May 14
fiction challenge: Confidante

Louie and the Boy

        Louie saw the boy walk up the bayside towards him. Not this little shit again he thought. All Louie wanted was some peace and quiet by the bay, but this kid had to swoop in and disrupt him every damn day. (Deep down Louie didn’t mind having the kid around that much. Once in a while he enjoyed the company.) As the kid bounced closer, Louie took in the sight of him. He was like all the sprite, young men wanting to do their duty. Bright eyed, strong jawed, confident, with his dark, brown skin gleaming in the Louisiana sunlight.   

       “Hey, Louie.” the kid called out. Louie grunted back noncommittally. “I need to talk to you about something.” When Louie heard the boy’s unusually serious tone, he peered closer at him. The kid’s usually light, shiny eyes were darker, like sunglasses shielding away the sun. They were…changed. There was something new in them. Something Louie couldn’t quite place but seemed familiar. 

        “Listen, I need to tell you something. Something important. I’m going to tell my folks too, but I need you to know first. You’re the only one who will understand.” Louie's heart sunk into his stomach and his face paled. He had an idea of what was coming and he dreaded it. He’s been dreading it for days, months, years. 

        “Shoot,” Louie replied. 

        The boy took a deep breath, “I’m enlisting.” 

        “You're enlisting?” Louie asked, “You’re enlisting?” 

        “Yeah,” the boy stretched out the word, “I’m enlisting the US Army -” 

        “I know what you mean,” Louie spat out. He was caught off guard, but he didn’t know why. He had been expecting it. All the kid did was talk about the army day and night. About the benefits, the presidents who have served in the army, what an honor and a privilege it would be, how he was going to join as soon as he was 18. The kid was constantly yammering on and on. But part of Louie, some tiny fraction of his heart, had hoped against all hopes that he was wrong. That the kid wouldn’t go through with it.  

       “I'll be leaving in 3 months. The place where I’ll be staying is actually just in New Orleans so I’ll be able to visit.” 

       “Hmm.” 

       “What do you mean by ‘hmm’?” 

      “It’s just…” Louie struggled for the right words. He had never been good at expressing his emotions but now he had to soldier through. “There are always other options. I mean I know this is your game plan, but don’t pigeonhole yourself. There are other routes to take and things to do and places to be.” 

       “I know that Louie and I’ve already thought about that. And the more I think and think, the more I know this is my choice. This is what I want to do.” The hopeful, earnest look on the boy’s face almost broke Louie’s heart. The kid just didn’t know what he was signing up for. He didn’t know about the voices of dead soldiers that conversed with him as he sat on the pier. He didn’t know about the images that made themselves a cozy home in Louie's head. The bottle he nursed well after dark. That goddamned Vetran’s Day parade where Louie wishes he had left the battlefield running. The quiet, soft procession when another one of his buddies was deposited into the ground. The ache in his leg every time he stands and the ache in his heart when he sees the next generation of Americans ready to sell their life away for a rifle and some health benefits. 

      “Fine. Join the fucking army. I don’t give a hoot.”  The boy stared at him incredulous. 

       “I thought you of all people would be happy for me!!” the boy shouts. 

       “Well you thought wrong!” Louie’s face was flushed and they were both standing now, facing each other. Mirror images of the past and present. 

       “You’re the whole reason I wanted to go in the first place. You told stories everyday of the glory days. All the fun you had with your friends. The memories and the pain. Remember the story about the General,” the boy’s voice was pleading now, begging for acceptance, “remember that story Louie? How you were making a ruckus with your friends, and the General put you in place. Remember that?” The boy’s voice cracked at the end. Louie felt the fight draining out of him. “And when I heard those stories I wanted to be just like you. And I still do.”

       Louie heaved a deep sigh. All of a sudden he was so tired. He knew a losing battle when he saw one, and he was losing. He looked out at the bay, and the anger in his eyes faded to solemn resolve. He turned back to the boy and gently placed a hand on his shoulder. 
 “Listen kid, I’ll never support it, but if the army’s what you really want to do...do it.” The boy was silent then pulled Louie into a fierce hug. He pulled back and gave Louie a short, deep nod. Then he swiveled on his heel and walked slowly away, never looking back. His boyish demeanor was now deep and old. 

      Louie watched him for a while and then slumped back onto the pier. His leg ached and so did his heart.