Chemo Demo by Patricia Abbott

That autumn our schedules synched, and we spent Tuesday mornings together at Karamanos Cancer Center in Detroit. Tuesdays came quickly and laughs were rare.

“Hey guys, I found a beauty blog online called Kara Manos. Kara calls her site the politics of pretty.” Jane’s laugh was hoarse. “We’re all about pretty, right?”

Jane’s was the real deal: the kind of cancer that got her waitlisted for clinical trials. Barbara was there for the quick hits administered after uterine.

Nancy never said what beast she fought. “Stages are for actors,” she said.

And let’s not talk about me.

Detroit’s cold by October and we were wearing absurdly colorful knit hats or scarves. Except for Jane, who didn’t give a fuck. A purple and green face was painted on her skull for Halloween. It read FIERCE BITCH in bold letters.

Maybe it was the poison running through our veins that made our conversations drip venom. We’d transitioned from complaints about Comcast, to critiquing the legislature, to spilling our guts about ex-husbands. Soon, we were listing reasons people should be shown the door. To varying degrees, we were ready to do it.

“So who would you do, Carol?” Nancy asked.

“Hypothetically, right?” In fact, I’d compiled lists of candidates to lull myself to sleep. “I guess I’d try to take out a Supreme Court Justice. Only way to get rid of them.”

“Yikes!” Barbara asked, adjusting her blanket. Barbara was always cold. Chemo did that to some people.

“Why did you have to go and get all noble, Carol?” Barbara said. “Supreme Court Justices? You should do that guy who practically raped you in college. Me, I’d do my ex.”

“You’re not helping things by killing your husband or someone from the past,” I said. “Think bigger.”

“I’d kill that guy whose church members parade around spewing hate and bombing planned parenthood,” Jane said.

“How do you even get at those people,” Nancy asked. “People like that have security.”

“It’s easy to track down people,” Barbara said. “There’s Facebook, websites, online telephone directories. Look how you found Kara Manos.”

“Who’s gonna make us all pretty, right?”

“It’d make all this easier if I could take down just one bastard.” Nancy said. Her eyes flitted to the knitting in her hands. “It’d sure beat making another hat.”

“How about someone who preys on kids?”

I can’t remember who said this. Maybe me. “No reason we have to make a big splash.”

“With Megan’s List, it’d be easy to find a deviant,” Jane said.

“There’s a creep living six blocks away,” I said.

“You sure about it?” Nancy asked. “Wouldn’t want to take out an innocent man. Or kill someone who had sex with his sixteen year old girlfriend at nineteen.”

“This one’s on parole. Not a nice story.”

“Likes girls, right,” Barbara asked.

I nodded.

We went out on Halloween night dressed like Disney princesses. When you put on costumes, wear a wig and make up your face, anyone can look ten. At first, we tittered at our audacity, nodding to our fellow trick or treaters.  But the jolliness faded.

“Look he’s not gonna try anything if the four of us knock,” Nancy said.

We looked at each other, uncertain we wanted her to go in alone.  The outline of the gun showed in her pocket. Princess dresses are made of thin fabric.

We stood behind a stand of trees and watched her move toward the door, stopping about three feet in front of it.

“What is it?” Barbara hissed.

Nancy motioned. In a second, we could see what stopped her. A sign with a smiling pumpkin X’d out hung from the door.

STOP! No candy handed out here,” the sign read. A Community Service of the Pruitt County Sheriff’s Office.

“Maybe this guy’s been punished enough,” Nancy said.

“Big deal,” Jane argued. “So one day a year he has to fess up.”

“Murderers don’t have to post a sign on their door,” I said. “Why does he?”

Nancy was already walking away. “He paid his dues. That sign’s gonna scare kids to death. I should rip that thing down.” Her hand moved to it and then stopped

“A lousy idea anyway,” Barbara said. “Who made us executioners?”
“Cancer did,” someone said. I wasn’t sure who. Maybe it was me.

The Architect of Dreams by Patti Abbott

I’m running and the only sounds I hear are my ragged breath and my feet hitting concrete—a painful slapping noise echoing down the—what is it this time—oh, an alley. Yes, it’s an alley. Buildings lean in making me feel trapped. It’s like an Eastern European painting, I saw once. Maybe it’s made of cardboard. Flimsy street lamps with dim bulbs throw a shadow despite the starless, moonless sky. It’s like a movie set I’ve seen on screen a million times. Or more oddly been part of a thousand times.

“Don’t you ever get bored with it?” a voice asks. “This senseless running—and from a woman with no aptitude for it. Look at the graceless way you hold your arms. You should invest in some decent running shoes. Bare feet on cement is foolish. And why are your hands splayed like that. Bend them.”

I have no idea who’s speaking or from where, but I look down at my feet. Bare, grimy, and full of cinders. The soles sting. I peer behind the ash cans, check out the dark windows above me, the rooftops. Nothing.

I’m running and the only sounds I hear are my ragged breath and my feet hitting concrete—a painful slapping noise echoing down the—what is it this time—oh, an alley. Yes, it’s an alley. Buildings lean in making me feel trapped. It’s like an Eastern European painting, I saw once. Maybe it’s made of cardboard. Flimsy street lamps with dim bulbs throw a shadow despite the starless, moonless sky. It’s like a movie set I’ve seen on screen a million times. Or more oddly been part of a thousand times.

“Don’t you ever get bored with it?” a voice asks. “This senseless running—and from a woman with no aptitude for it. Look at the graceless way you hold your arms. You should invest in some decent running shoes. Bare feet on cement is foolish. And why are your hands splayed like that. Bend them.”

I have no idea who’s speaking or from where, but I look down at my feet. Bare, grimy, and full of cinders. The soles sting. I peer behind the ash cans, check out the dark windows above me, the rooftops. Nothing.

“Well, of course, you can’t see me. I’m not part of your dream.” A wry laugh. “Do you realize how sparsely populated your dreams are? I’ve been monitoring dreams for years, and yours are the most boring I’ve come across. Do you know what your husband—yes there beside you—is up to? In his dream?”

Am I married? I thought I was a teenager. Actually I didn’t think about my age at all. And then it starts again—this need to run.

“For God’s sake, just stop running and I’ll fill you in.” His voice is shrill and slows me to a trot.

Can I do that? Yes. I stop running, put a hand on my kinking side.

“Now what?” I say when my breath’s returned.

Nothing. Whoever it was has gone away without even telling me what this husband of mine is dreaming in the bed beside me. Perhaps this person’s off to chastise someone else—this figment of my imagination. Surely that’s what it is.

I start running again. This time I’m in a tunnel. Rats scurry around me; a stream of brackish water runs down the middle and I try to plant my feet on the outside rim. I hear something in the distance, a whistle and the sound of metal wheels. It’s a train—a subway and as it bears down, whishing through me a second later. The cars are empty in this ghost train, and I feel relief when its intersection of my body is complete, when it hurries around the curve ahead.

“Neat trick,” the voice from earlier says. “But still, even the train was empty. Couldn’t you have dreamed up a passenger or two? How about an engineer, for Pete’s sake.”

“And how do I do that? Populate it.”

“What about a movie star? They make for great atmosphere. Gary Cooper’s always popular. How about him? He’d be perfect for chasing you down an alley.”

Gary Cooper? I’m not sure I know who that is. “How about Brad Pitt?”

“Now you’ve stumped me?”

Had I wandered into some back alley of time? Was this supposed to be the dream of a woman in 1945?

“Look, none of it matters. What’s important here is for you to come up with a cast. Or at least a male you can interact with. You’re about to arrive in Munich. Can you see the lights ahead?”

I look around me and see I have landed. I’m in an airplane now.

“Now, think quickly,” the man said. “Who do you want waiting for you at the gate?

“A movie star, right?”

“That’s probably best. They know how to play their part.”

“Michael Caine,” I suddenly spit out.

Suddenly I saw him waiting in the crowd. I’ve always had a crush—since Alfie, I think. At least it looks like Michael Caine. Or what Michael Caine would look like if he were a woman—a tall, blonde woman with eyeglasses carrying—what is it? A knife.? He’s dressed to kill, I think, as I disembark.

The Time Given You by Patti Abbott

For her first five years, the hours in Katie’s days held the correct number of minutes. So too, the days in the week, the months in the year.  And every day during that final normal autumn, Katie and her friend, Sonia, walked the seven blocks to kindergarten, napped side by side after story time, traced leaves on colored paper, ate half-sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper. They walked home together too, their shadows falling evenly on the sidewalk, their giggles at a similar pitch.

Then without warning, with no perceptible catastrophic event, life sped up for Katie. Her summer clothes were in her closet one day, her winter clothes the next.

“But, but, but,” she stammered, opening the door.

“But what, Katie? Summer’s here, Sleepyhead,” her mother said, smoothing the summer bedspread where winter’s quilt rested yesterday. Putting an extra blanket on her bed a few hours later, she said, “They’re predicting the first hard frost tonight. Brrr.”

“It all goes by so quickly,” her father said.

You have no idea, Katie thought.

 Katie grew too tall for her skirts, and in days her pearl-like teeth were replaced by larger ones. Her old friend, Sonia, found a new friend who still played with dolls, still walked hand-in-hand.

No one once noticed these frequent transformations. Her parents bought new skirts, put quarters under her pillow, and packed her dolls away.  She never knew what teacher would be standing in front of the blackboard, what model car would be parked in the driveway, what album would be playing on the turntable:  THE BEATLES, BLONDIE, U2

“You’re an expensive child, Katie” her father puzzled for a second when he wheeled in a blue bike a few weeks after the red one. But then his face cleared.

That bike’s too big for me, Katie started to say. But it wasn’t.

No one ever remembered the Katie of day ago. A questioning look or two, and they accepted what was right in front of them.

When a boy asked her out, she told him she was too young to date.

 He laughed. “That’s the first time I’ve heard that one.”

Things sped up even more. Years seemed to pass in the space of a day or two. The odd thing was that as far as she could tell, no one changed with her. She existed in a time zone of her own. And it was hard, very hard, to keep any idea of her actual age in her head when the leaps she took were so unpredictable. After a bit, it hardly seemed to matter.

She knew she’d never marry, never have children. How could she impose her inconsistency on someone else? 

Katie moved far from anyone who might question her progression, from anyone who should notice but didn’t. Because that was the hardest part. Why did no one notice? She took the odd job, made friends who quickly forgot her, lived a quiet life.

Walking along the lake one day, she heard the clicking sound of metal wheels, and looking up she saw a baby carriage careening down the hill, a woman in dark clothes fleeing the scene.

Had her cramped and unnatural existence all been for this one moment? Tentatively, and with some rancor, she put out a hand. She wanted to see what was inside. Whose life was so much more valuable than hers?

Floes the Ice by Patti Abbott

His wife was always right. No really, she was.

It was indisputable as she had warned for years that global warming would soon make the earth uninhabitable. And yes, something had to be done about the trafficking in rhino tusks, drugs, illegals, and children. The clubbing of seals—now that was a real disgrace. And using a cell phone in the car was a dangerous practice. Her list of causes was legendary.

Al respected the persistence with which she marched in parades, wrote letters to newspapers, signed petitions. Indefatigable—although he’d never said the world aloud—described her. She was an exemplary citizen. Really, she was.

And on a micro level, she always knew best in their personal life too.  Derek, for instance, was initially under-placed in his algebra class. Cheryl should be encouraged to play tuba in the school band even if her talent was negligible. The French teacher, once nudged, recommended Cecile for a summer camp in Bordeaux. A grade of C in Chemistry would hurt Jesse’s chances of getting into a top-notch college. Wasn’t there some way he could raise his grade?

Framed letters and certificates from various entities papered their walls. Plasticized copies of op-ed pieces she’d written—sincere but not scolding—hung there too.

There were a few exceptions to her perpetual state of grace however. Their yard was peppered with animal deterrents if not outright poison.

“Do you want to go to jail?” he asked, putting a powdery finger to his tongue.

“Private property is a God-given right. Sometimes the greater good trumps the lesser one.”

She sent the terrier’s owner an anonymous letter—a tactic soon embraced whole-heartedly. An unsigned letter reminded the Wilkinsons that loud music would not be tolerated; the Plummers got a note about their failure to put their recycling bin away; the Bianchinis got a whispery call about the state of their lawn.

“Let’s take a vacation,” Al suggested one day. “The kids are at camp—we owe it to ourselves.”

“Well, I don’t know,” she demurred.

“How about Alaska?” he said, waving a brochure. “Glacier Gliders specializes in those little ships you’ve always talked about. The ones that take you inside the nooks and crannies the big ships can’t manage. Listen to what is says: “our captain may follow a pod of whales, pull up so close to a glacier you could touch it, drift next to a waterfall or even anchor off a remote cove close enough for you to take the gangway ashore.”

“It does sound thrilling.”

Al and his wife found themselves on a Gliders ship a few weeks later. His wife spent most of her time fretting about the state of the glaciers, the hunting of wildlife, the devastation of the environment. But Al had expected that and bit his tongue as she lectured the glum passengers about these travesties.

‘Let’s go on deck after dark and see how the glaciers look with no lights to distract us,” he suggested their third night out. The night was particularly dark, and it took some persuasion to get her on deck. It was nearly three a.m. when they stood by the rail.

“Look how close we are, darling. See what I mean,” he said, pointing to an ice floe. “We’re practically on top of it.

‘It pains me to know that was once part of a huge glacier,” she said. “I bet it would break up completely with the weight of a human on it.”

As the ship drew closer, the sound of the engine shifting gears drowned out her next words. Al put a firm hand on her back and pushed hard. He’d hoped she’d land on the ice floe so she could test her theory of further breakage, but instead she sank like a boulder in the icy waters. The splash took the ice floe down in the manner she would have predicted though.

His wife was always right. Really, she was.

Burnt the Fire by Patti Abbott

“Coming out with us tonight, Pearl?” Sam asked, poking his head inside her trailer.

He caught a glimpse of her in the faint moonlight just before the gauzy curtains blew inward, obscuring her. The candle on the dressing table shivered, but she cupped it in time. Her hands looked unusually white, but then he realized she was wearing elbow length gloves.

How many months had it been since he’d seen her without specially ordered makeup, long-sleeved blouses, large veiled hats. He blamed himself for what happened. It was he who found Ray in Miami and brought them together. Ray wasn’t like her other partners; he had a hair-trigger temper and acted on it. But Pearl liked his volatility, insisting it complimented her more docile manner.

“I don’t have the heart for goin’ out to party tonight, Sammy. But tell the gang to have one on me.” She reached for her handbag, but he waved it away.

“Come for a little while. Raise the glass. Do you good to…”

“I couldn’t—not tonight.”

“Let me see that mitt,” he said, his voice shaking. “Let me see all of you for once. What he did to you.”

“What happened was just between Ray and me.”

“You shouldn’t be defending him.” Bile rose in his throat.

“We had a lot of good years. A few bad times can’t change that.” She looked around for signs of those good times, reminders of Ray, but someone—Sam, perhaps—had cleared all his things away. “You can’t fight what’s natural, can you?”

“Showing me might help. When did we ever keep the bad stuff from each other?”

“Maybe tomorrow—when I’m feeling better. I’ll get dolled up and we’ll walk the boards. Ride the Ferris wheel. After dark—when it’s magical.”

“You ain’t been out in the sunlight in years, Pearlie. No one’s seen you in a natural light since Frisco.”

She laughed, lighting her gas lamp. “Some say too much sun ain’t so good for a fair-skinned girl. All those bathing beauties letting their faces burn now it’s the style.” She shook her head. “I’ve never liked the sun. Where’s the romance in it?”

“You’ll always be beautiful to me.”

She reached out to pat his cheek, but the distance was too great. An imaginary line separated them—a line that kept her in the shadows.

They listened as their friends began to assemble outside her door. “You two comin?’” someone yelled.

“Go ahead with ‘em, Sam. I got things I need to do.”

“You’re putting salve on those wounds, right? Don’t want more scars.”

“I don’t really mind the scars. It’s part of the life.”

“What like war wounds?” Could they be any worse than his imagination had made them?

“No, like metals.”

Shaking his head, Sam stepped outside and closed the door behind him. It was only then that she raised the light on her lamp and slowly stripped down to her naked fifty-year old body, still as slim as on her eighteenth birthday. But there the resemblance ended in a frightening show of ruined flesh.

Ray, and the six males that came before him, had made a mess of her all right. The older scars resembled tattoos. Raised tattoos where flesh had been sewn back together inexpertly: sometimes by her own hand, sometimes by an amateur surgeon. Once, when there was no one else, by poor Sam, in fact. But never like this. She was raw meat this time.

Ray had gone crazy in Iowa City last week. It wasn’t really his fault. She’d slipped on the mud brought on by a week’s worth of rain and fell on top of him in the ring. In a rage, he almost ripped off her leg, lacerated her in a dozen places, pretty much tore her left eyelid off.

He’d been shot on the spot. A man in a straw hat stood up in the bleachers, let out a roar to rival Ray’s, and fired the gun. She’d hear the screech of that bullet from some faraway place where the pain had taken her. Their ten years together came to an end in an instant as Ray slumped to the muddy earth. The crowd cheered, then booed, and then a low keening began. It was her voice as she looked at her cat. The last tiger she’d ever have. The last cat that would share her trailer, the ring, her life. What was left to her? She really hadn’t minded the scars—but this slaughter she couldn’t live with.

The one possession of Ray’s she’d salvaged was his pearl-studded collar, which she put around her waist. Reaching out, she toppled the gas lamp and threw the candle into the now still curtains. In seconds, fire rushed across the small room.

She didn’t mind it when the fire began to nip at her. Ray had prepared her well.

Waiting Her Chance by Patti Abbott

My daughter had booked a cheap flight landing at City Airport rather than Detroit Metro and her departure from O’Hare had been delayed by snow. No E.T.A had appeared on the monitor for over an hour and my pacing was beginning to wear on the security force, a tired-looking man. In fact, the only high-tech item inside the ramshackle terminal was the TSA system. There were three vending machines— one for a now-defunct newspaper—and a TV monitor from the eighties. Two rows of empty plastic chairs connected back to back but mine was the only one occupied. No taxi stand, no porters, just an empty parking lot outside.

I picked up the day-old Free Press I’d managed to scrounge from the trashcan. A photo of Kwame Kilpatrick, now sporting an orange jumpsuit, occupied most of the front page. No snow in the forecast. The Lions were 2 and 11. An unknown assailant had murdered a woman waiting at a bus stop.

A plane landed—from Philadelphia according to the flashing monitor. As passengers deplaned, I felt the row of chairs lurch as someone sat down behind me.

“It’s me,” I heard her say.

One of those voices managing to be simultaneously loud and whispery. Was there anything more annoying than listening to someone speaking on a cell phone?

“She’ll be out cold on Ambien by now.” Pause. “Just go over and do it. Yes, now.” The woman’s voice grew a bit louder as another announcement about the delay at O’Hare came over the speakers. “Yank the cord. Look, we’ve been over this a million times.”

I felt rather than heard the woman put the phone away.

Two minutes passed. The ring tone was some song by Otis Reading.

“What?” the woman said. “Oh, for Christ’s sake. We agreed on tonight so I’d….” she lowered her voice and hissed, ‘so I’d be out of town. Two hours if the weather cooperates. Though maybe the weather’s not such a bad thing. Makes the timeline murkier.”

I stood and walked a few steps away, pretending to fiddle with the pop machine. I could still hear her. She’d given up any pretense of a whisper. I was one of those people who faded into the background, I guess.

“She can’t breath without that oxygen, you idiot. A few minutes tops.”

I could see the woman clearly now. Fortyish, wearing a jogging suit, greasy blonde hair. Throwing the phone into her purse, she walked into the restroom. People like her didn’t do things like this, did they? Plan murders, I mean.

Her hair was scraped back into a pony tail when she returned. I tried not to stare at her sweating face as she devoured a bag of Cheetos, a diet Faygo, red licorice. She spoke to the bored security guard at the entrance.

“Think the snow’ll let up.”

Was she setting up an alibi? She pointed to her watch, working on that timeline, giving him evidence should he be questioned later.

“Try a Little Tenderness,” that was it.

“She couldn’t be,” the woman hissed into the cell. “Did the paramedic tell you that?” Pause. “Then she must’ve done it herself.” …. “Maybe it was an accident.” …“ If she’d been dead yesterday, I’d have known before I left.” …. “No, no, of course, I didn’t check. Well, all’s well that ends well, right.”

She was pacing again, and I only heard the odd word or two when the woman drew closer in her circuit. “Don’t tell them anything. I’ll handle things….”

I strained to hear, sliding down the row seat by seat, getting closer. Then I stopped abruptly as the woman turned and thumped across the floor to retrieve her suitcase.

She looked me in the face—her eyes red, skin ashen. Straightening up, she put a hand on her hips saying, “Trying to pinch my bag, weren’t you?” Her eyes bore holes in mine. “I’ve been keeping an eye on you, you know. You’re not fooling me. I bet you’re here all the time waiting your chance. I’m on to you—even if that geezer by the door isn’t.”

She headed for the exit, her pony tail bouncing defiantly behind her.

The Things We Do for Love by Patti Abbott

You’ve been planning how to kill him all night. There’s not much else to do when you’re sitting on a straight-backed chair, your arms tied behind you, your legs cuffed, a gag in your mouth, tape over your eyes. He left you here without a backward glance. You listened to the door slam, the car start, noticing how there’s no hesitation in his escape—just the final sound of gravel crunching as he hits the road. It will be dark soon; you know this without a watch on your wrist or a sun to tell you because you feel it in your bones. You are utterly alone again. The only noise is twigs snapping as animals dart about outside. The sound of your own heart beating.

You make your usual moves in the first hour—bouncing, trying to topple the chair, rubbing your gagged mouth with your shoulder, squirming. Nothing works; the knots merely tighten. Years of practice have made him an expert. He has wedged you in a corner so the goddamned chair won’t fall over. Your shoulder starts to hurt long before you loosen the gag and squirming only wedges you in tighter. You are miles away from anyone. He didn’t even need the gag; he just got a kick out of using your pale blue cashmere scarf to muffle you, of tying it tighter than he needed to, of seeing it—a gift from your sister— ruined. You should never wear lipstick when a night with him is in the cards.

During hours two through five: you review the facts of your life. It hasn’t been exemplary, and the odds are that if you die now, you’re going straight to hell. Hell is probably too good for you. If some people go to hell for cheating on their husband or lying to their father, where does that leave you? You cheated on your husband with your father and didn’t bother to lie about it. No selfless acts, no contributions to the right causes, no good deeds to right the scale. Christ! You decide you’d better not die today

In the sixth or maybe seventh hour, it comes to you. How to kiss someone from your bound position? Did you think kiss? You mean kill, right? How to kill someone. You couldn’t possibly want to kiss a man like him. Tying you up isn’t an acceptable overture to love. Remember that. REMEMBER THAT. The doctor in Houston, and the one in Dallas, tried to tell you that. Told you that handcuffs, rope, bungee cords, silk scarves are not the accouterments of love. You deserve better even if you know you don’t

Unless people you love have been tying you up your whole life, putting you in corners, turning out the lights. Unless people you want to kiss are often trying to kill you. Reading the signals wrong—or reading them right. Is that how it works? You can get it right if you keep reviewing it. You can make sense of it. And what else do you have to do here? You try to recite bible verses, the names of your sister’s children, state capitals.

He comes back in the ninth hour. He unties your hands first, and you run them through his hair and touch his cheek. He uncuffs your feet, and stumbling once, you walk right into his arms. He pulls the tape and gag away and you put your mouth on his—seeking out his strangely cold tongue.  Impetuously, you bite his tongue off.  You are surprised. You never once thought of doing this over those long hours.

He’s crying now—sobbing even. But Christ, you waited nine hours this time. He’s miles away from anyone— just like you were— and after taking the pistol from his pocket,  you shut the door and leave.

The sound of the gravel is under your feet now as do what the doctor in Austin suggested and walk away.

What Did Bagdad Do To Us? by Patti Abbott

US Army Specialist, Ronnie Bixby, spent 2004 in Bagdad. She’d become a member of the US Army Marksmanship Unit before her rotation began, but never fired her weapon during her entire stint in Iraq. Guarding Halliburton Trucks never drew direct fire on her watch, and she was asleep in her bunk when one of the trucks was carpet bombed, killing two soldiers.

Ronnie was quartered with women during her rotation and developed a close relationship with several of them. Oh, there were a few men she liked too, but it wasn’t the same. None of her closer female friends were lesbians despite the ubiquitous catcalls. All of them had someone at home, someone waiting for them.

Her CO created camaraderie among the men by humiliating the women. But it wasn’t the sort of hazing that could be grievanced. The CO never laid a hand on a female soldier or encouraged a male soldier to do so. Never used the more vulgar euphemisms that women in some units complained about.

So the women in Ronnie’s company felt like pussies for minding his tactics. Most of them had experienced worse in high school—being the sort of women they were. It was trivial, wasn’t it— the sort of teasing that went on in their unit. It seemed too insignificant to get upset about.

A point of agreement among the female soldiers was that trips to the latrine at night were a risk. Few of the women drank liquids after three in the afternoon so late night urination became a remote concern. It was difficult in the summer heat, but necessary.

Unfortunately, it was diarrhea that sent Ronnie to the john one night. She considered asking another woman to come with her but rejected the idea since it was nearly dawn. Cramping badly, she barely made it to the latrine, and when she exited a few minutes later, someone grabbed her.

“Are you a bitch, a whore or a dyke?” the man asked when she struggled with him. He threw her down on the ground then and raped her. The noise from the idling Halliburton trucks masked any sound.

When he was finished, he wiped himself and left saying, “I’ve had better lays than you out back at Flo’s Escapades in Austin.”

It was dawn by now and Ronnie had gotten a good look at the soldier’s face; thin, hatchet-like, as pale as the moon disappearing from the morning sky. Now she considered the rest of him as he walked away: the height, the build, the physique, a peculiar way of walking. Later, she saw him on the base and managed to catch his name. PFC Loomis. Hal Loomis.

She didn’t report the assault, but filed the information away. None of the women who’d been raped got anywhere with their charges. Two women had died of dehydration in the heat the summer before and still been ignored. Reporting such incidents only brought shame on the tattletale. It interfered with camaraderie and the esprit de corps, one woman was told.

It was after her return to the U.S. that Ronnie fired a gun. It was then that it became necessary.

She didn’t re-up and back in the states, it took surprisingly little time to find Flo’s Escapades on the Internet. Ronnie rented a place iin South Austin, got herself a job cleaning the cages at an animal shelter. She was good at the work, good with the animals. Soon she was offered a better job. But it wasn’t about the work. It was about waiting for the return of PFC Loomis. She knew he’d be back. The directory was filled with probable relatives. She cruised their houses, saw yellow ribbons on a few trees.

It was a nearly a year before Loomis swaggered out of Flo’s,

“Loomis,” Ronnie called from her car. Loomis looked up. “Are you a corpse, a casualty or a just a plain dead man?” she asked him.

He looked at her as if she were crazy, which she was. She pulled the trigger on her gun and killed him with one shot, proving her inclusion in the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit was well-deserved.