Slightly fictionalized autobiographical short story, with the U.S. invasion of Iraq in the early 1990s as background.
Life During Wartime
I got home after ten. The door was locked. I knocked and Mom answered, holding a bag of ice to a swollen lip.
“Sorry - I forgot my house keys.”
“We were up anyway. I was just getting Ricky some ice cream, you want some?”
“No,” I said, “we had ice cream in the cafeteria at intermission.”
Mom dished up a bowl of vanilla from the five gallon tub. Ricky sat at the table with his head in his hands. Mom set the bowl in front of him and tousled his hair.
“So the show was okay,” I said, “but not many people came. I think people think watching the war on TV is more important than watching some teenagers in tights. We almost didn’t have enough applause to bring Tinker Bell back to life. Do you think you guys will come see the play before it ends?” I dropped my backpack next to the kitchen table.
“How’s your eye doing honey?” Mom squeezed Ricky’s shoulder.
“Better, a little, I guess. It still hurts,” he mumbled.
“What happened?” I asked.
“A seventh grader poked him in the eye with a pencil."
"What? On purpose?"
"Yeah. The kid called him a camel jockey.”
"What the fuck? What an asshole. What was the bus driver doing? Jesus, like a six year old has anything to do with the war. And anyway Ricky’s not even fucking Arab, he’s Mexican. These redneck idiots don’t even know who they want to hate. Oh god. What did Dad say?”
My dad had dealt with this kind of shit, growing up in the only Mexican family in a small town. My dad the proud martial arts expert who told stories of breaking the arms of redneck assholes who had fucked with my uncle. My dad regularly came home from work stories about beating up another construction worker because of some disrespectful remark. My dad who split my cheek open with the back of his hand for cursing when I'd slipped and fallen while walking up the back steps. I could imagine my dad breaking some white hick kid's neck for something like this. I wished he would; two birds with one stone.
“We got into a fight before I told him. He went out.” Mom picked up the bag of ice again.
Ricky’s spoon scraped the bottom of his bowl. I scratched my head.
“Who was the kid who did it?” I asked.
“I know his brother.”
Ricky put his empty ice cream bowl in the sink and climbed into Mom’s lap, burrowing his face into her collar bone. She stroked his hair with one hand and pressed the ice pack to her lip with the other. I tried not to look at her.
I picked up by my backpack and went to my room. I sat down on my bed and turned on the radio. News coverage of the air strikes on Baghdad. I opened my earth-space science textbook. I had a report due on comets in a few day that I hadn’t started. I couldn’t concentrate.
I kicked off my shoes and lay on my back for a minute. I thought about Darren Greene and a scene in a Stephen King novel I had recently read. I imagined straightening paperclips and shoving them into Darren's eyes. I turned off the light. I dozed in and out of sleep still wearing my clothes, while a radio journalist in Baghdad described what tracer fire looked like. I woke up in the middle of the night to my parents shouting in the kitchen. I got undressed, turned up the radio, and laid back down. I stared at the moonlight on the ceiling a long time and listened to the radio hiss crackling static and anti-aircraft fire.