by Merrell Michael

Rebecca Galvan knew that everything was going to hell when the director thanked them for their service.

The director was a squat little man, with gray hair worn a little too long and round John Lennon glasses with clear frames. He spoke in the no-accent of someone from California or New York, which he was, and he was heartfelt in his passion for the work and in his criticisms, all the way up until the moment in which he wasn’t. He repeated the comment, and a horrid chill went up Becky’s spine.

“And I mean it.” He said. “The fact is, you’ve already overcame so much- especially the women- that doing this sort of thing for you is an honor. I mean, I’ve just done some work out west- commercials and such- and the people we work with aren’t even in your league, when it comes with what you’ve done. So let’s get out there tomorrow and really own it.”

Becky didn’t say anything, but she could tell that the other players felt the same. The program was called Arts for Combat Vets and it was supposed to bring real Hollywood players out in contact with people like her. Instead she had this blubbering director of commercials using all the hype words civvies told them all the time… and while she was at it, what was that part about especially the women? Was she an extra special victim/hero because of her gender? All of this was getting her angry, which was giving her a headache. She had been off her meds for two days, in order to keep a clear head for the play, and now she was debating on whether or not to go ahead and take them. She gave in and did, and the night of the play, suffered the consequences.

The play was Doubt. The players had been unanimous about picking something without direct military connotations. All of them, especially Becky, wanted to prove to themselves that they could pull off serious work. And Becky had worked hard, getting picked right away for the role of Meryl Streep’s nun, the leading role, and she put her whole self into it. Even channeled some of that anger into it that always lurked in the back of her mind.

But the evening of the play she was heavily under the meds and nodding. There was a peaceful type of bliss around her body, like a warm halo, and she tried to fight it with coffee. Coffee didn’t seem too work all that much, except to underscore the terror lurking behind her nod. She got dressed in costume and went out to look at the crowd, and the terror rose. The house was full.

Her mother and sister were there. Will too, of course, even though he hadn’t bothered to wear a tie or even a collared shirt. But there were plenty of other serious looking people; the news was in the back row, with cameras. She could hear words like brave and such a good thing, even though she was too far away to really hear them.

When the curtain rose she tried to give it her best shot. She had memorized all her lines, that part was easy enough, but the actor playing the priest was horrible. He was a gulf war vet who looked much older than he was, and he did that terrible thing where when he pointed he tucked his thumb into his palm and straightened his fingers to form a knife-hand. Several times he added “Dad-gone.” Into his lines, and the first time he did it the audience actually laughed.

It got to the point where she had given up without actually quitting, just repeating the lines from her head, and with each monotonous reading the priest got more frenzied, but he didn’t sound anything like a priest, he sounded like a senior NCO lecturing a junior enlisted on the finer points of something or another. When Becky said “I have such Doubt.” It was flat and hollow and the audience didn’t remember to clap until the curtain had already fallen.

She managed to say she wasn’t feeling well and avoid anyone’s remarks afterwards. When she was in the truck Will packed his lip and said nothing for a while, spitting into a clear plastic water bottle at intervals.

“I got this idea.” Will said, finally.
“I want to sell t-shirts.”
“Like the whole military lifestyle brand thing. I mean, I’m going to market the whole thing to vets, or first responders, or whatever.”
“I don’t care what you do.” Becky said.
“There’s a market for it.” Will continued. “I mean, there’s an army guy that does it. And a marine. And there’s like, specifically Vietnam themed stuff, and little niches like that. But I think I can get in there and do something.” She wasn’t listening to him anymore but he kept on talking and she would catch little key words here and there when he didn’t know what he was talking about. Things like profit margins and customer profile. Will must have picked this up from the internet. One of his veteran’s groups online. He held out his phone. “Take a look.” He said.
The shirt on the phone was generic enough to the point where Becky couldn’t tell what it said. A reverse facing flag was screen printed on one arm.

“Did you pay for this?” She asked.
“It’s just Photoshop.” Will said. “I mean, yeah, I paid for the guy to put it together in Photoshop, but only like, twenty-five thirty bucks or something.”

Becky put the phone down on the center console and said nothing. She was staring out the window. She did this before when she was little. Her parents would disappoint her in some way, and she would stare out the window of the car so as not to cry. But she didn’t want to cry this time. She felt tired in a way from the VA meds but wired with anger at Will and hurt from the theater. She felt as if there was a great hole in the middle of her frame that had gotten carved out recently and been filled up with Styrofoam peanuts.

“Hey.” Will was saying, “Hey.” He was reaching for her leg, but she was pressed too far against the door to the window. The phone lit up between them and he grabbed it instead.

Merrell Michael has worked in Law Enforcement for ten years and served in the military for six before that. He is interested in telling stories that possibly do not fit the popular narratives on war and other subjects. He has a short fiction piece that will be published later this year in the journal As You Were

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