The Lamb

He stands over a long bridge between two cities, staring at where the sea and night sky meet. Both ends of the bridge, agleam with electric anxiety. Blackness and clouds belly-lit by skyscrapers and tower beams. And he stares below him at the ocean lapping on the piers and he hears it and he wonders how he’ll sound when he—

The noise of the light. The color of a roar. He hears each car like the coming of the end. As if a wild surge of destiny was pulling him in the dragged wind. His hands are over a low concrete barrier, he leans forward and backwards, like an inverted pendulum over an abyss, feeling the wind on his temples cooling his thoughts lest they burst out of him like red flames. His life is all outside; his world all sense; his skin and his eyes and his ears are his soul; he is all that sounds. And cars pass every five minutes of his time, which is like fifteen or twenty in the head of another, but they are five to him, which means that in two hours the sun will rise over where the sea ends and it will be an orange globe like hot crystal brightening—

And memories of suns take him for only a second to a memory… a memory of when the sun rose over a desert field… one morning such as this and the light caught in the copper of bullet shells… all spilled along the red sand… and only he—

He must stop before his breath runs out. He is now under the bridge by the pier where he sleeps. With a hand on a wall and the other on his heart.

Only he had made it.


On occasion a bittersweet feeling swells up in him. These are the feelings when Hernandez remembers Daniela. The cool evening tonight has something of her in it. Her hands, always cold, used to startle him when they clasped his neck, but then she’d embrace him with her arms and warm chest. The ice and the fever would surrender. She’d deposit little secrets right into his ear as if she were dropping feathers from her lips. He loved her so much he hated himself for not knowing how to show it.

He needed to do something for her.

“That’s not a reason for enlisting,” she’d said in tears.

Still, he brought her a chocolate Lab (named Delgado) and said, “I brought him so you can have someone while I’m away.”

That was in 2012. Now it’s 2015. The fighting was harder and bloodier than he thought.

As he walks towards Miami Beach on the bridge, wrapped in the comforts of memory, he smiles to himself until the sun rises from the sea and exhales its burning sighs on the city and the swamp.


Later that day, he sees a boy frisbeeing a Hot-n-Ready pizza box into a dumpster. He goes over. As soon as there is no one on the street, he lifts himself over the dumpster and fishes it out of the milk gallons, plastic bags, and cushions. He pulls himself out and sits in an alley to eat the crusts.

He falls asleep and wakes to a mutty dog yanking the box from him. He yells at it and kicks the mutt in the rib.

“Goddammit! God—” he says in a growl to the gnarled mutt as hungry as he is. But the mutt rips at his corner of the box, which he takes away into another Brickell alley.

Hernandez eats his fourth crust. He sees the bite marks on the last one are small, the size of a child’s mouth. And it makes his heart hurt for some reason so he just eats the crust whole to be done with eating.

A high-pitched whistle sounds from the fat man in white security clothes and Hernandez has to get up and flee.


Another night, he wakes up and finds two teens laughing and piking their sneakers into his ribs and knees and cheeks until one, too drunk, drops the brown bag he holds, spilling glass and vodka on the small pier where Hernandez lives. They curse and the laughing turns to howling. He lunges back at them, still half-asleep, swinging his arms but hitting nothing. Then they kick him twice as hard until something cracks in the darkness beneath the bridge. He sees only shadows and hears the heedless roll of cars.

As the pain subsides, he remembers her crying, saying, “Nothing was worth that war and madness and this is nothing, this is nothing, this is nothing, but fear and need and pain.”

“Yes, sir,” he’d said to his commander, “the war against humanity is never over.”


The history of Captain Hernandez. He barely knows it himself. Everything is sense, everything is sense, and it is so very difficult to stop his mind… If he were to stop it from drifting on the stream of conscious time—if he were to anchor it on one thought, on one image—then his mind would break under memory’s pressure. Memory would return; it would burst from the psychic dam. It had to: it had to come back, because the mind cannot begin thought anew: it cannot just wake upon an image in front of his eyes, no. Nor can it return to a thought or an idea free of connection. His mind has to call upon that elusive, frail narrative called the inner life: what he thinks his life has been; the story of his universe as told by his own mind. The mind has to set experience in context, has to set him in context.

What was he doing here in the street? Why is he in front of that bin? How did he come here? Because he was coming to drink that unfinished coffee the man left on top of the bin. He came by walking when the street was less crowded. He is here because he was hungry, and he has always enjoyed coffee. Suddenly his standing on Brickell Avenue becomes part of this chapter which began—

But see? It has to begin. Has to begin. Why? Because it also has to end.


They were waiting for the enemy. The snipers in the corners of a makeshift position behind sharp wire mesh. Their scopes like cat’s eyes just waiting for the guy to burst out of there with his vest. They were all ready. All ready. And he was the captain so he said steady though he too trembled from the crouch. It was half an hour of crouching still and silent, watching jackals and hyenas laugh through their scopes. They had an urge to shoot the hyenas just for the hell of it. The snipers’ calves smarted and they remembered their training when they carried logs back and forth as their drill sergeant called them all sorts of mean things. Now it’s all nostalgically funny, because they’d rather have their sergeant say he’d stick his foot up their asses so he could wear them like flip flops than be here staring at the long goat’s eye of madness.


The C-17 left Bagram Air Base with Hernandez and the others wounded. In his half-alive state, Hernandez felt the steel rattling of the aircraft, and it was as if he were being chewed by giant teeth. The first stop was a hospital in Germany. There they left some of his friends who had lost limbs or organs or were more or less dead. The second stop was Walter Reed. And half-asleep he felt the structure heavy and light again, sometimes at once; he saw the bolts protruding from the iron walls and he’d think they were teeth for hours and hours; he’d feel his body swaying with the vessel like a bolus shifting from one cheek to another.

He had done absolutely nothing, saved nothing; he had gone on straight into the night when the howling winds rubbed the sandy dunes as if they had wanted to light it all ablaze, and he had gone in there with his M-4, gripping it like a scepter, with pride and sneer, until some peasant showed up with an AK-47 and all of a sudden the distinctions of power faded into a mandala of screaming, orders, sweat, anger, fear, panic, fire, weight, labor, darkness… Which mattered for nothing, either way. He either killed the man with the AK-47 or else some other American soldier killed him or else the man killed himself. Either way he lived until the next encounter and the next and the next and the next. And he’d think that Daniela would be safer at the end of each mission, as home base said, which would help him get through the day. Until the missions started to seem endless, lost their boundaries in his memory, as if it were all one long mission. Then it finally hit him one evening, in the border between Iraq and Afghanistan when the moon lit the backs of clouds like the traitorous spy it was: this all was impossible and he had forgotten why he was there, forgotten even where he was.

Wickham helped him cope. He had a wife and children and he had a whole future planned, complete with future cats’ names and time-share plans. He had gone “balls-deep,” as he said, in debt after losing his job because of that financial crisis, so he enlisted in the army to help pay for some things. It was the only thing he thought he could do. Florida employment was up shit’s creek. And he was your typical type with an F-150, NRA bumper stickers, a regular range attendee, his arm sunned red from sticking outside the driver’s window when he ran yellow lights.

He hoped—Hernandez hoped—Wickham didn’t see it coming. That was what he wished most. But his mind was relentless. Like an embarrassment that just sticks to you through the years, the memory, that last memory of Wickham wouldn’t leave him, or even now, when to say he is conscious is more a linguistic convenience than a provable reality. That memory had its own psychic gravity, and it sucked every drop of hope from his body. He just wished it would go away as he was leaving that land. He just wished the memory stayed there, planted like the bullet shells and lambs’ bones they’d left strewn all over the desert and stone roofs.

Oh God, and what would he tell Wickham’s wife?


He crouches and untucks his penis from the rags to piss behind an electrical transformer. The light on the intersection is green so the cars whizz by on the wet road. Tails of mist and spray jet from the wheels to the back and to the sides. The rain falls strong, and the mists and the vapors and the heat make of each passerby an anonymous ectoplasmic shadow.

He forces it out of himself quickly until it burns at the tip and at the base. He is careful to leave his clothes unstained, shakes, and tucks back in, but the effort has made him dizzy and he doesn’t notice that the knot is loosening.

He walks with an empty bladder down Biscayne Bay. His pace, fast, directionless. It is the middle of the afternoon and the empresarios and the negociantes have emerged from their tall pastimes, sandwiching between their palms and cheeks sleek black cellphones. And Hernandez walks with them, fantasizing with them.

No—a tide of rage swells up in him and he punches a wall that disrespects him, which scares a passing mother and her child. This red rage is what remains of the night Henson got his ankle blown by a stray grenade right in front of him.

And if it’s not rage it’s dark, crippling sorrow, as if your intestine had fallen out and into an abyss. Like when he remembered that in Mosul he and Wickham were running together towards the hospital, until thin meteor needles sliced through the air and the group was split in two and Wickham and the others were forced to return. But a child crawled out of a sewer with an RPG launcher straddled on his shoulder aimed straight at—

What? Did you think I wanted to kill that child! he screams at himself.

His trousers fall.


He stands beneath a knot of concrete skyways, mouth agape as if he were about to swallow them. Overhead, deaf and beyond his sight, the rubber roll of wheels and passing echoes lifts a light din, a droning buzz.

He takes his cardboard sign on which it says he’s hungry. He waits for the light to turn red at the end of one of those strips of skyway which descends like a flopped tongue at an intersection among the skyscrapers. He stands to a side, leaning over a steel bar as the cars pass, and sees at the other end of the street a dirty blond man in a wheelchair, legless. He has long hair, nearly knotted into braids and a beard behind which rotten teeth find perfect cover. Hernandez cannot suppress a desire to revere him because he looks very much like a statue of Christ he had seen long ago. He also carries a sign, torn and dirtied, and he too is waiting for the light to turn red. Hernandez sees him with eyes full of recognition but very little pity.

The light turns and with their cardboard signs in hand, they search for people’s eyes. Some lock the doors of their vehicles, while others continue to hold a conversation. A few extend their arms with change, depositing the money with a nervous smile, weakly, with a pity Hernandez no longer holds even for himself.

The light turns again and both of them weave as fast as they can through the gaps between bumpers, and it is as if the cars have been slingshot from a band of impatience. They slash through the road on towards another red light where another version of Hernandez will wait to collect pennies and dimes to buy burgers with, and mutter back under dry tired breaths, when the weight of nickel and the copper has heavied their hands, “Thank you and God bless.”


As the sun makes a final swing over the sky and sets behind the white towers, Hernandez sits on Bayfront Park looking into the sea. A rusting orange sun of foreboding memory, nearly whole but for the tiny bit touched by shadow.

What was her name? he begins to think. What was her name? Aye… Ayah? What was her name?

Each thought is as evanescent as the waves and swells in height to bursting froth, then diminishes and crashes.

What was her…?

No matter.

She held a small lamb in her arms.

He remembers its bleating like a missile scream.

The camp, decimated. He remembers how he stared through binoculars. Smoking limbs hang from iron beams. He hears the bleating of the lamb. Sees her through the green glass. Ruins all around her, lying circularly, radially. A pagan shrine. She is ashen-still before she collapses with the lamb in her arms. It bleats and bleats into the night.

He drives his thumb harshly into his own eye. He scratches deep into his ears ringing with the bleats. He wishes the thought would fade. The missile and the drone and the lamb all bleat together. It sounds like laughter.

Daniela is long gone. He wonders if she was real. Was he real?

The bleating is louder and sounds like laughter. He can hear it well. It isn’t the ghostly noise of a distended imagination. He can localize it. He raises his eyes to the sea and sees there a lamb roaming on the surface, bleating at the amethyst clouds.

People pass without noticing him or the lamb. They walk briskly away from them both, though the lamb bleats louder and louder. It is almost a roar. But with its green sacrificial eyes, eyes full of distorted life, it stares back at Hernandez, who feels the end poised to arrive. His end. A grand calamity as inexorable as the rising tides.

The lamb laughs and laughs.

Until trotting to the horizon the lamb sinks into the water, and Hernandez is left there on the pier laughing.