The Howler Monkey
The Howler Monkey is among the largest of the New World monkeys. They
range in size from 56 to 92 cm, and like many New World monkeys, they
have prehensile tails. They have a short snout, and wide-set, round nostrils.
Howlers eat mainly top canopy leaves, together with fruit, buds, flowers,
and nuts and have a lifespan of 15 to 20 years. They move quadrapedally
and do not brachiate, usually holding on to a branch with at least two
hands or one hand and the tail at all times. They very seldom leave the
trees, rest about 80 percent of the time and are considered the least
active of all monkeys.
Daniel W. Davis
When people ask me about the war, there
are certain things they want to know, and certain things they don't
want to know.
They want to know if I am a war hero, so I casually mention that there
were a few occasions where I thought I handled myself fairly well. They
want details, and so I oblige them. I mention the time that I was out
on patrol, with my buddies Buchanan and Sanders, and some suicide bomber
took out a little grocery store just a hundred yards from where we were.
I spare them the details of the blood and gore, and mention the fear
that coiled up in my gut at the thought that I had narrowly escaped
death. I had just been inside that little store, you see, to buy a newspaper.
I cannot read the language, of course, but I like to contribute to the
community. It helps the natives--that's what I must call them, the natives--take
a liking to you. If they like you, they are less apt to kill you.
Anyway, Buchanan and Sanders and I rush over to the site of the bombing,
our M-16s at the ready. It's kind of pointless, we must admit--it was
a suicide bombing, after all, and that's always good for a chuckle or
two--but protocol is protocol. Anyway, we rush over to the store, and
lo and behold there's someone there with a gun, an AK-47, and he's got
his gun up to his shoulder, and my ears are still ringing from the blast
so I can't hear the gun go off, but I can see the muzzle flash and the
shells spitting out to one side, and I scream and hit the deck, dodging
behind a car that had been dented in the driver's side, thanks to debris
tossed aside during the explosion.
I'm quick, thank God, but Sanders isn't, he's hit in the chest repeatedly,
his vest absorbs some of it but you can never really tell, and Buchanan
has dropped to the ground, probably hit by a stray bullet. I see all
this from underneath the car, I'm lying prone on my stomach, and I yell
and jump to my feet and whip my M-16 up and blow that bastard half to
hell. I then ran over to see how my buddies are. ("Sanders got sent
home early," I tell them, "and Buchanan has one hell of a story to tell--he
tripped over his own feet while he was trying to reach cover.")
My neighbor, Mr. Poch, placed a hand
on my shoulder at the end of this story and said, "Son, I'll be damned."
I don't know whether Mr. Poch is truly damned or not--probably, we all
know he fools around with his secretary, even his wife knows it--but
I laugh it off and say, "No, sir, I've already been to hell, and I didn't
see you there!"
They ask me if our camp was ever attacked, and I tell them many times,
but only one time was it ever halfway successful, and that was when
they began tossing in homemade bombs. One of them even hit the Port-a-Potty,
and there was shit-covered shrapnel ("Pardon my French, Mrs. York")
flying everywhere. A piece of it ripped into my vest, though it didn't
make it very far through, thank God. The raid only lasted about thirty
minutes, and we managed to deter our attackers with only minimal casualties.
No one was killed, and no one spent more than a few hours in medical.
I tell them, too, about the time I was most afraid, because this is
probably the question that comes up the most. It was while we were searching
the caves, looking for sand niggers (that's what I have to call them,
"sand niggers," and I try not to scowl as I say it, but I'm not always
successful). We found a group of about ten, or rather they found us,
because they set up an ambush at the mouth of this cave on the side
of the mountain, and poor old Sergeant Peterson, he was the first hit.
He took it in the neck and didn't die until after all the shooting was
over with, that's how awful it was.
Anyway, Sergeant Peterson goes down, and before we know what's happening,
another man--I'm not sure who, it doesn't really matter because it wasn't
Daniels and myself, we're the only two to make it out alive--goes down,
and then all hell breaks loose, if it hadn't already. I feel a bullet
whiz past my head--literally feel it, not hear it but feel it--and I
fire a burst from my M-16 and then I jump behind a boulder. I see another
man fall--this was Matheson, I know because he was the only black guy
out there with us that day, and a great guy to boot, knew the stats
to every Major League player in the past five years--and I can see Daniels
screaming and firing, and I crouch up but can't see over the rock, but
I can hear everything just fine and it sounds like a madhouse filled
There's an explosion--someone's tossed a grenade. I think it's taken
out a few of the terrorists, because the roar of gunfire decreases slightly,
but they're still shooting at us and we're still shooting back, though
by now I can't tell how many of us are left. Peterson's down, some other
guy's down, Matheson's down, Vincennes gets his legs shot out from under
him right before my eyes, and I stand up to fire over the rock, the
consequences be damned (and here everyone gasps), but when I pull the
trigger of my rifle, nothing happens.
The gun's jammed somehow. I fall back behind the rock as bullets spray
my way, and I'm banging on the gun because in my panic I think it might
actually help, when in reality I'm very close to shooting myself in
the foot, and even through the gunfire I hear someone coming up behind
me, not being very sneaky about it either, and I turn around and there's
this sand nigger (if I have to utter the phrase a second time I almost
always frown, though by this point everyone's too caught up in the story
to notice). He's just as surprised to see me as I am to see him, except
he's holding an AK-47 at his side, and as he brings it up I'm betting
it's operational, unlike the rifle that I hold in my hands which had
gone cold despite the sun that's beating down on us.
It's miraculous, but I have time offer
up a prayer. I pray: Dear Lord, please watch over my family back home,
and ease their grief in any way You can, and help them carry on. Please,
too, watch over my brothers here, so that I have not died in vain, and
that these fine men and women may go back home to see their families.
I pray to You, oh Lord, please be merciful.
Maybe He's listening, or maybe the Army just trains us so damn well,
but somebody shoots the enemy standing before me (I never say "sand
nigger" a third time, never), and he falls backward, his gun already
beginning to point towards me. I never learned who shot him; I suspect
Daniels, but he's never admitted to it, and I've never asked him. All
I know is that one of my brothers saved my life out there that day,
and there is a good chance that he died doing so.
There's usually silence at this. The
silence lingers; I like it, and often this is the last story I have
to tell. I try to tell it first, so that I don't have to say any more,
but I can't always manage that.
If I don't get to tell that story first,
they usually ask me about how I feel now that I'm back home. I tell
them, smiling brightly, that it's damn good to be able to eat a cheeseburger
any time I want. They laugh, and I add that, but seriously, there were
times I never thought I would make it back. War is hell, I tell them,
which must mean that Heaven is right here in Miller's Creek.
That is what people want to hear when
they ask me about the war. I do not tell them what they don't want to
hear: that I spent the majority of my time inside, filing papers and
cleaning guns, and that the one time I went into combat, I got so scared
at the thought of taking a bullet that I wet myself, and I poked a hole
in my canteen and poured the water over my lap so that no one would
Daniel W. Davis is a graduate student born and raised in Central Illinois.
His work has appeared in various online and print journals. You can
follow his work and musings at http://www.dumpsterchickenmusic.blogspot.com.