Jesus Hidalgo

Jesus Hidalgo

The 341st slammed into Cosala about an hour before daybreak. I was in that first wave, ma’am, the one that took the forward batteries. Resistance was heavier than we expected but it was really only a matter of having patience and applying steady pressure on our part to crack the city open. By the end of the week major fighting was finished, and we set out on regular patrols to pacify the city, maintain order, and win hearts and minds.

I was in Bravo Company and at first we were given the commercial quarter to patrol. It wasn’t bad. The streets were really narrow and the buildings created steep canyons with limited sightlines. Any one of those thousands of windows could be home to a sniper and the first time I went out I’m sure I looked like I was about to throw up or wet myself. I definitely felt that way, ma’am. I’m from a little town, you see, so those city blocks were smaller than I think any house I’d lived in, and each one was filled with more people than my whole town.

But the commercial quarter was good. I got used to it. The people, you know, they just wanted to get back to their lives. It didn’t matter to them who was sitting in the government house: a local, an occupier, a horse, whatever, they had kids to feed, things to sell, lives to live, right? We kept the streets open and kept looters out, and they appreciated us. Me and some of the guys tried to speak to them in Spanish, and I think that helped a lot, too. I tried to pal around with Gooty–that’s Corporal Gutierrez, we called him Gooty–cause he spoke Spanish from growing up. A different Spanish from theirs, so sometimes they laughed at him, too, for getting things wrong. But little things like that, we made friends.

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Theodore Lewiston served two tours in Afghanistan, where he was awarded a Commendation Medal but more more importantly earned the respect and gratitude of his unit for fearlessly engaging camel spiders.

Returning home, Theodore found work as a security guard that from time to time required him to be big and scary, sometimes towards people who were bigger or scarier than he. Just as with the camel spiders, he showed a cool exterior while adrenaline surged through his veins, his not-insignificant fear hidden behind a cool gaze and steady voice.

Nobody ever asked him but he liked to imagine someone–a grandchild, perhaps–looking at his various citations and asking him about courage. What was the hardest thing you ever did? Or, “What was the most courageous?” Nobody would ever ask it that. “What was the scariest thing you ever did?”

He had a ready answer, one that would seem characteristically calm and cool but would reveal itself in time to be profound true, he thought.

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A Curiously Unremarkable Meeting on a Path During the War

A Curiously Unremarkable Meeting on a Path During the War

There was a path from her school to her neighborhood that led through a field between the town and the river. It was the most direct route but not much used. Everyone preferred to go through the town, even though meant walking past the checkpoints and the crumbled facades that had long ago stopped breaking hearts and were now just the way things were. The avenue went past the school and the park to the crossing which still bustled with shops and cafes in spite of it all. From there she could take a right turn and follow it straight to her neighborhood. If she continued, which she didn’t, she would reach the walled compound just beyond the edge of the city where official visitors stayed when they were allowed to visit.

Like everyone else, the girl followed the main roads through town, sometimes stopping to buy a sweet on her way to or from, but then one day she noticed a group of foreigners walking from the compound to the center by way of the path in the field, and she asked her mother about it. A path existed, or rather several paths, but even before the war they weren’t much used. Teenagers would go there to sit by the river and do the things that teenagers do when they aren’t being watched. The city would cut the grass down when it grew too tall, but only where the ground was level and there weren’t any nests or burrows. Closer to the river the ground would turn muddy but you couldn’t tell until you stepped in it. Of course, during the war there had been a fear that walking through the field would leave one exposed to opportunistic sniping. Now that the government controlled both sides of the river there was no more sniping to fear, and since the river was too deep to cross at that point nobody had ever bothered mining the field, so it was probably safe to use the path, except that nobody had cared for that field for year so now it was overgrown and unpleasant.

The girl saw the foreigners every morning trek through the field. There were three men and two women. One of the women was old, and one of the men was so enormously fat that the girl couldn’t believe her eyes. But the other woman was beautiful, with her shining hair tied back in a way that was both unfussy and elegant, and the other two men looked handsome in completely different ways: one lean and young with an appealing stubble of beard, and the other with salt-and-pepper hair and a square-jawed face that was dignified, warm, and finely aged. For whatever reason they didn’t take the armored cars that drove too fast down the main roads. Perhaps they appreciated the thirty minute walk from the compound to the municipal building where they would spend the whole day in meetings or whatever they did in there. She never saw them trek back but assumed that they walked back in the evening after she was already indoors.

The foreigners left after a week, and the next day when school let out instead of walking out onto the main street towards the crossing, the girl turned and headed towards the field, where she found the trailhead just beyond the garbage dump. There were no signs warning anyone to keep off, and although at least a dozen adults saw her go into the tall grasses nobody stopped her, and so she went in, and discovered that the path was clear to follow. It intersected another which took her back towards the neighborhood and deposited her right by her house. The whole trip took fifteen minutes, which was faster than going through town. It meant forgoing sweets, but that would save her a little money anyway.

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