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Authors: Roy Scranton

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War Porn

BOOK: War Porn
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Copyright © 2016 by Roy Scranton

“Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction” from THE COLLECTED POEMS OF WALLACE STEVENS by Wallace Stevens, copyright © 1954 by Wallace Stevens and copyright renewed 1982 by Holly Stevens. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

“The Dragon” by Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayyati, translated by Farouk Abdel Wahab, Najat Rahman, and Carolina Hotchandani, from IRAQI POETRY TODAY © 2003 by Modern Poetry in Translation. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

“Panegyric for Abu l-Fadl Muhammed Ibn al-Amid” and “Panegyric to Kafur on joining his court” by Abu at-Tayyib Ahmad ibn al-Husayn al-Mutanabbi al-Kindi, translated by A.J. Arberry, from POEMS OF AL-MUTANABBI © 1967 by Cambridge University Press. Reprinted with the permission of Cambridge University Press. All rights reserved.

 

All rights reserved.

 

This book is a work of fiction. References to real people, events, establishments,

organizations, or locales are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity, and are used ficticiously. All other characters, and all incidents and dialogue, are drawn from the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real.

 

Published by

Soho Press, Inc.

853 Broadway

New York, NY 10003

 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

 

Scranton, Roy, 1976–

War porn / Roy Scranton.

ISBN 978-1-61695-715-5

eISBN 978-1-61695-716-2

1. Iraq War, 2003–2011—Psychological aspects—Fiction.
2. Combat—Psychological aspects—Fiction. I. Title

PS3619.C743 W37 2016 813'.6—dc23 2016011288

Interior design by Janine Agro, Soho Press, Inc.

Printed in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Dedicated to the interpreters

 

Soldier, there is a war between the mind

And sky, between thought and day and night.

—
Wallace Stevens

babylon

 

rage forth, bold hero & man of war, you have no

 

flood documenting her lament, no legal recourse in re: administrative decisions on the matter of

 

torture TV rage the

 

rockets red not singly but in global consensus: vanquished by my spear, the highest levels of the Department beginning a world with no tomorrow

 

such is the word of man. We lurch to a halt. “Humvees!” Abu says—electroshocks about a half mile off, down the end of a wide, empty

 

bombs bursting dawn countryvictorious unless

 

Draw your wound. Defend the gun.

 

The will to prevail. God's blessings upon you—the importance Arabs place on honor cherished and protected above all else, sometimes circumventing even the need for survival. Even the need. Even constructive criticism can threaten or damage an Arab's honor; it will be taken as a personal insult. The Arab must, above all, protect himself and his honor from critical onslaught. Therefore, when an American is confronted with criticism, you require a yes or no, such as

 

FIGHT EVIL

 

peace merciful, most compassionate, the government agreed: made of values to kill God in remote deserts

 

FULL STORY

 

Allah does not desire soldiers committed to patrol the day of calling out, sniper police under no savior for you from Allah devised a way to get them masters in Washington for the least of those who arrested them in the first place: suicide bombings killed hundreds, GWOT authors of the latest detainee to be released for fear that any and all the world sees America

themselves

the heart of the TV and

 

sizable Kurdish, Assyrian, Palestine. The Kurds farm in the north and these groups' inability to reconcile their differences prevent them from forming a unified front against the Arab population forced

blood

yet he believes in the possibility of goodness and the triumph of ideas, believes in the father of democracy and the leader of nations, like he believes in the natural pairing of compassion and discipline, love and

images become

 

electroshocks

 

which will, with the muj behind us and trigger happy

 

have come today therefore pointless to question the political shrapnel not only nails and patients believing that

assailants, victims of IED attacks can exsanguinate not
trusting the next level could even

those

have therefore learned during the first few months of the war, it took not knowing who or what is past in what feels like her lament, no recourse, how things are done: luckily, the Red Cross jumped right to some real-time global consensus—“That was not the sound of a world with no tomorrow.”

 

does there not pass over man a space of time

when his life is a blank?

strange hells

 

(columbus day, 2004)

 

Lifting the flowers, letting them drop. Asters and chrysanthemums, zinnias and goldenrod—extravagant for a barbecue maybe, but fuck it. A little reckless beauty my mark on rockface. Remember you're the one who got your shit together and you're the one who changes tires. You're the one who rode out here with him and now you're the one who's waiting. I was all-state soccer once, MVP. I can read stress lines in bones dug from mass graves. We know what comes next: we fly home, I teach and go back to school, I have his baby. That's the plan. But here I am killing time and going a little crazy. Why are we still here?

Dahlia fussed with the flowers, their separate stems, the whole bouquet. That friend Wendy was bringing—Aaron—had just come back, she'd said. What would it feel like, do something like that? Break a world in two and walk away?

Would it change you?

Had it?

She looked at Matt out through the window, sitting there in his lawn chair drinking beer, his face in the fading sun so kind, his wounded eyes, his belly. He doesn't see her, lost in thought like he is so often. And just who is this man of mine? Who's this guy desiccating in the scrub grass, who brought me to the desert like a Mormon wife, who's come this far for what, who's doing what, and what is he, this man, what kind of man?

The questions a cool black stone. She washed her hands, took the parsley from the colander to the counter and daubed it dry, then picked up her Wüsthof santoku and cut.

Kerosene's sweet tang, barbecue shimmering, watching the sun sinking slow behind the edge of the redrock. Matt checked his watch, wondering how long till he could justifiably open another beer, then heard the screen creak and
turned, watching her cross the yard: summer skirt brushing her legs, the lean muscles in her arms tense with the weight of the food, the firm curve of her breasts under her blue tank top. Here was beauty—a form compact and efficient, round at the edges yet taut, small and smooth and sleek. Then he looked in her face, her pale lips frowning slightly, the tiny wrinkling at the corners of her eyes, her clenched jaw.

The scherzo came to an end. Toom, toom, the march began and Dahlia squinted at the boombox: “What the heck you listening to?”

“Chopin,” Matt said.

“Oh Lord,” she said, putting the tray of steaks, salmon, and tofu on the picnic table, stepping to him and laying her palm on his chest. “You alright?”

“Yeah, I'm fine,” he said. “Just thinking.”

“Well, knock it off. We're supposed to be having a party.”

He shambled up and jabbed at the machine, cutting the piano into silence. “Here,” he said, handing her the wallet, “pick something.” As she flipped through the discs, he asked: “Who called earlier?”

“Wendy,” she said. “What about Jolie Holland?”

“What'd she want?”

“She wanted to know if she could bring a friend.
Catalpa
or the new one?”

“We don't have enough steaks.”

“He can have my steak. I'll have the salmon we just bought.”

Matt grunted. “So what is he, another one of Wendy's lost boys?”

“A friend of hers from college. Aaron. He just got home from Iraq.”

“No way. Was he in the shit?”

She put in a new CD. “Don't be all
. . . 
She said he's a little sensitive.”

“Maybe he's got pictures,” Matt said, snapping his fingers and pointing them, thumbs up, across his hips.

“That's what I'm talking about. Seriously. And if you're done moping, help me bring out food.”

He swallowed the last of his beer and the music started up with a jingle and Rachel yelled “Hey” from the gate all at once, causing Dahlia to spin and wave and bang her ear on the bottom of Matt's bottle with a plonk and “Yowch!” The bottle whacked back into Matt's teeth, sending him stumbling and gripping his mouth. Dahlia turned as Rachel came through crying “Oh” and a bright-eyed black Lab in a red kerchief bounded into the yard, followed by Mel in her leather jacket with Tupperware in both hands and Johnnie Walker dangling from her fingers. “You kids okay?” she asked, bumping the gate closed with her hip, taking in the scene: Dahlia holding the side of her head, Matt covering his mouth, Rachel sweeping toward them blinking, hair in her eyes, with Xena cavorting along, whirling and barking, thinking it's all some game.

Then Dahlia laughed and they all started talking at once, Matt petting Xena, Mel cramming the whiskey in the ice chest and pulling out two Fat Tires for her and Rache, who was already complimenting them on their music, she just
loved
this album, it had such a
real
sound, you know, like her voice was just uncanny, wasn't it great and did they know it was all just four-tracks?

Matt said, “Gotta check the grill,” and Mel followed, telling him all about their fridge crapping out. She explained to him the difference between the compressor, the compressor relay, and the overload, and how she hoped it would just turn out to be a bad circuit, but if they had an airflow problem around the condenser it'd mean tearing the whole goddamned thing apart and replacing it. Matt nodded and rubbed his sore lip. Condenser? Compressor? He asked about their plans for Halloween.

“We're gonna spend the weekend with some friends down in Flag,” Mel said, “one of them big pagan-hippie things for Samhain. Like a naked dancing bonfire kind of deal. Rache loves that shit.”

“You sacrifice a goat?”

“Naw, man, vegetarian. Sacrifice a huge block of tofu.”

“Gotcha. Seitan worship.”

“Audible groan. You guys got plans?”

“You know, what if we just stayed home and handed out candy this year? Somebody has to, right? I feel too old to dress up, anyway. They say twenty-seven's the new thirty-five.”

“Don't stop believin', bro. I think you'd make a great Bush. Hey Rache,” Mel shouted over to the picnic table, “wouldn't Matt make a great Bush?”

“A what?” Rachel peered back, confused.

“Bush. Wouldn't he make a great Bush?”

“You mean like a vagina?”

“No, like the president and shit.”

“He's very photogenic.”

Mel shot her a thumbs-up and turned back to Matt: “See? Photogenic.”

“So Bush, huh? Not Kerry? You switch teams?”

“Aw, man, fuck that shit. Don't even get me started. Fucking Democans and Republicrats. This is what democracy looks like, huh? At least Kerry feels bad about his war crimes. Me and Rache, we've been talking, man, and if Bush wins again, we're moving to Canada. I don't want to be hanging around when they start lining people up for the camps.”

“I'm already worried the school board wants to fire me,” Rachel said, coming over to the grill as Dahlia went inside.

“What?” Matt asked.

“It's the fucking Mormons,” Mel said. “Fucking homophobic, misogynist bigots.”

“There's concern about my
lifestyle
, but they can't fire me just for that. So I have to be careful.”

“I'm saying sue their Mormon asses for discrimination.”

“I just have to be careful. I can't say or do anything in class that could be construed as promoting, you know? So I can't even really talk about Mel. There've been some remarks and the administration's nervous.”

“I'm telling you, man, fucking Canada,” Mel said. “Or at least somewheres away from all these goddamned fundamentalists.”

Dahlia switched on lights room to room, switched them off as she left, checking to make sure everything was at least superficially neat, no condoms in the bathroom wastebasket, no dirty clothes on the floor. She stepped into the bedroom and went to the dresser, opened the small cherrywood box on top, took the weed and pipe, slipped them into the pocket of her skirt. She turned back and looked across the smooth waves of the comforter over their bed, gray in the gray light, thinking of waking tangled with him this morning, or yesterday morning, or any morning, the comfort of his body in the sun, his pleasant familiar funk, all the nights that had become mornings, could she really let that go?

Sure, he's good, and soft, and comfortable. We're all comfy where things are, another summer gone, the wars drag on, tomorrow Columbus Day and nothing changes. He still thinks that project's—what? The future? And so listless lately, like he's thinking
. . . 
Wendy? Hardly. He could but he won't. Anyone could do anything, but he's too
. . . 
or if he did, she'd
. . . 
Imagine: him reaching, drunk—he'd have to be drunk—her snide laugh, his wounded pride, and would I be hurt? By him doing it? Or by her turning him down?

You're terrible. Don't be terrible. He's a good guy. Not strong, but a good guy. Except for the fact you're drifting in a spin from today to tomorrow, and then what?

She'd have to turn the lights on soon. Something would happen. They'd be here soon and it was important to have a nice party. She put the flowers on a tray to take outside.

“I felt my ears burning,” Dahlia said. “Y'all must've been talking about me.”

“Naw, shit. We're talking about moving to Canada,” Mel said.

“That's funny. We've been talking about moving too,” said Dahlia.

“We've been thinking about it,” Matt said.

“There's no real work for me here.” Dahlia set the tray down and arranged the flowers and tabbouleh on the picnic table, then took the vegetables over to Matt. “Master's degree in anthropology and I'm pouring coffee at Redrock Bagels, sometimes a week running the river.”

“I'll get you more days on the river, babe,” Mel said.

“Thanks, sugar, but it's not that. I had plans.”

“We talked about maybe moving when I finish my project.”

“By then we'll be collecting social security,” Dahlia said, laughing. “Don't you think you should start grilling, Matt? Start a little something, anyway.”

Matt frowned, nodding, as the three women turned to each other and he turned to the grill, focusing on the vegetables and blocks of tofu. Had it really been two years out here? And four years them together? It was funny to think of, when magical 2000 had loomed so large for so long. And they didn't get any Jupiter space acid, no starbaby, but HAL had grown so vast and powerful we thought a time-stamp glitch could destroy civilization. He and Craig had laid in stores of bottled water, cans of beans, stacks and rows of toilet paper, then themed their New Year's bash Beyond the Millennium! with decorations put together from visions of futures past: fins, chrome, glass tubes, and colored plastic. That night was the third time he and Dahlia had sex. The end of the world came and went.

And what if every decision you made was a mistake? What if computers had been a mistake and college had been a mistake and cyclopiscope.com had been a mistake and now Utah, too? The path had seemed so provisional, yet at the same time somehow fixed—when his parents got divorced and his mom got him a piano, his dad a Commodore 64, what would you expect but that he'd sink into his surrogate parental devices? He wasn't a recluse. You couldn't say he was a recluse. He just spent a lot of time on his own, developing an app whose main purpose was, jargon aside, to predict the apocalypse. Yeah, totally fucking rational.

He lashed more marinade on the tofu. Had he started another beer? Started and finished. The sun was down now for real. The steaks, juicy red, sat waiting.

Somebody watching: a lean man at the gate with black hair cut close, face taut and flat, lips compressed in a line like a trick of the fading light. The man stared with eyes so fierce, Matt's heart hung dry a beat and he stepped back, fumbling his brush and dropping it. Say something.

Then Xena barked and Mel shouted “Wendy!” Matt scanned the ground, found his brush in the grass, bent to
grab it, and when he rose again Dahlia was moving across the yard to the gate where Wendy stood with her man in the
dusk, now smiling, composed of wholly other stuff. Matt noticed his black t-shirt printed in red—
enemy combatant
—and the way he held himself apart, like he wasn't sure how he'd be greeted.

Matt observed Dahlia smiling, skirt swinging, greeting the man, Wendy turning back and forth between them, Wendy with her dirty-blonde hair cut short in a feathery mop and high, tanned cheeks and fine-boned wrists and shoulders. She wore Matt's favorite dark green t-shirt that said:

 

CUBIC* cube

i think that square

is top of cool shape

in the world

 

Dahlia shook the man's hand and pointed over to Matt, who grinned stupidly and waved his grass-covered brush, remembering this must be Aaron, right, standing staring. The one who just came home.

“How you two want your steaks?” he forced himself to shout.

BOOK: War Porn
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