He began typing. His therapist, an overworked VA professional told him it would be a good idea. Any sort of expression can be therapeutic. Write in third person, then in first. If writing doesn’t work, try painting. Try coloring in those books for grownups.
He would have felt like some living cold-case in an old folks home if he even considered looking at a coloring book. It was true that expressing his experiences worried him.
He tried first person: We ran across the field. Lieutenant Sinclair and myself. The enemy convoy had spotted us no doubt. But we took refuge in the side of a hill. Sinclair pointed across the open field to two other hills. ‘If we run,’ he said, ‘they won’t know which one to go to.’
I protested. ‘They’ll search them both sooner or later.’
Sinclair. ‘We’ll figure it out when we get there.’
He led the way and I followed. I had only been in the field for two weeks. Our base got bombed and we were under orders to proceed to the next one, since the first base was no longer salvageable.
It didn’t occur to me that this field may be a trap. Three similar sized hills in a perfect triangle. I felt the ground move under my feet like a giant snake. Sinclair flew above me and behind me. Despite the dryness of the day I felt droplets spatter across my face. My hands came away red. In the settling dust Sinclair was trying to push himself to his feet. One of his legs was missing from the thigh down. He held himself up diagonally with the other one. Red strands hung from his open leg like puppet strings. He hopped toward me.
‘We can make it,’ he said. ‘That’s the only one I saw. I activated it so those slowpokes’ll take even more time. What’s wrong?’
I gaped with horror at his missing limb. The skin hung around whatever bone was left like a loose tent.
Sinclair put his hand on my shoulder. ‘I’ll lead the way, we got time. My bones are made of wood.’ And with that, he lead us to the other hill where we had to stay very quiet. I wrapped his leg up with my jacket, more for my sake than anything else. But when a convoy of ours came by, he explained about wooden people. It’s where the term ‘stick figure’ comes from, if you can believe it. A skeleton of wood must be assembled just so, then buried in a place of death, preferably a battlefield. Some place not often visited, with a lot of corpse to pull from. The wood has this special pull and, no one knows really how long it takes, but a person grows around it and the skin hermetically seals itself so all the blood can stay inside. The blood lubricates the muscles in this case and keeps things moving. There’s no heart or lungs or other organs to speak of. The air they breathe just goes in and out. The food they eat decays in between the blood and muscle and becomes nutrients. Not like they really need them, but its nice to keep up appearances.
If the typing man ever showed this to his therapist, he would be sectioned for sure. Or at least blacklisted for not taking therapy seriously. To be honest though, this is where his problems began. When they got to base, Sinclair went to see the medics and he never saw Sinclair again. It’s quite possible that Sinclair was moved to another unit, but he may have been reburied also. The military is not fond of wooden people. It seems odd at first, due to their ability to keep moving when wounded, but war only matters if lives are at stake. And wooden people are enchanted sticks. Do they take on characteristics of people from the past? He never found out. It’s the present that’s worrying.
The typing man stays temporarily in the guest room above his brother’s garage. His brother does something for a giant bank. Works in an office in a giant building, one of many giant buildings that bear the logo of this bank. His sister-in-law works for a book distributer. The children come home on a school bus and he waits for them at the end of the road. They have an eight-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter. The school is private so the bus is small and the driver knows each child like the teachers do.
One day, I was fixing them an afternoon snack and heard a snap like a carrot. The boy pulled his index finger all the way to the back of his hand. I lost my breath and flattened myself against the wall. Looking at his finger like he would a puzzle, the boy went to the end table by the front door, opened a drawer and took out a pair of scissors. They were almost too big for him and I was feeling dizzy. I could not move to help him or I would collapse onto the floor. He let his broken finger dangle and sawed through the edge of his knuckle. The finger fell to the floor. A jagged piece of wood, the color of exterior bark, jutted out and blood poured from his hand. The skin around the area sunk in like a deflated raft. I pushed myself along the kitchen counter toward him but he just looked at his hand a little longer, then turned to me and held his wound up for my inspection.
‘It was really itchy,’ he said and in the stump of wood I could make out little white shapes crawling in and out of holes they had eaten through his wooden bones. At this point, I heard a sound like static in my ears and the world around me grew dark. When I came to, I was at the VA hospital, hooked up to a hydration IV. A nurse told me that my brother didn’t want to take any chances with my health. I asked about his little boy, the nurse didn’t know what I was talking about, but I wouldn’t really expect her to I guess.
The therapist asks about flashbacks. None, I tell her. I just have memories, like anyone else. I did lie to her about the cause of my fainting. I know what the cause was and that you’re not supposed to lie to therapists. Many of my fellow soldiers turned to alcohol and pills upon their discharge, but their doctors cannot help them if they lie about their intake, even though all the tests and their own bodies show signs of abuse.
My brother thinks I’m too unstable to stay with him. He won’t say that out loud, but I can tell. The kids are fine, he assures me. Nate is besting all the other boys in sports, and Molly is writing perfectly with both hands and drawing at a fifth grade level. He got me a job sorting mail at his office building. That’s nice of him.
In the mail room, we have to sort certain types of paper. A few types of mulch were never meant to be used as stationary so we have to send it back. There are bundles missing every week. Is this happening in offices across the world?
My therapist warns me against idle speculation. Some of these bankers are here before I show up and after I leave. Even on days when the mail schedule changes, they’re always there. They never eat, they never sleep, they will never die.