about the author

Gene Albamonte graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing degree from the University of Central Florida. His fiction has appeared in CutBank, LIT Magazine, The Rattling Wall, Southern Indiana Review, Monkeybicycle, and other publications.

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Dispatches from Suburbia 

Gene Albamonte

We were spies, journalists, detectives, musicians, boxers, songwriters. We rolled out giant sheets of butcher paper in the living room and designed roller coasters with a pencil, engineering impossible twists and turns, as his ma’s living room filled with the scent of all-day gravy: crushed tomatoes, garlic, sweet pork. We were a renegade cop team called The Italian Boys and, when David played the bad guy, I chased him onto the front lawn, the grass brittle from Florida’s drought that summer, and I wrestled a fake gun out of his hands while his neighbor’s daughter jumped rope next door and the shirtless overweight furniture salesman across the cul-de-sac doused a pick-up with a garden hose.

On this day thirty years ago, we were soldiers. We kept watch for invisible punji sticks, summoned into our twelve-year-old imagination from David’s father’s Vietnam war stories and a shoebox filled with warp-yellowed photos of his father’s friends and enemies lying dead in the jungle. In our sofa-cushion fort, we huddled around a beatbox and head-bobbed to Creedence, Better run through the jungle. We tossed balled-up-sock grenades and military-crawled on the carpet, screaming for our mud-caked, sore-limbed, blood-spackled platoon to keep moving, to take cover, to “Watch your butts, motherfuckers!” The tumbling left burns on our forearms, battle wounds we’d point to and say “Shrapnel” and “Scorched earth” and “Prisoner camp.” In his backyard, we checked our Swatches, and I called out, “Not much time before we’re all a bunch of ground beef!” Unlit Winstons dangled from our lips, machine guns at our sides. The sun’s heat wrapped around us like a coil, and David said “Shh,” pointing toward the thick of woods bordering the yard, and we crept in, eyes peeled for Charlie, while David’s hand snapped open his father’s Zippo to light our smokes. We sucked in adulthood and then coughed it back out. We tried making smoke rings but that didn’t work, so we imagined ourselves making rings and watched them rise toward the sky. We checked in with base on our walkie-talkies. Copy that. Straight ahead. Watch for trip-wires. David drew lines in the dirt to indicate our plan of attack. He always stuck out his tongue when he drew things.

Before marching on, we used the Zippo to heat the tip of my Swiss Army knife, and we sat in the nettles, cut our palms, rubbed hands together and became blood brothers. We examined our cuts and then we trudged through the underbrush. “This way,” David said, so that’s the way we went, out toward the farthest edge of the woods and onto a paved road. The shade from the trees was gone, and I watched David watch the road ahead of us, sweat beading on his forehead. That’s when the VC jeep approached, and the soldier in the passenger seat stuck out an AK-47 and David’s eyes were wide and the air was as thin as I ever felt it, and this is what the soldier with the AK-47 said, he said one of us had to get in the jeep or else we would both be shot. All sounds ceased, as if vacuumed up by the weapon’s barrel. I lifted the machine gun to my shoulder and squeezed the trigger and blasted holes in both those fuckers, and then we lit out of there, ran back into the woods and smoked another cigarette and this time we didn’t cough.

Except it didn’t happen that way. David stepped forward. I tried to stop him, but he shrugged my hand away and kept walking toward the soldiers. He looked back at me, expressionless. But in the years that followed, my imagination got the best of me and I’d be haunted by nightmares in which his face contorted frighteningly, his lip snarling too far up, his eyebrows furrowing to the point of a punji stick. He got into the VC jeep and I finally took a step forward and nearly tripped on his machine gun. The jeep drove away and it was goodbye, renegade cop team. It was goodbye, balled-up sock grenades. Goodbye, crushed tomatoes garlic sweet pork. Goodbye, David, because nobody ever saw him again. I stood there and watched the jeep get tinier and tinier until it disappeared, like when David and I had turned the TV off in his living room just a couple weekends prior after watching Stallone in First Blood—how the little light on the TV screen shrunk until there was nothing left, nothing but the dark glass and our own reflections staring back at us.

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