A short story in which soldiers navigate surreal realities—killing people then coming back to base to have birthday cake. Mackin, the author, deftly weaves the mythic dreams of the narrator into the mundane and sometimes murderous realities of a combat soldier.
Sentences Worth Studying
- “A fight broke out on the far side of the dining facility, over by the milk. A fridge door slapped shut, followed by the sounds of shoving and punches being thrown. Soldiers dodged out of the way before a few brave souls went in to break it up. There were noises of slipped holds and flail, of tables and chairs scraping across the concrete floor. Then Digger’s voice rang out—I’ll kill you!—and for a moment it seemed like this night, a Friday, was about to transcend all its false promises. / Every Friday was rib night at this D-FAC. Soldiers spent all day making the sauce, marinating the ribs, and stoking mesquite embers in split oil drums. They baked a cake the size of a garage door” (88).
- “Their faces were shiny with sweat, their eyes wild with heat exhaustion. Their laughter bounced off the tent’s taut skin, reverberated in its aluminum frame, and rattled the turnbuckles, S-hooks, and galvanized wire that held the whole thing together” (90).
- “My dream went like this: We walked uphill into a village at night. A woman ran downhill, into our ranks, and searched the troop for me. I was the one wearing all the antennas. I was the one who’d talked to the plane that shot up her house. I could see smoke rising from her house on the hill. Inside, in a corner of a room, a dead grandfather held his dead grandson. It was the daughter/mother who found me. It was she who insisted that I come inside her house to see what I’d done” (91).
- “Some called the pills, ‘time machines’; others called them ‘TKOs.’” They were tiny blue ovals coated in shine. Standard-issue was 10-pills per man, and no more, because they were addictive” (92).
- “Frost hung in the air. Stars tangled in the bare branches of the tallest oaks” (92).
- “Swells rose on the surface of the moonlit ocean. Silver clouds whispered by. I removed the plastic bag from my shirt pocket and took out a sleeping pill. It appeared gray in the moonlight. I swallowed it, then stayed at the window, waiting for it to take effect. / Honeycombs, checkerboards, and cobwebs spun before my eyes. The moon set, the sun rose. Clouds vaporized, and the sea turned red. I saw the city of Atlantis, the Colossus of Rhodes, and the pyramids of Giza, all covered in the gold of sunrise. I saw the Tower of Babel, its top spiraling toward the heavens. I knew these things were real, because I could press my hand against the jump door and feel the cold sky pressing back” (93).
- “The steel walls of my shipping container turned to glass in my dream. I found myself alone on the barren steppe where Sharana once stood. The sun rolled backwards across the sky. Night fell, frost formed on the glass, and it began to snow. A glacier descended from the mountains to bury me in ice for an eon before the thaw delivered a millennium of floods and driving rain. Then, one day, the clouds broke and the sun shined down on a forest of petrified mulberries. That night, the harvest moon crashed into the Earth, smashing it to smithereens. I drifted in my glass box through space and time toward a tiny, oval-shaped star that shined blue in the distance” (94).
- “Maybe Digger had thought that, as a killer, he was entitled to whichever box he wanted. After all, he hadn’t spent his day making barbeque sauce, or stoking fires, or baking a fucking cake. He hadn’t blown up balloons or hung streamers. Someone must’ve cut in front of Digger and taken his box of milk” (96).