We were all scared. The whole damn nation was shuddering and wringing their palms like the socially challenged villain in a movie. The first few bombs were a direct hit. We watched the city erupt into pockets of flame on live television. Public approval was low, and there was only one word on everyone’s mine: retaliation. Not since September 11th, not since Pearl Harbor –
The same morning that I woke up rubbing the lump on the back of my head was the same morning that the town began sandbagging the two roads that go through it. As I was crawling up onto my knees, the townspeople were stacking sandbags on the asphalt. As I started my way up the stairs to the smell of bacon, Fat Joseph, the butcher, was standing with his hands on his hips in his white apron, overseeing two high schoolers named Ted and Josh. While my eyes were adjusting to the bright light of the kitchen, Mrs. Saunders, the music teacher at school who gave piano lessons on the side, was sitting in folding chair, watching the event like it was on television.
Ira was at the stove, stirring the bacon as it bubbled in the greasy pan. He was still wearing the same white t-shirt and khakis, although he might have taken them off before he went to sleep. Then again, he might not have.
“You’re up,” he said, facing the stove.
“Yeah,” I said back to him.
“Bacon. Put some meat on your bones.”
Ira was referencing the fact that he was always a bit huskier than I was. Growing up, I was sort of scrawny, and the fact that I turned vegetarian later on in life didn’t help me “bulk up” the way that Ira always wanted me to. Ira belongs to a certain mindset where being a man is important, and there are certain ways a man should act and look. Certain feelings that are pre-destined. My father prescribed to the same philosophy, the Hemingway Syndrome I called it when I was growing up. I never understood why a man had to be a man if he was just going to sit at a typewriter and talk about his feelings.
“I’m a vegetarian, you know,” I said to Ira.
Ira ignored me and flipped each piece of marbled bacon over with the tongs.
“Ah, my boys,” my father said from behind me, wheeling himself out of his bedroom.
In his wheelchair, he looked sick. All those years of pan fried bacon and hefty steaks and cholesterol left his heart weak and small. I could almost feel it struggling to beat through his wrinkled grey skin, undershirt, and grey woolen sweater.
“Dad,” Ira said from the stove. “Did you know that one of your sons is a vegetarian?”
Dad looked up at me, winked and smiled, and said, “Well why are you making bacon if you’re not going to eat any?”
“No, not me,” Ira said as he whipped around, tongs in hand. “I was talking about…”
He stopped when he saw the smile on our father’s face.
“Oh, real funny.”
“Make Lee some oatmeal, he can have oatmeal can’t he?” Dad said to Ira, wheeling himself past me through the kitchen towards the dining room. “I should be having some oatmeal too, anyway, you know, with this bum ticker of mine.”
“Dad, I can make oatmeal for us,” I said.
“With a bruise like that on your cheek,” my father said, “I think Ira owes you a meal.”
And then he disappeared into the dining room.
“Sorry I hit you,” Ira said.
“Sorry I called you a mess.”
The bacon hissed and popped.
“We’re all just wired, you know? On edge. I guess we’re all just scared.”
“Well, you don’t have to worry, nothing’s going to happen.”
“If you’re so sure, then why’d you leave the city?”
I opened my mouth to speak but then let my jaw shut slowly when I realized I had no good answer. Ira folded his arms letting the tongs hang down from his right hand, leaving grease spots on the left side of his shirt.
“Like I said, we’re all scared. That’s why they’re sandbagging the roads.”
He pointed with the tongs in his right hand to the window over the sink, and I walked over to the sink and peered out the window. It was a bright morning, and down the hill in the distance I could see small figures laying sandbags out, forming little walls so that cars would have to zig-zag around them in order to enter town.“Go sit down with Dad,” Ira said. “I’ll make you both some oatmeal.”