Marigolds and Lilies
by Zackary Dryer
A while back, in early fall, I was standing in the yard, covered in cow manure, baking in the Austin sun. Sarah came out with the phone, mouthed “Ryan,” and walked back inside, rolling her eyes and shutting the door. Old Army buddies are the natural enemies of ex-Army wives.
“Yellow,” I said.
He let out a string of expletives, which in Armyspeak can be a sign of great joy or anger, situationally dependent. I went on watering the freshly planted marigolds and lilies in the grey, stone-walled flowerbed, waiting for a sign.
“I finally got that mother fucker, Goose!”
“Got what?” I asked, dropping the hose and waving back to Mrs. Lienwieber next-door, coming out to check her mail.
“A fucking Purple Heart, asshole.” He was obviously very excited and a bit drunk.
“Your paperwork finally went through?” Ryan had taken a 7.62 to the Kevlar from a Turkish mercenary known lovingly as the Yafa Street Sniper, great shot. It scrambled Ryan’s head right well—he still blacks-out and vomits every now and then—but didn’t make it through the Kevlar, at the time he called himself lucky.
“Fuck no my paperwork didn’t go through.” I could hear him opening his beers, always two at a time, leaning against the counter in his wood paneled kitchen. “You know those bitches never cared for the Ry, Goose.” Now he was Maverick, shit on by the man.
Ryan’s concussion came early on in the first spring offensives, when the field-hospitalswere filled with heaps of parts and dying soldiers—they laughed his symptoms off. “Fuck those assholes, Goose. You gotta take what you want in this world, right.”
A silver Tahoe, filled with teenage girls rolled slowly past, looking for an address and singing loudly. “So what’d you do then, brine a senator?”
“Nope, just took it.”
“I think you mean from whom, don’t you. You know you really are a shitty writer, Goose.”
My first novel had come out earlier that year, more of a whimper than a flop. “Thank you, Ryan. Who did you take it from?”
“Some assclown down at the W.” Ryan never had time for complete acronyms.
“You stole someone’s Purple Heart?” I looked up to make sure no one heard and snuck around the Mustang, through the gate and behind the garage. Ryan laughed at my reaction, he coughed, spit in the sink, and opened another two beers.
“Yes, that’s why I am calling you, to tell you about it, if you’d shut the hell up.” He took three long gulps and laughed, “Hell, if you’d just remember this shit you’d probably be able to finally write something worth a damn.”
I pinned the phone down to my shoulder and fished a joint out of my breast pocket. Laughing, I waved the smoke off. “Sorry, sorry, go ahead, Mr. Alexie, weave your tale. You were down at the VFW—“
“Right, so I was at the W, right—just sitting there minding my own beer—when some baby-faced, chubby kid comes walking in holding it over his head like it was some fucking wrestling belt or some shit,” Ryan laughed, really laughed, like he use to when we were just boys running around the barracks and chasing parties, “The old timers took to him, you know, huffing the glory out of the air, jerking him off and buying him beers and shit.“
“Yeah, man. I swear you’d have thought this little pimple-faced fuck was Audie Murphyin a tank to these old fuckers man.”
“What’d you do?” I debated for a moment and then dropped the roach to the dirt and crushed it.
“What’d I do? What’d I do, you and Officer Dave, always straight to this, ‘what did I do,’ shit without even hearing me out.”
“Sorry, sorry, my bad. So what’d you do?”
“Nothing. I just sat there being a good sheep, minding my grass and listening to this fucker telling some whoppers, Man. Juicy bits.”
“So how’d you get his medal?”
“Listen, Goose. Damn.” He cleared his throat. “So this little fat ass is sitting over there on his stool, rocking back and forth they’re clapping him so hard right, all wide-eyed and shit with the whole South Pacific glowing in their eyes right, and this kid is filling them up good, man. SF sniper team, way up in the mountains, real black-ops type shit, beards and bad-asses stuff, standing up on the rails of his stool, tracking ghost as they ran down the bar mirror through the bottles of whiskey, going, ‘blam-blam-blam’ with his finger and shit, like a fucking cowboy shooting out from a rock picking of the Hajis like pissing on fish in a skillet.”
“D’you call him out?”
“Shit no, man, I figured, kid’s a turd, needs the attention and what not, so I just sat there chuckling every now and again when he was hitting the high notes—“
“Maybe you should be the writer,” I said, peeking over the fence and coming back into the front yard.
“Yeah but then you’d have to be a drunk bum.” He laughed again but not like before. “Sothe old guys finally get their rocks off and the kid comes meandering over all wobbly kneed and sits down right fucking next to me.”
“Yes, I swear. He wobbles up and just plops right down next to me. I swear to you, Goose, he was like a walking, breathing VA poster, all, ‘we gotta stick together,’ and, ‘he can spot a battle-buddy in pain’ shit, said he wanted to buy me a beer, said I looked like I could use one. How the fucks this asshole know what I need, Goose, you know?”
“I got you brother, loud and clear. So, did you take it?” I asked picking back up the hose and watering the flowers again even though the ground was soup.
“’Did I take it,’ listen to yourself, Goose. You really are a fucking civilian now aren’t you? Yes I took the fucking beer, I’m going to turn down a free drink like a fucking asshole, yes I took it.” He sighed. “Anyway so the kid starts to getting really hammered, right, piss-on-yourself type shit and he goes on this long as trip about how the SF guys took him up into the mountains and taught him, ‘the way of the sniper’ and shit, like they were some fucking camp counselors tussling his hair or something. He’s drinking down these fucking Heinekens like water and telling me about how they would make him get up at dawn and break down the rifles and put them back together blindfolded, how they made him learn the caliber of a gun by the sound of the ricochet and taught him taekwondo and shit and I’m sitting there ready to skull-fuck this kid, Goose. I mean it, I’m ready to just eat this fucking kid and I ask him, I ask him, “what kind of rig was it?”
“What he say?”
“Well first, I had to explain to him what the fuck I meant by rig, like rifle and shit, scope, bipod, tripod, all that kind of shit and he was like, ‘oh that, it was a sniper rifle,’—no wait, wait, it gets better—so I asked him, right. He’s bobbing and weaving about to go down for the count, all slurred up and leaned over to me, spinning the medal on the bar with his chubby little finger and I ask him, I say, ‘so, what color was the rifle then?’ and he looks up at me these droopy, dumb eyes and says—black.”
I laughed until the marigolds and lilies wavered through my tears like wet fire, orange and red and yellow.
“I’m dead fucking serious, Goose. He looked me right in the face and said, ‘black,’ like I was a dumbass for asking, like every fucking sniper rifle in the world is black just like in the fucking movies, fucking assclown.”
“What’d you do?”
“I took it.”
“The Purple Heart?”
“Yep. Slid it right out from under his little baby-soft hand.”
“What did he do?”
“Nothing, he was to shitfaced to notice. I picked it up, put on my coat, drove home and called you to tell you what a shitty writer you are.”
“What are you going to do with it?”
“Shit, I don’t know, man, burn it?”
“Burn it? Why?”
“I don’t need that fucking medal staring me in the face reminding me of that shit every day, Goose—fuck that. Hell man, I got the fucking headaches, right?”
We laughed a bit more and talked about old times, back in the war, before hanging up and going back to our new lives, me watering the flowers, him drowning his ghost. I had forgotten about the damned thing entirely until his ex-wife, Charlene, handed me a cardboard box, filled with the contents of the old kitchen junk drawer, while we were cleaning out his trailer.
Zackary T. Dryer spent over eleven years in the United States Army. He served in both the Iraqi and Afghani wars before being medically retired after his vehicle struck a road side bomb on his second deployment to Afghanistan. Zackary currently resides in Austin, Texas with his with his wife, Sarah, and their two children. He is a senior at the University of Texas and hopes to continue on to the James Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas to obtain his Masters of Fine Arts.