Matt Kolbet

Hamburger

 
 
At Fort Irwin they call it Outpost Number One, the military sense of humor hard at work.
 
11:30 on a Tuesday the place is nearly empty, just an aging man and his wife sitting down, unaware.
 
In an instant, the place rockets with noise.  Every entrance fills with a wash of green, brown, and the myriad brushstrokes called the human face.  The soldiers do not move in formation; the way in is too narrow and demands they move in single file.
 
The old couple does not know whether to laugh or leave, but the latter is soon impossible.  One last look outside shows that the soldiers traveled by bus, suitable to the terrain and more efficient.  Orders though, are given individually.  
 
"Should we move?" the old man asks his wife.  They have not finished eating.  He has not forgotten the urgency of war and in the back of his mind can still hear the cadences.  Watching the men move in, he feels a bit like a Jody from the old songs.
 
"I wonder if they come in like this often," the woman says.  If they stand, four soldiers will take their place.  "I just need to go to the bathroom first."
 
He wants to tell the men he would fight too, but there is a shortage of places to sit now.  The soldiers cram their bodies into impossible spaces rather than eating outside, standing exposed.  The old man doubts they have time to listen, even in a break from training.  And this, being here, makes them all Jodies, doesn’t it?
 
The man collects the wrinkled burger wrappers and the cardboard basket for fries.  He moves slowly to the trash bin and smiles at a paralyzed employee, despite the words IN-N-OUT emblazoned on his hat.
 
A soldier shouts for help.  Two tables away a man is choking.  A squadron leader performs the Heimlich maneuver. Someone calls an ambulance.
 
The woman stares across the sea of green, feels out of place in her skirt and shoes and sex.  She takes her husband's hand.
 
Their exit strategy faces the delays of too many dead cows unconsumed, too many soldiers preparing to die.  They can remember a time when war was less abstract, and shorter too.  They watch the ambulance roll away with its lights dimmed.