Hystopia: A Novel

Hystopia: A Novel by David Means Page A

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Authors: David Means
popping wheelies in his yard, his arms jerking, the metal foot-grills dipping up and down.
    “I should’ve warned you about him.”
    “I saw him coming a hundred years ago.”
    The house had a small parlor with two easy chairs, a plush green couch, and a large television console on which two batters were up to bat, the image of one slightly on the side of the other. Singleton resisted his desire to go and fiddle with the rabbit ears and followed Wendy down the hall and into a clean, well-lit kitchen where her father was preparing coffee. The old guy held the pot with his arthritically clawed hands, all pain, nothing but pain up the arm to the tattoos, smeared with age.
    From the start a grunt-to-grunt tension was there, both men sensing, and maybe Wendy, too, the weight of the approaching topic .
    “I’m going to go get us a nip,” the old man said when the coffee was gone. He got a bottle of bourbon and poured three shot glasses as tight to the rim as possible, said salud , and drank his down before they could touch glasses. If he had been a different kind of man he would’ve toasted his regiment, or the Black Forest, but instead he’d kept it clean and simple. The old man wasn’t ready yet to go into that and instead circled the conversation back to the Psych Corps and to the system and to the hospitals, saying, “So you’re each on a different case and you can’t talk about it, is that it? You’re sworn not to talk about it, as I understand it. But you’re allowed to speak in generalities. Most of the men I fought with came home and took the weight onto their own shoulders.”
    “Yeah, we’re allowed to speak about generalities. And in theory we’re not even supposed to be together,” Singleton said.
    In the half-light of late day, Wendy’s face seemed to glow. She arched her brows, grimaced, and then smiled. Her face said: You’re an old man and can’t be expected to grasp the vision behind this huge national project.
    “OK, OK, maybe I’m just out of the loop on this enfolding treatment, but there’s something fishy about it, and something even fishier about the fact that the administration admits it’s bogus and it is written into the creed or whatever it is that you went around the house practicing for weeks when you were studying for your exam.” Here the old man turned his attention fully to Singleton and, sounding much older, said, “You should’ve seen her studying day and night in her room.” Suddenly Wendy was repositioned by the kitchen table of her youth. She seemed like a teenager in her father’s eyes, and even in Singleton’s. He felt the urge to lead her out of the kitchen and fuck her on her single bed. He could imagine her room upstairs, the small bed with a comforter and a pink dust ruffle, and the posters of the Stones trying to look like the Beatles, and her desk with her pencil can and her old school books.
    The old man opened up the subject of war by nodding to the shelves and saying, I got the idea for this setup from looking at a sub galley. A buddy served on a sub and got me on board and showed me around and the one thing that I was impressed with was the fact that the galley had the finest bone-white china, and the best silverware. You had to spend half a year breathing shit air in a tin can and sleeping ass to ass, but at least you got good food and fine dinnerware as part of the deal. My buddy joined the Navy and I joined the Army. He went under and I went over the top.
    Singleton knew the old man would use the mention of his friend in the Navy to begin his confession. And he did. The Bulge. The Black Forest silence during those woozy first few weeks when the war seemed to be winding itself down, one city after another liberated. Cold snowy days filled with the camaraderie of newly formed units: boys fresh off the boat, struggling to understand that they were on the front edge of the great push toward the bunkered-down Hitler (rumored to be dead). A few weeks in

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