Marine Corps Stories: Cover
A United States Marine Corps major grapples with anxiety.
Bells pealed as carolers, both civilian and Marines in uniform, attempted to bring cheer to the barracks. The grounds brimmed with occupants just before the holiday leave time commenced. Major Leland Mothe walked out without his cover on top of his head that breezy afternoon. Master Gunnery Sergeant Pete Hardaway stormed over to the major.
“Sir,” he saluted. “You need a cover on your grape!” Hardaway said.
The major returned the salute and felt the top of his Caesar style haircut and embarrassment enveloped him like something had fallen to the pit of his stomach.
“Why, you’re right, Master Guns. Thank you for keeping me together.” But he wasn’t altogether in his head. He had worries that distracted him.
Hardaway gave a stern look at the major and then continued on down the street. Mothe put the accessory atop his skull. His mind reeled. He had been feeling queasy about his family back in Wilmington, Delaware. It sent him racing in his thoughts wondering if his extended family would be safe on the streets. Reports that the gunplay in the city had escalated in the last few days. He had reached out to as many family members as he could. With every tap of the phone screen, he became even more anxious than before. He stopped in a diner on the base. He tried to collect his thoughts. Tried to, anyway. The piercing sound of metal shredding apart invaded his consciousness and of course the gunshot. Pow!
“Can I get you anything, Leland?” A sweet little blonde woman named Philipa who couldn’t have been more than twenty-years-old asked him.
Mothe snapped out of his daymare and answered her.
“Coffee. Two sugars. No cream, please. And a slice of almond cake.”
“Coming right up, sir.”
Mothe sweated a bit. It was not enough to stain his clothes, but enough to make his unease that much more uncomfortable. He sat like a monk; he remained perfectly still and just brooded for a moment about the recent uptick in the initiation of physical force in his hometown. He considered the faces of his nephews and nieces and wondered what he could do to prevent them from being outlined on the street our sidewalk some damned evening or night. Again. He heard the whistle of the wind and the shots bursting like huge, crackling fires. He attempted to not show any kind of anxiousness on his face. But that’s not what gave him away.
“Here you are,” Philipa said as she laid down the coffee and pastry. She took a look at Mothe again.
“Mr. Leland. You do know that you still have your cover on, right?”
Mothe, wrapped up in his thoughts, had neglected to take it off again.
“Pardon me, I–” he started. He removed the cover.
“It’s okay. Enjoy your meal and merry Christmas.”
“Yes, merry Christmas to you, too.”
Mothe made every effort to be the officer and gentleman that he had studied and trained to be. Only the portraits emblazoned on t-shirts and murals with candles and teddy bears continued to tug at his mind. He had lost two nephews to the streets already. He was not about to have even more bloodshed in his family. The saddest part of all of this matter was that the two young men had been placed in the poolee program. Just three days before both of them would have the opportunity to become Marines, bullets entered their bodies and made waste of them. Mothe twiddled the fork in his hand. He wanted to eat the almond goody but his brain stayed on Delaware. Though he was not in a combat zone, he felt alienated on a base in Asia. He forced himself to steady his hand to sip from the coffee that sat on the table. He felt the hot liquid, bitter and sweet all at the same time wash around his teeth. He took a bite of the cake and then more coffee. This stood for the comfort food that he needed to break the spell of anxiety that had descended upon his mind. Reese and Chris. Those nephews had fallen in a time and place that knew little to know honor. They had enlisted to protect this nation and maybe die for it. But it would be with a profound sense of honor. Instead, they fell in a hail of bullets without dignity, without any recognition besides the modest funeral rites. Mothe knew that they would have made fine Marines despite their pasts. The Corps had looked past all of their iniquities and gave them the opportunity to grow up from their circumstances like a posh high-rise in a dilapidated section of town. Mothe finished his tidy little lunch and ventured to the counter. He held his phone up to the register screen and paid. In his other hand, he held his cover. He smiled at Philipa and left the establishment.
Again, with no cover on his head, this time Colonel Tiki Samms spotted the officer leaving the diner.
“Goddamnit, Mothe! What the hell’s wrong with you? How are you supposed to keep these junior Marines in check when you’re out of uniform?!”
Mothe snapped out of his daze. “Pardon me, sir. I have no excuses.” He once again returned the head covering to his Caesar.
“Now, that’s better. Merry Christmas, Mothe–” Samms said an extended name that carried a few more vowels and had plagued Mothe ever since childhood.
At last, Mothe called his wife Helena.
“Hi, babe,” Mothe said.
“Is everything alright? You seem stirred up?”
“I’ve been thinking about you and the kids.”
“Everything’s fine on our side of the world. What about you?”
“It’s not too much to sit down and talk to someone about what’s bothering you.”
“I know,” he said it with honesty but a bit detached.
“I’m sure that you heard the news.”
“No deaths in the shootings for the past month.”
“Now that I think of it, I did see that story on my phone. I guess that’s what, ironically, has me down all of a sudden. It’s Chris and Reese.”
“I know, baby, but we will hold onto their memories as strongly as we can.”
“I love you, Helena.”
“I love you too, Le’. Merry Christmas.”
Mothe ended the call and returned to his office one last time to tidy up and prepare to venture back to Delaware.