Short Stories by Mesarat

 

 

 

Apollo 17 - Space muse.

 

Thirty years ago there were humans walking and even driving a car, of sorts, on our moon. The future we perceived in those days seemed without limit. Surely, by the turn of the coming century there would be colonies on Mars. Vacationers flying into space for visits at the Orbital Hilton Hotel on Pan Am rocket flights seemed almost definite. What could be dreamt would be realized. However the nature of dreams is their tenuous relationship with reality.

Miracles of technology still astound us. I have seen the Space Station speed across the sky and marvel that people live aboard this island in the sky. The regularity and efficiency that is space flight today seems miraculous by the standards of thirty years ago. But, something is missing. The thrill of exploration has faded to a kind of industry of research. That sense of reaching out to the Cosmos has gone.

I have to wonder if there was some hidden reason we never returned to our lunar conquest. Was a warning given to leave and not come back? Something like an obelisk that said ‘No Trespassing’ or a celestial voice saying, “Talk to the Hand!” However, there is a much more mundane possibility. The cost of space exploration and the expense of threatening and waging war might simply be incompatible. In any case our human exploration of space has returned to and remained in Earth Orbit. It has been so since that day thirty years ago when the Apollo 17 lunar landing and ascent module Challenger rose from the Moon’s surface on Dec 14, 1972.

Dreams of the future seem different after the passing of these last thirty years. Where once the promise of the stars was bright, darkness and dread now dwell. Perhaps experiencing the certainties that come with age has clouded my dreams of a future. To find a bit of peace and comfort seems dream enough for me these days. This old Earthling no longer has any need for touching the stars. To simply be near what is primitive and unchanged is my calling. The dream of some great shining future is gone; today I would settle for a hug from a friend.

The passing of three decades has shown us the other side of dreaming. People are living in space, but close to home. We don’t drive anti gravity vehicles, but we have instant access to a world web of information. Things have changed in many ways and not at all in others. Few are aware of that long ago war that raged in some distant steaming jungle. We are all now aware of the coming war set to rage in some distant burning desert.

I remember seeing the miracle of space flight juxtaposed against the news films showing our war dead being zipped into black plastic bags. While a few humans are living in space today more body bags are being stockpiled in a far away place. It seems that no matter how far we humans progress the need to kill one another, in the name of something noble sounding, remains. The religious connotations of fighting god-less communists or other equally un-holy forces cannot be hidden behind great technological advances. God, it seems, remains firmly on our side, at least in war.

 

 

The Dog - Tail of a broken heart.

 

A park lies a mile or so from the edge of town. It spans from a creek bed across a grassy field up to the top of a hill. The main entrance is at one side of the fairly level field. Another entrance is from a road that went over the hill behind the park. The hilltop gate opened to a small picnic area with a barbeque and picnic table. A large oak tree shaded the table during some part of everyday. This part of the park was rarely visited and somewhat neglected. The lower and larger area was used daily by families, couples, children, dogs, and the occasional solitary person seeking a bit of peace and fresh air.

My health had been bad in recent years. I was sick all day everyday. At first I just closed myself inside my home. I was not able to go out to work or socialize. Living in a dungeon I had designed in my illness was somehow comforting. Curtains remained drawn and lights stayed out. I would not go out side unless driven by need. Driving home from some chore one day I passed a park. It looked like a nice place from up on hilltop road. Driving on, I made a decision to return.

The park was a refuge for me during this time of pain and weakness in my life. I would often spend a good part of the day relaxing and taking in the sights. My favorite place was on a hilltop at the western edge of the park. The bench under the wide oak tree became my special place. From this vantage point I could see the entire park in the glen below. I could see the people below in the main area of the park as they relaxed or played with their children. Often there would be a few people with their dogs. Spending my days at this place was a great comfort to me.

While relaxing on my special bench one day I heard a panting sound and looked down to see a scruffy looking dog running my way. He seemed to me an average looking mongrel as he ran up and sat beside my feet. His big brown eyes searched my face for some sign of recognition. I tried to ignore this dog, but he just lay down on the ground near my feet and kept staring at me. Feeling a gentle bump on my foot I saw the wet tennis ball he had brought with him.

The ball was well chewed and slobbery as he nudged it against my foot. Not in the mood for some scruffy dog’s company, I kicked the ball a little way down the hill. Before it could get very far the dog had ran up to it, grabbed it in his mouth and ran back to by side. He dropped the ball between my feet this time and sat down staring at my face again. We repeated this process for some time, me kicking the nasty ball, him bring it back. The day had grown late, so I went back to my car to go home. As I drove away the dog watched me drive from sight.

The following day I returned to my spot on the hill overlooking the park. Taking my place on the bench I saw the dog running my way, up from the park. Soon, the dog was at my feet and the wet tennis ball rolled up to my left foot. More in exasperation than play I picked up the ball and threw it as far as I could down the hill into the park. Moments later the panting dog dropped the ball in front of me and looked deep into my eyes. Needing my time in the park to recover my lost health I came to accept the dog and even that slimy ball. The days went on into months as I returned daily to my spot overlooking the park. The dog never failed to show up.

As my illness wore on I grew to need my time at the park more and more. Even that scruffy dog, who seemed to have no real home, became a part of me routine. Eventually the dog became as important as the park to my well being. Between our sessions of throw and fetch I began to talk to the dog as if it were a friend. I had become very lonely and this dog filled an empty place in my heart. He really wasn’t much to look at and seemed to know a few simple tricks. At my request he would sit, shake hands, and roll over. That seemed to be the extent of his bag of tricks, but he could also fetch with what appeared to be glee. It also became painfully clear this dog was a stray.

After months going to the park and visiting with “my” dog I was aware of my growing attachment for him. I thought that with a visit to the vet he might make a fairly nice pet. Before really thinking it through I found the dog next to me in the front seat of my car on our way to the local veterinarian. Some checking over, a series of dog shots, a check to pay the vet and we headed to my home. The dog was well behaved in the yard and almost dainty inside the house. Soon it became obvious I had adopted a housedog.

The dog, whom I had lovingly named Dawg, was a comfort as I gradually regained my health. He was always there when I needed a friend or just another presence in my life. With the company of Dawg I would go for long walks as strength returned to my body. Dawg would always bring that same worn out, slimy ball that I would throw and he would bring back. As time went on Dawg and I stopped going to the hill at the edge of the park. I was getting busier as I my life was returning to normal. The walks with Dawg became rarer and he made himself at home in my house.

Once I came home after a rough day working and found Dawg sound asleep on my bed with his old ball lying at his side. I had never planned on having him in my bed, especially with that nasty tennis ball to which he seemed so attached. I scolded him and banished him to the yard. Going back in my bedroom I saw the ball still on the bed. I opened a window and tossed it into the yard. Almost at the same time I heard a scratching at the door. It was Dawg returning his ball in hopes I would throw it again. It seemed that all he wanted to do was sleep on my bed and play fetch with his slimy ball. I returned to my bedroom, brushed the dog hairs onto my carpet and got in bed for the night, working again was good, but tiring.

Sleeping in the yard didn’t set well with Dawg. He would bark till I would out to see what was going on, then drop his worn out slobbery ball at my feet. Getting tired of the nasty thing Dawg had carried around for who knows how long; I tossed it into the garbage can by the back door. In the morning on my way out to work I found a surprise. The garbage can was on its side, trash all over and Dawg running up to me dropping his ball at my feet. He wagged his tail and barked to urge me to throw it for him once more. After cleaning up the mess I picked up the slimy ball with a piece of paper from the trash and put \it back into the can. It was trash pick up day and I left the can by the curb for pickup and went on my way.

Returning from work just before dark I saw something by the curb. It was the trash barrel lying on its side and trash blowing down the street. While cleaning up the mess that the trashman had no time to do, I felt something hit my foot. It was a ragged wet tennis ball with Dawg beside it wagging his tail waiting to play. I was starting to get aggravated with this situation as I put Dawg and his nasty tennis ball back in the yard. By the time I had gotten in the house Dawg had rushed past me and jumped on my bed with his wet ball. As much as I tried I could not teach him to say off of my bed. It was on that night Dawg was permanently banished from the house.

My free time had become short and the walks with Dawg even less often. In time Dawg and I began to live separate lives, he in the yard and I in the house. In his boredom Dawg found new amusements, the favorite seemed to be digging holes in the yard. I’d fill them and Dawg would re-dig them. I tried everything to break him of this habit, but he just didn’t listen or understand what I wanted. The nighttime barking grew worse and the neighbors were giving me dirty looks when I got home from work everyday. Things were getting worse with that mutt. One day after filling another of his holes I saw he had gotten out through the gate I’d left partially opened. It took me an hour and a half to find him and drag him home by the collar. A week later there was a repeat of the situation. My next-door neighbor told me to control that damn dog of she would call the police. It was getting to be too much.

It was a pleasant Sunday morning that I called Dawg to the open door of the car. He jumped in, probably thinking we were going out to play like we had months before. As I was pulling out of the drive I had to kick his nasty ball back on to his side of the car. He should have known we weren’t going to play fetch in the car, but he was just a dumb dog. It was about a half hour drive to the park where I had once spent so much time. I hadn’t been there in months; after all I was in good health now and a busy person with my job and social life. Being back on my feet had brought me back in to my circle of friends.

There was no time for lazing in a park wasting my life away. Dawg and I pulled into the parking lot near the top of the hill where I had sat on the bench for months on end. Dawg knew right where he was as he sprang from the car, ball in mouth, and ran up to the bench to wait for me. As I started to sit down he barked and nudged that wet ball toward my feet.

I hated picking up that ball. It was wet, slimy, and the fuzz that once marked it as a tennis ball was long worn away. I picked it up anyway, one more time, and threw it as far as I could. It flew high and far landing in some bushes far down the hill. Dawg was off like a shot, he ran as fast as I’d ever seen him run. Far down the hill I lost sight of him. Dawg found the ball after a short search in the thorny brush and scrambled free of the branches. With a joyful whimper he charged up the hill as fast as he could. Running fast, he made it to the bench panting hard and dropped the ball.

I wonder about Dawg sometimes. I’m sure he is happy back in the park he knew so well. There are always lot of children to play fetch with a scruffy dog and his slobbery ball. There are lots of places to dig holes in the park. The weather doesn’t get too cold in this area; I’d never seen frost in the park when I was there on early mornings recuperating from that near forgotten illness. I am sure Dawg will be fine there in that park below the hill with the bench under the oak tree.

 

 

Long Ago In April - True story. Soon to be published.

 

While talking to a friend recently the discussion wandered to talk of our military experiences. We had both been in the military during the days of the Viet Nam War. Although I was in the Army in the 1960s I was spared overseas duty in Southeast Asia. When most people think of the military during those years the war in Viet Nam is most often remembered. There was another war that happened at the same time. This war happened in the United States, it began more than ten years earlier and continued to an indefinite and vague conclusion some years after the Viet Nam war ended. There are some who remain unsure that there was a conclusion at all. While the nation’s entire population was involved, there are many who are unaware that it happened at all. During the height of that conflict I was a participant in a crucial battle.

For the first year and a half of my enlistment in the U.S. Army there was little excitement. The conflict in Viet Nam was beginning to grow and we soldiers were preparing for our possible deployment to that far away place. I was trained as a truck driver and spent my time carrying whatever needed carrying to wherever it needed to go in that ubiquitous vehicle known as the Deuce and a Half. This vehicle has been the workhorse of the army since before World War Two and remains so to this day. It is a three-axle truck with a canvas covered bed and is used often as a troop transport. The day came when my training was called on in an unexpected way.

It was on April fourth of 1968 that things changed for me. On that Thursday afternoon my company was ordered bring our field gear to the motor pool. Wondering if it was simply another drill and worried we were being sent to Viet Nam we did as we were told and loaded our gear into the trucks. By the time this had been completed we knew where we were going.

Our first stop was the Headquarters of the Sixth Armored Cavalry to pick up armed infantrymen, the next was Washington D.C. Large portions of the city were aflame and there was rioting in the streets. This was the day Martin Luther King jr. was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee and large portions of the black population in several cities were outraged far beyond any kind of reason. Hundreds of years of repression and murder were replied to with fire and rage.


Night had fallen as our convoy rolled into the Northwest district of Washington D.C. Smoke and tear gas blotted out the stars while the sound of helicopters rattled the air. As we drove down Georgia Avenue we began dropping off our cargo of riot control troops. Bursts of gunfire rang out in the night as we drove into that first night of the riot. Through the lenses of my gas mask I looked out on the hellish scene. Entire blocks of building were in flames, tanks and armored personnel carriers chewed up the asphalt with steel treads, people were running in all directions with fire in their eyes and the ground sparkled with reflections from broken glass.

Near midnight of that first night the officer in command of the squad assigned to my vehicle ordered me to block a residential intersection with the truck as we were joined by another truck carrying more riot control troops. The officer, a young second lieutenant not much older than my eighteen years, ordered the other driver and I to take our M-14 rifles from the trucks along with two 20 round magazines, affix the bayonets and load the rifles. Pointing to a nearby five floor apartment building he ordered us, in a voice loud enough to be heard in the building, to “Shoot, to kill, any motherfucker who sets foot outside!” He then left us alone in the night. In that apartment building all I could see were eyes in the windows.

That other truck driver and myself were so much alike: young, scared, heavily armed, and standing in a darkened street under orders to kill. In spite of our apparently similar situation there was a difference between us. It was that difference that had our nation’s capitol in flames. This young black man, about my own age looked at me, a young white man standing a few feet away. It was then that my loaded rifle became heavy in my hands as he watched my eyes and asked, “You gonna kill anyone, man?”

I answered, “No, I won’t do that, how about you?”

He waited a moment and said, “No, not now.”

All the while, less than fifty feet away, eyes seemed to fill every window of that building: eyes full of fear, sorrow, and eyes full of hate. “Let’s go sit in my truck so we won’t be scaring these people with our rifles. I’ll give you a smoke.” I told him.

Taking the cigarette he thanked me and said, “Sorry, man, we can’t be seen together.”

I sat in my truck and he sat in his, all we could see of each other was the glow of the cigarettes though the windshields. Our lives were a world apart, it was impossible for me to understand the emotions he was feeling. The gulf between us was too far to cross. There was no killing on that street, at least not on that night. I wish I had learned his name. An hour later the lieutenant and his troops returned and we drove off to the next hot spot.

The Second Lieutenant commanding the squad in my truck was about twenty years old and a freshly graduated infantry officer out of West Point Military Academy. He was very excited by the action he and his squad were seeing. While relatively casual with me, his driver, he was strict and harsh with his troops. Constantly yelling and pushing the men he would sometimes open the dividing flap in the canvas cargo cover and drop a tear gas grenade to keep them alert. The men in the back of the truck quickly dropped the tailgate of the truck and kicked the gas-spewing grenades into the city street: it was like some cruel game to this group. The lieutenant was a mad dog leading a pack of mad dogs, so eager to fight and so ready to kill, even if it was Americans they were ready to kill. For several days we worked together, I driving the truck, he and his squad making war. One day he told me his greatest desire was to go to Viet Nam to fight a real enemy. I hoped his wish came true soon as I quickly came to despise the man.

My unit stayed for the duration of the military occupation of Washington D.C. Driving from one trouble spot to another I saw tanks roll down Pennsylvania Avenue and tear gas swirling though the air to waft around the great marble buildings and monuments. Terror was met with terror as the days of rage wore on. I saw people tear gassed, threatened, chased, beaten, and arrested. I helped do it. After a few days it was over.

In October of that year I was out of the army putting it all behind me and out of my mind the way some men do. But, I still think about that first night of the riot, I think about what happened, why it happened and to whom it happened. Most of all I think about that other young soldier and why we could not sit together in my truck so long ago. It seemed at the time that the whole country had gone insane. I didn’t hate or even fear the people we were fighting. We were told that we were there as policemen, although I knew then as I do now that was not the case. We were a military force operating under martial law in Washington D.C. to put down a civil rebellion. That was the only time I have taken up arms against other humans and they were my own people, they were Americans.

 

 

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