BANG! authors are showcased individually here online for a month. Each author installment is made up of three pieces in any combination: poetry shorts (20 lines) or fiction or nonfiction (500 words each) for a month. All work on must be previously unpublished. Submission period runs all year round. BANG! pieces are not published in The New Guard. Work should be very short: flash-short. Pieces on BANG! are meant to serve as a kind of calling card for the author. $22 submission fee. :: Our next installment will be posted on December 1, 2018. ::
Dan Ritter is a BANG! Selected Writer.
Dan Ritter was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin and currently resides in Milwaukee. He is a graduate of Saint Louis University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. This is his first publication.
Through Peril We Went
by dan ritter
How Wonderful the Boredom
Here. Crouch down like this. Yes, here under the pipes like this. They’re sturdy and will let us know each time another round is coming. They begin to rattle when it’s a mile out—those men and their machines making on through and around again. We can watch from here as they pass. Every hour they come. But stay down and very still. Steady your breath as you watch.
That’s all left, really—to watch and wait.
What I’ll keep on remembering though, until my last breath—whenever it comes, and if it keeps as it has, whichever day soon now—is just how quick things got bad. You remember: how it was all just worrisome and worrisome, but then suddenly very bad, and then god-forsaken.
That last bit happening so fast I almost forget now how we all once behaved, you know? How calm and simple and, quick frankly, boring things used to be. But also, don’t forget—the last of us, and now so very few, we can’t ever forget—how wonderful that was. Do you remember how wonderful the boredom was?
It was in the boredom where our love grew, wasn’t it? Perhaps not its first spark, but where it thickened. Not where our belief was born, but where it burrowed deep. Without it now, how predictable we’ve become, so easily manipulated. Just as a raised hand makes muscles flinch, or tyrannous demand sends eyes avert—fear eats fear eats fear. Do you remember how wonderful the boredom was?
Okay, now. Steady. I think it’s time again. Get yourself low and start working on your breath. That hum? That’s the very beginning of the pipes vibrating—almost musical. But they’ll begin to rattle soon as the round gets closer. And when they’re just at the turn you’ll hear the groan of their machines. Have you heard it before? Awful—unbearably awful. Sounds like death and dying but from something not even living. Of all things, I won’t miss that, whichever day soon now.
It’s always a long flight over the Atlantic. And always longer, in a way, coming back across, back home. They upgraded my seat, though, not long after all of us passengers were settled on the tarmac. The fatigues often have that effect. I guess it’s a courtesy or patriotic custom or, I don’t know, some sort of guilt or something. It’s a nice thing, though, either way it might be. And either way it might be doesn’t matter when all of a sudden you can spread out and kick your feet up and tilt your seat back for a thirteen-hour flight.
I didn’t sleep any as we flew through the midnight, the wee hours, into the early morning.
I didn’t sleep I just waited and pictured my wife. It was only six months we’d been married before I had to leave. I pictured how she’d look and act first seeing me again. I thought up how it all would go—what I would do, say. Every so often I drifted off in thought and had to work to remember the finer points of what I’d come up with so far.
There was so much going on in the world then. It was like the thing was on fire. You hear other people saying stuff like that from other times in the past. I suppose it always feels like that then, to them. But it’s hard to imagine it was anywhere close to as bad. We were being pulled in every direction. Needed everywhere for everything. But all I needed was her. I was run down very low then—raw and spread thin and wouldn’t be alright until her.
I don’t remember landing really. Don’t remember getting off the plane. But I remember the late morning light filling the atrium at Lambert Airport, how she looked perfect in a white dress, how the dress couldn’t have possibly been as brightly white as it plays in my mind now. I must have dropped my duffel at some point. Must have closed the distance. Because she was in my arms that next second, up off the ground and tight in my arms for long after.
We didn’t say anything. Just held each other. Warm tears traveled down her cheek and met my own then panned out among our pressed flesh. Her hair buried my face; over and over again I breathed it in. Never has hair smelled so good or caught the light and trapped it like that and shown it off like lightning bugs in a jar.
That was all there was between us and all needed. It just got better and better the longer we stood there, the nerves of reuniting sifting out, a euphoria bleeding in, our blood pumping warm and warming our bodies and warm at the touch, only our skin between us.
And it wasn’t for another few days after that when I thought about having to go back.
anyone waiting back home?
It had been a relatively empty and unknown place for its entire existence before that night. Amazing what a few words can do. At first, only a handful of strangers made their way in; began making a fuss. But they were loud and effective, hit the nerves of those listening just so, like a hot file on a raw blister.
That night, many filled the square; gathered under the dim orange glow of streetlights, lights soon turned out by loose stones sailed by furious arms, letting midnight fall straight to pavement.
The area was not accustomed to so much traffic moving through. A trashcan was tipped over—no care shown to righting it—and kicked about on the ground whenever the next found it at their feet. A bench along the paved walk broke from too many stomping feet—was dismounted and abandoned.
They must have come from all over to gather and do this, he thought, watching the many forming and swirling in tight around him, but so dark that a face could rarely be seen. Others watched from windows above, peeking through blinds that snapped taught or from behind curtains that fluttered like ghosts when he looked in their direction.
There was an ugly excitement boiling. He could feel it through him; made him primed and sick and curious. Would they do it soon? he wondered. And who would start it? But how do you start such a thing? And more importantly, he realized, how do you finish it?
Beside him, a woman grabbed his elbow; leaned in close, voice cracking at first so unsure whether or not she should even dare: “Do they have families?” she asked. “Children?”
He pulled his arm loose. “Don’t know,” he said.
And in almost a whisper she asked: “Is there anyone waiting for them back home?”
He scowled a side-glance at her.
But she continued: “Maybe there is. Maybe wondering what’s happened to them, wondering where they are, praying they’re alright—”
“They should’ve thought about that before,” he said sternly. “You can’t be part of that group. Not anymore.”
“No, no,” she said, shaking her head, showing allegiance at last. “I guess I was only wondering what happens when all this is done and who’s left with the hurt.”
She was right, he thought. Something like this can’t be done without a mark of devastation, even if you’re in the right.
The crowd grew louder—the deed nearer. They were egging one another on, he realized.
Maybe it wasn’t such a right thing if they needed this, if they needed the revving up. He suddenly felt dark and barren as he was buoyed by the bodies around him and was swept forward, molding and becoming one, like a murmuration.
He was of them, he knew. He was a part. But so was she, he thought and turned to find her, but she was gone.
When it was done, there was cheering and each left their separate way.
Fiction © Dan Ritter, 2018. All rights reserved by the author.
Previous authors with appearances on BANG! are: Patricia Smith, Jose Padua, Pete Follansbee, Jillian Brenner, Susanna Baird, Alexandra Oliver, Kerri Quinn, Mike Heppner, Marc Mewshaw, Lola Rainey, Timothy Dyke, Marcia Popp, Quenton Baker, Courtney Campbell, Joshua Graber, Charles Wyatt, Ingrid Norton, Julio Duggan, V. Hansmann, Margo Orlando Littell Scarlett S. Diaz, Erica Vega, Elena Tomorowitz. Amy M. Alvarez, Jonathan Segol, Lissa Kiernan, Roger Bonair-Agard, James Kimbrell, Bridget Boland, E.G. Cunningham, Melissa Goode, Mark Wagstaff, Carla Stern, Sarah Glass, Jennifer Amell, Zakia R. Khwaja, Julie Poitras Santos, Lyall Harris and Amy Nash.