He fell, his machine finally stopped, with the clamor of a mess tray and a final tintinnabulation of cutlery. A fork dropped at Phil’s feet and came to rest at the heel of his boot. Phil looked down at the fork.
The kid dropped to his knees as if in some final act of contrition, then slumped sideways with arms akimbo like a discarded marionette. The mess hall grew silent. Private First Class Dicknose was dead.
“Motherfucker,” someone behind Phil said, either a last epithet, or commentary on what had just happened. Phil looked at Dicknose and nudged him with a foot. Dicknose’s body moved slightly, but remained prone.
PFC Dicknose had a mustellidae face, weaselly, with a broad forehead yet a needly and aquiline nose. The DS had given him the unfortunate nickname, likening his delicacy of feature to a a teenage boner, but his real name was Arnie. Arnie Armstrong, hailing from Louisville, Kentucky, bluegrass country. He didn’t stand a chance in the Army, wasn’t even deployed before the other men had made him a punching bag for their own and varied frustrations. The coroner would find Arnie’s torso beneath his shirt a long and continuous bruise, one that extended from below the collar line to just above his kidneys.
He already had pneumonia, which would be his downfall. He became the goat cast figuratively into the desert, the one for Azazel, starved for compassion and left to die among the sands of the training grounds. With the pneumonia, he couldn’t keep up with his platoon and was the cause for numerous push-ups.
“Thanks, Dicknose,” the soldiers took turns punching the shit out of him nightly back in the barracks. “Fuck you, Dicknose.”
And PFC Arnie Armstrong died among the spilt mashed potatoes and with a glassy look of dead-goat motherfucking defeat.
The entire platoon was courtmartialed, Phil included though Phil had always been light with his punches. “This’ll hurt me more than it does you, Buddy.” Phil even saved Arnie a few times like that time Arnie was locked into a locker with a buckful of fulminating bleach, when Phil like some fatigued Simon, released him from his misery. (Phil received a few punches for that one himself)
The platoon, duly courtmartialed, never saw the bush, but were instead relegated to an arms factory where for a few years they rubbed phallic missiles with lubricants and noxious chemicals, the better to shoot you with was the joke, Turns out the chemicals were far more toxic than even the Orange deforesting the Nam countryside. Breathed in, breathed out, the vapors lined Phil’s lungs and set upon deforesting his alveoli with a vigor that later invited the cancer to set in. He would survive the War, but penance killed him, killed his fellow soldiers, like they killed Arnie, and with the crashing of a mess plate, the day the scapegoat died, a whole country of men signed their own death warrant, to rest in pieces in their own beleaguered manner. Somewhere, Arnie lies content.