Jigsaw

Seth Brady Tucker Click to read more...

Seth Brady Tucker’s short short story “Jigsaw” is the winner of this year’s Bevel Summers Prize from Shenandoah.  Tucker is a poet and fiction writer from Lander, Wyoming, and served as an 82nd Airborne paratrooper in the Gulf.  His first book, “Mormon Boy,” won the 2011 Elixir Press Editor’s Prize and is a finalist for the 2013 Colorado Book Award. He teaches at the University of Colorado at Boulder, at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver, and volunteers his time teaching inmates about literature in local prisons. Recent work has appeared in the Iowa Review, Verse Daily, Connecticut Review, Chautauqua, River Styx and Crab Orchard Review.

They arrive late to the scene, the oily smoke from the damaged vehicles diminishing to a slow pulse, soldiers going from alert attention to disinterest, then to the rooftops of the surrounding dun buildings and finally to bitter indifference, weapons leaning against their rigs as they light cigarettes or pinch fat lugs of Copenhagen between cheek and gum.  They missed the light up of the surrounding area, after Bravo 2/504 has already accidentally killed three old men in turbans in retaliation for the market bombing that has killed two of their friends.  The men were carrying canvas grocery bags filled with rice, papayas, and a leg of lamb, which is a feast out here, and unfortunately one of the men had a long black knobby walking stick that could look like a weapon in the right light, and some soldiers might wonder what they were going to celebrate with all that food anyway. It is dead center in the heat of the afternoon, and Stink can see the bristles of thirty or more angry and bored paratroopers along the rooftop, so he casually starts to look for any prizes in the blackened crater.  The dirt and rock is vaporized all the way down to the bottom, and when Stink bends into the shadow of the massive conical hole to examine some shiny metal he feels small and insignificant because the circles of discolored earth, each loop going back thousands of years, looks to him like concentric orbital rings, and there are chunks of crud here and there that seem to represent the planets, and he feels as if he is on the edge of the solar system, spinning wildly out of bounds.

He remembers making a diorama in Mrs. Phipps class, back when he believed he was going to be an astronaut, and he remembers that she was nice to him when all the other teachers were not. The rest of them told him he wasn’t smart enough to be an astronaut, and Stink had even caught Mr. Evans and Mrs. Dobbins joking that he was already a space cadet, but Mrs. Phipps had caught him crying even though he was too old to cry, and told him he could be anything he wanted to be, so when the Army recruiter drove the dirt roads from Lander, Wyoming, all the way out to the reservation just specially to see them, he thought it was fate when the man said he could be all he could be, because it sounded close enough.

Someone pops off a round at something and Stink crouches down, his M-4 across his chest and his right hand across the stock like he is pledging the allegiance, but that is all, and he hears ghostlike laughter from a group of soldiers so knows he can stand up again.  The further down he goes, the cooler it is, but he also knows that there won’t be anything at the bottom because there never is, and when there is, it is because whatever it is went straight up and then straight down and is always something horrible.  It smells bad in the massive hole though, like sewage and mold and things long dead, which is probably just because it is the ancient smell of a thousand years of this town growing from a camp to a village and then finally to a town, and Mrs. Phipps could undoubtedly tell him how long ago that was, if she were here.

Stink hears Corporal Binder yelling for him and he knows it is just because Lieutenant Clash found out that the rumors about the drinking cup next to his gear were true—he had been keeping a finger with a wedding band in there, under a wool sock he kept moist.  So suddenly everyone was paying him more attention and had stopped calling him Sitting Bull, but couldn’t help calling him Stink because even though he had done everything he could to keep it fresh, the finger ended up stinking real bad when they made him toss it out, and Lieutenant Clash had even been mad enough to pull the ring off the finger and toss it out to a bunch of kids disinterestedly kicking a duct taped soccer ball around outside the grounds.  Someone had been reading a book where some soldiers find a perfectly sound uncircumcised penis, and told him he should look for that, and Stink couldn’t tell if it was a joke or not, but he looked for it anyway, just thinking how weird it would be to hold a penis in your hand like that when it wasn’t even your penis!  Stink thought it would be like when Winters taped the ear from a dead insurgent to the back of his neck and joked that no one would be able to sneak up on him now, even though pretty soon after that Winters got blown up three ears and all.

He’s obviously not going to find any prizes down here in the hole though because even the bits and pieces of things scattered about were probably accidentally kicked in there when they were lighting up all the adobe houses, and there were footprints, which meant all the good stuff would already be taken, but even so, at the very bottom he finds what looks like a deflated jellyfish like when they get washed up on the beach, and when he kicks it with his boot toe a little piece snaps off even though it looks thick and soft, so he reaches down and it is a big ragged circle of purple and black and green and blue glass and he thinks that heating up sand is how they make glass, and he wonders how hot it had to be down there to make glass from an explosion, and picks it up and can see there are pretty bubbles inside, and he thinks maybe he can sell it at the market.

He is rubbing the smudges off with his camo blouse when Nunez comes up and asks him, “The fuck’s that?” but doesn’t care to even get an answer before he is looking under the vehicle for something then hopping up on the hood to light a smoke, and he is staring at the three dead old man with the grocery bags, flies already buzzing all over the place and then Nunez says, “Fuckit,” and walks over and takes the rice and papayas that don’t have blood on them, walks around a big old wet hunk of someone, and tosses it all into the back of the Humvee, same place they had put the bag that was Winters a week before.  Then Nunez goes back and gets the meat too and he rubs the blood off the leg of lamb, throws it in the back of the vehicle and explains, “The blood will wash off that meat,” lights another cigarette, shrugs, “shame to let it all go to waste,” and Stink knows that now he’ll get to keep the glass because everyone will care more about whether Nunez is going to really eat that lamb.

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Discussion

14 Responses to Jigsaw

  1. Stanton Appleby says:

    Good little tale. Grim and gritty, made an impression on me right away.

  2. Leslie Frazier says:

    Very good story- engaging, realistic, and made me stop and think, which is something not all stories can do.

  3. J Girgen says:

    This story leaves me with the same feelings I have after reading Salinger’s “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” A little sad, a little confused, and quite glad I read it. A very nice piece. Where can we get more?

  4. John Cotter says:

    I’m pleased to have been able to look through the bleak little window. Thanks to Shenandoah for posting it.

  5. Kara Felmlee says:

    Well written and touching. Thought provoking.

  6. Olivia Eggert says:

    I love this short story! Especially the character of Stink and his odd habits and concerns. His world is so vivid and dangerous and tragic, yet we are allowed a peek into his childishness and his youthfulness. Congrats, Shenandoah, for picking this one up.

  7. Matt Bondurant says:

    Amazing story!

  8. Myrna P. says:

    This story brings one to their knees as we see with graphic reality…war! We sheltered citizens need the jolt, to make us thankful for those willing to protect our freedoms. Thanks for the reminder!

  9. Amy G. says:

    Gritty. Real. Nice work Tucker.

  10. Eamon Sullivan says:

    This piece grabbed my interest from the first sentence and never let go. I loved reading it and furthermore what it left me with.

  11. Tim F. says:

    This story will keep my thinking for quite a while. Nice work Seth.

  12. Dan R says:

    I love this style of writing. I feel like I’m there, but with the haze of not quite knowing what’s has happened until later. Just enough information to accept the reality, think about it, and move on. Beautiful and, as others have said, thought-provoking. Thank you.

  13. Parker Smith says:

    Seth…this is awesome.

  14. John C says:

    It’s why we read – to get a sense of things that we didn’t get to experience… or want to experience, or have to experience. This story provides more of that in a small space than usual. Rich in detail and sad in unmentioned ways, it highlights pointlessness, humanness, suffering, and a curiosity special to mankind. It says so much with so little – it’s great.

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