Volume 22, Number 2

Explaining the Unexplainable

No matter how long I look through these binos nothin’ really changes, you know? See: there’s a woman hangin’ clothes on a rooftop; over here: men sittin’ in the shade; down the road there there’s a bunch a boys kickin’ around a flat ball, same as yesterday. These people been fightin’ so long that no matter how much killing goes on or how many years of peace they might one day have, none of it can really make a difference, you know? There’s nothin’ magic in any of this, except maybe the way everything stays the same. If that woman hangin’ up all those colors was able to pin out on that line all the days she’s soaked with tears for her dead sons, or if those men in the shade went home one mornin’ after prayers and told their wives about the sunrise, how the light comin’ over the horizon was thick enough to nearly knock them back to their knees, that’d be magic. What would somethin’ as small as a soccer ball that’d hold air mean to those kids, or the chance to go to school unafraid, the choice to believe they can leave this all behind?

It’s one of those dreams about your girl, so real that when you wake up you lie there confused at first, then sad or pissed off. You know what I’m talking about: one of those dreams that cause you to smell her hair on the wind all day long. I had one of those dreams just the other night in fact. We were alone. Everything was black and white. I was holding her like I would fall if I let go and she had one hand around me and the other hand out, like this, and in her palm was a butterfly, colorless as this gray dirt. She looked up at me and I reached out and she let the butterfly crawl into my hand. It was heavier than I thought it would be. She touched one of its wings and color started to run down the wing and into its body, rushing through me and into her, then out into the rest of the world. New-born colors that no one has ever seen. The kinds of colors that wake you up from a dream and remind you that you’re still in this drab war, that all you have until the next dream is that butterfly’s weight on your palm and the phantom smell of her perfume tucked into the folds of the wind.

It’s something you know ain’t true but can’t help holding onto anyway, like the rumors we used to pass along in the beginning of the war about when we was going home. We knew none of them was true but we sure hoped otherwise. Or like when you hear of somebody disappearing in a blast and you can’t help think that maybe somehow that sumbitch’s down along the Gulf in flip-flops and shorts halfway out in the surf watching the sun rise. There’s this scout in Bandit Troop lost one of his buddies that way: one minute he was there and the next … gone. They searched for three days, never found so much as a finger. Apparently a few weeks later the scout started hearing his old pal’s voice coming from down in one of the piss tubes where the whole camp would go three, four times a day to take a leak. And so when he recognized his buddy’s voice coming out of that three-inch pipe, he wouldn’t let anyone else near the place, said there was no way he was going to let anyone piss on his friend. MP’s finally had to get physical with him and he held so tightly to that one piss tube that he pulled it out of the ground as they dragged him off. It took four of those police to pull it out of his arms. They pulled the other pipes out of the ground and spread fresh dirt over the holes and made some poor private dig three more PVC pipes into the ground over closer to the chow hall.

—Brock Michael Jones