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Deleted Scene from Rip the Sky cont.

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It was quiet. The radio in the old truck had long been broken, and the only sound was the hot wind whistling through the open windows. Neither one spoke for several minutes.

 

Finally, Billy broke the silence, “Were you scared when you were over in Normandy? I remember you telling me when I was a boy about how you waded to the shore, and there was dead bodies floating face down in the water. They got drowned cause their packs strapped to their backs were too heavy.” Billy couldn’t help gesturing with his hands as visions of the littered battlefield played out in his mind. “And then when you got to the sand you had to step over body parts, and everything was on fire, smoke coming from everywhere. And I remember you saying how lucky you were that you were not one of the first ones to land, ‘cause they never had a chance.”

Floyd took another drag from his cigarette, inhaled deeply and methodically, holding in the smoke for what seemed like half an hour, and then let out a long, hard exhale, as if he were respirating bad memories.

“We did what we had to do,” he said, “and so will you.”

The sun blasted the pavement, and Billy stared at the highway ahead, fascinated by the illusory sheets of water, the mirages that appeared and instantly vanished on the highway. They always looked so real. He counted them, tried to pinpoint the exact spot when the phantom mist evaporated from sight, but could never really figure out where they were when they vanished. Billy squirmed again in his seat.

“Dad, I guess I am a little scared,” he said.

Floyd turned to look at Billy, staring hard at his pimply-faced, scrawny son. Floyd’s eyes glassed over, and Billy felt—measured, even pitied. And he hated that.

“I was afraid when I went to war too,” Floyd said. “A man would have to be crazy not to be scared. There ain’t nothing wrong with being scared, Billy.”

Billy nodded, unable to look away from his father’s gaze.

“But if I could make it,” Floyd continued, “so can you. You’re just as good as anybody else, especially all those long-haired city boys.”

“I will,” Billy said, “Thanks, Dad.”

There was another long silence, and then Floyd cleared his throat, rubbed his eyes, and whispered, “Damned pollen.”

 

Billy knew better than to speak when the pollen made his father’s eyes water. The old man’s eyes had watered just two days before, during a whisky-filled night, when Billy saw his dad pound the coffee table with his fist, muttering about how only poor kids get drafted, about how he wished Billy could have gone to college so they wouldn’t have to drive to Abbeville. Billy didn’t speak then either.

 

Floyd drove slowly in the right-hand lane, and another pickup passed in the left lane, the driver in the cowboy hat giving Floyd’ the “thumbs up” signal as he blew by them. “Must like my bumper stickers,” Floyd said, and as the passing pickup sped away Billy noticed the same bumper stickers that were patched onto the back of Floyd’s truck that read “America, Love it or Leave it” and “America, My Country Right or Wrong.”

Billy watched the pickup disappear into the horizon, then read the white letters and numbers on the green road sign that flashed by, barely having time to learn that Abbeville was 30 miles away.

Neither said another word, and at long last they pulled into Abbeville, drove past the Air Force base where pilots learned to drop bombs and napalm on the North Vietnamese hiding in the jungles of Vietnam, past the tall buildings that adorned the sky, and into the parking lot at the Continental Trailways Bus Station.

The long truck ride was over, but Billy didn’t want to get out yet, keeping his head down, staring at the fabric of the cloth seat beneath him.

A long, awkward minute passed, until Billy, with his head still bowed, muttered the words, “I love you, Dad.”

This time Floyd squirmed, cleared his throat again, but didn’t speak right away. He gripped Billy’s hand and shook it hard. “I’ll miss you too son. Pay attention and remember that everybody in Langtry is praying for you.”

Billy’s throat felt tight and swollen, and his eyes were moist. “Yes sir,” he mumbled, as he climbed out of the pickup, scooped up his duffle bag out of the rusted bed, and waved goodbye.

Floyd watched his son walk into the bus station and wiped his eyes.

“They never stood a chance.”

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