John Tang

Off Base

Posted in Short Stories and Excerpts by Jt's Item Roster on February 8, 2011

Here’s an excerpt of a short story I am writing.

Off Base (An Excerpt)

Marina St. was clean in the morning. Yet the homes on a down-slope and the black tree in the yard, the sun would peer in between and blind me from the order that served my house: My parent’s red car on the road, neighbor’s Halloween toys on the lawn, the locus on the boughs, the children of Kadena Air Force Base making their way to school. Before I go to school myself there was my dad praying in his room. But I’ve gone through the same route many times before, and in the light of it all I saw everything in my mind.

The perennial after showers would steam off the street a bitter scent of ash and nickel. After school the odor would stay in the warm, wet air and linger into the evening but it wouldn’t discourage us from having a few games. Our parents would search for us in the dark, and only we could see our bodies brimming on the sidewalks, depending on the chase we had in our blood. Or if Alice picked up the mail on the porch, the boys would watch her from behind my tree. Some of the brave ones would tease from afar, the very same boys who invited her to our game of Man Hunt. She would pause and draw us out from the shadows for answer of maybe. With that answer we were content boys, and until she gone inside the house, it was then we would resume our games—whatever we were playing. The thought of her golden hair tickled my nose and I could’ve withdrawn myself from the street lamp, expose myself and end my game. I only knew Alice on a couple occasions in school. Wouldn’t say anything but a few greetings I’d say to a teacher or the principle.

Because she was light, I saw everything she did. When I hid under the car to pass the time, in the gasoline fumes, I saw the inside of her house lit and her alone in the dining room arranging the envelope she picked up. Her white skirt fluttering. Her hair was down like she did in school. Red streams in her bright hair. I could smell the scent of strawberries in the soft knots that purified my thoughts. In this metal frame I could carry the ghost of her for days. The image of her body resonated during other activities. When my mom and I walked off base for milk bone fish, we would walk down the stand. On Styrofoam plates there were squids in its own blood, dry octopus legs, iron shell clams, and the stand next over they cooked fish, its body splayed open. The white meat would remind me of Alice’s face and legs and her body. Maybe a few things on earth stuck with me: The man behind the U.S. gate in the dark, the first park with a brick layering and a dry fountain, and then the market deeper in to the city; but my mom and I always got out of Okinawa before nightfall. Also Alice and I walked the same path to school, and when she walked a little ahead and cut through a lawn, I imagined her silk hair fall on her bare, boney shoulders.

Today my dad was supposed to give me my first I.D. card. In the hallway I saw my father in the master bedroom. Dark. Standing alone with a hand on the Bible. He whispered in the air something in Tagalog. I was afraid of his shadowy figure. So I left and heard other students were beginning to have their military I.D.’s too.

“Have you gone off base yet?” Alice asked me. “My dad just gave me my I.D.”

“Why don’t you go?”



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