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fiction 12 opposition in all things Shawn Vestal I Then I awoke. Sea the color of stone curled away in every direction, tucking itself beneath a bright mist that blotted out the sky. A tinge of lilac bleeding into the frosty air. A rocking, a lulling. Was this the celestial kingdom? I had believed I was dying into God’s glory. Now I was seeing through someone else’s eyes, and could but hope this was a passage, a way there. The ashen sea rocked on. I stared into the haze, longing to see it open upon a wide shore, a sacred light, the heavenly host. But the mist did not part and no shore appeared and I remained behind the eyes of a stranger, a sailor on an armored warship, standing ready beside a big gun on the foredeck, a bigger gun than I had ever seen. I watched with him from the deck, and from his seat at the mess, 13 and as he read his letters in his cramped bunk, sour water swishing on the floor below. It was no heaven and no hell, and soon I realized, from the letters, that he was no stranger. He was Rulon Warren, the son of a niece whom I had known only as a girl. And what was I? Angel or spirit? And what was my purpose? When we returned from the war in Europe and all we had seen there, Rulon Warren wanted nothing but the silence no one would allow. He was assaulted by talk. Everyone called for an accounting. I wanted so much to help him then, to ease his way or strike down his enemies, but I held no such earthly powers. His parents wanted to speak to him at all hours—his mother, my niece, about church services and socials, young women in town, his plans for the future; his father about the barley, canal weeds, young women in town. His mother could talk for hours, it seemed, while his father spoke only three and four words at a time, but they both wanted the same from him, a future parceled out in syllables. At church on Sundays, the older men came up one by one, shy, like courters at a dance. Didn’t it make you seasick, all that time on the boat? How many of those Huns did you send into outer darkness? Rulon sometimes could not think of a single word. He would blush and shrug and look at the ward-house floor, and the men would do something similar, rebuked. They’d pat him on the shoulder and retreat. Other times the answers came as if from another place. He was never once seasick. “Best sea legs on the ship came from right here in Idaho,” he’d brag. And in his job on the ship, navigating the fixed gun on the foredeck, he’d probably helped kill thirty-five or forty of the kaiser’s boys. “My share,” he would say, and try to smile. “Maybe a few more.” I could feel his temptation to tell them, the men with their fingernails cleaned and hair slick for Sunday, that he’d stood next to a gunner whose head had vanished in a pink mist, and that hours later, belowdecks and pulsing with adrenaline, he had found bits of skull clinging to the shoulder of his uniform. Or that he had watched as his fellow sailors fired on the survivors of the Gotthilf, the destroyer they’d sunk in the metal gray North Sea, the Germans bobbing in the water, waving their arms in surrender, and then jerking and sliding below the churning water while the sailors laughed. I could feel Rulon’s desire to unsettle the brethren, to terrify them—it was the selfsame desire I had brought 14 ecotone to church during my own life, Sunday after Sunday, and in those early days of our coexistence it made me feel we were aligned. And yet we were not. Rulon’s guilt boiled at him. He pitied those Huns, which had struck me as weak when he’d first felt it, out on the ship. Like the response of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2165-2651
Print ISSN
1553-1775
Pages
pp. 12-39
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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