Trigger warning: suicide
The smell of Camel cigarettes and spilt booze fill the hotel room. Foggy blue clouds cling to the ceiling like ghostly cowards trying to avoid their date with the Grim Reaper. The lone smoldering cigarette that rests atop the overflowing crystal ashtray has burnt up almost entirely. The only thing keeping the air from becoming entirely stagnant is the little window unit near the door, but despite the rattling machine’s best efforts, the thick haze remains.
The glass screen of the wood-encased Teletronics television is shattered into a bajillion pieces among a heap of crushed Coors cans, not to mention that it’s smoldering like a Zero that decided to kiss the side of a battleship.
Somehow I can still hear Vera Lynn’s somber voice calling out from the television’s single remaining speaker. The sound is somewhat tinny because of the structural damage to the speaker’s mahogany housing, but she still sounds just as beautiful as ever. That’s American quality for you, baby.
I haven’t heard that ditty in a dog’s age--not since I got shipped back stateside back in ‘47. Like a flash of light, the memory comes hurtling back to me as if it had happened only yesterday. The song was playing on the radio at that big shindig, the night I went down by the lake with Joey Baxter and his crew of degenerates. That stupid party was packed to the brim with kegs of cheap beer, chicks in their bathing suits and a load of horny guys who couldn’t keep cool if they were locked in a fucking freezer.
I generally keep to myself for the most part, always have, but I felt down that night and didn’t want to be alone with dark thoughts. So, I let Joey drag me out of my apartment that fateful afternoon and we cruised down to the man-made beach by Freedom Lake in his old Nash Ambassador.
Once we finally arrived, I ditched Joey and his friends, tossed my worn beach towel onto the sand and popped a squat next to a pair of red coolers. After a few minutes of watching all those goobers strutting around like peacocks before chasing each other into the lake, I wondered if coming here was a waste of time. Not two seconds later, I saw her walk by and instantly realized that I was dead wrong.
She was this beautiful dame named Nellie and boy was she was a pistol. Even after taking down my fair share of Germans during the Bulge, I still felt like I had a goddamned butterfly orchard in my guts when I asked her to join me for a drink. Surprisingly, she flicked her cigarette into a nearby cooler and obliged me.
One drink turned into many as we started chatting about everything under the sun. Despite her vice, her voice was smooth as silk, and those eyes? A vibrant brown, like milk poured into a rich Arabian coffee. I knew that if I was given the chance, I would happily look into those eyes for the rest of my days.
It felt like we had only been talking for a few minutes, but before we knew it, the damn sun had started to set! That caused us both to start laughing, and then we kept on talking. For first time in what felt like forever, I was able to really let my guard down.
Not long after that, Vera Lynn’s number came on and Nellie quickly stood up and dusted off her green dress. With surprising strength, she jerked me up by my collar and led me to a group of couples that had migrated to a sandy patch of grass nearby so they could dance unobstructed around their little Victrola. There we were, among so many others, yet in a world of our own. She rested her head on my shoulder as we slow-danced, gently swaying back and forth in step with one another.
When we pulled back, she flashed me a smile that was simply dazzling, then leaned forward and pressed her full lips against mine. For a moment it seemed as if I were frozen, I felt my heart begin to flutter as we continued kissing. I’d never forget that song, that moment--not in a million years.
Nellie and I started going steady not long after that, and we were happily married the following year. I’d been hired on at the new Oldsmobile plant that had just opened up shop nearby, and thanks to that gig, I’d managed to scrape together enough dough together to get us a nice little townhouse. We lived there for a long time, longer than we’d ever planned. She wanted to get a larger house once we had a couple of rugrats running around, but because of the complications she suffered delivering our first-born, little Nelson was the only kid we’d ever make. It didn’t matter to me though, I had everything I could ever hope for, well, for a time anyway.
Nellie abruptly passed away in her sleep one night in ‘67 from a blood clot in her lungs. My days were never quite as bright, but I did my upmost to be there for our boy, the only part of Nellie I had left. Two years later and Nelson has joined her in the afterlife. He met his end shortly after being drafted to fight the Vietnamese in the new war. His chopper was gunned down when it was heading out of Tan Linh in December.
Was it a week ago?
No, two weeks ago.
The funeral was a week ago.
How the hell did that song go again? Oh...yeah, I remember now.
We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when...
Yeah, that sounds about right, though I don’t entirely trust my brain at the moment if I’m being honest. After taking a hit of both barrels of my shotgun, most of it is plastered on that wall just up above me, slowly traversing downward as if the goop had been a plate of baked spaghetti instead of my noodle.
Splotches of blood and skull fragments coat the lavender wallpaper and the ratty shag carpet just beneath it. The smell of gunpowder still lingers in what’s left of my nostrils as I lay slumped over on the side of the motel room mattress, my eyes gazing forever upward towards the popcorn ceiling.
For a brief moment, that stench clears and I’m able to smell that Camel I’d left burning in the ashtray and I think of her and smile a little.
It’s the very last thing that I do before my last breath drizzles out of me.
We’ll meet again some sunny day.