Kristine Karen Simmons


It was a small cabin in the woods next to a lake. It was an early summer evening. The sun cast long gossamer shadows across the yard and the trees were dressed with newly sprung leaves that rustled gently in a breeze rift with lilac.

She sat peacefully mesmerized by the golden sparks of sun bouncing off the lake as a cardinal’s song, drifting across the water, echoed urgency for its absent mate’s return since the night was fast falling.

A cool breeze and sudden awareness shattered her reverie. “You alright in there?” she called out.

He faintly heard her voice as he stared at his face in the bathroom mirror. He realized he was sweating even though the dusky, evening breezes had pervaded the cabin with chill. His left hand was trembling as he switched on the bathroom light that sent an explosion off in his head. It was the same explosion, the same white-hot blinding flash, he had experienced at Tan Son Nhut Airbase so many years ago.

His memory sucked him back. He saw himself exiting the PX with a handful of mail that included a birthday letter from his Mother with a gift of $20. “$20 American” he thought to himself, “good for $100 G.I. script if I trade it at the black market tonight.” “Plenty of hooch and warm coke should make this a birthday celebration after all.”

As he leaned against some oil drums on the hot tarmac reading his Mother’s good wishes, he caught sight of a helicopter twirling out of control near the airfield. Black smoke was billowing out of the cockpit, and in an instant, the engine seized and the Sikorsky crashed downward in a burst of flame.

Later investigation never produced any conclusion as to why the engine malfunctioned. All he knew was his best buddy was on board, and even though he outran the other landing crew to the site of the pyre, the flames and heat wouldn’t allow him to evacuate his only friend.

So much for the celebration of one’s birth; one’s life; becoming nineteen. He felt totally alone in Vietnam and finished his tour of duty with only Mr. Jack Daniels as his off-duty companion.

Shadows were bouncing across the bathroom walls. He was back at the lake again.

He opened his fist and the pill he was about to swallow was flaking in the sweat of his palm. He licked at the powder and swallowed a few gulps of water from the running faucet, all the while praying that the numbing fear would subside before elevating to the point of blowing out his eyeballs. He choked back his despair and tried to fight off the ugly monster that was pulling at him, like undertow, sucking him under. He saw himself plunging into his personal Hell that held no God and no Heaven. He looked upward to the ceiling tiles that could be pushed aside; the ceiling tiles that stowed a forty-four.

Fighting back the feeling of ending his life, he remembered the clinical enforcement of the V.A. psychiatrist who tried to restore his sanity as he was being mustered out of the military. The Hawaiian born Lieutenant who had almost convinced him that his notions of death were dangerous and that he should cling to the opposite of his psyche, the more frightening reality that most of him was pure and good and gentle and kind.

Hearing her voice again, he griped the sides of the sink. He was trying to piece together what she was saying, but it wasn’t any good. His lunch was backing up in his throat.

“Hold on, hold on.” He kept repeating until his mantra took effect and the medication took hold.

Finally, the fear and anguish began to retreat. He rinsed the pill’s powdery residue from his palm. He took a deep breath and called out to her, “I’m fine; I’ll be out in a minute.”

As he returned outside and walked down to the lake, she wished she could describe what happened next. Not as she saw it, but as she felt it.

He walked silently past her until he reached lakeside. He stopped and turned his head toward the setting sun. His stance had a lithesome, muscular, pose that seemed almost sculptured. His Scottish red hair and beard glistened with streaks of silver. She followed him, walked up to his side, and leaned against him with embrace. She saw his face held traces of the memory horrific.

“Let’s go inside, Joe; it’s turning cold.” He looked at her and his amber eyes betrayed his waking nightmare. The weight of his melancholia made his body sag. She put her arm around his waist and gently turned him around.

As they walked back towards the cabin, a swarm of dancing Mayflies emerged from nowhere and circled about in movements of urgency. It was an unexpected, glittering foray and his face transformed as if a child had emerged, a little boy transfixed by a fireworks display. A faint smile appeared on his lips as testimony to the magical display of Nature. They stood together in silence. The evening forest grew quiet and smelled fresh with renewal of another season.

He kicked at the ground with the toe of his shoe, lifted his chin, and took her hand as they walked on. His palm was still sweaty.

As they reached the side door of the cabin she asked, “It was a bad one this time, right?”

“Not so bad”, he answered, “I’m still here.”