Wednesday, May 23, 2012

J.D.'s Story


The July sun had just risen as J. D. lengthened his body from the fetal position and began to rub his eyes.  There was the burning sensation in his lids that he was accustomed to feeling when he slept in the open air.  He had fallen asleep the night before on the grassy bank beside the railroad track that bisected the small Texas town.  The boards of the porch where J.D. took shelter extended over an embankment behind the building that housed the post office and the town’s only drug store..  It was not unusual for J.D. and, occasionally, some of the high school boys to sleep there, especially in spring and summer.

Almost immediately he tasted the bitter phlegm edging from his lower throat.  

He cleared his throat and wished for a drink of water—or better yet hot coffee.  It would be an hour before the café would open. Then he brushed the bits of straw and a few red ants from his trousers.  The trousers were of a synthetic fabric and had developed a variegated sheen over the years.

            Gazing before him, he waited a few moments before he stood up, taking care not to knock his head against the boards of the back porch.  After having gone to  Pin Oak Creek on a fishing excursion the day before, he decided not to walk to his parents’ house five miles south of town. J.D. never waded the muddy creek with the men who dragged  a net through the water.  But he enjoyed the camaraderie with the fishermen.  Some of them brought their shotguns with them in the event they wanted to shoot squirrels.  They might even skin a few of the squirrels if someone had brought a pot and cans of corn and tomatoes for a stew.  

At the fishing site the night before, he drank several cans of beer and ate a bowl of squirrel stew.  It was late, close to midnight,  when one of the men who drove him to town dropped him off near the depot.  His eyelids felt heavy, and he went directly to the space under the back porch of the drug store.  He, and occasionally others, had spent the night there before.
J. D. found his white straw hat and thrust it on his head. It was still too early for the owner of the service station where J. D. spent a great deal of his time to open his place of business.  

This was one of the mornings, common since his return from the war,  when he was awakened early by a nightmarish dream of combat.    He often dreamed he was a member of a battalion like the one in which he served . In the dream he would disembark from a landing craft  at a beach where Japanese soldiers waited with grenades and other weaponry.  The situation in the dream that particular morning resembled closely the experience he had when his battalion invaded the island of Guam  two years before.  In the dreams he is a detached observer who sees one of the men in the unit writhing in agony after he has taken a piece of shrapnel from a grenade.  Another wounded soldier moves his mouth, as if he might be calling for a medic, but there is no sound.   J. D. sees but not does not hear the Kamikazis as they dive toward the landing crafts near the shore.  Somehow, not hearing any sound made the sights even more horrible than they had been in actuality two years before.. 

When J. D..  slept at his parents’ home,  he called out in his startling dreams , often fitfully..  He knew this because sometimes he came awake suddenly.  His parents must have heard him, but neither of them mentioned the incidents.  Neither did his sister.

In these dreams J.D. would occasionally see the face of Billy Butler, his sixteen-year-old neighbor.  Billy was his sister’s classmate at the school.  Strangely, in the dream Billy’s face looked serene despite the chaos around him on the bomb-ravaged beach.  

Over the months since he returned from the war J. D. had often stopped by the Butlers’ house.  After the school day was over, Billy was usually at home.  He was a reader, often bringing a different novel or biography home each evening from the school library.  Billy was of slight build with a shock of brown hair, neatly trimmed.  He had hazel eyes with a hint of a Native American slant, a feature he had inherited from his mother’s side of the family..  

J. D. tried hard to suppress his attraction to Billy.  He could not control, however, the episodes that made up the sequence of dreams he often had.  Billy’s face appeared time and time again.

Once a few weeks before when J. D. borrowed a friend’s car.  Billy, Billy’s younger brother, and J. D.’s sister rode with him to a basketball game at the high school.  At the game Billy performed as the head cheer leader.   

That evening  J. D. stood with a group of other men near one of the two exits in the school’s gymnasium   He found himself gazing at Billy and the other cheerleaders,  all girls, rather than at the action on the court.

 During the intermission between the girls’ game and the boys’ game he saw Billy place his megaphone near the foot of the bleachers and walk toward the exit. 

Impulsively , J. D. decided to follow him.  In the parking area cars were parked pointed every direction.  The area was lighted only by the low-watt bulbs outside the two entrances to the gym.  J. D. noted that Billy went to the Chevy J. D. had borrowed, opened one of the back doors, and started to step inside.

            J. D. walked toward the car.  Coming within earshot of Billy, he asked, “Is there somethin’ wrong?”

            Apparently Billy was not aware anyone else had left the gymnasium.

            “Nothin’s wrong,” Billy said.  “I’m goin’ back in now,” he said.  He seemed anxious.

            J. D. lighted a cigarette as Billy walked back toward the gymnasium.  “I gave the two Butler boys a ride,” he thought.  “I wish I could drive Billy home without his brother.”

            When the game was over, J. D. drove both boys home.  He did not ask Billy why he had left the gym .

That particular morning when J. D. waited for the service station to open, he was relieved that he had not had the recurring dreams.  To see Billy’s f ace in the dreams only tormented him.  In the dreams Billy had never been killed, not even injured.  But in each of the dreams several  teenagers hardly old enough to shave were among those under fire from the enemy.  J. D. had seen the bodies of many hardly older than Billy damaged by mortars to the point the individuals could not have been identified except for their dog tags.

            Suddenly J. D. was jolted out of his indolence by the sound of the first school bus as its tires rolled across the gravel of the sloping road near where he stood.  After the bus passed, J. D. walked in the direction the bus had come from.  Soon he would be sitting on an up-ended Coca-Cola crate under the portico at the Texaco station.  A day like many others since he returned home from the South Pacific would begin.


 Robert G. Cowser teaches composition part-time and writes memoirs, fiction, and poetry.  Recently, the Chiron Review published a short memoir, Muscadine Lines published two of his short stories, and one of his poems, along with a commentary, was translated into Spanish for Trilce, a Chilean journal.