried to make it seem normal for him, like he’d just been out of town. I told him who had come, who had gone, who’d slept with whom and who hated each other now. All the good gossip. All the things that seem important when you’re 18 and nothing’s really happened to you yet. Quiet as he was, he seemed more relaxed with me near him, so I cuddled up against him as we drank. Finally I ran out of things to say and I looked to him. He was quiet for a time. Then he took a final tug off his beer and said
“I missed you.” He put an arm around me and kissed my hair. I stayed quiet. It felt like he was working up to saying something. “It’s strange being back, you know? Nothing’s changed but…”
“But you have.” I knew something about that.
“Yeah.” He was quiet a little while longer. I waited. “It’s like I’m not really here, you know? Like everything around me is happening behind a window.”
“Like it’s not your life anymore.”
I didn’t pity him. He wouldn’t want me to. But I did hurt for him. I had seen something horrifying, but I had seen it once and I had seen it for 15 minutes. He had lived in the dirt for a year. Atrocities had become his new normal. How could he come back to this life? How could he become normal again? I didn’t say this. I didn’t try to tell him that I knew how he felt. How could I? He spoke again
“I didn’t…. I didn’t think it would be that bad, you know? I thought ‘This is what makes you a man.’ I thought…. I thought it would make me a hero but… You don’t want to hear about it.”
He started to pull away from me and I grabbed his shoulder. I made him look at me.
“I want to hear whatever you have to tell me, Jack.” He looked at me for a good long time, then he kissed me, hard. He kissed me like he was starving for it. He pulled me to him, as if trying to push himself into me. I pushed back, letting him know I was here for what he needed. I wanted to help him. I’d been no good to him while he was gone, I wanted to do what I could now.
His hand grasped at my breast, pulling my blouse open. His other hand tangled in my hair, his breath hot on my throat. He pressed me back into the grass, his body taking over. It felt like he needed me, in that moment, like he needed me to live. The heat from my body, the release that came from fucking me, would be his sustenance, his antidote. He ground against me, wet grass giving way under his weight. I unbuttoned his uniform. I pushed off his jacket, pulled off his undershirt. I caressed his skin and kissed his scars. He carried a lot of scars.
There was no time for niceties, he was hard and desperate and, deserted as it was, we were still in public. He hiked up my skirts and I fumbled with the buttons on his fly, only to find more on his underwear. He took over and yanked them open quickly. I pushed him off long enough to roll a rubber onto him. Then he pushed into me and I felt that distance begin to crack. Just getting inside me seemed like such a relief to him, like taking a drink after a very long day. He drove himself into me, thrusting hard and getting harder. He was rougher than he’d been before, more selfish, more desperate. It wasn’t the best lay of my life but I knew it was what he needed.
Sex is like that sometimes. Sometimes it’s not about you. I don’t understand the rap that sex gets from people. It’s either glorified or vilified as if it were ever simple enough to be all good or all bad. It’s an action. It’s an art. It can be good or bad, fun or functional, scarring or healing. It can be a thousand other things and usually some mix of them. I fucked Jack that night because he needed it. Because he was my friend and I would do anything to help him. Before that night I hadn’t thought of sex that way, as something that people needed, as a service that could be provided. But that night it was something that I did for him.
I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it, I did. But it wasn’t really about that. As he bucked into me I felt that dam inside him shake loose. His pain and his passion drove him, pushing out the composure he’d fought so hard to hold. And when he finally came in a few rough, pained, strokes, I felt his tears wetting my hair. I didn’t say anything, I just held him close. I wrapped my legs around him and stroked his hair. He breathed and shuttered, more naked than I had ever seen him. Finally he relaxed in my arms and began to really talk.
War had not made him a hero. It had not made him a man. There was no glory, no honor, just mud and tears and blood and gas. Survival was a matter of luck. Not skill, not bravery, just sick, stupid, unreliable luck. He’d seen skin torn by barbed wire, men choke on their own blood, the hundreds of disgusting, undignified, ways you can die from a gunshot. And it had become normal. For most of the men around him, it had become a game. He’d been a sniper and a damned good one. The guys had kept score of the men they took out. The germans would shout at them when they missed, dare them to shoot again. And they would do the same. They would laugh about it. Until someone made the shot.
He had been a good soldier and a very good sniper. But it had not been like the comic books. And no matter what brass they put on his uniform, killing krauts had always felt like killing men. He was not a hero, he was a killer. And he was a good one. He was still a good man, and sweet to me, but his earnestness had hardened. His black and white sense of right and wrong had muddied. And he never got it back.
After a while we tugged our clothes back on but we stayed in the park and we stayed tangled up in each other. We drank beer and ate crackerjacks. Jack told me how much he’d missed me, the memories that had kept him going.
“I didn’t expect tonight to happen.” He confessed. “But thank you for it.”
“Of course.” I told him. “It’s the least I can do.”
“It’s not.” He looked at me, eyes the color of the sky just before the dawn. “It was very kind. Thank you.”
I chucked him under the chin, not used to this much honesty.
“Don’t mention it.” I said. I tried to change the subject. “Besides, think of the guff I would get from the Bestlaid girls if I had a chance at a uniform and didn’t take it.”
He laughed and gave me a playful little push. He shook some crackerjacks into his hand and the prize fell out.
“A ring?” He exclaimed. “Well, will you look at this. I think old man crackerjack is trying to tell us something.” He looked at me a little too long and I laughed a little.
“Oh, you know you can’t trust sailors.”
“Still, what do you say we make it official?” He jokingly offered me the ring.
“A promise ring?” I chuckled. “Oh Jack, you know I can’t keep promises. Save it for a girl who deserves you.”
“Aw, ain’t no such girl.” He joked, a little of his old self creeping back. “Here, you keep it. Let’s make it my marker.”
He put the ring on my finger and he looked into my eyes.
“If you ever need anything, anything at all, I am here for you.” He said it and he meant it. “And I can keep my promises. I always will.”
I kissed him, long and slow and soft and sweet. I took his promise and I kept it with me. And that ring hasn’t left my finger since.