Contest #130 winner 🏆

114 comments

Fiction

Content warning: Language

They knew I wasn’t cut out for war the moment they stuck an M4 Carbine in my hands. I had lady fingers while the soldiers around me had hands made to strangle and calluses that grated their rifles into submission.

To die for my country, surrounded by the sweaty men it rounded up into its service, was not a lifelong goal of mine. To be fair, I didn’t have a lifelong goal. A younger version of myself had been set on teaching preschool, or kindergarten—didn’t matter really. I just loved kids. That dream was doused by the gaggle of overprotective mothers who had me detained at a playground. 

I had been watching my bi-racial niece with too much interest. Her mom wanted a video, and I didn’t think twice; we knew mom’s word was law. She hit the zenith of her swing and I captured her glee-ridden face as she kicked her legs in a fit of triumph. 

A lanky brown man like me should have known better, should have thought about how I looked on the park bench: phone out and a hand in my sweats to keep warm. I had mustard on my shirt, too. My niece and I ate hot dogs earlier that day and she managed to dapple her pants with ketchup. She wanted to match, and I’d obliged. With kids, it’s always about compromise and comradery.

Out of the moms at the playground, I couldn’t tell you who made the call. It might have been a group effort for all I knew, like going to the bathroom. But I was twenty with a neckbeard that made me look forty and—whoever it was—I understood where they were coming from.

Before long, an officer stood over me. He’d looked at my skin and that mustard stain and my lazy-day sweats, and told me with his eyes that I matched every expectation. My only shield from his onslaught of accusations was my niece and her big ass tears. He let me walk with a strongly worded suggestion to avoid child-related career choices. 

Four years later, the draft notice hit our mailbox. The country had gone above and beyond to provide me a minor-free environment. I would have laughed, but my mum was already set on crying. 

I balanced the rifle a healthy distance away from my person and didn’t bother to feign comfort. No one expected me to kill anyone anyway, but maybe I could block a bullet for someone else. Preferably someone with a larger buldge—as the sergeant kindly noted. He said all I needed to do was stand still, look pretty, and make sure to wear a condom so I wouldn’t risk procreating while getting fucked on the battlefield. I smiled and joked and failed at push-ups until the sergeant realized lackluster jabs at my genitalia would fall flat. I was no stranger to slander from geriatric men. My day job had been in a nursing home, and a low-class one at that.

A transient friendship formed between myself and the men in my company who were able to look beyond my potential as a meat shield. I told my niece about them in a letter home. She sent us drawings of dragons and horses in response. We named them all with unbridled vulgarity. It felt wrong, but it was the good kind of wrong. Not the ending-a-life kind of wrong. 

They came at night—the men we spent six months preparing to meet—yipping and yowling in a foreign tongue. I heard the hiss of gunfire, dropped the shiny M4, and bolted. Pine trees and soldiers erupted in my wake. 

As I ran, I thought of my mum, and I did not think she would be ashamed. But it was my father, not my mum, who had insisted on naming me Dick. For a small statured man like myself, it was more of a joke than a name. Maybe my father thought my hands and I would grow into it. He hadn’t lived long enough to be disappointed when I didn’t. I was told it was a car accident, that it happened in an instant, and that he would be here if he could. Then, after I hit some inane mark of maturity, my aunty told me differently. 

Got himself stabbed by a mugger, she said. 

I dug up a news clip about it. He had valiantly stepped between the mugger and a lady’s purse. The report pegged him as a hero. All I saw was a man who could have been a father. An ashamed father, but a father, nevertheless. 

Had he been alive, he would’ve known how to use an M4. And had he been here, watching his son run, he might’ve used it to shoot me himself. Some adrenaline-inflated part of my brain wanted to laugh at that. The only quality time I would spend with my father was if his ghost bit at my heels. 

A fallen log that was more rot than wood served as my shelter that night. My unit had been small and there was no point in envisioning our future beyond this forest. I pressed myself into the decomposing tree’s embrace and wept for the men out there still clutching M4s. How long did it take to bleed out? Did it feel longer with pine-needles pressed into your neck and terror wheeling above? Would it be an honorable enough end? 

There were soldiers who lived for this moment. The draft was an opportunity, they’d said. Perseverance over preservation. Courage over cowardice. I saw it in their eyes, in the direction of their boots as they stood and wrangled their rifles: one foot in front of the other and you could bury your nose in that cut-flower honor our grandpas raised us on. 

Flowers or ashes, both would fill a vase just fine.

I wept hardest for them. I understood the loss of a dream, but not how a dream could bring about so much loss. Those were the sons my father dreamed of when he filled out my birth certificate; men who would exchange a purse for a life. 

I wept for myself, too. No matter how you looked at me, I would never be a man’s man. I had chosen cowardice over courage, preservation over perseverance. Even though I was, chromosomally speaking, born for war—I was plagued by fear. I didn’t want to make the wrong choice; I didn’t want to die with the ending-a-life kind of wrong in my gut. But hundreds of hours with my rifle meant I could hold, aim, and fire the M4 with ease. The conviction with which I handled the rifle, and the ease with which the bullet left the barrel, terrified me. Even a man with lady fingers like me could reach through the world and break a mother. A trigger didn’t leave room for thought. 

As dawn came, so too did their voices. They spoke amongst themselves, unaware of my presence. It was a lyrical language. There were soft consonants and words without edges that flowed into one another. I had forgotten the language of our enemy was made to string memories together, too. That they had words like ours, for kitchen and friend and father. And words that weren’t meant for this forest or this war. 

When they spotted me, their voices transformed, and we were on the battlefield once more. But I didn’t have my rifle, and it was a small comfort to know that their mothers might hear those soft voices in their home again. Dying here, alone and cradled against a reeking log, would be an honorable enough end. 

January 29, 2022 01:43

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114 comments

Mary Jo Fortes
16:41 Feb 04, 2022

Allie, congratulations on your well-deserved win and thank you for sharing "A Man's Man" with this community! For me, discovering fresh, talented writers is just as much why I am a part of Reedsy as writing and sharing my own pieces. Your story was hauntingly beautiful, descriptive, and succinct, yet it spoke volumes. I noticed that this was your first submission. I am following you, hoping there are more to come. Please keep writing and sharing!

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Allie Erickson
01:23 Feb 06, 2022

Thank you so much, Mary Jo. I have lurked on Reedsy for a while, but this is my first experience interacting with the community; everyone is so supportive and kind. I hope you continue to write and share your work too!

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Mary Jo Fortes
11:22 Feb 10, 2022

"Lurking" can be very useful, Allie. So glad you decided to post your impactful story and interact here. This community is definitely worth it's weight in gold-- thrilled you are an active part of it!

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Keya Jadav
05:55 Feb 05, 2022

The way you've ventured through so many emotions and zeal of the protagonist to be enough, it's impeccable. I loved how you took up the title and transformed your story in a metaphorical way. It was perfectly conveyed to the readers with a captivating end and heartfelt emotions. Congratulations Allie!

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Allie Erickson
01:54 Feb 06, 2022

Hey Keya! Knowing you were able to feel the emotions I wanted to convey is so surreal. Thank you for reading my story!

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Amanda Lieser
19:56 Feb 08, 2022

Hi Allie! Oh my! You tackled some many huge issues in this piece, but I was inspired by the way it didn’t feel rushed or cramped. I loved how you wrote about his bi-racial niece and the assumptions made by strangers. You did a great job of creating the mentality of the soldier and I really appreciated how the content of this piece was a good conversation starter. Thank you so much for writing this piece. It was a well deserved win. If you have a moment, please consider sending me a comment on my piece, “Something Domestic.” Congratulations o...

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Allie Erickson
20:24 Feb 08, 2022

Hello Amanda! Thank you for the feedback, I appreciate the thought you put into reading my story and I am super happy to hear that you didn't find it cramped or rushed--I was having a hard time figuring out where to break paragraphs and tie ideas together, so your words are a wonderful reassurance. I would love to read your piece, but I was unable to find it, maybe you could send me a link? Thank you again!

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Amanda Lieser
20:43 Feb 08, 2022

Hi Allie! I am so embarrassed, “Seven Year Itch” is the title of a company within this piece. I edited my comment. The piece is titled “Something Domestic.”

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J The Hedgehog
13:18 Feb 08, 2022

Wow your story is great

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Allie Erickson
13:47 Feb 08, 2022

Thank you, J!

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09:39 Feb 05, 2022

Interesting, it's sort of a literary style of writing. I think I'd prefer slightly more detail and showing in the plot. So many of the sentences and metaphors are written brilliantly and I loved the empathy for the other and the anti-war message in the last two paragraphs. Congrats on your win!

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Allie Erickson
01:34 Feb 06, 2022

Hi Scott, I appreciate the feedback. I totally understand the desire for detail and a lil extra information -- I will take your thoughts into account if I submit another piece. Thank you so much!

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Riel Rosehill
21:38 Feb 08, 2022

Allie this is AMAZING... I don't even know what to say as you said it all. Excellent work!

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Allie Erickson
16:27 Feb 09, 2022

Hi Riel, thank you! I truly appreciate it.

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Nicole Farmer
02:50 Feb 07, 2022

Enjoyed this one. I’m glad to see an Afro American lead and the real emotions of someone counted out by most and giving real reaction to a scenario most of us would not know what to do either except to run. It’s a fated ending. Wether he was shot right there or hauled off to waste away in a POW camp it all amounts to the same… man or not he died more as himself than he lived. In the end what does it matter if no one knows the truth???

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Allie Erickson
14:23 Feb 07, 2022

Hi Nicole! I like your breakdown of the end and many of your thoughts echo my own, especially the bit about him dying as himself. I am glad you were able to connect with the main character, I wrote him to be intentionally vague in terms of race (he could be Afro American, Middle Easterner, South Asian, etc) since I cannot speak from personal experience, but I hoped to recognize the roadblocks and unjust hardship many individuals face. Thank you so much for reading!

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Zakirah Green
17:21 Feb 05, 2022

Allie, I loved the way you picked up on feelings to explore them later. The back story of a black kid, the senseless loss of a father for a purse and the kid who escaped twice the harsh realities of life only to die honourably in the end.

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Allie Erickson
01:38 Feb 06, 2022

Hi Zakirah, I am glad you thought the his death was honorable in the end! I am really interested in what readers think of the MC and I love hearing their thoughts. Thank you for the read!

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Jamie Gregory
16:31 Feb 05, 2022

Congrats on the well deserved win, Allie! Winning with your first submission is quite the accomplishment. This story was written very well and I enjoyed reading it. You really helped us connect with the main character at a deep level.

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Allie Erickson
01:44 Feb 06, 2022

Thank you, Jamie! I appreciate your comment and I am happy you enjoyed the story. Submitting for the first time was nerve-racking, but there are many amazing writers here and I am grateful we have a space to share and grow!

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Philip Ebuluofor
04:52 Feb 05, 2022

Man, from beginnig to the end, it was metaphor riot. It flowed for sure. Keep it coming that way.

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Allie Erickson
01:54 Feb 06, 2022

Thank you, Philip. I'll do my best!

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Philip Ebuluofor
12:47 Feb 08, 2022

Welcome.

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Debbie Curtin
03:15 Feb 05, 2022

So well written in many ways.

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Allie Erickson
01:56 Feb 06, 2022

Thank you very much, Debbie! I appreciate your words.

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Renda Brooks
01:23 Feb 05, 2022

A fantastic story, well deserved win! Your story captured my attention from beginning and held it to the end. Thank you. I'm looking forward to reading more from you.

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Allie Erickson
02:04 Feb 06, 2022

Hi Renda, thank you for reading. I hope my next submission will be able to hold your attention as well!

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Jose Gonzalez
00:44 Feb 05, 2022

Great story. Your sense of humor came through on this one with the protagonist being such a coward. Fitting end for him I guess you could say. Well deserved

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Allie Erickson
02:10 Feb 06, 2022

Hey Jose, I am glad you were able to enjoy the humor in the piece. It is interesting to hear your thoughts on the protagonist. In my head, he had his own kind of courage and strength, but it definitely differed from societal expectations.

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Scout Tahoe
00:40 Feb 05, 2022

Thank you for sharing this & congrats! I loved this story and the line that caught me (many are mentioning it now) was "Flowers or ashes, both would fill a vase just fine." I choked on nothing when I read it, it's so blunt yet so deep. Amazing.

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Allie Erickson
02:19 Feb 06, 2022

Thank you, Scout! I am happy you enjoyed the piece. It took a long time to determine where that line would go and how it would be spaced, so receiving such positive commentary on it means a lot.

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Scout Tahoe
05:58 Feb 06, 2022

I hope you continue to submit, I love your style.

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21:16 Feb 04, 2022

Congratulations on your win and I really enjoyed reading your story. Thank you.

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Allie Erickson
02:20 Feb 06, 2022

Hi Kathryn, thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment!

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Kendall Defoe
20:26 Feb 04, 2022

A damned impressive tale, Ms. E.! And you deserved the win for it!

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Allie Erickson
02:24 Feb 06, 2022

Thank you for reading and for your support, Kendall!

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Wilma Segeren
20:02 Feb 04, 2022

Allie, congrats on the win this week. What I liked most about your story is how real it felt. And that although Dick used preservation over perseverance, or cowardice over courage I understand him and even applaud him. I’m looking forward to reading more from your pen !

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Allie Erickson
02:29 Feb 06, 2022

Hi Wilma! I love hearing your feelings about the story and character. Societal expectations play such a huge role in how we judge others, but context is everything. Thank you!

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Susie Dunham
19:14 Feb 04, 2022

You embodied your character so well, I was sure this was nonfiction. Congratulations on your win.

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Allie Erickson
02:35 Feb 06, 2022

Thank you, Susie! That is awesome to hear, especially since I am a young woman and definitely not a man going to war. I hope I can bring the same energy to my next story!

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19:07 Feb 04, 2022

This story absolutely blew me away. I don’t even have words. I’m in awe. You really got to the heart of humanity on this one. Incredible writing. You have quite a talent!

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Allie Erickson
02:38 Feb 06, 2022

Wow! You are so kind. Thank you very much, Heather.

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Barbara Burgess
18:19 Feb 04, 2022

A beautiful and well written story - congratualtions on your win.

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Allie Erickson
02:44 Feb 06, 2022

Hi Barbara, thank you for taking the time to read and comment. It is greatly appreciated.

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