Miller sits at the bar stool, half-nursed beer in hand and wears the bedraggled look of an executive. He pours over numbers while he waits. He’s heavy, carries corporate weight like a Pakistani rickshaw donkey. If you could strip him from his spreadsheets and focus groups, if you could rub him raw, he’d tell you about Somalia. Sometimes he feels the wind on the back of his neck and remembers the gales off the coast in 1993. His unit circled the ports of Mogadishu for twenty-five days and tried to convince the locals that hope can be restored at the fire end of a rifle. He was 19 that October, contemplated body armor sizes and extraction details on the night those two Blackhawks were shot down. He remembers the cold sweats in the mess hall.
Miller might also tell you about the worst itch he’s ever had. He’d tell you about that old country church poised on the banks of the Cossatot. One Sunday, when he was four, he stripped naked and swam in the river while a murder of crows gawked on the opposite bank. Miller’s brother stood on rocks over Miller’s right shoulder and squared an old bird in the iron sights of his BB gun. He was a poor shot so he missed badly, but the bb ricocheted off the embankment and kissed the black-eyed gawker in the beak. The crow gave Miller’s brother a cross-wise glare and then the whole lot of death omens silently lifted from the banks and flew over the boys, peppering them with bird droppings. The boys ran into the field, snaking on their bellies to wipe off the excrement, and in the process they both picked up a mess of seed ticks. It was oatmeal baths and Calamine for weeks after that.
If you made it through all of that, if you asked him what keeps him awake at night, he’d tell you that he fears forgetting how to feel. His memories are fading—the memories of cold sweats, blackberry seeds in bird diddle, the itch of ticks, and the smell of Calamine. The factitious cares of economics have ruined him, he might say.
But as I sidle my own baggage up next to his, Miller extends his hand and tells the bartender to bring me a pint. We’ve been friends for a few seasons now, so we exchange tolerable pleasantries and let the unsaid stay unsaid.
But I know Miller. And Miller knows me.