Read When She Came Home Online

Authors: Drusilla Campbell

Tags: #Fiction / Family Life, #Fiction / Contemporary Women, #Fiction / War & Military, #General Fiction

When She Came Home (10 page)

BOOK: When She Came Home
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She became aware of her therapist speaking to her.

“Frankie, where do you go when your mind drifts?”

“What? Nowhere. Anywhere. Mostly Iraq.”

“Just now. What were you thinking about?”

“A woman getting coffee across the street.”

What was the point of talking about this? Frankie’s therapy was going nowhere. But it was embarrassing to sit in silence. She had to say something so she told White about her conversation with Glory.

“For someone who didn’t know what to say, that was quite a pep talk.”

“Was it okay? I didn’t make everything worse?”

“I wouldn’t say so, Frankie. What you read online was correct. Listening is the most important thing you or any parent can do. In almost any situation. Glory feels angry and hurt and she’s confused. She needs to know that these feelings are absolutely normal and acceptable under the circumstances. Girl-on-girl bullying is different than
what goes on between boys. For the most part, boys are refreshingly direct. Girls on the other hand are sneaky so that when a girl like Glory gets picked on, it comes out of nowhere and like this business of calling her stinky, it’s so out of left field she has no way to defend herself. By now she might half believe that she
is
stinky.”

“She and Colette were friends last year.”

“I’m not surprised. And next year they might be friends again.”

“She’s never setting foot in my house.”

“Oh, Frankie, you’ll change your mind. To make Glory happy.”

“I almost took her out of school. If I’d had to listen to her teacher for another five—Glory would never fire a gun or hurt anyone. Never.”

“I’m sure you’re right. But when she was looking around for some way to defend herself, she spoke in the language of power she’s heard all her life. Coming from a family steeped in the culture of the military, her response seems completely understandable.”

Frankie wanted to throw her arms around her therapist.

“Do you think that toilet bowl stuff will work?”

White smiled. “We can call it creative visualization and see what happens.”

They were quiet again but now the silence felt comfortable.

“For the record, Frankie, there’s not much you can do about bullying. If you want to, take her out of school for a
few days to relieve the pressure. Most important, though, just keep on listening and let her be as angry as she needs to be. Part of the problem is that most girls aren’t allowed to express their anger when it happens. Feminism has brought us a long way, but by and large girls are still expected to suppress negative feelings. They turn them into something else, most often shame. They put themselves in the wrong for
being
bullied and then for feeling angry about it.”

Frankie talked about her own experience in the fifth grade.

“I imagine you took your anger out on a soccer ball.”

Frankie thought back to the hours she had spent kicking a soccer ball into the net from every angle, begging her brother to take her to the batting cages, shooting baskets until the daylight was gone and her mother called her in from the driveway. If there was something to kick or hit or throw, she wanted to do it.

“The anger you’re getting from Glory now? All that sullen, resentful, belligerent eight-year-old behavior? You may have to resign yourself to being a soccer ball for a while.”

Waiting at the timed ramp onto the freeway, Frankie’s hands began to stutter on the steering wheel, and when a motorcycle paused a second too long at the green light and the driver gunned the engine, she thought her eardrums would explode. She wanted to ram her car into its rear tire and shove it off the road into a ditch, to turn it over as she had the shopping cart. Slamming her foot down on
the accelerator, she laid on the horn and screamed in the closed car. The long muscles in her thighs twitched as she swerved around the bike, missing it by inches, and burned into the traffic lanes, cutting off other cars to reach the middle lane, speeding up to eighty as she headed south to the MCRD. Where the road went under the Pacific Coast Highway, she laid on her horn again and screams tore her throat.

She had lied to her therapist about road rage during her first visit, saying it had never happened to her. The truth was that she was angry at someone or something pretty much all the time. Drivers, Colette, Melanie, Ms. Peters, Rick: these were the targets that first came to mind, but there were others.

Chapter 12

F
rankie had a headache the size of an exercise ball by the time she got to the shop. Four Tylenol and a triple latte later, if anyone spoke out of turn she would pick up a printer and throw it at them.

“What’s wrong with you, Tennyson?” Olvedo asked when she slammed a file drawer and the whole cabinet shook. “You trying to get my attention?”

“No, sir.”

She attended two meetings with senior officers whose sole function appeared to be the creation of elaborate electronic spreadsheets for her to fill in and then route across the nation and world to nameless entities whose functions in the enterprise of war were unknown to her. The surge meant huge amounts of money were going to individuals and companies she had never heard of. And for this she had gotten a one-hundred-thousand-dollar education at Stanford University. For this she had survived the Basic
School and scored near the top in leadership and highest in physical fitness.

By lunchtime her head still throbbed too much for a run on one of the MCRD gym’s treadmills and her legs were still adrenaline-shocked from that morning’s motorcycle moment. But she knew she needed either exercise or a change of scene if she was to make it through the second half of the day, so she drove to a nearby mall where she bought a passion fruit and mango smoothie with two scoops of protein powder at Jamba Juice, carried her drink to an outside table under a shady overhang, and pulled up a second chair as a footrest. She sucked up a mouthful of mango and passion fruit, tilted her head back a little, and let it slide, numbingly cold, down the back of her sore throat.

That morning her therapist had again recommended that she should make an appointment with a throat specialist.

“Harry might be right and it’s stress. Then again, if there is…”

“I’m not making it up, you know.”

“I didn’t say you were.”

“Isn’t that what
psychosomatic
means?”

“I didn’t use that term.” White’s laugh was light and bubbly. “You really shouldn’t put words in my mouth, Frankie.”

Frankie had looked at her watch and seen that she would have to hit all the green lights between Herschel
and the MCRD if she was going to be on time that morning. No wonder she had lost her temper with the motorcyclist.

Dr. White had talked about the mind-body connection. “A headache isn’t always just a headache, and a sore throat may be the body’s way of getting you to look at something you wouldn’t want to consider otherwise. Something emotional.”

What would Frankie prefer? That her croaky voice be caused by inhaling noxious fumes in Iraq or by some kind of message from her subconscious? She wasn’t even sure she believed the mind and body were connected that way. As her therapist described it, they were like roommates incapable of asking or stating anything directly. It was an absurd concept.

She put her smoothie down when she saw Bunny’s dark blue BMW sedan cruise by. A beep of the horn let her know she had not only been seen, but looked for, and there was nowhere she could go to avoid him.

She watched him park the car and then lope across the lot toward her, his bald head gleaming in the light. He scraped a metal chair across the concrete and sat down.

“The kid in your office, the one with the pimples, he told me you were here.”

“Remind me to have him court-martialed.”

“You’re mad at me,” Bunny said, looking down-at-the-mouth. “I thought so the other night.”

“I really don’t want to talk, Bunny.”

“Yeah, I know how you feel.”

No. You don’t know anything about me. I am the far side of the moon to you, Bunny. I am the red wastes of Mars.

He crossed his ankle across the opposite knee. To Frankie it seemed he was flaunting his relaxation to accentuate her tension. “I know what’s happening to you, Frankie, but you’ve got to stop thinking about it, shut it down. Tell yourself you were never at Three Fountain Square and neither was G4S.”

“Go away, Bunny.”

As he shot the cuffs of his crisp blue-and-white shirt, the diamonds encircling the face of his watch flashed in her eyes.

“Wow.” Impulsively, she held his wrist. “Aren’t you scared someone’ll cut off your arm to get that thing?”

“Let ’em try.”

“I guess it’s not a Timex, huh?”

“Chanel. Three hundred and twenty-five diamonds.”

He did not bother to conceal his pride in the big watch with all its dials and sparkle. But he had not worn it to the General’s birthday party, which Frankie thought was tellingly strange. Under most circumstances, Bunny was the kind of man who enjoyed attracting attention to his possessions: a grotesquely valuable watch, smart clothes, a new car every year.

“I heard something about your old interpreter,” he said.

The sun beat down on Frankie’s back and shoulders. At the nape of her neck she felt the pinch of her cells giving up their moisture.

“She’s in Syria. Damascus.” He smiled, showing all his teeth.

Frankie had promised she would help Fatima get back to Pittsburgh, her family with her. She often talked about what they would do when they lived there, safe from reprisals. She wanted to open a deli and got particular pleasure telling Frankie about the menu and design of the place. Stuck in a Humvee, waiting for the road ahead to be cleared, Frankie had become caught up in Fatima’s dream and sometimes the deli was all they talked about. Recipes for hummus: was it best to use dried or canned chickpeas, would American customers be able to tell the difference? Lamb kebabs: to marinate or not and for how long? Parsley, flat or curly?

“It was a promise you knew you couldn’t keep,” Bunny said.

“I would have gone to the General.”

Bunny shook his head in the maddeningly paternalistic way he knew—
he knew—
exasperated her.

“How did she get to Damascus? Where did the money come from?”

“These things get done, Frankie.”

“Meaning?”

“Whatever you want it to mean.”

“Is her family with her?”

He nodded.

“Can you get her address?”

“I don’t think you want to write her any letters. She’s got her life, you’ve got yours. Best leave that alone.”

Frankie watched the traffic on Rosecranz, measuring her breaths as her therapist had counseled her.

Fatima the interpreter with the scarred face would be an easy target to identify. In a torn and violent country like Syria where everyone carried resentments that were age-old, virulent, and deep, she was in almost as much danger as in Iraq. And even if she somehow escaped reprisals, her brothers were sure to be infected by the fever of political and sectarian conflict that was a fact of daily life. There would never be a deli in Pittsburgh or anywhere else.

Bunny said, “Someone from Belasco’s committee’s going to ask you to testify.”

“Who told them I have anything to say?”

“Use your brain, Marine.” His bushy eyebrows veed with irritation. “You couldn’t keep your mouth shut about Three Fountain. You talked to that chaplain and then you went to Culligan.”

“How do you know? That day, when you came to Redline, I never told you who I talked to.”

But she
had
described the incident to him. Hard to believe that just a few months ago, she had still trusted her godfather. “How do you or anyone else know I went to Culligan?”

“Doesn’t matter.” He waved her question away, diamonds strobing. “The point is that Senator Belasco’s after
you. You’ll be front-page news, Frankie. Is that what you want?”

She stared at him for a long moment. “Who are you, Bunny?”

“I’m your godfather,” he said, beaming innocently. “And it’s my job to look out for you. Belasco’s handing out subpoenas to anyone who ever complained about G4S. She’s going to ask you what you think you saw.”

“What I
did
see. I saw a murder.”

Bunny winced. “If you testify against the military—”

“It
wasn’t
the Marines or the Army.” She forced the words out, her throat pinching shut as she spoke. “It was Global Sword and Saber Security Services. G4S.”

“Your father and I believe—”

“The General doesn’t believe in murder.”

“Frankie, sometimes there’s a bad apple and I agree it should be tossed. But the way Belasco wants to do it, she’s gonna throw out the whole bushel basket and nuke the orchard. A bad apple, Frankie. That’s all that guy was.”

“So you admit it happened.”

“I don’t admit anything. How can I? I wasn’t there.”

“But I was. I saw it all through binoculars.”

“You’d never been under fire, Frankie. You were frightened.”

Frightened? Afterward yes, but at the time she had never felt more intensely alive.

“I saw him. Later.”

It seemed to Frankie that she heard a click as Bunny came to attention.

“I was in the airport in Kuwait, going home.” She had been in a line to buy coffee and seen the G4S contractor leaning against a wall with a cell phone pressed to his ear. He looked right at her.

“You imagined it, Frankie.”

She would never forget his face. In a land of mahogany skin and black hair, the contractor was alarmingly fair. White-blond hair, a milky face despite the desert sun. “And he was short. He was built like a tree stump.”

Bunny sighed and rolled his neck from left to right. “Okay, let’s look at this thing another way. Suppose Belasco asks you to testify and you do it. Senator Delaware is on the committee and we all know he supports the contractors one hundred fifty percent. He’s gonna ask you questions and make chop suey out of your answers. You say the shooter looks like a tree stump and Delaware’s going to laugh ’til he busts. I guarantee he’ll make you out to be a hysterical female who had no business being in Iraq in the first place. He’ll talk you in circles until you admit yourself that you should have stayed home with your husband and daughter.” He ran his hand back from his forehead over the crown of his head as if he still had hair to groom. “You’ll humiliate the corps, Frankie. And the General with you. You won’t mean to, honey, but it’ll happen.”

BOOK: When She Came Home
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ads

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