Wednesday, November 23, 2011

George Masters

The Monster (Concerto for Harp)

The monster entered our hotel room when I wasn’t looking. Anna, my new wife, was standing in front of the mirror admiring her wedding band. Seeing me in the mirror, she glanced over her shoulder and smiled. Wearing black silk pajamas, lipstick and heels, she went back to brushing her hair. She was twenty years my junior and as I sat at the foot of the bed watching her, I had a problem believing in monsters.
She said, “Good evening, Mr. Harp.”
“Dearest Anna.”
“Can it always be like this?”
“Why not?”
“I mean really.”
Wearing black tuxedo trousers, shirt unbuttoned at the neck, tie untied, I nodded.
She said, “Mrs. Thomas Harp. God, I love my new name.”
“I like how it sounds when you say it.” I started to add something but stopped. Something about her and the room had suddenly caused me to change expression and mood. Perplexed, I leaned forward and blinked. Seeing Anna dressed that way, just then and a little out of focus, I found myself staring into the monster.
Beneath a jungle canopy, a monkey called, a bird cried, and nothing moved. After a long silence, an enemy patrol appeared. Clad in black pajamas and khakis, carrying weapons and supplies, they moved swiftly down a vine tangled trail. Appearing, disappearing with ghostly speed, one of them was briefly recognizable as female. The figure that was Anna and not Anna moved like black water. Never a clear picture but an old snapshot just the same. I shook it off.
“What?” she said and turned. Pajama top unbuttoned, she tried to smother concern with a smile. “What’s wrong?”
I didn’t know what to say. I was caught in the past and smelling it.
She ran a red thumbnail down along the fine embroidered collar. “You don’t like it?”
Above and to the left of the trail, Sgt. Mike Davis from Austin, Texas and I lay side by side. Concealed and camouflaged, our faces darkened by mud, we chewed gum, held our fire and observed.
Turning away from Anna, I looked back and saw two of her. I shook my head to clear it.
She said, “Are you all right?”
I tried to focus on her eyes. It wasn’t working. I tried her nose and that didn’t work either. I said, “I do, I do like it.”
In an October rain, tanks moved fast down a muddy road borded by rice paddies. In a ditch off the road, a woman wearing black silk pajamas and a cone straw hat stood next to her bicycle waiting for us to pass. Tanks bouncing, treads throwing mud, we grinded toward the fighting in the hills to the west, the distance wet and green. Riding on top of one of the tanks, I was soaked and hollow eyed. Cigar stump clamped between my teeth, rifle in one hand, I held on to the tank with the other and stared at the woman until I lost sight of her.
Uncertain if she should be hurt or angry, Anna pouted. “You don't like it, fine, I'll change.” Beginning to take off her silk top, I raised my hand and she stopped. She blinked rapidly. “Then what’s the matter?”
“You look terrific.”
“No I don’t.”
On a hot, dry afternoon in Happy Valley, The fire fight was over. Dirty and exhausted Marines, smoked, reloaded, pissed in the grass and checked their weapons. Drinking water, emptying canteens over bare heads and down our necks, we moved about the enemy corpses making sure they were just that. Helicopters circled overhead preparing to land. Green smoke from the LZ mixed with the patches of fire in the still burning grass. Occasional shots sounded in a tree line.
I stood above a dead young woman, my rifle pointed at her feet. Wearing black pajamas and crossed ammo belts, she curled on the ground, knees drawn up like my sister with a stomach ache. Tough, dirty bare feet, empty ammo pouches, the flies were starting to land in her hair. Shrapnel had punctured her neck and temple. The girl had lovely perfect teeth and an arm blown off at the shoulder.
Cocking her head, she took a step toward me. “Tom, what is it?”
My breathing was ragged. I was sweating and a ringing sounded in my ears. I found myself having to speak above the noise in my head. “Don’t ever wear a cone hat with that outfit.” My tone of voice surprised me and changed her eyes.
Anna took a step back. “A what?”
“Cone hat. Chinese, Vietnamese hat, looks like a lamp shade.”
She took another step back. “Okay.” She looked around the room and then down at herself before closing the black silk top with her hand. “I’m sorry, Tom. I mean I guess I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t be sorry.” My voice sounded like it was coming through a bad radio connection.
“I hoped you’d like it.”
I stood and with everything I had, I willed the war to depart. I cleared my throat. “I love your pajamas.” I saw she didn’t believe me. “Anna, you look sensational. Please, come here.”
“You sure?”
I went to her, and she didn’t run for the door. Holding her ground she gave me a suspicious look.
“Yes, Mrs. Harp, I’m sure.”
Then Anna did that thing with her eyes and mouth-- part smile and part mystery question, as if she knew the answer and wanted to see if maybe I did. It was a look that made me forget everything else in the room; in the world. She said, “How sure?”
I held my arms out.
“That much?”
“For starters.”
She raised an eyebrow. “For starters?” I nodded.
She came into my arms. “Then Kiss me, you fool.”
I did. And she kissed me back.

© George Masters 2011

George Masters was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Vietnam. After the Marine Corps he attended Georgetown University and began to write. He has recently completed the crime novel "Trouble Breathing" and is seeking a publisher. More of his work can be seen at

1 comment:

  1. Very fine tale, very well told. The disorientation I felt at the beginning of the story was quite effective.


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