Man the fuck up. Give me back my dead girl. That’s all I’m asking. I sit here every day, staring out. Got a front porch. Got a metal chair. I don’t get drunk and I don’t stay sober. I aint keen on getting high. I just sit here, thinking backwards. It’s a long way home. I watched her coffin get carried through the church. They played the saxaphone the length of Tupelo, turned the corner and went down Burgundy. I didn’t want no folded flag. I didn’t want no military taps. I aint saying I was the best, but I weren’t the worst either. She was mine. Blood and eyelid. I used to give her baths. She sat down in the little bitty bit of water. I scrubbed her back. She said, Auntie. All childy about the soap in her eye. I put her hair in braids. She say, Quit tugging. She a mouthy little bitch sometimes. I say, Listen to me. She says, No. Thirteen, she’s out climbing trees. Fourteen, she’s running with the boys. Fifteen, she driving along Urquhart. When the hurricane came, she went out and stole a popcorn maker. A popcorn maker! Only thing left on the shelves. Never even used it, not once. Left it sitting on the kitchen counter. She say, Fuck this shit, I’m bored. Eighteen, she walked out the door. She sent letters back. Fort Hood. Kandahar. She manned the fuck up. That’s what she did. Cleaned her rifle. Shined her boots. Walked out under the starry shot-up night. A landmine, what it was. She flew out through the windshield. That shit bulletproofed supposedly. She out in the middle of nowhere. When she hit she skidded along the dust. She lying in a patch of ground like she been slapped from the sky. Just orphaned out there. Steering wheel beside her. Black and round in the dust. Bits and pieces of tire. Metal twisted. Sunning down hard yellow. She already lost her leg. Everyone else dead round her. Bits and pieces. She better off quick dead herself. She hear a truck coming. She’s hoping it’s a helicopter with a shot of morphine. Or maybe that shadow will be a stretcher. Maybe that moaning belongs to a guitar. But that aint no flower of dust. That aint no recognizable shoe. They stand there with their gun barrels pointing down. She stared up at them. She said, Shoot me. They took their turns instead. They manned up.
(Once on Royal I saw a flatbacker in a station wagon with a sign on the top that said $10, a line round the corner to Montegut, waiting, she was spread out wide in the back of the car, I guess they were manning the fuck up then too).
Floods is the word they use, but they should call it something else, like remembering maybe. The Seargent came knocking on my door. Up the steps past the watermark. Ma’am, he says. I already knew it, gut instinct. He sits there. Ma’am this, Ma’am that, Ma’am the other. He says, Ma’am you mind if we turn off the television? And I says, Don’t matter none to me. So I turn it off. We sit there. That’s what we do. He’s looking at her photo. She’s gone dolphin. Swimming in my eyes. Your niece did this. Your niece did that. I’m just staring at him. Listerning to him from the bottom of the sea. I drifted out to the kitchen. Slid my slippers along the dry floor. I put on the popcorn maker. Plugged it in. I hit the button. The corn goes pop pop pop. I wait. It blooms out all white and fluffy. He’s still talking at me, but I’m in the kitchen just listening to that pop pop popping. He says Ma’am, can you hear me? And I say, Yes, sir I can hear you. And I’m thinking, man or woman, it don’t matter, you get blown in the air, you aint gonna come down any fuller.
Bodega would like to thank Colum McCann and Narrative4 for letting us reprint this story. Please visit www.Narrative4.com to read the rest of the “How to Be a Man” stories and to learn more about the project.