KGB by Mike Palecek


                      "He sat there in the green clover and soft grass," Mark took a deep
                      drag and blew smoke through the bars into the dayroom.

                      All around him the lush corn fields glistened in the luxuriant evening
                      sunlight. A van load of Boy Scouts hurried past into town for ice cream.
                      He sat there, by the side of the road, next to his yellow van. The vehicle
                      was parked at a forty-five-degree angle, facing north. The driver had made
                      the decision to land here in a hurry.

                      The driver's-side door hung wide open. Something from ZZ Top -
                      "sharp-dressed man" was blaring from inside and off into the finely
                      trimmed Lutheran graveyard to the west.

                      Across the highway the steeple of the East Hill Church extended proudly
                      to the sky; the parking lot on the south side began to fill with wedding guests.
                      He sat there, in a green T-shirt, with his pants pulled up above his knees.
                      He sat there, as large people do, like he'd been able to make it to this point
                      with great effort, but he'd have to have a good reason to move if the time came.

                      In his right hand was a dirty old cloth, which he was dipping into a white
                      Cool Whip container, the water having come from the church's faucet at his side.
                      And with the cloth he washed his legs; the left one cut off just below the
                      knee and the right one sickly reddened, bloated, full of sores.

                      Tossed between him and the van was the government-issue prosthesis.

                      "C'mere,", he motioned. "You can turn that off. Give me that sock in
                      there so I can wipe these off."

                      There was no sock. I reached in and turned the music down.

                      "This is from Agent Orange. I'm dying," he declared. His face turned red
                      behind his brown beard. When he bowed his head to hide his face, a patchy
                      scalp showed through his shoulder-length mane.

                      Seeing the orange water spigot, he had quickly jerked the van over to the side.

                      "My legs were burning up!"

                      Across the highway, the crowd at the wedding began filing out, congratulating
                      the couple on their new lives. A handily dressed woman in a crimson hat and heels
                      strode past the van on her way to make a visit to the cemetery. On her way back
                      she saw the man with one leg in Pleiku, his large white dog sipping from the container.

                      "I killed women and children," he cried loudly.

                      "I killed a four-year-old boy. What do you think of me, sir?"

                      His slightly slurred "sirrr" and the whiskey scent in the breeze suggested he'd been
                      drinking. He told me of an M-16 stored somewhere, and about how in the Army he
                      had learned to take his pointer, ring and middle fingers to rip out an enemy's throat.

                      "That's what they taught me," he testified, as the wedding guests milled in the parking lot.
                      I eye-balled how far he might be able to reach up from where he sat, and shifted my
                      weight to gain a few precious inches of distance, trying not to be obvious.

                      "I'm scaring you, ain't I!"

                      Uh, yeah, I said faintly.

                      "You owe me!" the large man bellowed. "They owe me!" pointing at the people in the
                      church parking lot now beginning to climb into cars for the trip to the reception.

                      "I got this fighting for your freedom. Not one of them in that church cares if I just fall
                      over and die right here.

                      "But I can survive, anywhere," he promised, then added that he had toyed with the idea
                      of killing himself several times in the past week in solitary Russian Roulette. He spoke
                      angrily then softly about his family; about his wife, about his son, and about his grandfather.
                      He cried again.

                      A big man, even with most of his left leg lying in the grass beside the van, he was all alone.
                      The big man, his large, friendly, white dog, and his day-long nightmares.

                      But this hill was his. This hill he had taken. This picturesque scene with the free water;
                      the church with the American flag and the Norwegian graveyard. He had taken it by his
                      life's experiences and sat there, in the middle of "normal" life, daring anyone to move him,
                      or to notice him.

                      "I'm in so much goddamn pain," he raged on through still more tears.

                      "Sorry," he said, his face pitched for a moment to the sky.

                      I told him that I needed to get back to the wedding. He excused me with
                      an expressionless wave of his hand.

                      I stretched my arm to his keeping my weight back. He shook my hand more
                      weakly than I had expected. "You know, I can hardly see you," he said.
                      "I'm losing my eyesight."

                      Then he went back to washing his legs with the cool water. And across the highway the
                      newlyweds skidded of amid a hail of rice and hallelujahs; the lights and promise of the city
                      flashing in their young, hopeful eyes.

                      "Don't do nothin' we wouldn't do!" a friend of the groom hollered after the happy couple.
                      The veteran and his dog sat there, by the side of the road in the waning June light, as the
                      corn in the fields around them crackled in the breeze, straining, hoping to measure up by
                      the Fourth of July.

                      This was his post. He would maintain his position until relieved or overcome.

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