The young men in uniform look tired now. Only a few moments ago they were all spit and polish as seven of them simultaneously fired three rounds skyward.
Taps echoes in my head and the shots startle me, I struggle even now not to think of such a report and his body falling endlessly toward the dirt, as it does repeatedly in my dreams.
I am a spectator here, standing outside of myself, watching a Technicolor film.
Two young men in uniform remove the flag from the coffin. They smartly fold it. Their faces betray no emotion as one of them salutes, and the other performs a smart about face, closing the distance between himself and the young widow.
I watch silently as he presents this shroud to her. Taking it to her chest she seems to melt to the ground. The others are shaken and rush to attend her. They lift her from the earth near the open grave and carry her toward the vehicles parked nearby. The young men in uniform look tired now, and mama worries they have not eaten. This is the second funeral they have attended today. The Johnson boy was laid to rest this morning just up the hill. The raw earth of his newly closed grave can be seen clearly from where we stand. Mama asks someone to invite the young soldiers to the church. She worries they are hungry and have a long ride back to base. The officer in charge gratefully accepts and they board their bus to join the procession, back to the Disciples of Christ Church where the ladies have food and comfort waiting for us.
Reaching the familiar surroundings of the church basement I find a corner and make myself small. I have had the ability to make myself small and unnoticeable for several years now. I learned to do this when mama and daddy would fight before my older siblings moved away from home. It was a skill I needed when they would leave me alone with my sisters and I was frightened by their battles. When I was really, really scared I knew that if I made myself small enough no one would notice me and I would be safe. I could become small by pulling all of me inside. I knew that if I pulled hard enough, I became nearly invisible. After awhile I no longer had to paint the picture in my mind of pulling in arms, legs and head, I could feel it happening. Once in awhile someone would see me, startling me into coming out with a word or touch, but lately since the phone call and telegram I don't worry so much about that happening. Mostly I worry that if I open my mouth and let words come out they will get all turned around becoming questions. Questions are not good things anymore. They make everyone around me cry or turn away. The few grown ups who do offer answers always tell me things I don't understand. Not understanding seems to make my mouth Want to allow more questions to come out. I know that this will bring more tears, so mostly now I just stay small and watch.
Someone I don't recognize brings me a paper plate full of food. I think some grown ups must have better eyes than others, because I am still very small. I take the plate though I have no desire to eat. As I push the food around with a plastic fork I watch the room. Mama is at a table with the young soldiers. She has tears in her eyes and all the soldiers look sad. I find myself wondering if any of them have been to Vietnam, if any of them will go there, and if any of them will die there I don't look closely at their faces for fear one day I will see them on the evening news, bloody and bandaged being carried to a waiting helicopter .