A Special Providence

A Special Providence by Richard Yates

Book: A Special Providence by Richard Yates Read Free Book Online
Authors: Richard Yates
Tags: General Fiction
hearing a loud, tearful voice across the room that sounded remarkably like his own:
    “Oh Jesus,
help
me, somebody, I’m
sick
! I can’t
breathe
! Oh Jesus – please – Medic! Medic! Somebody
help
me; I’m
sick …

    His coughing had forced him upright on the work table. He began to retch and leaned over to drop clots of phlegm on the floor; then all at once, still retching, he felt hands gripping his arms and a flashlight was blazing in his face, and he dimly saw that one of the men holding him wore the white-encircled red cross of the medics on his helmet.
    “What’s the matter, kid? You the one that called out?”
    “No – somebody else – over there.”
    “… Oh Jesus, somebody please
help
me …”
    The flashlight and the hands went away, and in a minute he saw the medics helping a tall, stumbling, weeping figure down one of the aisles between the work tables and away into the darkness.
    In the morning they were issued ammunition in what seemed unnecessary amounts: enough rifle clips to fill the cartridge belt, many additional clips in three cotton bandoliers that hung crisscross from the shoulders, and two hand grenades apiece.
    For half an hour or so they lingered in the factory to work over their gear, each man separating the things to be left behind, in duffelbags and bedrolls, from the things to be carried into thefield. Prentice worked not with the Second Platoon but with the much smaller company headquarters group, which was composed of the other platoon runners, the bazooka man, a couple of communications men, and several other specialists whose jobs he didn’t understand. The only one who talked to him was a very short boy named Owens – he looked too small to have been taken into the Army – who was the runner for Weapons Platoon.
    “Take plenty of cigarettes,” Owens counseled him, “and take all the socks you’ve got, even if it seems like too many. You don’t change your socks often enough, you wind up with trenchfoot. And take toothpaste too, if you’ve got any. I know that seems funny, but toothpaste comes in handy as hell. Sometimes you brush your teeth, it’s almost as good as getting a night’s sleep.” The only toothpaste Prentice could find in his bag was a big Economy-Size tube of Ipana that he must have acquired in the PX at Camp Pickett, and whether it seemed funny or not he stuffed it into one of his shirt pockets, along with his toothbrush.
    When they moved out it was to march five miles to something called the Forward Assembly Area. At first the march seemed easy, with so little to carry, and the action of walking helped to keep the cold out, but before long Prentice’s knees had gone soft and he felt feverish. The loaded cartridge belt was a heavy drag at his waist and the bandolier straps were cutting into his neck.
    “… Mutt and Jeff!” Lieutenant Agate was calling, walking backwards at the head of the column, and Prentice saw with a start that he was smiling straight at him.
    “… guys look like Mutt and Jeff,” he called again, and this time Prentice got the point: that he and Owens, who was walking beside him, made a comic contrast of tall and short.
    “How’s the cough, kid?” the lieutenant called, and when Prentice tried to say “Okay, sir,” he found he had lost his voice. He tried it again, and nothing but a whisper came out. Finally he shaped his cracked lips into a smile and nodded, hoping that would take care of it, and as he walked he tried to clear his throat.
    “Hey, Owens?” he tried to say. “Listen. I’ve lost my voice.” And he managed enough of a squeak to make Owens look up.
    “What?”
    “I’ve lost my
voice
. I can’t
talk.

    “Laryngitis, I guess.” Owens had his own problems. He’d said this morning that he thought he had dysentery, and he didn’t seem to be feeling any better.
    “All right,” the lieutenant was calling now. “Spread it out. Five paces apart.”
    The Forward Assembly Area, somewhere up

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