The old cavalryman sat on a log, a little bit drunk, and gazed into the campfire. Alongside him, a young recruit could not keep still, jiggling around full of questions. “But how do you keep from being scared?”
“You don’t. You just do yer job. Can’t ya sit still?”
“Sorry.” He managed to be still for about thirty seconds. “How many men do you figure you’ve killed so far?”
The cavalryman wasn’t as old as he looked, but by now he much preferred the company of his horse to any people, and especially this young ‘un. It wasn’t his fault. He was just packed full of stories, had learned to use them to manage his fear. He walked off into the darkness towards his horse, who nickered softly and reached out his soft nose to be petted.
* * * * * *
The Indian boy, a little young to be in a war party, was in the makeshift war shelter. Actually, he’d come along to take care of the horses and gather firewood but he had a pretty good pile of sticks laid up. It wasn’t quite dark yet and the evening was warm, so they were mostly just roasting meat over embers. His uncle, an old warrior, began to softly sing his war song and the boy tried to remember it so he could sing along. He was pretty close. His uncle smiled at him. “Tomorrow the Spirits will be with us. I had a good dream last night!”
The boy tried not to think of what he’d dreamt. Not that it was so bad — he just didn’t really want to know. What if the dream showed he would die? When he’d fasted on the high mountain ridge until he had his vision, the animal that had come to him was an otter. A playful animal, not a warrior. It hadn’t been very long ago.
His cousins, who were older, were wrestling not far away, silently so they wouldn’t attract attention, but they couldn’t help moaning and groaning as they tested each other’s joints. He could hear them crack. He stared at them. Sometimes it was hard to believe he belonged in this family. His uncle lightly punched him on the shoulder. Then it was all right.
* * * * * * * * *
The women were in the kitchen, keeping their spirits up by keeping busy. They were making pie and the daughter had been assigned to peel apples. The granny tended to be a little angry at such times, which her daughter had always resisted, but when the youngster could not help musing, “Oh, I hope they’re safe and warm right now!” she snapped out, “Just do yer work and don’t think about it.” She was not taking the second part of her own advice. She was thinking about how little sugar she could use and still have an edible pie. They really ought to be doing something that didn’t use up resources.
Grannie was following the same line of thought. “We’d be better employed quilting.”
“Women’s work,” thought the girl, but didn’t say it. Trapped there in the old chair she fumed and balked. The paring knife slipped around in her hands.
“Look out! Look what you’ve done! Now there’s blood on the apples! What am I gonna do with you?”
The old woman took the pan of bloody apple slices to the sink and washed them, but the blood had soaked in to some pieces. “Gonna cook it anyway. No one’ll get sick. Just a little blood.”
* * * * * * * *
The little boy’s parents were very modern and progressive so they refused to buy him a toy gun. He and his sister went out into the unbuilt fields next to the housing development, and as soon as he found the right sort of stick, he lifted it to his shoulder, aimed it at his sister, and made that universal gun sound. “Kshhh.” She pretended she didn’t notice.
“I shot you. I shot you right in the stomach! You’d better fall down!”
“Ha!” she snorted as she plowed through the tall grass along the fence line.
“Your guts are falling out! You’re dead! No use pretending otherwise because I got you.”
She ignored him and went on along the fence, until suddenly a pheasant flew up. They both hit the ground. They lay there shaking for a few minutes. Then began to laugh. He said, “What if it had been a snake?”
Something rustled in the grass. They both jumped up and ran laughing. The truth was that they enjoyed the danger, they enjoyed their own pretensions at bravery and deadly force. She looked around for a second stick.
* * * * * * * * * *
The man stood in the window watching the kids playing in the tall grass along the fence line of the development. He would never have bought such a house — he would have bought a place as far back away from people as he could find. His wife had picked this out because she wanted to be close to people in case she needed help. It wasn’t her fault. With small children it was not smart to be where no ambulance could find you and it took a long time on bad roads to get to a doctor. The kids were napping now and it was the quietest time of the day.
Coming up behind him and slipping her arms around his waist, she lay her cheek on his back. He was shaking a little. She went around in front and saw that he was crying.
“What’s wrong?” She was alarmed. She was so afraid of post trauma violence. There were so many stories. But so far all that had happened was that he’d often slip out of bed in the night and he drank a little too much. He put his arm around her, pulled her hard against him, and they both watched those kids in the field running and laughing, waving sticks.
“Just thinking about the kids in Afghanistan,” he said and didn’t explain. “Think it’s too early for a beer?”
What could she say?