Here's an excerpt from a short, "Just Smile"... it's a very solid piece that doesn't quiet get the traffic that it should.. enjoy!
This is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real people, living or dead or otherwise, is purely coincidental.
I woke up, my head spinning, my insides sprayed with a stream of doubt. I looked around the barren room and tried to grasp something tangible. The rays of sun that peered in calmed me down. The room itself was a heartless and austere, typical of a cheap European hotel room. The aroma of the previous guests' musk and old sheets made me feel like part of a timeless tradition of wayward travelers passing through. My backpack lay on the barren floor, its innards strewn across the room. For a moment I tried to believe that the room was the only thing that existed in my universe and I was thankful for that respite. Then cogitation ground my thoughts and hopes to pulp.
A dream. And a hangover, whose destabilizing effects provided the best excuse for a moment of lucidity. In the dream I hung out with a group of people from my life: from high school, college, and other places where I had felt it necessary to know people to avoid the gnawing of loneliness. Some were friends, some were people I barely remembered; others were ones I had tried to forget for slights only a teenager could imagine. Most milled in and out of the dream not talking to me, not acknowledging my presence. These friends and acquaintances with names but no faces, or faces but no names, stared right through me without any specific or malicious intent.
We were nowhere floating in a mist, then we were on a hill in a city, the ocean lay before us. The sky was swirling and streaking northern lights-esque in shades of purple and black, so close you could touch it. San Diego someone said. I had never been. Then it was a sunny day—the sun warm enough to touch—for which standing around and talking was created. The group moved away from me, it seemed as though my presence was bothering them. I mulled over following them, wondering why there was an air of rejection in their actions. But I didn't feel like being an obedient dog, wagging tail and tongue hanging out. I saw an Iraqi approach and begin to attack a girl in the group; a girl I had had a crush on during high school. Everyone's reaction was muted, as if nothing was happening. I lunged at him with a knife, thrown to me by a nameless character, and started to stab him, his throat his chest. He stood there staring at me with doe-like eyes. He took in my actions like a child at a fair for the first time. His body rocked back, absorbing my thrusts. I woke up a little after this happened, feeling pure revulsion at myself, the world.
The night prior my friend, Jim, and I met a group of American college kids in Nice, France. He was happy, enjoying himself, as was I. All appeared to be well.
“Is he crazy?” one of the girls asked me in a hushed voice. Jim was ahead of us joking with the college boy. The other two girls heard the question and pulled in close to hear the answer.
“Jim?” The man I had been with in Iraq was under fire and I realized then how close he and I were. “Of course not, he just has a lot of energy,“ my anger rose. I was furious that a bunch of college kids were looking at my battle buddy as if they were better than him. Kids who had no idea about what we'd been through. Kids who were getting drunk when 'crazy' people like Jim were putting their life on the line. All they could possibly be basing their conclusion was Jim's pro-Iraq war stance and eyes. I wasn't a child; I knew that there would be some differences between civilians and us. Yet I hadn't seen a single action from Jim during the night that could be construed as crazy. No, Jim had been acting like a gentleman and that wasn't good enough for these brats.
“I don't get why he's like that. Is he going to hurt us?” the girl asked.
“Naw. Don't worry,” I was building up a high degree of disgust for these kids. “You'll be fine. You just have to understand that he has come back from a war zone. It puts you on edge, you know.” Not that they would ever care to know.
“Still,” she replied, hesitating. I could see that she didn't care for the excuse. Such things could never matter to her.
“You'll be fine, trust me."
“Well if you say so,” she grabbed my arm and held on to me. “I believe you,” she made eye contact as she spoke, tilted her head ever so slightly and smiled. A universal signal from the fairer sex had been transmitted. I couldn't have cared less; I wanted no part of these people who weren't willing to give Jim a chance. The city had plenty of other fish.
“Yeah,” I trailed off thinking about the consequences of telling them off. I knew we couldn't ditch them because Jim wanted to hang out with them. They were the first set of Americans we had met on our European trip and to Jim, more so than I, it was important to gain their approval. He had never been out of the States for long, so their American accents were a godsend to him. And each time he smiled at, or helped them, I could see them flinch.
A week ago, at Jim's behest and my consternation, we stopped to help an old lady in her car broken-down car. This woman didn't speak a lick of English but when we drove her to her family she found translators and thanked us profusely. Jim acted like he always did: with the intensity of a man happy to have life. This small, old lady loved it and showered Jim with her affection.
The day after our dance with the American kids, I dropped Jim off at the train station. I wasn't exactly misty-eyed. That uncontrollable anger that had taken aim at the kids now latched on to Jim for reasons beyond my comprehension. We had almost come to blows moments before. There wasn't any reason, just anger. Rage. Destroy. Somehow we didn't fight. Maybe it started because we didn't get laid.
I drove around Nice wondering why this irrational anger would not fade away now that Jim and the kids were gone. I tried to wash it away with my will. As if to answer, as if to tell me it would never fade away, my anger rose at the traffic. Thoughts of shooting European cars out of my way flashed across my brain. I pulled over. This was getting out of hand.
That night I slept in a nameless hotel near the Promenade des Anglais. I went to my room to find a French maid still cleaning it. I smiled and chatted her up. Before she left I got her number. Then I went downstairs to ask questions of the clerk at the lobby. I bumped into some beet-red German tourists. An accident from a small room with too many people. The anger inside me exploded and I wondered if there would be a physical reaction. I left before my impulses got the better of me, my questions unanswered. In my room I felt the bones in my hand and once more tried to believe that the room was my only world.
For the first time in more than a year I would be sleeping alone. No more Jim, no more Army mates sniffling, rustling, coughing, telling jokes; jokes that had stewed in a testosterone-charged environment; an environment that was the consequence of every man's idea of a man. What do you tell a woman with two black eyes? Christ, do I wanna hear this? What. Do. You. The offender repeated with a raised voice, making certain I knew he was never going to give up. I faced the inevitable: I give up. What is it? Nothing, you dun told her twice. The room erupts into cacophonous laughter with facetious high fives handed out.
No, not this night, this night the solitude was unbearable; and I had been thinking I couldn't wait until I was alone. I opened the window to allow the street noise into the room, allow something besides the din of my thoughts. In rushed the cool night's Mediterranean breeze and the intermittent buzz as cars passed by. The taste of salt and cement ran over my tongue. Life was still carrying on in the city. I looked out the window and watched a few stray souls walking past the Promenade des Anglais and onto the pebble beach. Palm trees slowly swayed with the breeze. The sea was black, ready to swallow all hope. Yet it still gave me the feeling that all seas give: one of endless possibilities, of a world that beckons beyond the sight and lies only in the mind. I lay back down on my bed, closed my eyes and drifted to sleep.
When I stopped stabbing, the silence was unbearable; everyone was staring at me in horror.
“What the fuck are you doing?” the girl, who I thought I saved, asked. “Are you fucking mad?”
Everyone was shaking their heads. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” they all asked in unison.
“I... I... I thought he was going to kill her."
“Kill who?” They asked again. “The only murderer here is you, that guy you stabbed is a close friend of ours.”
I looked over at who I thought was the Iraqi, indeed he appeared to be harmless, he was still standing and staring at me with those soft eyes, wheezing through the holes in his chest and throat.
“Uhhh, I'm sorry about that man,” I offered my hand, the knife no longer there. “I really am.”
“It's okay,” he said as he shook my hand, all the while shaking his head. The air rushing through his chest and throat seemed to bother only me. Something else didn't feel right but I couldn't pick out exactly what it was. This unknown factor started to bother me more than anything else. Was it because the Iraqi looked happier than I was?
“You, of all people, should know,” the group said, again in unison.
They were right, I should have known. I had felt that he exhibited signs of being a terrorist, signs only someone like myself who had been through war would know, not these civilians. And I was wrong.
I backed away, with everyone still shaking their heads. The clouds had turned purple and black, with a hint of red. I could see in their eyes that their initial rejection of me had been confirmed. At first they rejected me for a reason as simple as I behaved differently and made them feel awkward. Now, I confirmed their base human instinct with an action that could never be forgiven.
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