about the author

Matt Sailor received his MFA from Georgia State University, where he served as editor-in-chief of New South. His work has appeared in [PANK], NANO Fiction, and Paper Darts, among others. His Web site is mattsailor.com.


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Half the Battle

Matt Sailor



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They always escape. The missile streaming neon magenta fire, the rockets’ red glare. As the bombs burst, as the MiGs erupt into a blossom of orange symmetry, plumed arcs of smoke, something miraculous happens: out of nowhere, as if teleported from the very locus of fire, a parachute opens in the blue expanse of sky. There is a skull on the parachute, a grinning rictus underscoring the terrible truth: “If I survive this dive into the sea, if the Cobra Commander’s rescue boats deliver me safely to that mountain in the shape of a skull, if I am able to recuperate from the trauma, sip chamomile tea and warm myself beneath the armor of a thickly woven blanket, return to battle after an extended medical leave, the Cobra field psychiatrist stamping a large red OK onto the form in my manila file, then the burning hatred in my heart will glow with more heat than the flames that I will fire from the mouth of my GSK-2100 chrome flamethrower (each sold separately)—I will not show you the same mercy.”

And they know this. They must. Their battle cries seem cliché to us now. So simplistic, the “go Joes,” the “Truth and Justices,” the “American ways.” How futile their struggle seems. No matter the firepower, no matter the military strategy, no matter how many late nights and steaming cups, backs aching from hours spent bending over holographic maps of underwater fortresses and strongholds in the smoldering hearts of volcanoes and moon stations armed with soul-erasing lasers the size of Manhattan’s five boroughs (each sold separately). Must he not think, putting on a brave face, a nod of approval, running a hand over his tightly shorn follicles of perfect blonde hair (each sold separately): “I could launch a hydrogen bomb into the heart of Cobra headquarters, I could press the big red button on the face of this experimental pulsar ray, turn my key at the same moment as Sergeant Savage turns his (each sold separately), unleash a hell unfathomed by God himself in all his vengeful splendor, melt the very molecules in the walls, the doors, the skull-shaped carpets on the steel-plated floors, the guns in the armory, the apples in the Mess Hall, the trap doors under each chair in the War Room, the sharks in their tanks, the poison-tipped darts in their spring-loaded barrels hidden in the handles of every toothbrush (each sold separately), I could melt them all, separate it all into hydrogen and helium, to protons and electrons and quarks in a crucible of righteous fire hotter than the center of the sun, and still I would see parachutes popping open, survivors floating down to safety to prepare for the next battle, some sick parody of divine mercy—‘You’ll never get me, G.I. Joe!’”

And he won’t. He can’t. There are always more parachutes ready. Always a getaway car, an escape pod, a motorboat idling in the marina (each sold separately). Somewhere, there will always be someone, somebody, some faceless something ready to fight another day. “Because it’s war,” says the wise mother in her bathrobe across the kitchen table to the little boy, crew-cutted already at seven, ready for the fight, “and the thing that you need to know is, there is no way for anyone to win.”

Knowing is half the battle. The other half is this: Even I must admit. In the nature documentary, I always root for the gazelle.





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