September 24, 2001 (Part 1 of 3)

The timing was unfortunate, as far as Bill was concerned. Not that there was ever a particularly good time for war, but since it looked like they were going to have one, he wished he or his could participate in a meaningful way. Heroic. Historic. At least mentionable.

Bill himself was a coastal boomer; he missed the military boat. He was raised a Navy brat – that’s how his folks came to settle near San Diego after his father retired – but he was first a student and then a young man with a high-lottery birthday (December 15th was number 266) – so he avoided the whole Southeast Asian conflict without having to feign insanity or homosexuality or emigration. He didn’t use his Masters in English literature; the kids came too soon, and he first worked at and then owned the car dealership his father had established. He despised that. But he justified it.

The kids were too young for the Gulf War, and were now either too old, too bad, or too female to serve in the real one. All Bill could do was hoist the flag up in front and talk to the neighbors out back. To the extent his family was around they didn’t agree with him.

His wife ignored him. It wasn’t anything personal; Mary puttered around the kitchen, plump, blonde, and stupid, in Bill’s eyes no longer cute, alternately nurturing and petulant, a passive-aggressive pacifist.

The older kids, the good ones, the twins with brown hair like Bill’s family, they’d both moved out and on. He was left among the pale ones, Liz and Laney and Rick, with round blue eyes and round fair faces like their mom.

That’s when Bill tore his head on the bottom edge of the kitchen window. Minor accidents were common around the household; if Mary wasn’t cutting her hand with a paring knife then Bill could probably be counted on to smack his head against something. The kids sustained the usual assortment of injuries. In the beginning they spent some evenings in the emergency room, but they gained medical confidence over time, and now they treated most wounds on their own.

Their tract home was a single-story stucco ranch house, with crank-open aluminum casement windows. One of the kitchen windows was directly above the spigot for the front-yard hose. Although Bill usually injured himself, that morning he was Mary’s victim. She didn’t intend to get him, but she couldn’t have done it better if she’d had a choreographer.

She didn’t know Bill was there, turning the water to the lawn sprinkler on, when she decided she was hot, immediately and unbearably hot for a menopausal moment, and abruptly cranked open the kitchen window for some air. Bill was bent over the spigot, his back obscured by the hibiscus bush that bloomed there most of the year. He couldn’t even hear the window opening, because he was paying attention to the sound of the water, gauging the pressure to the sprinklers by the hum in the hose. He bent, she cranked, the window swung outward, and Bill, righting himself, smashed the crown of his head into the aluminum frame.

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