Authors: Michael Pitre
Tags: #dpgroup.org, #Fluffer Nutter
For Fluffer Nutter
From: 1st Lt. P. E. Donovan, USMC
Via: Headquarters Marine Corps
I hereby resign my commission as an officer in the United States Marine Corps.
The Secretary of
the Navy, acting on behalf
the President, may accept an officer’s resignation subject to the needs of
the Marine Corps, the completion of
the officer’s obligation, and the character of the officer’s service.
I have fulfilled my obligation. I cannot imagine how the Marine Corps could still need or want me. And though the character of
my service is a matter of
debate, I ask that my resignation be accepted.
P. E. Donovan
I’m running through the desert. I know it by the sound of my breath.
Caustic air scours my lungs as I settle into a panting cadence opposite the rhythm of the rifle bouncing against my chest. My flak jacket doesn’t quite fit. The straps float an inch off my shoulders, bringing thirty pounds of armor plate down hard against my spine each time a bootheel strikes hard-packed dirt. The Kevlar around my neck traps sweat and grime that froths into an abrasive paste. I feel patches of skin behind my ears start to rub away.
The afternoon sun washes out my vision; other senses compensate. Desiccated shrubs strewn with garbage bags and empty plastic bottles crunch under my boots. Farther up my body, the gear clipped to my webbing clatters like a tinker’s cart. The tourniquet I always keep in easy reach of my left hand taps against my uniform blouse. Thirty-round magazines rattle in ammunition pouches around my waist. Thirty-round capacity, but never loaded with more than twenty-eight, I know. Save the spring. Prevent jams.
It all moves with me in a way so familiar, so exact, that for a moment I think this could only be real.
My eyes adjust and I see the convoy in front of me. Four Humvees and two seven-ton trucks. I understand suddenly, and with queasy certainty, why I’m running. I need to warn them about the pressure switch, hidden in a crack in the road. It’s a length of surgical tubing stitched through with copper wire. The driver won’t see it. They don’t have a chance.
The lead Humvee rolls over the crack. The front tire collapses the tubing. Wires touch. Voltage from a hidden battery reaches a length of detonation cord wrapped around artillery shells, buried with jugs of gasoline and soap chips.
I wave my arms, a heartbeat before the whole nasty serpent shrieks to life, and fill my lungs to cry out.
And then, like always, I wake up.
I kick the sheets from my small mattress and search across the dim corners of my studio apartment. Thin bands of morning sun seep through the window blinds. I’m still tired. I consider going back to sleep, but the nine empty beer bottles on the kitchenette counter promise me I’ll only twist and groan, searching for a position that might ease my headache without putting additional pressure on my bladder. Better to get up and face it.
It’s a trade-off, drinking to fall asleep. I used to come out ahead in the bargain, but lately I’ve hit a point of diminishing returns. Three or four won’t do the job anymore. Worse, I’ve taken to rich, hoppy craft brews that I supposed would make me feel better about the whole sad routine. No committed drunk would waste money on topflight beer, right? I’m a young gentleman. A distinguished veteran entitled to some relaxation during this brief, graduate-school interlude, after which I’ll emerge fully formed into the business world, armed with a new vocabulary by which to describe the more intense flavors of these nice, heavy ales. The hangovers are more intense, too. A price to pay for the sake of my self-respect, certainly. And with self-respect in mind, I decide to punish myself with a long run.
The air carries an unfamiliar chill. It’s the first morning of true winter in New Orleans. Dew clings to the cool grass of the St. Charles neutral ground. I weave to avoid the green streetcars. The damage bleeds away, and pushing into a fourth mile, I feel good.
These morning runs once formed the cornerstone of a meticulous program meant to burn away that small, but persistent, gut of mine. The mark of weakness that made me stand out against the phalanx of impossibly lean lieutenants back in Quantico. I’ve abandoned that dream, and running is more enjoyable for it, a way to center my thoughts for the day ahead.
I think through my course assignments. Finance. Accounting. Marketing. Papers coming due at the end of the semester. Readings for class discussion and outlines to review for exams. I should find the time to call my mother and father, back home in Birmingham. And my sister in Mobile.
Wait. Do I have a social commitment tonight? Someone coming into town?
Zahn. Damn it. I told Zahn I would meet him out.
Zahn found my e-mail address a few months back. I’m not sure how. I’ve kept myself off the Internet as best I can, but out of nowhere he started sending me notes about coming to New Orleans for something. A wedding, I think. Rambling notes untouched by punctuation, all lowercase. Only a few years younger than me and it’s like these kids speak a different language. I always thought they hated me, Zahn and the other corporals. I’m surprised he wants to see me.
I go home, shower, and spend the rest of my Saturday finishing term papers, idly thumbing through class notes while staring out my open window. The cold breeze feels good, and the idea of a beer resting on the windowsill grows to an urge.
I resist the temptation. A beer or two in the afternoon will only blunt the six I’ll want before bed.
I’ve finished studying by the late afternoon. I imagined that business school would offer more of a challenge. Now I wish it weren’t so easy. With more coursework, I might have a legitimate pretext for canceling on Zahn.
I spend a few hours crafting excuses. Evaluating the feasibility of various lies. But like an automaton, I pull into my boots at the appointed hour and dig through the pile of books next to my bed for something productive to read on the streetcar. My Advanced Finance text, heavy and intimidating, anchors a messy heap of notes and paperback case studies. Next to it, in a neatly organized stack, rests my ever-expanding sailboat research library.
Twenty Small Sailboats to Take You Anywhere
sits atop the pile, catching my attention first. A compendium of Albergs and Bristols, Pearsons and Catalinas, all readily available for salvage in the marinas of America. A legion of boatyard derelicts just waiting for rescue, left behind by the downturn, or in the case of New Orleans, the storm.
It wouldn’t take much work to bring a derelict back to life, or so I’ve read. Start with a fiberglass keel, punctured and scarred. Fill the divots with fairing compound and apply fresh topside paint above the waterline. Sand and oil the teak brightwork. Polish the brass. Mend the lines and refloat the hull. Stock provisions and hang new sails.
A resurrected sailboat can take you anywhere, and quietly.
I reach for Vigor’s book, though I know it almost by heart at this point. But before closing my grip on the glossy cover, I take a moment to consider the tattered paperback behind it. It’s a novel. Wedged, almost hidden, against the baseboard trim. I shake it loose from the stack and inspect its yellowing pages, the scarring left behind by its missing cover. Grains of sand slide out from between the pages.