Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 5 No. 3 | Fall 1983 (Seattle) /// Issue 5 of 24 /// Master# 53 of 73

Farther to the right across the road was a single-hole outhouse. It served the radio station personnel. There were only three of them now. With troop reductions there were no replacements when people went home, and Sergeant Carole had gone to Nha Trang to help at the detachment headquarters. He was wasted from alcohol, but he still had a great voice. Now only Fred, Pollock and Sergeant Brown were left. And they had no Vietnamese worker, so they had to burn the shit that accumulated there themselves. Brown had shown Pollock how to do it, and Leo had done it himself once. They had taken a crooked stick and pulled the cut barrel-bottom out from the back of the outhouse, then dragged it out as far into the dunes as they could. They filled it with thick, heavy oil from a five-gallon can Brown had packed out there with some effort. The barrel was a living, seething mass of turds and maggots, and they poured the oil on it and burnt it. The black smoke-stench of the burning oil and shit curled and plumed across the dunes and field for hours, all but hiding the tower. The road turned past the thick layers of sandbags and boards of the Ellsworth T. Bunker, hovering over the bay. The road continued down past the EM club, but Pollock left the road and climbed a grassy knoll past the dry and abandoned special services swimming pool. He walked down the other side to a small building that housed the filter and maintenance equipment for the pool and went inside. In the corner he got the sail and mast and other gear for the sailboat, then carried the stuff around the building and down the path to the bay. The clouds were building up slightly to the southeast, but there was a good wind and he thought it would be all right. He walked down onto the disrepaired boat dock, not cared for since the Army began to send troops out of country for R & R. Some rowboats were tied to it, half sunk and rotted, partly stuck in the mud now while the tide was out. The white sailboat hulls lay upside down across the dock, gleaming in the sun. Fred had discovered all this, the dock and the two sailboats, and showed it to Leo, and they had gone sailing together. Pollock hadn’t been out by himself before. Fred would have come along this time, but as station engineer he had to work while Sgt. Brown did his soul program from 3 o'clock until 5. Leo took the mast and other things down onto the beach near the water, then went back and got one of the hulls, the faster one. He had to fit the mast into the hull, then hoist the sail and tie it off to a cleat. The white canvas fluttered and even snapped in the vigor of the breeze. The boat was very pretty there on the sand. It was real, not the bunker, certainly not the rolls of concertinawire that curled along the shore. Then he dragged it all across the sand into the water. It lapped warm around his ankles. The boat floated free, bobbing gently. He towed it deeper into the water by the yardline until the water was up to his chest, then he pulled himself onto the hull. He pulled the yardarm around until the wind caught the sail, then pulled it taut against the wind and set out bounding across Cam Rahn Bay. The dunes looked like bleachers, and the swaying palms across the bay looked like spectators seated in a vast arena. Pollock imagined he was nowhere near the war zone, but was performing for the Emperor by special request. He was an American, and Americans were little known in these parts. So he was given a royal audience. Later he would discuss with the Emperor important affairs of state and would be asked his views on relations between the two countries. “Well, don’t be too taken in by our material success,” he would say. “We're very clever. Don’t be too seduced, but try to teach us your slower ways of wisdom, your respect for ancestors, and affection for the land. I’m not sure we’ll listen, but please try.” “I hear your words very well,” the Emperor would reply. “We appreciate the honesty of the Americans, and believe that they, too, have some widsom.” Then they would part, and Pollock would carry the message back to his leaders, on the little boat. Pollock leaned out over the sea, bracing his feet against the gunwale, speeding just for its own sake, the boat scudding across the sway. They dipped through a swell and scurled past the concertina wire, shooting the narrow gap like a man and his circus pony leaping through a blazing hoop. He pointed the boat down the bay toward the open ocean. Across from him, down the beach from the coconut palms, he could clearly see the buildings of the 281st Replacement Battalion where he had arrived months before. When Fred first showed Leo the boats, they sailed over to the dock at the battalion, and the few new recruits came and gawked at the trim sails and boats. Then he and Fred had gone ashore further up the edge of the bay, and had seen some fish like the ones they had seen in a book in the library.Fred had a degree in biology, and he found the pictures of the fish. “See,” said Fred, as they chased the small creatures across the mud flat of the beach, “They have developed their front fins into legs so they can crawl on the mud when the tide goes out. It goes out faster than they can swim, so they learned to live in the mud until it comes back.” “Like the Vietnamese waiting for this wave of Americans to pass,” Leo said. “You can see them there, pretending our way is better, or maybe they’re just curious about it.” Pollock was standing there, orating in the mud. “But soon they can go back into their own ways, ways we have no understanding of and perhaps are incapable of learning. Because if we did, we could no longer convince ourselves of our own superiority at everything, we would have to close up shop on saving the world and go home and be farmers, something we can do pretty well if we lay off the pesticides a little.” “You can see a lot in a fish,” Fred grinned. Fred was great. Leo liked him because as a college graduate he could have become an Army officer but didn’t. That was noble. And Fred was smart without being pretentious. Pollock had argued with Fred before when it turned out Fred was right, and Fred hadn’t even rubbed it in. Rather, Fred had acknowledged it with respect when Pollock admitted he was wrong. Suddenly a black motorboat appeared, speeding toward him. Pollock had no chance of evading it, so he held The dunes looked like bleachers, and the swaying palms across the bay looked like spectators seated in a vast arena. Pollock imagined he was nowhere near a war zone, but was performing for the Emperor by special request. firm to the lanyard. The patrol boat pulled up alongside him, rocking the sailboat in its wake. “ARVN” was printed on the side. Army of the Republic of Vietnam. At least it was friendly. A Vietnamese sailor saluted him. Pollock eased up. The motorboat came around, and the sailor hollered at him. Two other sailors in black fatigues watched, one at the wheel, one at the stern with a weapon. “Sorry, no boats allowed beyond this point,” he said. “Plenty enemy past here. Might shoot at you.” Pollock nodded. The Vietnamese sailors watched him as he came about, ducking under the sail and heading into the wind. The sky was darker now, as if the darkness of the ARVN motorboat and its reminder of the darkness of war had been somehow conveyed to the atmosphere itself. Pollock fought off an instant of terror. The clouds were closing quickly. A gust of wind tugged at the small sail. The bow bobbed under a wave and Pollock got splashed. The blinking red lights of the tower were barely visible and became more obscured as a light drizzle began to fall. Waves bumped and jarred the light boat; it shimmied like a horse shying from a snake in the road. Pollock’s tack took him far below the old dock. He had to wheel back out toward the center of the bay to take another shot at it. Once out there, he couldn’t even see the dock. He turned about giddily, the sail slapping against his skin, and pointed the bow just below the antenna, where he knew the invisible dock must be. Then he saw it, and above and below it stretched the rolling lengths of concertina wire. The opening to the dock looked impossibly small. The force of the storm was angling him into the wire. “Oh great,” he thought. “Slashed to pieces by my own country’s wire. I’ll probably die right here.” He sat up and drew back on the lanyard to adjust his course. He leapt across the boat to come around again but the sea pitched under him. The line slipped through his hands as the yardarm rode out over the waves. The rain- drenched sail tipped in and the boat shot out from under him. Pollock hung there in mid-air for a moment, then crashed into the foaming surf. When he surfaced, waves splashed over his head, and he sputtered and flayed his arms toward the drifting hull for support. The wind and tide carried it closer to the wire, but he grabbed it and hung there, gasping for breath. It was completely overturned. After a few moments he tried to turn it over, but it wouldn’t budge. He got his breath and dove under. The wire was getting closer. It was more peaceful down there than on the surface. He felt along the hull. He couldn’t see, but he could feel the aluminum mast wasn’t there. It had fallen out of the deck fitting on the hull. He surfaced for another breath of air and the rain bit into his face. He gasped a few more breaths, steeled himself, and dove again, this time deeper, below the turbulence, alongside the mast, then grabbing it, pulling himself hand over hand. He struck bottom. Of course; the bay couldn’t be that deep, the wire was sticking out of the water. He fished around for the end of the mast and found it stuck in the mud. His lungs were bursting. He yanked on it and it floated free. He bubbled to the surface gasping for breath. The wire was only a few feet away, and now lightning flashed down from the sky, illuminating dunes along the shore only 100 feet away. But in that 100 feet were three rolls of the wire. This is so sick, he thought, covering a beach with razor blade wire. He swam to the stern of the boat and with the mast free flipped it easily, then pulled the mast and sail across the deck. He put the bowline in his teeth and pulled the boat, swimming with it, just as it scraped the wire. Slowly the boat responded, holding its own against the tide, then inching away from the wire, then straightening out so Pollock could fjull it a foot or two with each stroke. He felt a resurgence of energy. He was going to make it. Fifty or 60 feet out into the bay he climbed back on board. He was able to lift the heavy sail and reset the mast, then he pulled on the yardarm line and the sail filled. Cautiously he sailed up above the dock, then came about, aiming well above the narrow mouth of the wire. Still the tide carried him farther than he planned. Closer it brought him, closer, then in, just missing the curling sharp lip of the wire. He took just enough wind to carry him past the end of the pier. At the second brace of wire he reined in and came about. The broken old rowboats bobbed in the tide, greeting him like toothless old retired comrades from another war. Pollock steered the bark the last few feet past them into the wharf. He was shaking and cold. He stepped carefully to the bow to fasten the bowline to a clear on the dock. Rain pelted his back. In the bay the edges of the concertina wire glistened in the flashes of lightning, jagged and serpentine, sharp and sword-shaped. Pollock got the sail and mast and other things and carried them to the boathouse, then walked back through the rain to the hootch. It was almost dark. He had hardly dried off and dressed when someone pounded on the door. He really wanted to be alone. It might have been the screen slapping against the outside. “Yeah,” he said. Sergeant Brown opened the door and stepped in. A strong gust caught the door and slapped it against the wall. Brown's green t-shirt was soaked and stuck to his skin, plastered against his round belly. He held a fatigue jacket over his head, but still rain glistened down the dark skin of his face. “Come on,” he said. His usually calm voice sounded hoarse. Most often he was a black buddha, slightly rotund, mysterious and inscrutable. Typically he was up to something. Like trading a load of lumber he got from somewhere or other for a whole box of ribs, traded by a black cook over at the replacement battalion who listened to Brown’s soul program. Brown cooked them all up on an improvised bar-b-cue behind the hootch for the four of them, Pollock, Fred, Brown and Sergeant Carole, before Carole left. Sgt. Carole didn’t ask where the ribs came from. Brown’s Vietnamese wife from the village had been there, too. Sgt. Carole didn’t ask where she came from, either. Even now Brown sounded fairly collected. “Hurry up. The wind blew the 24 Clinton St. Quarterly