They Died with their Boots On

“Betty, no more Jell-O, you hear me.”  He said it like his wife was a room away.  “You have to tell them or they’ll keep making it, a wife isn’t a mind reader.  You’re not married, are you?  The man is supposed to die first, that’s the way God intended it, a woman can live without a man, probably glad to be rid of him, but a man who survives a wife, that’s as tragic as anything Shakespeare wrote.  Billy was always quoting Shakespeare. 'What a piece of work is man.'  I remember him saying that.”  He held out his tremulous hands and stared at them silently for a bit.

“You don’t know the pain in these hands.  Billy was the lucky one, his hands never ached, he didn’t spend a lifetime calling his wife in the kitchen, raising children, or going to a lousy job every day, he had a head full of Shakespeare and a heart full of words, I couldn’t quote a word of it but I can hear Billy saying, ‘What a piece of work is man’ like he was standing in a museum looking at a painting."

I never made it past high school, had to read the play about the Jew and the pound of flesh, which one was that again, Billy would know, often thought of him through the years, he was the lucky one…”  He trailed off, looking past me.

“Do you believe in God?  I went to services at the same church for forty years, forty years, you’d think God would look kindly on a man who went to church for forty years, hell, the Jews wandered in the desert for forty years and God gave them a country, I would have at least liked the pain in my hands to have gone away, but it was too much to expect – that’s why I’m talking to you. I took communion all my life, body of Christ, blood of Christ, blood of Billy, bowl of Jell-O, Betty, come here and sit down, there’s no need for you to be stuck in that kitchen all day.”  He cupped his hand around his mouth when he called and craned his neck trying to see around a corner that wasn’t there, leaning forward waiting for her to walk in and take a seat next to him.

“War is hell, did Shakespeare say that?  You’ll never know what war is unless you’re there in the middle of it, and you smell it and taste it.  Do you know what happens if you have to piss and you’re trapped in a foxhole, or you’re hungry and trapped in a foxhole and there’s a glob of blood like Jell-O, God, and Shakespeare don’t make a damn bit of difference, would you rather die or piss in your pants, go hungry or cup your hand into that glob and eat another man’s blood by moonlight, a dog would do the same –what a piece of shit is man‒ look at my trembling hands, do you see any art?”

I looked.

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