For week two, I offer up a different take on sibling love.
“You’re lucky you didn’t bleed out.”
He says this as if I’m the one who built the explosive, dug the hole, ran the wires, and then—after all of that—pulled the trigger myself.
“Lucky,” he says, again, in case I didn’t hear him the first time.
I did, of course, through the haze of whatever is running through my veins. Morphine, maybe? I don’t know. Do they still use morphine? Whatever it is, whatever opiate fogs my thoughts, it is lovely and seductive. It tastes like temptation and blood. I’m glad—no, lucky—I don’t know its name.
I won’t be able to ask for it on the outside.
He sits at my bedside, easing back the sheet that covers me, the stethoscope barely there against my skin. He’s warmed it, I realize, warmed it against his palm. He probes, and while I’m naked, I’m also bandaged clear up to my armpits. Not that there’s any modesty in an Army hospital. Not that there’s any modesty in the Army.
My breasts are bound, like those of women warriors of old. Through the fog, I can see these women. They are fierce, with hair like coiled snakes. Their armor shines in the sun. Their weapons glint in the moonlight.
Were they lucky as well? Did they ever bleed out?
My gaze flitters down. The bandages are white and pure. They are armor in their own right.
“They didn’t have to amputate,” he says.
At first, I think he means my breasts. I blink, the fog of morphine, of war, of my own thoughts too thick for me to make sense of his words. Then I understand.
“I know.” What I don’t mention is I can see my reflection in the window. I can count the number of legs I currently have.
“An infection, though.”
“Try not to sound so hopeful.”
He grimaces. “Katy-bird—”
“Don’t ‘Katy-bird’ me.”
“You shouldn’t be here.”
“You shouldn’t be here.”
He’s not my doctor. He’s not even assigned to this ward. He’s breaking all the rules—Army rules, medical rules. But he’s my brother, which is why everyone glances away when he does.
“I could send you home.” He delivers the threat in the way only a big brother can.
I stare at the window. There is no view. Even my reflection has faded. All I see is the glint on the glass that looks like the blade of a sword.
“I don’t want to leave them.”
“Them,” he says. “Your platoon?”
I want to nod; I want to shake my head. It’s my platoon—yes, of course, it is—but it’s so much more than that.
“I don’t want to leave me.”
Now he stares at the window as if he, too, can see the images of warrior women in its reflection. His nod is thoughtful, the sigh heavy—the sound only an older brother can make.
He threads the stethoscope through his fingers and then pockets it. He touches my cheek.
Something shifts in his tone. All at once, he is not a doctor, not my older brother. He is simply Scott, and he looks as confused as the morphine is making me feel.
“I can’t leave.”
He nods as if I’ve explained my entire self in those three words. People leave all the time—wounded or killed in action or by their own hand. I don’t want to leave, not now, not ever. Here is where I can see the warrior women.
He kisses my forehead. It’s tender and filled with the warmth of absolution. At the doorway, he pauses, one last time.
“You’re still damn lucky you didn’t bleed out.”
For a moment, everything else fades—the war, the morphine, the glint of swords on the glass.
Yes, I want to tell him. I know.
Lucky may be my story that has racked up the most personal rejections, ever. It even snagged an honorable mention in Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction contest. Sometimes those stories everyone seems to love (but nevertheless declines) can be the hardest to sell.
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2 responses to “Free Fiction Friday: Lucky”
Wonderful story, and profoundly moving. Makes me sad that something with such a strong voice and interesting narrative arc has had such a hard time finding a place to be published.
Oh, thanks for your kind words. I do have that lovely letter from the editors of Glimmer Train. That pleases me more than I can say.