For August, it’s stories about battles, real and imagined, and which ones are worth fighting.
The place to find the cheapest haircuts in the Khobar Towers
is the fourth floor apartment of Tower D.
I should know because Paul wields the scissors, and his haircuts
are always free.
Soldiers try to give me their place in line.
I wave away their offers, not wanting
to sandwich time with Paul
between two privates.
The line snakes. Paul’s platoon sergeant smirks.
He thinks it’s ridiculous that Paul and I
pretend not to be married. He rolls his eyes, mutters,
Officers, and shakes out an unfiltered Camel from the pack he carries
in his ammo pouch.
The sun slants low in the sky, and when my turn
finally comes, afternoon light fills the apartment,
floods the balcony, turning clouds of cigarette smoke
a tarnished gold.
Paul sees me and the scissors snip shut.
He holds himself to impossible standards
while in uniform.
No PDA goes without saying,
but if he can run his hands over every single
scalp in Echo Company, there’s no reason why
he can’t touch mine.
Still, the price of this haircut may be more
than I am willing to pay.
But I sit in the folding chair.
I shut my eyes.
I hold my breath.
Beth, he says, Really?
I nod, tugging my bangs to my nose, hiding
behind my excuse. I only wanted to see him.
But I can’t tell him that, not in so many words.
He pulls a strand of hair, then another.
It’s like cutting spun gold. And his voice is softer
than the smoke on the balcony.
Two stories above, someone stabs the buttons
of a boom box, and the first notes mingle
with the smoke.
Paul’s scissors snap closed.
That song. The unofficial anthem of everyone
in the Khobar Towers,
although I’m sure I’ve never heard it
before coming to Dhahran.
But you can’t walk a block without cheap speakers
distorting Lee Greenwood’s voice, or someone belting out,
God Bless the USA!
I’d pull on a gas mask, Paul says, but I’d still be able to hear it.
Paul’s patriotism has never been sentimental, and I’m glad to see
my soldier cynic hasn’t lost his touch with either words or scissors.
But by the time the song fades, and the Islamic call to prayer
takes its place, the evening sun can barely crest the balcony rail.
A single shaft of light slants through the balcony doors
and illuminates the bits of gold scattered
around the folding chair. And I find myself wondering
how much more of us will be left behind.
Land of the Free Haircuts first appeared in Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors, Volume 2 and also made an appearance in my young adult novel The Fine Art of Holding Your Breath.