Noman and the General Now, a short story by Jim Meirose
Jim Meirose’s short work has appeared in numerous venues. His published books include Understanding Franklin Thompson (JEF pubs (2018)), Sunday Dinner With Father Dwyer(Scarlet Leaf Press (2018)), and Le Overgivers au Club de la Résurrection (Adelaide Books (2018)). www.jimmeirose.com.
As in anything you do in life, you need to check things before you do them. You need to check there’s a gangplank present when you step off of a dock. You need to check no cars are coming before you cross the street, and you know, by the way, Noman learned that the hard way as a boy walking the sidewalk up the hill after school, idly bouncing a little ball, thinking to the blue sky of everything in the world besides where he was, but; the ball abruptly bounced weirdly off a sidewalk crack and shot into the road. Noman dashed into the road without looking and grabbed it, but stumbled and fell on his big ass in the road, skinning both knees raw but more importantly here came a big black Dodge to nail him, but; it stopped dead slapping the big wide chrome plated word Dodge right in his face and on back into his mind for all forever as something you should do to get out of the way of any evil event ever rushing up to kill him, forever; something about it kind of tattooed it someplace inside his pitch-black skullcap to ensure that he would never forget. He got Dodge in his mind forever, as in Dodge! Dodge! Dodge, and plus it being a special Dodge that would be a valuable collectible classic today, but—way back today, urp, Noman was grown into a quite tall man, and a much larger soldier. He stood dressed smartly in the pouring sun, with his cap pertly tipped and his trousers creased, one of a mass of clean-washed dressed-up military men on parade way back now, in his military costume with his military weapon empty of bullets and thus, harmless, held straight in a vast expanse of straighter weapons held higher still, and the sun was up in its proper compartment, and the great single-star general-man in size great baggy pants came toward him one man at a time down the formed up line, to inspect each soldier’s hygiene and more. The general came at last before Noman, took his weapon, and spun it as a propeller in his spindly liver-spotted hands, then thrust it back to Noman.
Know not Dodge hidden way back when, Noman.
Yes, now, the thing is this nearly senile silly and sloppy here-and-now man of a general.
Soldier, your uniform’s a little ragged. When was this jacket issued to you, soldier?
Sir! A while back, sir! I don’t know how to measure when exactly, sir! Maybe not yet, maybe years from now, or maybe way back in the past, sir! You know, like yesterday, last week, or years ago, from now—maybe even not yet really at all! Sir!
From really at all, what! barked the general.
From really at all, sir! spat Noman.
You mean, from the now, when the bowling alley is just a plan on the drawing board?
What bowling alley are you referring to, sir!
The one you’re headed toward. Where your personal Dodge awaits.
Personal Dodge, sir?
Yes. Personal Dodge. As in with tits and ass. Are you afraid of tits and ass, soldier?
You have tits and ass, soldier! What are the possible other parts you may fear? Any that you or I might have, soldier? Any that you or I might have?
No, sir! Nothing you and I might have!
All right soldier! But remember; the bowling alley is just part of some spark in some architect’s head, and part in some architect’s pen, and part on some architect’s paper. And that is just, first draft! Many years will come and go until once more, the moment of truth slams down! So, you see son. You’ve years yet to worry, son. So, come on, get loose. Loosen up. Slack off a little, you know? Have a mushroom or two. After all, it’s nearly the sixties.
Now, you know, soldier—your uniform must be perfect! So, let’s see—
Several days passed, until at last the General stuck his face in Noman’s again.
What are you afraid of soldier?
Noman woke, blinked his eyes, and said, Nothing, sir!
No tits and ass?
Good! Next, your boots must be properly polished—here, let me see—
The General stooped. Days passed. Day/Night/Day/Night cycles passed about him. The rest of the men undressed, got onto sleeping bags, slept, got out of the sleeping bags, dressed, and like that around and around and over and under and here and then and day after day after—all for one pair of boots one pair—of fucking boots! You know, I; never mind. Continue.
The General’s face came up out forward out of the boiling blue of Noman’s dark uniform.
I heard that, soldier! I heard that! What are you afraid of?
Noman woke, blinked his eyes, and said, Nothing, sir!
No tits and ass?
Good! Now, all your creases have to be perfectly sharp! Here let me look—
Again, Noman stood still, did not age, did not dare speak, for nearly ten days. The General’s head bobbed up. Again, he asked the question, and Noman said, Nothing sir!
Good—next there have to be no loose threads, dirt, marks, ruffles or abnormalities on any of your kit, or on your body that’s all hidden because it’s improper to be nude! There has to be a straight vertical line from the middle of your heels, up to your trouser zip and button, through your shirt buttons and aligned with your face. And no male anatomy bulging inappropriately against the cloth, to spoil the effect, if you know what I mean! Let me look!
The General’s blind hand looked, as Noman thought; days, yes, I know there will be days—days like this, yes, days—
It is not flawless, soldier! It is not! Why is it not?
I-I don’t know, sir!
Buck up, soldier! Sociological research has shown that standing tall and looking confident, even if you are not confident, is a good way to become confident. Did you know that truth, son?
No sir! I did not know that!
Oh no? Really. Then I guess you were not listening in class! So, how many other great truths you should know by now, have you let fall in the passing dirt beneath but a second, then gone? So, I suppose you don’t know either, that by behaving like a soldier, you affirm your self-identity that you are a soldier, and will therefore act like one. Do you not remember that?
Noman tried to speak, but it came back off his tight lips and made a silent burp, mixed with the taste of bile—sick feeling yes sick, must chew ten Rolaids, then chug a large water kind of sick, yes that kind that will just sicken and sicken and sicken, but into his face was barked and re-barked and barked again more and more sickening every single time—
Do you not remember that either, soldier? Do you not? Do you, do you not soldier—Do you not remember? Where are your eyes! Dare not close your eyes to me when I am speaking!
The word speaking came in Noman’s ears and said speak, yes, go—try and see what happens, and he did—but just bile surged in a wave followed by a hotter thicker multicolored substance mixed in morass of large and small fragments no spoken words none at all not a one and it came up in Noman and do you know soldier so you not sailor do you know marine do you not either what the fuck, what the fuck, as a full hose of filth came flooding straight at the chest of the General—the floodgush shouting Dodge all Dodge—driving him back like fire hoses do demonstrators hurling rocks after dark with fires burning in steel drums that bums stand all around as the cold settles and the snow falls, and flying gas missiles shot from the police deep inside Noman fighting off scores of enemies; these enemies stood in the guise of this old General, stricken back multicolored with vomit, of every possible kind and size and stench of chunk mixed in colors all mixed up in dense liquid, and he fell back, his silly little one star helmet blown off and back, down out full length, the back of his skull shattering on impact with the concrete of the parade-ground, on which no expense was spared to construct to remain hard as granite for all eternity. Arms gripped Noman, as his knees buckled—the stress and strain of the months of training and struggling and straining and striving to be the perfect soldier had slowly been building a large hairy blister of gross resentment in him as the fetus of a devil grows, is stressed and stressed some more, until this at last happens, meaning many things; Dodge; that Noman should never have been a soldier; Dodge Dodge; that the aged General should have retired when he got his first sad consolation star, too late to ever get enough done before being senile to ever possibly get another; and this was the start of Noman’s last story. The Army spat him out dishonorably the very next day. Dodge. As he was driven to the gates of the Garrison at twilight, under heavily armed guard, wearing only the ill-fitting clothing he had worn down to the recruitment station seven years ago, and only having the three crumpled dollar bills that had been in the pocket of the baggy black pants from the day he entered the Army base to the day they forced him drugged and screaming back into the pants to kick him the fuck out for killing the General with the world’s largest gushing puke one man had ever shot-gunned out any kind of maw, Dodge or no Dodge and no ball bouncing away no not any more, clearing the way empty for the memory to smartly step him back into his present-day job in this great big oily freightership he’s sailing in on the way to Shanghai China! And there’s something very significant about the approximate date he’d get to Shanghai, oh yah there is yah yah, but that is for another time, and better yet yes-for another farther out space.
© Jim Meirose