My son, who just turned thirteen, refers to himself as Sergeant Dagny. I named him something else, of course, although I no longer know what to call him, no longer know who he is.
We have never left Minnesota, this unknown town of ours, but he talks incessantly about his “memories” of war: blisters on his feet from walks with his platoon through a mountainous region of Afghanistan, a laminated photograph of a golden Labrador in the pocket closest to his heart, the weight of the automatic rifle in his hands, its terrible weight, pulling him down, down towards the Earth’s fiery core.
He speaks of what he perceived as an initial strangeness of the Afghan people, their language and clothes, their cautious glances. He recalls plumes of smoke, the odor of singed flesh, how effortlessly shrapnel glides through skin.
Trying to resist tears, he describes the first time he shot and killed a man—more of a boy, really, brandishing an old pistol that may not have even worked. As the color drained from his face, the boy reached towards the sun with his right hand and said something so beautiful, it must have been a prayer.
Whoever he is, he claims to have memories that follow those of him being a soldier. Abandoning his platoon in darkness, leaving behind his weapons. Meandering for days across the foothills of snow-tipped mountains. Shedding his black boots upon entering an endless plain, brilliant green grass brushing against his ankles, the air crisp and alive, butterflies circling and tying knots in the air, their wings tinged with golden sunlight. The relief he felt, the weightlessness! He spread his arms in the vast openness, pretended that he, too, could fly.
He eventually arrived at a village, hungry and thirsty, unaware of how many days had passed, delirious with the sensation of newness and the promises it contains, yet the stigma of strangeness, ever watchful, turned its head towards him. He spent weeks in isolation, heard faint whispers outside the room where they insisted he stay. They did not respond to his alien cries.
He worked to earn their trust, when the opportunities arose, tending to crops of rice and wheat under the supervision of skeptical men, repairing an old jeep. As the weeks and months unfolded, he grew a beard and wore the perahan tunban, learned a touch of Farsi. The elders eventually broke bread with him at night around a fire, the orange of the flames flickering on their white beards. Their serious tones, their bursts of laughter!
With such longing in his voice, he speaks of holding a woman under a billion stars, her black hair wild in the wind. The words she whispered, he could not understand them all, but, he says, they came from a place beyond boundaries, and drew him closer, inward.
In Farsi, he called her, “My love.”
Where did he learn to speak this way?
He does not know how this life ended, yet he insists, my only child, this lost man, “As soon as I am able, I will return to her.”
Mason Binkley is the author of the flash fiction collection, Familial Disturbances (Ellipsis Zine, 2019). His stories have appeared most recently in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, JMWW, and New World Writing. He reads for Pithead Chapel and lives in Tampa, Florida. You can find him on Twitter: @Mason_Binkley.