The General Returns
The General returns from battle victorious, as he has done previously, countless medals displayed carefully on his military uniform. They have overrun the front and back of his jacket, so he has taken to pinning them to his shirtsleeves and trousers. The General greets the crowd of citizens that have been awaiting his arrival; he kisses infants, shakes hands, and makes grand gestures, the kind of arrogant gesticulation usually reserved for presidents, diplomats and dignitaries. The General rides through the streets of the vast city in a Chevy convertible that is painted stop sign red. The car is newly washed, the front grille majestic in the noonday sun.
When the General's convertible finally arrives at the palace, the King and Queen are waiting on the front lawn, exceedingly gracious, each brandishing new medals for his uniform. The Cardinal, that unwavering vessel for all that is wholly holy, stands just behind the King and Queen, clasping his hands together in severe contemplation, his tall jewel incrusted hat sitting slightly askew atop his balding pate. The General is stoic in his black boots that are two sizes two small, and extremely uncomfortable. They help him to stay alert on the battlefield, he has told reporters in the past.
The General's aide, Ivan, sitting at the front of the convertible, hands him a cell phone.
"It's your mother." Ivan snorts.
"Did you remember to wear clean underwear?"
"What would the enemy think if you were killed in battle and you didn't have clean underwear?"
"I have to go."
"Does your uniform need ironing?"
The General gives the phone back to Ivan and dismounts the convertible. Ivan has a thin mustache that curls at the end, which reminds the General of those villains from silent films who tie women to railroad tracks. Ivan wears a turtleneck sweater and khaki slacks and carries a small leather bound appointment book that is ever visible, nestled into the cradle of his right hand. Ivan is a candy-ass jerk, but a better assistant the General could not find!
The General falls to one knee before the King and Queen, accepting the new medals with stern grace. He is well groomed; his face shaven, clean of blemishes and dirt, even after battle. The air smells of exhaust and perfume. The Queen smiles a tight-lipped smile, her eyes wide (thoughtfully) with the visage of the General. The white lace hem of the Queen's banana studded dress brushes against the tip of the of the General's right boot. The Cardinal blesses the General. A single brass trumpet sounds. The General, King, Queen, Cardinal, Ivan and all of the royal guards retreat inside the palace. The throngs of people that have gathered in the streets watch as the front gates close soberly against the world. The crowd lingers short while, mumbling to themselves, then, eventually, depart for their own homes, to cook their TV dinners and to sleep in their modest beds, and wait for tender absolution.
- - -
The General hands the King his autobiography in the Great Hall of the palace. "Here" he says, holding the massive tome out from his body as if it were a baby with a soiled diaper. The title is strikingly blunt--My Life as a General by the General. The General explains that many of the chapters were compiled while on the battlefield, during a pre-dawn strike or a second stage offensive for example. He would often dictate to his assistant Ivan while running across the scorched earth of combat, as he delivered the order to drop napalm, or while plunging a dagger into the chest of a would-be assassin. "Marvelous" the King replies. The King informs the General that the media company that published his own autobiography were champions of Cross Marketing; they unleashed movies, a TV series, plush toys, and a male singing group, all based upon the King's writings. They could do the same for the General's book.
The General nods. He feels a sneeze forthcoming and raises his arm to his face as if to shield himself from an impending attack. Ivan appears suddenly from behind a coat rack and delivers a silk handkerchief embroidered with the General's initials to the General just in time. The General coughs instead of sneezing then blows his nose into the handkerchief. Nothing comes out.
- - -
An Incident from the General's Youth: The General's father, the first General, stands atop a mound of earth in a wide, empty field, his gun drawn and pointing toward the sky. The General is a boy, the uniform he wares an exact replica of his father's only smaller. The General is in awe of his father; he follows him everywhere he is able while the first General is at home on leave, which is not very often.
"I will teach you how to shoot, my boy. Eventually. But first you must learn to respect your weapon. You must understand your own shortcomings, and learn to avoid them."
The first General fires the antique pistol into the sky, all the while looking down toward his son. A few seconds later, a robin drops from above and lands at the feet of the General. The General's stomach turns at the sight of the bird, a single bullet piecing the side of its neck, its plumage as deep and crimson as the blood that is exiting its body. As a boy the General loved birds, especially robins. Even if his father knew this about him he probably wouldn't care.
"You see? I didn't even have to look at my target. I knew where it was, I sensed it. Many years of practice my boy."
The General gazes up at his father, the first General, his eyes squinting against the glare reflecting off the shinny silver pistol.
"But remember, you'll never be a better shot than me. You can bet your britches you'll never be better at anything than me. All right, now I'll show you how to drop a deer at twenty paces."
The first General leaves the mound of dirt and heads into the woods, leisurely twirling the pistol with his thumb. The General watches his father depart, cutting through the waist deep grass like a massive sickle. The General coolly imagines that the robin was his father, flying above him, and what it might feel like to squeeze the trigger of the pistol, sending a bullet through one side of his neck, leaving a scarlet, dime-sized hole on the other.
The General reaches down, scoops up the dead robin with both hands, and places it inside the front flap of his uniform before running to catch up with his father.
- - -
That evening there is a magnificent seven-course dinner in the Banquet Hall of the palace. The guests are many and distinguished. Capitalism is in attendance, brash and arrogant in a pinstriped suit, chomping absently on a foul smelling cigar. Capitalism says things like "Forget about it" and "Don't bust my balls" just like the cinematic wiseguys that everyone loves. Free and Open Trade, gracious and gregarious as always, furnished business cards and delivered firm handshakes. Not surprisingly, Manifest Destiny made a late appearance, demanding counsel with the King and Queen, righteous and foul tempered as ever; eyes bulging like two ping pong balls, a glob of spit residing at the corner of its ever present mouth.
After speaking with the King and Queen, Manifest Destiny pulls the General aside and makes a pass at him behind the potted fern. The General politely declines, as he has done previously with Manifest Destiny, and returns to the table for the last course: apple and blueberry cobbler.
- - -
Some distinguished guests in attendance had this to say about the General:
"He is quite tall."
"I am humbled by his humility."
"His uniform is always ironed so nicely. What is his secret?"
"That bastard still owes me twenty bucks!"
"Very fetching. Is he single?"
"The lives of Generals are much like those of the saints. Wandering endlessly through the bleak desert of their existence, only to come upon a wild boar, impale it with a sword, cook it over a fire and then eat it."
"He is the grandest General of all."
"Even more so than his father?"
"No, not more so than he. But grand nonetheless."
"He smells of mangos."
"He is without vanity."
"He reminds me of my grandmother."
"That bastard still owes me twenty bucks!"
- - -
Major Events in the Life of the General:
1.) Reading Six Habits of a Successful General (several times).
2.) Touching the soft underside of a woman's knee.
3.) His first gun.
4.) The invention of 24-hour Martinizing.
5.) Winning a blueberry pie-eating contest at age 12.
- - -
Night descends like an eyelid. The General's hand falls upon the Queen's bare thigh. The Queen giggles. The bed is King-size, the Queen, Queen-size and the General a monolith of folklore. The King and Queen sleep in separate rooms because the king snores quite loudly. The King's snoring is so loud in fact, that he can be heard miles away in all-night supermarkets, abandoned buildings and strip clubs. His room has been sound proofed, lined with foam. It is as if the room was entombed inside a giant hives nest. Predictably, the General's bulky frame eventually introduces itself to that of the Queen's rather slim one. A spring in the mattress squeaks begrudgingly from the weight. Some time later the Queen produces the 1897 edition of the Sears Roebuck and Co. Catalogue from the nightstand beside the bed and proceeds to read aloud.
"Galvanized metal wash tub. 32-gallon capacity. $5.95."
"4,000 piece puzzle depicting the inner struggle of the schizophrenic. $1.95."
"Soft cotton bed sheets, unusable after first washing. Available in white and teal. $7.55 for an entire set."
"Luxurious ladies and gentlemen's wigs from the French Revolution. $2.25."
The General pulls the Queen closer as she reads. He thinks of his father, the first General, one of the greatest military leaders in a long proud history of great military leaders, who had fought and won battles into his later years and even after he was dead, his brain having been successfully transplanted into the body of a CPA from Columbus, Ohio. It was the first time he has thought of his father in years. The General bites down hard on his tongue, so much so that it draws blood, sweet and warm. Distractions such as these, the General had found, were usually a good way of avoiding any further contemplation of his father.
Ivan emerges from underneath the bed.
"An army of Killbots have invaded the Galapagos Islands. You are needed."
The General does not respond. Instead he allows his mind to unhinge, his body to unfurl, the great weight of hundreds of medals traversing the topography of his uniform, pulling him downward. The Queen has stopped reading. Ivan is waiting, still on the floor, half his body beneath the bed. A glob of blood escapes from the corner of the General's mouth.
The General imagines that he is an Irish Wolfhound pursuing rabbits across a vast field of daffodils, the sun warming his brilliant coat, the air sweet and cool; he imagines that he is young and luminous and that there is nothing better than this.
- - -
...exquisite military issue cannon. $595.00. Cannon balls not included (page 245).
About the author:
Scott Brothers has yet to write a novel, although he plans to do so just as soon as he forms the proto-psychedelic prog-rock band he's been talking about starting since high school(double-disc concept album to follow). Scott likes Hostess Fruit Pies, but not the magician fellow on the front of the package (he seems to be up to no good), and believes that Leo Tolstoy was the funniest person who ever lived.