the beast within

I’m not going to complain about anything – I did my time – I’m proud of what I did. They just don’t get it. I know it’s safe now – to tell you and there’s nothing more that can be done. I kind of didn’t expect like it would be still in here, I mean they give you someone to talk to and all that but it’s fucking different – once you get there, nothing, nothing is the same.

You’re doing the job – the job you were trained to do… I’d been thinking about doing that job ever since I was at school. I mean you grow up, right and what you see on tv, it’s about stopping the bad guys and I wanted to be one of the good guys. I mean, I am right? I ‘m still one of the good guys.

But when you get out – it’s hard – everything disappears. I mean it doesn’t disappear. If it did disappear then there would be no problem – I’d still be in there. There would be so many of us stay on. I had to leave. While you’re part of it – they are your mum. Your dad. They are your sister, your brother, they are everything to you and for you and you feel as if you are part of them. There is no need to worry. I am not a fucking patriot. Patriotism is a dirty word. It’s not about patriotism. It’s much bigger than that – it’s about the world. That’s it. I’m fucking patriotic for a free world.

Don’t presume to know why I’m here. OR why I got myself into that room in the first place. I was in supply. I wasn’t meant to be front line like the others. It’s fly in and fly out again – moving and delivering and restocking. It’s an important cog in the machine.

When I saw him I had already trained my sights on him and he was caught unawares; hands up he slumped to the ground, cowering. I should have shot him there, but I couldn’t. He was so surprised when I turned the corner. He had a knife in his left hand. A knife! What good was that? His hands were wet. I wasn’t sure why but they were wet. I remember wondering where the water had come from. I mean, we are all covered in dirt and shit from head to foot and it’s dry and hot. Where’s the fucking water coming from…? I remember thinking that – as I noticed tiny beads of water on the back of his hand and I knew it wasn’t sweat. If I think about it, time dragged to a trail of salt crystals across the room and each grain, each part of it formed in jagged edges around the inside of my mind until all that remained was white fucking powder and no thought except him and me and there was an eternity between myself and the rest of the unit outside…

He was crouching beside a chest. Fucking white goods – it never fails to surprise me when I see deep freezers and microwaves and dishwashers in the countries I fly into. Of course – it’s not really an anomalie, that in another culture another woman somewhere in the world would have what I have at home but here he was and there I was and my brain had turned to sodium, Life salt leeching the energy from me, Slowly casting me as Lot’s wife, turning at precisely the wrong time in the wrong fucking direction.

I saw his eyes and they could have been the eyes of my brother or my father. They could have been the eyes of my nephew. They were the eyes of a man, afraid, panicking; too afraid to move. Perhaps he was calculating an excape route but I feel now that some strange line settled in that room with either of us at either end and we were bound and stuck – time’s new portable continuum depended only on our existences. Why was there a freezer chest where there was no power? It had been a home before – it must have – the only room with a sealed roof – it must have looked after the goods of all of the family. The strangest concept of lasagne in prepared packs sat in me and the absurdity of even seeing this in my mind force me to emit a noise like a part laugh – a gasp at life… at our lives – suddenly together in this room. And me bothered about white goods, a refrigeration unit. It wasn’t even plugged in. There’d been no power to that part of the town for at least a week – or at least that’s what I remember – it’s not important anyway – no, but it is.

If the fucking unit had been switched on…

Look, at the time, there was a different way of looking at it and I hadn’t shot anyone – active service and not a shot fired – that’s the way I kinda liked it- when it’s that way around – you haven’t got any worries at night – you’re just doing your job and then you get to hear the stories and just relax at night.

At night I dream it’s me and I am the one who fills the freezer chest. So many months and I could have made babies, but that’s a choice I made. I had to maintain my position. I had to think of my career. No one wants to think that they’re a target – why? I’m no target – I’m part of the team – we are here to bring peace to these people – without us, well we’re here because they asked for our help – and that’s what we do – all of us, a mixture of nations – different units working different sections, there are pressures you see – you have to agree not to fall pregnant.

Everyone had a purpose then and now I remember him next to the fucking fridge – his eyes kept on moving towards it – he couldn’t help himself, caught out next to it – in the wrong time in the wrong place and then I moved towards it – all the while shouting at him – stand down stand down – move away move away… and then I opened it. One eye on him and one eye on the fridge – with the gun trained on him, I used my boot to flip it open – there was no catch on it, and it just opened – in the second it took the smell to get to me, he began to move and I shot him. Junior Prom, my first date, a dress my grandmother made me for my thirteenth birthday, roses in the neighbour’s garden that I used to steal and put under my pillow, a paper dragon given to me on my sixteenth birthday, the first day I saw him over the fence, making love in a swimming pool under the moon and letters from home sat inside me as he dropped, danger over and I saw what was inside. Children. Bits of children, as if they had been squeezed in, arms and legs hacked off, torsos, bloody. Dismembered. Stunned, the slow motion world I suddenly inhabited continued until I heard Jorge shout behind me – waking me from a dream – and then mouths covered, we stumbled back, choking in the acid air that had begun to work backwards to spike our eyes.

I look in the mirror every time I finish cleaning my teeth. I can ignore myself until that moment and then I catch myself. Capable of creating life. On a good day, I am life. But then there’s that freezer chest of babies, the body of a man who was trying to get away and everything I have left behind me. It doesn’t matter whether he was responsible for that box of dismembered souls. I was responsible for uncovering and revealing. And now there’s this curse for opening a tomb unplugged somewhere out in the desert and every night I bleed for the mother I cannot be.

Text: © J. L. Nash, 2011
Images: © Roberto Foddai

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