It starts with a mattress, thrown to the side of a country road.
Next comes another mattress and box springs–both fallen at an angle to the road’s edge.
Then, it’s tires. Lots and lots of tires. And garbage bags with trash, thrown on as afterthoughts. Broken open by raccoons, the bags contain language tapes, Ingles sin Barrerras.
How does one say, in all languages so everyone understands, no dumping here above the creek?
The razing of the Naval Hospital in Oakland reminded me that it’s the facility that inspired this scene in my novel-in-progress, Junction, Utah. Here’s an excerpt.
Chris learned something he hadn’t known but only suspected: the Landstuhl medical center was bigger than all of downtown Landstuhl. A dozen hospital buildings lay north and south of a mile-long hallway, and the facility hosted a thousand beds. Most beds sat empty during Chris’s visit, but their neat rows reminded him how full the center could be at the worst times. The front lobby had neon lights, the brightest Chris had seen in all his time in Germany. Nurse Clark came to meet him in the lobby and smiled, her hand stretched out to greet him. He noticed she had a faint mustache; her powerful shoulders shook his preconceived image of her as a small, pasty freshman. “I haven’t talked to your brother in days,” she said. “He’s not officially checked in anymore, you know.”
“Not checked in?” Chris felt heat in his cheeks.
“But if he’s in the building, he’ll be in Martin’s room. Building Ten.”
“Does he know I’m here?”
Nurse Clark stopped to talk to a serviceman on crutches, one of the many wounded who lined the hallway. They sat in wheelchairs and rocking chairs or walked with casts. They lay on gurneys with tubes in their necks and nostrils or they sat up in wheelchairs. Many were missing limbs. They were all kids, Luke’s age and younger, some with burns that covered their skin in red or brown; some with their heads and faces masked; some with miles of bandages. Chris flashed on a thought: if he unrolled all the gauze in that building, it’d take him back to Utah. Nurse Clark gave everyone a smile and kind word, and Chris followed her lead as best he could, even with his stomach roiling at the sight of it all.
Nurse Clark led Chris past some Frauleins in uniform: Girl Scouts, or the German equivalent. They huddled together singing O! Tannenbaum, their big eyes on each other, not on the wounded. Their rabbit-faced terror implied they could catch some injuries of their own by being near those so badly hurt.
“Please, Nurse Clark.” Chris asked again, “Does Luke know I’m here?”
She pushed through double doors marked Building Ten. “I haven’t had the chance to tell him.”
Chris breathed in as he followed her past an empty stairwell. They wound through a crowd of medical personnel speaking German and English all mixed together. They passed the Girl Scouts again—or so Chris thought—who were now singing Silent Nacht.
“Are we going in circles?” he asked.
“No!” said Nurse Clark. “That’s a different group of girls. There are three or four different choirs here every day this close to Christmas.”
He stayed with her, though he wanted to bolt. If all these men looked so bad, how would Luke be when they found him? Doctor Swanson had said, “Luke expressly told me he doesn’t want to speak to anyone.”
“Even his family?”
“Especially his family.”
Interesting that a gentleman driving a green Prius, looking every bit like a normal human being with a calm heart, older than I am (if that’s possible–he is a member of the Great Generation, actually), should feel free to roll down his window and call me a Wacko. An Environmental Wacko, no less. “One of those Environmental Wackos who works on the creek.” Was I minding my own business? Yes. Was I working on the creek at that moment? No. I wasn’t even fully awake. I was doing as I’d been asked to do–to help direct hikers toward the parking area for a docent-led exploration of a spring wildflower preserve.
You can park up ahead, I said. There’s still room. But parking and hiking were not on his mind–heckling and spewing invective were.
I’m awake now. He’s inspired me to use him as a character in a story or play. I won’t post his license plate number–I will save that for the Sheriff should this gentleman return to harass me or my colleagues again.
Oh, yes. Some name-calling is considered okay; it’s a sort of cultural institution.
Keep moving, buddy. We Wackos want to get back to work.