Fourth of July

by Jose Fonseca

I can’t tell if it’s fireworks or mortar rounds. Loud thumps outside my window while the fan whirls over my bed. Sudden burst of bright light sizzling into nothing, landing on my tin roof in rat tat tattered bits. I attempt to sink into my mattress, surround myself with springs and sweat stained fabric. I only make a wet indention.

Sometimes there are sudden burst that bang bang bang out. I feel the rifle ghost slung on my shoulder, feel the butt tapping into my shoulder, see those brass shells wink out the ejection port.  I’m shooting into a building over a magazine-stand that is mangled, between running men in dirty track suits and children wearing jeans and dirty white t-shirts and women in black hijabs. Looking over us are two story buildings with pores skins that has been beaten bad by the glaring sun. I’m behind a humvee and not sure where the gunmen, or man, is in one of those buildings. I dare to glance from right to left and a sudden clink on the hood of the humvee makes me fall on my back.

Some kids outside are laughing under a shower of blue sparks falling falling falling. I can smell the hot dogs on grills, not the fumes of JP8 diesel, can hear my neighbors speaking English, not the Arabic morning prayer over a scratchy speaker, I can turn on my TV and not have it warn me about OPSEC. But then those Black Cats rat tat tat and I’m crawling alligator style, to Specialist Wright bleeding out. The medic is on the way –  maybe – but I’m there with Private Pendergrass who is wrapping his neck with the tan wrap from one of their first aid pouches. I can hear Wright wet breathing and smell his piss and sweat and taste the heavy iron of his blood. I stop here.

I get up out of bed, close the windows, the door, turn on the radio, raise the volume on the song Rooster, and I cry. I crumble to the floor, crawl under my bed. I feel the rug burn, hear someone call for a medevac, repeat to Wright, it’ll be alright, it’ll be alright, as his body goes limp looking up at a blue, blue, blue sky. There will be a funeral where I’ll be dressed in my greens looking at his black haired wife and brown haired boys sitting under a clear blue sky and see them staring at the casket and the flag draped over it.