restricted access The Singing Marine
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8 8 8 8 8 It’s so hot in August in that part of Virginia that dogs die standing up and even insects stick to the asphalt. Flies buzz in place. Embedded, an overturned stag beetle waves its legs helplessly. The singing Marine has to move fast to keep his boondockers from sinking in and gluing him to the spot. He may be singing to take his mind off what’s just happened—the tragedy, or is it disgrace that probably marks the end of his life in the service. The accident—his platoon. How many men has he lost, and how can a man facing court-martial ever hope to love the general’s daughter? Putting one boot in front of the other, he goes along as if understanding is a place you can get to on foot, and as he goes, the song just keeps unfurling. “My mother m-m-m . . .” If anybody asked what he was singing he would look up, surprised; who, me? But he sings “. . . m-m-m-m-murdered me . . .” The road gets stickier. Heat mirages shimmer in the middle distance and rise up in front of him, thick and troublesome as cream of nothing soup. Fuddled by the dense air, the Marine bows his head against the heat and goes into the dim rural drugstore. He is not aware he’s being followed. “What’s that you’re singing?” The Marine blinks. “Say what?” It is a woman’s voice. “Mister, the song.” Exploding afterimages of sunlight stud the dimness, so he does not immediately see the speaker. “Ma’am?” The voice blurs suggestively. “Sit down, Lieutenant.” He blunders against a large shape—leatherette booth, he thinks. He can still leave. “Ma’am, you don’t want me to sit with you.” The woman’s hand closes on his arm and pulls him down. “You don’t know what I want until I tell you.” “You haven’t told me your name.” It becomes clear she isn’t going to. He hears the sound she makes inside her clothes as she crosses her legs; he can’t stop blinking. He thinks he can smell the warm air rising from the hollow at her throat. The Singing Marine 186 k i t r e e d What he says next, he says because he can’t help himself. The old threnody always bubbles up at times like this, when he thinks he’s close—to what? He can’t say. He just begins. “I was born of blood and reborn in violence. If you can’t handle either, you don’t want me sitting with you.” She leans across the table. “You haven’t told me what you were singing.” “It’s an old thing. I used to think it was sad, but now . . .” He’s hurtled into a complicated thought that he can’t finish. There’s no way to tell her he has bigger problems now. Instead he tells the old story: born late to a childless couple, mother dead in childbirth, wicked stepmother Gerda and the inevitable murder , if it was a murder. His father was away, he was never able to get the truth from his frantic half sister: “You were sitting by the door and your head came off; what can I tell you, your head came off.” They buried him under the linden tree, Marline and the stepmother, but he rose up, or something did, leached of memory and stark blind crazy with love; he thinks that was him flying overhead and singing, singing: “My mother murdered me; “My father grieved for me; “My sister, little Marline, “Wept under the linden tree . . .” The woman snaps, “I thought it was an almond tree.” “All depends where you’re coming from,” he says, blinking until her outlines emerge from the dimness—wedge-shaped face as beautifully defined as a cat’s muzzle, long hair falling over long white arms and that neatly composed face veiling her intentions; he thinks she may be beautiful—too early to tell. “Whatever it is, I can’t seem to get rid of the song.” “You’re still singing?” He says in some bewilderment, “It sings me.” Even in the shadows the sudden, attentive tilt of her head is apparent. “And what do you think it means?” But he slaps both hands flat on the table. “Enough. The stepmother got crushed in a rockfall. I came back. When being home got too hard, I...


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