Sam and Susanna
Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam
They say you don’t hear the bullet that kills you.
How could anyone know that?
Because, they also say, bullets move faster than the speed of sound. By the time you hear the sound of the bullet in your back, you’re dead.
What if you’re only wounded; you’d hear that bullet, wouldn’t you?
Well, you’re not dead, are you?
He pushed the thought away and struggled to his feet with Frank’s body draped across his shoulders. He clutched Frank’s wrists and ankles and ran for the cover of the aircraft maintenance shack.
Almost there. Almost there. We’ll make it, Frank. Hang on. Hang on, buddy.
The bullet smashed into his back, ripping apart muscle and tendon, and pulverizing bone. The excruciating pain filled his brain and wrenched a groan from behind his clenched teeth. He staggered but kept his feet. He took another step and another bullet smashed into his body. Blood sprayed from his back and his knees buckled. He fell hard. His sunglasses and helmet flew off as his head slammed into the concrete taxiway. Frank rolled from his shoulders and over his head, mashing his face into the hot, jagged surface and scraping flesh from chin and cheek.
His mouth filled with blood and he spit up a tooth. He tried to crawl over Frank to shield him but his legs wouldn’t move. He stretched to pull him closer but screamed in agony at the pain. A moment later the pain subsided and he felt nothing.
Strange. You’d think two bullets would have a lasting impact.
Blood pooled beneath him.
They’re right; you don’t hear the bullet that kills you.
The sun burned his face. Someone called his name, the voice echoing from faraway. The voice called again.
Otis? No, Otis. Not me. Frank. Frank’s hurt. Help Frank.
He closed his eyes against the blazing sun. His eyelids sizzled.
Where are my sunglasses? I need my sunglasses.
He coughed to clear the blood from his throat. “Frank. Frank. Wake up, Frank. Please be okay, buddy. Wake up, Frank. Please don’t die.”
Otis reached him and knelt by his side. He lifted his head into his lap and brushed away flecks of dirt and gravel on his face. The pool of blood spread beneath him, an ominous, dark red that soaked into the concrete and stained Otis’s dungarees.
Shots rang out from beyond the perimeter as Marines pursued snipers. Two Hueys flew a tight circle and fired into the brush. The Corpsman, Lopez, checked Frank’s wound. He pursed his lips and shook his head.
Anguish contorted his face as he cried out for Frank. “Where’s Frank? Frank? Frank? Wipe my eyes, Otis. I can’t see.”
Otis wiped his own eyes with his sleeve and then his friend’s eyes. He pressed his lips to his forehead. “Hang in there, buddy. Don’t you die on me. Don’t you dare die on me.”
“Okay, Otis. I’ll try.” He coughed again. Blood bubbled from his mouth, dribbled down his chin, and onto his neck. His blood dripped onto Otis’s leg.
“Otis. Take my necklace…and the medallion…give them to Little Lucy…my boy…my boy…has one like it…. I haven’t seen my boy…since he was a baby.” He strained to remove the necklace.
“Let me,” Otis said. The medallion flashed red in the sunlight as Otis removed the necklace. He placed it in his pocket.
“Not since…. I’m sorry…. I’m sorry…. I couldn’t…take care of him. She died, Otis, and…they said they would adopt him…. They said they would adopt him….”
His voice drifted away as he drifted into delirium. Out of the cloud filling his mind came comfort. His heart beat with joy. Susanna.
“I think I fell in love with you this morning, dear lady.
You think you did? You are not sure? Perhaps we should try again. Shall we meet for an apple in the morning?
I had already planned to meet you for an apple tomorrow. And the next day, and the next, and the next, and every day until….
Every day until what?”
Every day until you marry me?
That is a question I am not quite prepared to answer. Let me ask you a question.
Okay. Yes. I will marry you.
What will you have, silly boy?
A glass of Rioja, lovely lady.
Gran Reserva. I want to celebrate that you didn’t return to wherever you came from.
That’s my favorite city!
Oh! You know Barcelona?
No! But I’m going there with you.
Ah. I see. And when will this highly anticipated excursion take place?
I thought Spanish women had brown eyes.
I am not Spanish.
You’re not Spanish?
I am not Spanish. I am Catalan.
That explains the green eyes?
Perhaps. Though my sister has blue eyes.
Is her hair also black as a starless night?
I feel like I’m dreaming. I don’t want to wake.
I have thought about you all day.
Yes…. By the way, what is your name?
I am Susanna. But you may call me…Susanna.
I love the way your eyes crinkle when you’re being silly.
Will you tell me your name?
My name is Sam.
Sam. Hmmm; I think I will call you…Samuel. May I?
You must always call me Samuel, Susanna.
Will I tell you something, Samuel?
I knew you when you entered the room. I turned so you would not see my smile.”
He reached for her but she had gone back. He was falling, spinning. The blue sky dissolved far above him. He felt nothing. His body was dead. His mind floated free. Susanna.
A shadow fell over him. The ground was hard against his back. He wanted to float again. Susanna.
Why is Otis crying? He blinked against the tears falling on his face. They dotted the dust on his cheek and dribbled to his chin where they hung, and hung, and dripped away. He moved his lips. He moved his lips again. They were dry and chapped.
“It’s okay, Sam. You did the right thing. She would have wanted it that way. It’s okay.”
“Yes. I did the right thing…. Susanna would have….” He coughed, a dying rattle in his throat. “Give me some water, Otis.”
“Sure, Sam.” Otis pulled the canteen from his belt and loosened the cap. He brought the canteen to Sam’s lips. He hesitated, then set the canteen down. Otis brushed his fingers through Sam’s bright red hair. He caressed his cheek.
“You did the right thing, Sam. You did the right thing. You did the right thing. Don’t die, Sam. Please don’t die.”
Sam stared past Otis, his eyes fixed on the darkening sky. Blood gurgled in his throat.
“Frank is dead, Otis…. What am I going…to tell Marie?”