Five-n-Dime Christmas, a short story by dlluke. Date added: 2012-09-23. Times viewed: 284.
- Please SEND FEEDBACK - Writers love hearing from you. You can view the Authors profile here
- Intro: Friends of mine in the First Cavalry, Marcus, Spaghetti-O, Harry Lynk nicknamed "Missing," and I were excited that day. The mail had come from home. Two days before Christmas in 1968, we were no longer the FNGs in base camp taking half 55-gallon drums out from under latrines and burning shit with
Five-n-Dime Christmas, 1803 words
By D. L. Luke
Friends of mine in the First Cavalry, Marcus, Spaghetti-O, Harry Lynk nicknamed "Missing," and I were excited that day. The mail had come from home. Two days before Christmas in 1968, we were no longer the FNGs in base camp taking half 55-gallon drums out from under latrines and burning shit with diesel fuel. We were passed that point. I'd been the BS -- the bullet-stopper, the dipstick, the dago -- names the old-timers used to call us -- in Vietnam three months, twelve days.
My girlfriend Mindy sent me a package. At first, I didn't want to open it. All I could do was smile at the smiley face sticker next to my name. All I could do was touch the crisp neat corners, the scotch-taped ends with the nubs of my fingers. The thrill would be gone once I opened it.
Powdered eggs were served in mess hall. We sat around a table, smoking, sipping on piping hot coffee or Tang, waiting for everyone to get done eating so that we could open the mail.
It was the only thing we had to look forward to in the day. Otherwise it would've been like any other day in compound, cleaning our M-16's, next to impossible to keep clean, feeling sorry for ourselves, shooting the shit about who's a geek and who's a turd, writing letters to families and friends.
It was like being a kid again finding presents under the tree on Christmas morning. We opened our packages at once and spread out our things.
Joe Speglio, nicknamed Spaghetti-O, was nineteen years old, from Bensonhurst Brooklyn. "Look, the latest Hendrix tape," he said. "Picture my old man, this little Italian wearing a shop coat with sawdust on his shoes. He goes into a record store and asks the salesman where he can find 'that Hippie's Voodoo music.' Cracks me up just thinking about it."
"I got Fruit-of-the-Looms and homemade chocolate-chip cookies," Marcus said. "Mom must've heard about us going commando out in the jungle. I guess she wants to make sure I have a fresh clean pair, just in case."
"Yeah, in case your balls get blown off and they have something to put 'em into when they carry you out in a body bag," Missing asked. "What you get Mahone?"
"A Christmas tree," I replied. "My girlfriend sent it."
No taller than ten inches, five inches in diameter at the base, the Christmas tree was made out of plastic. The batteries were beneath the bottom of the base. When you flipped the switch, the little tree's lights went on. They were tinseled all different colors: reds, golds, blues, and army greens.
"Ain't that sweet," Missing said. "What you get her?"
"Nothing," I replied. "I didn't have time."
"Mahone's too busy with that redheaded chick," Marcus asked. "Where does little Miss Saigon Lucy get off thinking she can dye her hair red? It is dyed isn't it?"
I got up from the table, shoving Mindy's letter into the inside pocket of my field jacket. I pushed the chair back and picked up the tree from the base. "See ya," I said, tucking it underneath my armpit.
Barracks was dead. It wasn't even noon. Already it was jungle rot hot. At least, I'd get some peace and quiet. I took off my jacket and lied down on the cot. Opening the letter, I lit a cigarette, and started reading.
Freaky how it's that time of year again.
Doesn't feel like Christmas since you've
Mom wants me to go with her in the
city and shop. She wants to see B. Altman's
windows. I told her to go with a friend.
You know me, don't dig crowds.
Seriously though, I miss you. Can't
wait to see those baby blues of yours again.
Look at it this way, you should be grateful.
You don't have to eat those orange-sliced candies
Grandma hands out to all the grandkids. You know,
the kind of candied fruit that tastes like chewing on
Hope you like the gift. Write to me soon --
I read it over six times before I lit it with my Zippo and watched it burn.
The next day we were sent out. Our next mission was to make contact with the enemy in the Central Highlands.
South of the Iron Triangle, we endured another hellish walk in the yellow heat.
This was the remote part of the country we called "Indian Country."
You could see for miles around. Beyond the dry flat land there was nothing but scarred hillside and bare mountains. Bone dry sand sifted underneath my steel-plated rubber soles like sifting flour mom used to make pie crusts out of dough.
Pressing down into the small of my back was my rucksack. Even though the tree Mindy had sent me could not have weighed more than a few ounces that extra weight made a difference to the seventy-two pounds I was already humping.
Off in the horizon, the sun was setting a jaundiced color, the color of jackfruit. We picked a spot where we'd spend the night.
It was Christmas Eve. We had our foxholes dug. I wanted to light the Christmas tree; but I knew I couldn't do that. Hell, I couldn't even light a cigarette. If I lit one, boom I'd get my head blown off.
VC could see a burning cigarette a mile away. Even if I'd tried covering it by cupping my hands around it, taking a drag would make my face glow red.
We dug a foxhole extra deep. When we'd gone down deep enough I turned to Missing and said, "Put your poncho on top of the foxhole."
The foxhole was big enough for only one man at a time to fit. Since it was my tree, I went first.
I turned it on. The star had a mild brassy glow. Even though I was covered in salamander sludge and sweat, the energy coming from the string of lights reminded me of home.
For a moment, I found myself there with Mindy. My head pressed against the warmth of her breasts.
The sensation slipped away into the fog that crawls along the land like a starving dog scavenging for food. Through the fabric of the poncho, Spaghetti-O said, "What's he doing in there? Praying or taking a dump or something?"
I folded the poncho over and climbed out of the hole. "Quit squawking," I said. "Everybody'll get their turn."
From front to rear, from razor rash to gritty black face, a long line of men stretched across the entire length of the trenches. Atheist, Baptist, Buddhist, Catholic, Jewish didn't matter. They were all waiting their turn to see the Christmas tree.
As far away as I could get, I made my way to the back of the line. Those that had the time had already set up home. The place was littered with canteens of water, C rations, letters, mags, mosquito repellent, sunglasses, and decks of Bicycle playing cards. It had all been left for the taking. The mood I was in, I wanted to shuffle the cards around, scatter them into different decks, make a mess of things.
Something soft and pink, the color of flesh tones caught my eye. Underneath a letter was a photograph.
I picked up a snapshot of a foxy lady in a bikini posing for the birdie behind the camera. She stood on a beach. Her face wasn't much to look at; but she had a great body. What I wouldn't give to be with her for five minutes. That's all the time I would need.
Frizzy-haired Detroit knocked the picture out of my hands. "What do you think you're doing, gawking at my wife like that?" he asked.
"Sorry, man," I answered. "I didn't know she was your old lady. You'll make everyone crazy leaving a thing like this around."
Pointman, Chuck Reed, and his chipped tooth, the only injury he got for being on-point during his second go around in a twelve-month tour, had been the last one standing on line to see the Christmas tree. He overheard us talk. Turning around faster than a swamp snake's venom travels to a man's heart, he snatched the photo from Detroit.
"Come on," I said. "Give it back."
"You had your chance, Mahone. It's my turn," he replied. "She's a piece of ass, all right. I don't get why a woman like her would want to get hitched to Frazzle-head. It ain't fair."
Detroit wasn't any match to Reed. Still, he flipped out and started throwing punches like a girl. Chuck grinned chipped-tooth grin from ear to ear. If it was his intention to bait Detroit, it doesn't really matter because it worked. They were about to go at it with each other when the company commander broke through the crowd. "Okay boys," he said. "Cut the crap, before I write you both up."
Reed shoved Detroit into the hard wall of sandbags. He tore the snapshot in half and slung the halves at him. "You can have your wife back now," he said. "I'm done with her."
Hours later, things settled down. Somewhere, Detroit camped out in the lineup of men, waiting to see the Christmas tree.
The zone -- dense with a darkness that smothers the moon and the field of stars -- felt like being sealed inside a coffin. It reeked of formaldehyde. It reeked of stinking dead bodies bloated from the heat. My guilty conscience reeked.
When you're away from home, living in a world of hurt, a world of shit that makes your worst nightmares seem tame you got compensated for certain things. Some guys dug booze; for others, it was drugs. I couldn't get into any of that. I loved women.
They were so easy to get. They were always right there. Hell, they'd send them out in the middle of nowhere out in the jungle. They'd come in army jeeps with rolled up mats.
I thought I loved Mindy. I used to worry about who she dated. If she was still a virgin or not. Now, I didn't care.
Who knows why I couldn't get enough warmth from a woman, any woman. It didn't matter what she looked like or who she was -- so long as she wasn't VC. If she could give me affection and a little understanding, if she could make me forget where I was and the things I'd seen than I was happy, however brief it might've been.
The line of men waiting to see the Christmas tree had shrunk.
It took all night, but everyone in my company, including the company commander, went down into the foxhole and looked at the five-and-dime tree on Christmas Eve.
- Use for below to send feedback to author - View the Authors profile here
- The following form will send feedback to the author about this short story, please enter your e-mail if you wish a reply (which is obviously at the authors own discretion)