dragon fruit 6

The man with the dragon fruit tattoo

Door gunner Abe Rosenberg sat on deserted Doc Let beach, not quite gazing at the islands across the darkling bay. The vestiges of another tropical night lay like varnish on the casuarinas, and the sands were white as lime. Abe’s dug his toes in and faced the onset of dawn. Fat and smiling it arrived, flourishing coral wrinkles and sprouting cloud goatees. Sand clung to the thick, rubbery scar that ran from Abe’s forehead to his chin. It was too big to miss, and perfectly round, hurdling his cheeks and nose and barely missing his eyes and lower lip, a mother of a cicatrix, sprouting erratic flame-like  tips every dozen minutes or so, until it reached 12 o’ clock, where the burn mark crossed the bridge of Abe’s nose and coiled unto his forehead. This weird, war-painted clock face, set to the bygone zero hour of an epic jungle fire, was firmly dialed in to the rising sun.

Abe smiled.

He was smiling at Lady Po Nagar, the goddess of the painted sky. Abe didn’t care about the war anymore, which was about to end, nor the indelible burn mark in his face, which was perfectly round and therefore without end. Right now, in the magic moment, he cared only about the darkness turning into brightness while the sun flood washed the world blue.

His buddies said it was pretty ironic that Abe loved the early morning beach so bad. They said this repeatedly. Because the beach was Vietnam too, the Vietnam at war, a place torn from the book of American Genesis. First, they pictured the scene: he dark cover of night, fear and loathing and VC at our foxholes, smoking and praying and waiting for the deus ex foliage. Here She comes, batten down the hatches boys! Screeching down the low sky, talons the size of oil drums, the mighty soaring Eagle God, sun-like, piling fire on fire, ruffling the tarred feathers, and then… the plumage of peace! Everything, everyone, disappearing up the crack of dawn in a blaze of glory. Fiat Lux, Abe, you lucky son of a bitch! Why Doc Let every day, when you’ve already seen the new day break over Vietnam? When you’ve already faced the real music, man, when you’ve looked into the abyss ….

And so on. But Abe didn’t care.

“You’ll live, soldier, and you’re not blind, so hang in there. It’s messy now, but I bet it’s going to look like a flaming grenade. The battle scar to end all battle scars. Fight the pain. Chicks will dig that flaming grenade.” So spoke the young medic. He was close when he said it but also miles away, applying pressure to the ruined chest of Abe’s pilot, who was dying, dying, dead. This was in back the field, the Hueys huffing and puffing against the elephant grass, GIs all around, walking and kneeling and some of them going away for good.

When Abe was recovering in the hospital, the young, limbless corporal in the adjacent bed ventured a novel interpretation of his burn mark, although it, too, suggested the irony of Abe’s disfigurement. “You know, to me it looks like a pygmy palm tree, you know the ones with the stubby trunk? Yeah, a little palm tree. It works, doesn’t it, as a souvenir I mean? Something local, a piece of Vietnam.”

Abe didn’t answer but he didn’t think it looked like a palm tree. But then Abe, at that point, no longer cared.

Abe was machine-gunning suspected Vietcong when it happened. Minutes before, his helicopter had swooped in uninvited, the one-horse cavalry nobody called. His pink-faced pilot had a forward way like that. His callsign was Azor, which is Spanish for goshawk, a bird of prey in the Accipitridae family. The name was emblazoned on his uniform and helmet, which also showed a cartoon of an angry, cigar-smoking bird. Abe made inquiries in the regiment. “Who coined that name? Why Azor, of course.”  Now the young goshawk was dead, on account of getting his wings clipped, but mainly because of his disintegrated chest.

Azor clicked his tongue and kept the helicopter stationary near the edge of the bush, urging Abe to train his M-60 on the confused people in the elephant grass. There was a crackling noise on the radio, but the emerging patter was drowned in a big and sudden whoosh overhead, the sonic signature of jets delivering their petroleum jelly payload, and things rapidly turned phosphorous after that. Abe kept his finger on the trigger. He remembers how the burning villagers looked like slightly taller, upright versions of the tracer bullets exiting his gun. His felt his face itch, and his aviators were melting against the gun shield. As the chopper buckled sideways, splintering its wings against the charred jungle canvas, Azor ceased to be a bird of prey, although there were black feathers on his chest. The Agent was loose. So down they went, together, in a blaze of glory.

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