Posted By: Sterfrye36<Sterfrye36@yahoo.com>
Date: 7 November 2008, 7:39 am
HBOFF: You're Doing It Write
The letter sits on the blood red coffee table unopened. It doesn't need to be. They already know what it says.
She stands at the glass door, watching him in the back yard, mechanically tossing the racquetball against the wooden fence. Three points of contact: fence, brick path, glove. Whap, thunk, pop. They used it to practice grounders years ago, throwing at various heights and angles to simulate the unusual way that a baseball could leap off the bat at the ballpark. The drill had, over time, become a ritual. The two of them would stay out there for hours at a time, talking, laughing. Neither of them would have traded the experience for anything. They'd had the time of their lives.
Now the ritual had taken on a bittersweet air, repeated seemingly without emotion, totally unlike it had been before. Now the thwacks of the wood, thump of the bricks, and soft pops of ball hitting glove rang hollow, devoid of the youthful energy that used to make them lively. Yet still he repeated them, determined not to accept the truth.
She worries about him. Ever since the letter arrived, he'd withdrawn. He refused to go to work, eat, sleep, speak,. Even in spite of his silence, she knows what the only think he's thinking about is, his eyes serving as a window for his mind, one she can see clearly. He's thinking of what was theirs, but is no longer. She is, too, but she is better at hiding it.
The letter still sits there on the coffee table. They haven't told any of their friends, any of their family. To do so would be to admit defeat even though they know they can't best reality. Still, that hasn't stopped them from trying. For her, life had carried on as usual, the normalcy serving as her shield.
She'd forced herself to go through the motions for the past week; down to the store to buy milk—he'd always been a huge milk drinker—down to the booster club meetings to prepare for the upcoming season—he'd always loved football, too—down to the auto parts store where his best friend words to try to fix the taillight.
"How's Brandon doing?" the friend always asked.
"Last I heard he was doing fine," was always the answer.
Fortunately, that had always been enough to satisfy his friend who would grin, nod, and reply, "Good, glad to hear that. When's he coming back?"
"I don't know, he hasn't said when his tour of duty ends," she'd lie. Truthfully his tour of duty was supposed to have ended this week were it not for the letter. He would have come home today.
"Well, whenever you write him again, tell him I'm praying for him. God's watching over him, ma'am. He'll come home fine."
Gone to God.
They had always been faithful, attending the small congregation only a few blocks away since they married twenty years ago. Sunday mornings, nights, and Wednesday evenings they could be found in the same pew near the front of the chapel. When hymns were sung, they sang loudest; when prayers were offered, they prayed hardest. Still, they hadn't been answered.
She leaves the door and moves through the den, past the coffee table and the letter, towards the back of the house. Towards his room.
When he left, they'd kept the room exactly as it had been. They hadn't moved anything in two years. The ceiling fan hung immobile in the same position as it had the day that he'd left for basic. Clothes in the closet hung in the same arrangement, sheets on the bed lay still in the same ruffled pose. It felt as if the air hadn't so much as shifted; it still held his smell.
She remembers when he was only a few years old, how he'd run around the room, leap on the bed, duck behind his chest of drawers. He'd been competitive, arguing if he'd been tagged, about the spot referees gave on fourth down, whom had shot whom in paintball.
They pretended that it hadn't happened. The letter had arrived a full week ago, delivered by two Marines in dress uniform. They'd gave their condolences in a robotic manner more suited to ordering burgers at a fast food restaurant than conveying sorrow. Their conduct didn't surprise her, but their arrival did. He'd been promoted all the way up to lieutenant, high enough to rank a visit by those harbingers of bad news. Still, their appearance had been a surprise; even though the war was over, deaths had come often enough that house calls weren't made any more; too many had died in mop up actions to allow for that luxury. There's a message on their answering machine from the government, as well, that was left the same day that they received the letter. They haven't listened to it.
She'd brought it in and let it sit there, unopened. He'd seen it that night when he came in from his law office, an eleven hour day. Things had been difficult since his partner had been drafted and young lawyers straight out of law school were in increasingly short supply these days. He'd said nothing to her that night, but when he rose at five o'clock the next morning, she could hear him sobbing softly.
The door closes with a soft, distant slam; she hadn't heard it open. She hears his measured footsteps as they fall on the hardwood floor, much heavier than they sound. In a moment, he's beside her and puts his hand on her shoulder.
"Let's get this over with," she says in a flat voice. "It's not going to do us any good denying it any longer." She turns and looks at his deep, dark, tear-filled eyes. The pain is there. He nods and they turn and slowly move towards the den.
A huge sigh racks his body as they arrive in front of the coffee table and he clutches her hand tightly. She brushes the tears away from his eyes with her free hand and embraces him. He can hold it back no longer and finally loses it, his cries briefly echoing off the cream-colored walls and stone fireplace.
They stand there in each others' arms for several minutes, unwilling to end the illusion and irrational hope. Finally she breaks away from him and looks up at his tear-streaked face, seeking his permission. He lowers his eyes.
"Yes," he whispers.
She picks up the letter and reads the address on the front.
"Mister and Missis Louis Rogers, three-twenty-five Shaker Heights, Hamlin, Texas." She slowly opens the envelope and pulls it out. The stationery is stiff beneath her fingers. She unfolds it and recites it with as much strength in her voice as she can muster.
"Mister and Missus Rodgers, it is my painful duty to inform you that a report has been received by the UNSC War Office notifying the death of 678-445-132-BR Lieutenant Brandon Rodgers of the 6th Marine Regiment which occurred during combat on the Covenant occupied planet of Frustro on March 31st, 2553. The report is to the effect that he was killed in action.
"By order of the United Nations Space Command, I am to forward the enclosed message of sympathy from United Earth Government President Thorpe. I am at the same time to express the regret of the UNSC Marine Corp at the soldier's death in the service of humanity.
"I am to add that any information that may be received as to the soldier's burial will be communicated to you in due course. A separate leaflet dealing more fully with this subject is enclosed." She swallows as she reads the signature.
"I am Kenneth Helms, officer in charge of research."
She hands him the letter and he reads it without a word. The pain has dulled slightly, but he still doesn't want to admit the truth.
"I'm sorry, honey," she says.
But something is different. His breathing is lighter, more harried. It's not the kind of breathing that prefaces weeping, but one of anxious hope.
"He's not dead," he says. "He's not dead, he's not dead—"
"Louis, Brandon's gone."
"No. No, he's not," Louis says, his voice gaining enthusiasm with each denial. "Look here," he says as he sets the letter down on the blood red coffee table and points at a single word. "See right here?" he asks. She follows his finger; he's indicating their name.
"Honey, what are you saying?"
"The name's misspelled. We spell our last name without a dee. This has our name spelled wrong. They delivered the letter to the wrong family. They delivered the letter to the wrong family!" He is shouting now, his wild joy lending a piercing, bugle-like quality to his voice.
"Louis," she protests, "they spelled it right on the envelope."
"He's coming home! Brandon's coming home!"
"Look, honey, someone's bound to realize the mix-up. Brandon's gone—"
"No! No, he's not. What time is it? He was supposed to come in at five o'clock, wasn't he? What time is it, now?" he asks as he quickly checks his wristwatch. "Four fifty-eight! He's gonna be here any minute now!"
"Honey, I miss him just as much as you do but we have to face facts. Brandon's gone. Remember that there's a message from the government on the machine? I haven't checked it, but it has to be them telling us that it's a typo."
"Or it could be them telling us that they'd given us a letter meant for someone else," he counters. "As many as they send out these days, it's a possibility."
"But then why were our names spelled correctly on the envelope?"
"Maybe you're looking at it wrong, maybe our names are typos."
"It's all computerized, Louis. There's no way they could get our address right and our name wrong. Brandon's names spelled correctly, too."
"Computers mess stuff up all the time. Two weeks ago at the office a computer nearly deleted the last case I'd handled."
"Louis, look at me," she gently orders. "Brandon's gone. I haven't heard from him in over two weeks and the letter came last week. The timing's too good for any kind of screw-up like that. There's still that message on the answering machine. Louis, I want to believe as badly as you do, but this isn't doing ourselves any good. Brandon's gone, Louis; that's his serial number on the letter, I recognize it from the registration papers. There's no way around it. I wish he'd never gotten drafted, and that none of this had ever happened, but it has." Louis's shoulders drop in defeat.
I know, Anna. I'm just not ready to do that yet. I still can't
" She places her hand on his shoulder.
"I know, Louis. Me, too." Louis checks his wristwatch.
"Four o'clock on the dot," he groans. "If only—"
There's knocking at the front door. Louis and Anna freeze. Louis double-checks his wristwatch: it's still four o'clock. The parents trade glances. Again, there is jaunty knocking. Slowly, the turn and two move to the door.
"Brandon?" Louis whispers to Anna.
"It can't be, it has to be the Marines telling us that it was a typo."
"Or that they delivered it to the wrong house." They hesitate in front of the door. The knocking resumes, slower and more confused.
"Hello?" comes a voice from the other side. Louis straightens himself.
"If there's one thing Brandon hates, it's cowardice."
And with that, he reaches out, grasps the doorhandle, and throws the door wide open.