The Sumerians had no knowledge of such things as Concertina wire or the now ubiquitous Soviet-Bloc manufactured RPG-7 and AK-47. Building in their own style, they erected the first bureaucratic human civilization that documented everything on little clay tablets. These tablets were then lost to the sands and then subsequently unearthed and sent to British academia to have their mysteries teased out by men who would sit pecking away at machines to produce information about the information.
My father could, at one point, read Sumerian. He would tell my brother and I about lots of sheep sold, recipes for making skunky beer, and the petty whining of lower clerks miffed about the accounting practices of some crank in a burg a day’s ride west of Ur. Both of us enjoyed these glimpses into the workings of an empire many thousands of years dead.
Staff Seargent Bean sits at the membrane keyboard in the battered tent, furtively typing in the traditional United States Marine Corps hunt and peck method. This is the manner in which all messages, official and unofficial, are composed. Time passes and verbs, grammar, machininations and prepositions are slowly massaged by antennae-like fingers jutting rigidly from his hands. He sits enclosed in a thin security cocoon of barbed wire and the promise of automatic weapons fire, of the real and credible threat of an overwhelming response.
Sitting on the remains of the village inhabited by some crank west of Ur and many thousands of years later, SSgt. Bean leans close over the keyboard, sniffles once in the dust and pushes his glasses farther back toward the bridge of his sweat-slicked nose. Finished, he scans over the text and sends the message through the ether.
I am sitting in the shop when the e-mail arrives. I know this because the computer dutifully makes the Ding-Dong noise. No matter the content of the message, the two part tone always sounds the same. Message traffic concerning yet another death? Ding-Dong. The wife with a shopping list for the Commissary? Ding-Dong. Safety report for the month? Ding-Dong. Flight schedule? Ding-Dong. Administrative inanity sent by the Division Officer concerning my inability to (for the nth time,) complete paperwork correctly? Ding-Dong.
My life is increasingly metered out moment by moment by a procession of these innocuous Ding-Dongs. I am not sure if this is a good thing. I do know that I do not like the Ding-Dong noise anymore.
This message tells me of my adopted family’s transit north, of the trip from Kuwait and the roadside bombs. None of my brothers and sisters were killed, thankfully. My adopted Dad has posted a long letter about the ride. I read it and for the first time in over a year, have an overwhelming urge to start smoking again.
Some months ago I was approached by someone that I work for. This someone asked me a question. The response that I gave was the only one appropriate for this question.
“When do we leave?”
“Don’t get excited, we don’t even know if you’re going to go.”
Three weeks later three of us set out on a trip from our homes to a new home where we were injected, inspected, examined, interviewed, tested and proclaimed fit for deployment. I would be the next in my family to see Ur. Or whatever remained of it by the time that I got there.
The key component here was an authorizing message from some dogs to some squids stating that we three were needed. I do not know how dogs and squids communicate between themselves, this falling into that nebulous category of “Paperwork” about which I know nothing.
We were supposed to leave together, this new family of mine. (Well, I suppose I ought to say that they really weren't a new family, we were just going to go play at their house for awhile. See, too many had their fill last time and ran away, now they don't have enough of us to play with the toys.) The orignal plan was that we were all supposed to get on a plane and go for a little vacation to see what life was like for the Kurds and the Sumerians. Only we would be going there tricked out to a degree that both of those groups could never hope to attain.
The new family left, and in doing so left us behind. We were to wait for the dogs to talk to the squids, and then we would leave. So we are told:
“In the meantime, just stand by to stand by.”
And what, pray tell, do I say to my wife about all this?
“Honey, in the meantime, just stand by to stand by.”
“What does this mean, this stand by?”
“Chotto matte, kudasai. Only longer.”
“How much longer?”
“I don’t know.”
It has been six weeks.
There are three giant fucking turds in my closet. If one of those floppy hat wearing, alligator-loving shit-wit types from the Discovery Channel were to come to my closet and carefully cut them open he would, in a sickeningly exuberant Australian accent, tell us all:
“Crikey! This is no ordinary fecal matter! Something of this size.”
Camera pulls back to give sense of scale to three giant fucking green turds in a smallish walk-in closet.
“Something of this size could only be produced by the United States Marine Corps! These are bonzer logs, mates! Let me get my machete and cut one open to find out what the United States Marine Corps has been eating!”
Camera zooms in on two and a half foot long surgical instrument, then pulls back to show giant fucking turds being dissected.
“Let’s see! A Kevlar helmet! Atropine auto-injectors! Oooh, an Entrenching Tool! Next generation body armor with neck protector! Krikey, NBC gear and a gas mask! Do you guys all know what NBC is?”
Camera pulls back to show host in concerned paternal shit-wit-going-to-feed-the-baby-to-a-croc mode.
“NBC is Nuclear, Biological, Chemical. That can only mean one thing, the United States Marine Corps is expecting weapons of mass destruction! Blimey!”
Cut to commercial for flea shampoo. The fleas do not have giant fucking green turds. They are animated and cute enough for your daughter to date if they were not the size of a pencil dot. The fleas die when they are supposed to, snuffed out by the latest miracle from Dow Petrochemical.
Initially, I tried to hide the turds from my wife. I stuffed them at the back of the closet and pronounced loudly and to no one in particular:
“Won’t need this shit anytime soon. It can stay right here.”
This lasted for about two days. The turds were too large and caused certain vertical storage systems utilized by my wife to organize her burgeoning collection of clothing to malfunction. In other words, the Banana Republic blouse that we just got on sale for a solidly reasonable thirty bones was now sitting on one of the turds and not the hanger.
This of course, was a problem. I then dispersed the turds throughout the closets of our apartment in an effort to diffuse their disruption of our carefully ordered domestic situation. This lasted for about two days. The turds were now in the way of the vacuum area, the washing machine facility, and the underwear storage complex. Two of the turds were then inserted into the back of our ecologically sensible Honda Civic Hybrid. This lasted for about two days. When Grocery Day rolled around it became apparent that, well:
“Mike-kun. The turds. They in the trunk.”
“I know, Rumi-chan.”
“But we go grocery shopping.”
“Hrm.” This is the Japanese noise that means I am thinking. Rumi-chan sits in silence while I ruminate on what to do with the turds. “I’ll take ‘em upstairs. Right now”
While lugging the turds up the stairs I realized how odd it was for someone who was ostensibly charged with fighting a War for Oil would drive a Hybrid Civic because it uses less gasoline. I tried to share this revelation with Rumi-chan, who for some reason, did not understand. I then made the most valiant attempts to explain this to her. This lasted for about two days.
Waiting for the message has become something of a preoccupation with the three of us who will have to leave when it arrives.
With each passing moment I am increasingly isolated from the living. They ask me questions about when I am supposed to leave, and even if we are leaving anytime soon. I do not know. The people that I work for do not know. There are no answers to these questions.
We will have between forty-eight and seventy-two hours to pack and be ready to go. Weapons holstered and still bleeding from the Smallpox vaccines we will receive at the last minute, my trio will board an airplane that will have likely ferried the dead home.
With each passing moment I watch Rumi-chan slip farther away from my grasp because I cannot tell her when I leave or where I will be going. I do not know.
We will ride this airplane across the River Styx and into the desert on the other side.
With each passing moment it further dawns on me that my reality has gone missing, and that I will not likely be able to ever find it again.
The damn sword is real. It comes in the form of three green turds that cannot be hidden.
E P I L O G U E
It took sixteen weeks before we were given a decision. The final answer to our question of yes or no came in the form of a single, thirty-second phone call from someone in charge.
"AT1 Cray? This is Petty Officer Bernabe. I have the the OIC here, for you."
"Hang on, here he is."
"They've, uh, made a decision."
"You guys are off the hook."
"Uh. Err, yes sir."
"No problem, enjoy your weekend."
t h e s w o r d s t i l l h a n g s a s t o d a y w e a r e t o l d t o b e r e a d y a g a i n
Rumi-chan, I love you and I'm so sorry. We'll go to Chicago when I come home, I promise. I'll always love you.