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All Around

by James Lanternman 4 months ago in Short Story
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An afternoon reminiscence on good trouble.

All Around
Photo by Krzysztof Hepner on Unsplash

They sat in the garden. It was a rare afternoon where the temperature made it pleasant to be outdoors.

‘Where did you go in the war?’

The answer came as a gesture — a hand rising and whirling around.

‘All around.’

It was enough of an answer. Specific place names contained moments, and moments contained complicated memories, striped with pain and glory.

One of them remarked on the weather, and he looked towards the sky. Clouds with darker grey and silver, obscuring the sun, but leaving enough light, and blue sky, to enjoy.

‘It's a big place. A big place.’ He said, looking at the sky as if he could see through it and sense the presence of his lifelong partner, recently departed.

‘And what made you join the army?’

The question was loaded. The answer was known to be to escape a household under the grip of an abusive father. He had sought refuge in the war at a young age, below the age of conscription.

Still, the question came from a place of genuine interest in learning some detail never given before. It seemed important to ask questions, in one of the few opportunities there could be to ask them. It was worth pressing.

He was no shrinking violet. There was nothing delicate about him. Remarkably, he had no signs of trauma that his family had ever picked up on. Nothing that needed to be carefully stepped around. He appeared to have healed all his old wounds.

‘Well… I saw what they were doing, with the machine guns on cars, “RAT-TAT-TAT-TAT!” And I said, “I’ll have some of that!”’

They all laughed.

He had become an expert, over the decades, in morphing experiences that contained trauma into simple, strong statements that could be made with a smile, or provoke laughter.

Nothing about the war came with a complaint. It was his war. It belonged to him and the peers he fought alongside. Their thing. They had formed and nurtured a deep pride in it.

The war had turned into, at some unrecorded moment, a fight waged by the people, not the governments in power. An army detached from the authorities that commanded them and unified by itself. A powerful, positive force of morale that was almost enough to carry the day in itself.

The war had dominated their lives. It was also something worthy of dominating a life. Most lives are overwhelmed by the trivial and mundane. Fuelled by pursuits of self-interest and desire. Going along to get along.

Things that make no dent in the universe, or inflection in the trajectory of civilisation, at all. Or, quite often, things that make a tiny negative impact that, along with millions of others following the same easy path, add up to significant problems to be dealt with by others later.

Chances to make a major positive inflection on history are supremely rare. Restricted to a select handful of generations. They are given, and cannot be forced. For other generations, the best we can do is try not to fuck things up, until the next generation that has a chance at inflecting humanity in a major positive direction — or avoiding its ruin — gets the nod of fate.

Which is just as well: not fucking things up turns out to be more than enough of a challenge. A fifty-fifty proposition. It demands focus, effort, and a rolling boil of change, inspired and sustained by a whole bunch of people.

Making a major negative inflection on history is a much easier thing, and the chances to do so are frequent.

***

A small green plastic soldier was always close to him. When he slept, it would stand guard on his bedside table. Nobody knew the story behind that plastic soldier, except him.

He would occasionally pick it up, gaze at it or into it, with the same look on his face — a look never on his face at any other time. And, give it one or two light rubs, like a lucky charm.

And what did they do when they won the war?

They grabbed a towel, and went to the beach. That moment has a photo to go along with it, recording his emotion in detail.

Short Story

About the author

James Lanternman

Cinema, short fiction, essays, and occasional nonsense (politics). Sign up at jameslanternman.online

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