Fiction · 02/06/2013

A.P.O.

It was Clint’s idea. Megan mailed him things lying around their house — the stuffed raccoon they bought their dog on his birthday, a tube of Megan’s lipstick, a tin of stale mints, half the contents of a junk drawer. It took these boxes two, maybe three weeks to get from Baltimore to Afghanistan. Clint stood in the musty corner of his tent, away from the others, peeling off packing tape. Megan offered to send movies, snacks, magazines. Clint asked her to send a cork coaster from the kitchen table.

Clint put everything in a cardboard box and slid the box under his cot. Nights, with everyone asleep, he’d inspect his stash, one item at a time, lift each piece to his nose and sniff. The raccoon smelled like dog breath. The mints crumbled when they touched his teeth.

Megan was grouchy on the phone. This conversation wasn’t working for her. Tell me something real, she said. She wanted more from him. What?

Hooo boy, the sergeant said one day when he saw Clint’s stash. Man got a box full of weird.

The others joined in, standing over Clint’s cot. What’s that, Chanel? Hey, I gotta give it to him, the man’s got taste. Give me a date, sweetheart, I’ll bring the champagne.

Clint left the tent with his box. He went in between the port-o-johns. The smell turned his stomach. Nobody would look here. He dumped the contents into the dirt, scattered them with the toe of his boot, kicked dirt on top and walked back to his tent.

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The convoy rattled down dust-choked streets. Clint leaned his helmet against the Plexiglas. A brown scrim covered the horizon, dulled the sun. Clint checked his watch. He thought of Megan snugged in her bed, dog snoring at the foot.

A tear of light, noise. He came up breathing hard, like surfacing from depth. His goggles were stained red. He wiped them clean with a gloved hand. In the front seat was the sergeant, head pressed into the dash. The door had sheared. The sergeant’s leg was off below the knee. Clint moved reflexively. The sergeant wanted to stand up. Clint pushed him down. No. Clint fumbled with the med bag, found the tourniquet. No. Sit. Stay down. Like talking to his dog. The stump was pulpy flesh, tendrils of splintered bone. No. Sit. He slipped on the tourniquet, twisted it tight, sat down, checked himself: chest, arms, no blood, no holes, left leg, right leg. The sergeant moaned. By the front tire was one of the sergeant’s fingers. Clint put the finger in his pocket.

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Clint slid the empty cardboard box from under his cot. He went to the port-o-johns and dug everything out of the dirt. The shot glass from the Hard Rock Café. One of Megan’s hair scrunches. The stuffed raccoon. He couldn’t find the lipstick. He sat with his back against the john, gathered everything between his legs and filled the box. He reached in his pocket and took out the sergeant’s finger. He slipped the ring off and put the finger in the box. He carried the box back to his cot, taped it up, and in the morning shipped it off for Baltimore.

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Elliot Sanders lives in rural Missouri with his wife and two daughters. His fiction can (or will soon) be found at Hobart (online), PANK, JMWW, Echo Ink Review, War, Literature & the Arts, Foundling Review, and Bartleby Snopes.