A Glibertarians Exclusive: Marilee – Part I
Republican City, Nebraska – August 1969
Coy McAlester woke slowly. The sun was well up, shining through a gap in the curtains. Coy grunted. His left shoulder hurt. He had taken a Japanese bayonet through the shoulder on Okinawa, and the old wound had hurt every morning ever since. The bayonet had been contaminated. “Probably with the Jap’s own shit,” Coy would complain to anyone who would listen. He had almost died of sepsis, finally recovering after the war had ended.
“Semper fucking fi,” Coy muttered. He sat up in bed and reached for the pack of Winstons on the nightstand. “At least it’s Sunday.” He had a menial job in the local concrete plant, the latest in a long string of menial jobs he had worked at, all over the country, ever since the Corps let him loose in late 1945.
Coy swung his feet out of the bed. He lit a cigarette and blew a smoke ring at the ceiling. The cheap space, a cold-water two-room apartment above a hardware store on Republican City’s main drag, was cold and spare, like all of the other cold and spare places Coy had lived over the years.
At least he had managed to sleep the night through. That wasn’t always guaranteed, even twenty-four years after the war. Sometimes his dreams were from Guadalcanal, sometimes Peleliu, sometimes New Britain, sometimes Okinawa, but they were always bad.
Coy had volunteered for the Marines on December 9th, 1941. He fought in Colonel Puller’s 1st Marines through the whole war, somehow remaining unscathed until that morning on Okinawa. He could still see the Jap’s face – the blazing hatred, the grimace of effort as the man drove his long Arisaka with its probing bayonet at Coy’s chest. Coy had managed to deflect the strike, taking it in the shoulder instead of the lungs, and before the Jap could back away, drew his holstered .45 and shot the man, over and over, until the slide locked back on the empty magazine. He remembered, even now, how the man’s shining black eyes had gone vacant, flat, as he slowly toppled over backwards after taking the eight hammering blows from the .45.
When Coy awoke a day later in the field hospital, his shoulder burning in hot pain, the first thing he remembered was the man’s clear black eyes and his white, even teeth – nothing at all like the squinting, buck-toothed caricatures produced by cartoonists.
One of Coy’s few possessions was that Japanese bayonet, that now hung on a hook on the wall of the cheap apartment. Everything he owned in the world – all of it – fit in his cheap cardboard suitcase and his old Marine rucksack. Since 1945 he had lived as he still did, wandering aimlessly from town to town, from lousy job to lousy job.
There was one constant in his life, one odd, transient constant, that kept coming around – Marilee Peyton. “My name,” she had told him once, “means ‘like the star of the blue sea’,” and he believed her.
He hadn’t seen her in ten years. But somehow, he still felt the connection, the old entanglement, that had resulted in them somehow running into each other over the decades, since before the war.
I bet she’s getting gray by now, wherever she is, he thought. Like me. He got up, slowly. He stubbed out his cigarette, walked to the sink and rinsed his mouth out to get rid of the taste of the pint of cheap bourbon he had drank the night before, alone, in his room.
Coy looked at himself in the tiny steel mirror fasted to the wall over the sink. Look like shit, he told himself, honestly. He considered his razor, laying on the edge of the sink, then shrugged. He brushed his teeth and splashed some water in his face and then, feeling marginally more human, dragged some clothes on over his lanky frame and went out into the day. Need some food, he told himself. For once his abused ’49 Ford pickup started at the first turn of the starter, and he headed off towards a cheap diner nearby. He was on good terms with the owner, and sometimes the guy would let him have double the usual portion of biscuits and gravy.
The balance of the day Coy spent in enjoyable idleness. He hadn’t set foot in a church since he was a boy; instead, he went back to his cheap rooms, smoked cigarette after cigarette, and watched disinterestedly as a series of sporting events, news and bad entertainment scrolled across the screen of his tiny black & white TV.
Towards evening, as he was half-way down another bottle of cheap bourbon, his thoughts drifted back to Marilee Peyton, as they often did.
Boy, her parents sure didn’t like me, back then. Didn’t like my whole family, for that matter. Coy’s father had been a poor farmer, scratching a bare living out of fifty acres of up-country land. The McAlesters, Coy and his parents, made do with a two-room clapboard house in east Texas. Their food was all too often fried dough with no meat; their clothes were home-made, often altered overalls and shirts from the church’s charity barrel.
The Peytons, on the other hand, traced their lineage back to a large family of Virginia landowners. Even during the Depression, they lived a comfortable life in town, where Abe Peyton ran a dry-goods store.
I suppose most of the Peytons thought we were just poor white trash, Coy thought fuzzily, through the haze of bourbon. And to be fair, they ain’t wrong. Weren’t for the trouble I got us into I suppose I’d still be back there, probably still walking along behind a plow, looking at the ass-end of that same damned old mule.
Around one in the morning, Coy woke up in the chair, his head pounding from the bourbon. The TV station had gone off the air, leaving behind a hissing noise and scrambled white fuzz on the screen. Tiredly, painfully, Coy shut the TV off and dragged himself to bed.
The next morning when he woke up, it was raining. Shit. At least it was nice over the weekend, he groused silently.
Coy got dressed. He brewed a pot of vile coffee and drank down two cups of the snarling brew, ate a stale roll from a bag of day-olds he had bought the week before, and finally dragged himself outside into the rain to go to work. When he arrived at the concrete plant, he found the gate closed and his boss standing out front, holding up a big umbrella against the downpour.
“McAlester,” the foreman greeted him. “Sorry to give you the news like this, but the plant’s closed down.”
“Owners couldn’t make a go if it anymore. Guess the place has been losing money the last couple years, so they’re just letting it go.”
Coy looked down. The rain dripped off his battered old Marine fatigue cap, onto his broken old leather shoes. “Well, hell. What am I supposed to do now?”
“Not much else around here,” the foreman admitted. He looked at Coy. “You aren’t a bad worker. Got any cash set aside?”
“About a hundred bucks,” Coy replied. He wasn’t completely reckless; also, his minimal lifestyle kept expenses low.
“If you think you can get to Virginia, place called the Newport News Shipyards are supposed to be putting some men on. Building ships. My brother-in-law works there. I’ll be heading there myself next week; once all the men are notified and my paperwork done, I’m out of work just like you.”
Coy reflected on that; somehow the fact that his boss was sharing his fate made the whole thing easier to take, for some reason Coy couldn’t quite put his finger on.
“Well,” Coy said at last, “guess it’s worth a try. I’ve done a little welding, suppose that couldn’t hurt if they’re building ships. Thanks, boss, I’ll give it a try.”
“Good luck.” They shook hands, then Coy turned and walked the six blocks back to his cheap rooms.
Well, he told himself, at least I haven’t paid this week’s rent yet. It was the work of moments to gather his few possessions and sling them into the cab of the Ford. As was his habit, he placed the Japanese bayonet under the seat, where he could reach it quickly if need be.
Start, you bitch. He pushed the starter button. The old Ford replied, roaring to flatulent life, as though anxious to move on. The wipers started flailing weakly at the rain.
Guess I’ll head for Virginia, Coy thought. See if those shipyards are really hiring. I guess I’ve done more than enough around here. Don’t owe anybody anything, at least.
He put the old truck in gear. Rattling, clashing, and farting, the Ford waddled slowly down the dusty street toward the U.S. highway.
Early one morning the sun was shining,
I was lying in bed.
Wondering if she’d changed at all,
If her hair was still red
Her folks they said our lives together,
Sure was going to be rough.
They never did like Mama’s homemade dress,
Papa’s bankbook wasn’t big enough.
And I was standing on the side of the road,
Rain falling on my shoes,
Heading out for the East Coast
Lord knows I’ve paid some dues,
Tangled up in blue.