The Last of the Blacksmiths by Claire Gebben is available on Amazon.com as a paperback or an e-book for your Kindle.
New York City, 1857
I was lost, and had no idea of my way back. To ask for directions would be futile. Even if someone understood me, how could I understand their replies? New York City had seemed a grand entryway for my new life in America a few hours ago. Now I longed only to escape the chaos behind me, people spilling out of doorways, gushing up from underground, staggering, shouting at one another in thick, slurred voices. I could not tear from my mind the shaking of fists at the windows, the raining of bricks from the rooftops. I believed I could find my own way, but I had failed.
I had come too far. In the center of this broad open square a fountain splashed musically, enticing a few families to linger. The clop-clop of horses and rattle of carriages along the broad avenue helped restore my addled senses. I inhaled deeply, the reek of urine and sweat not so strong here. Into my awareness swam the memory of a shop with a German name I had seen a few streets back.
With faltering steps, I returned to the establishment, the shop of a cabinetmaker, the sign painted in both German and English. The windows were dark. At Castle Garden they had warned of this—that no businesses would be open on the festival of American Independence. But they had not warned of the fighting in these streets, more fierce and desperate than any I had witnessed as a child.
As I stood in uncertainty, a man came walking toward me, near to my older brother in age, perhaps eighteen. I drew up the courage and spoke to him.
All I Could Be: The Story of a Woman Warrior in Iraq by by Miyoko Hikiji can be purchased on Amazon.com as a paperback or an e-book for your Kindle.
Being GI, but not Joe
Iraq was a beautiful hell. I roasted atop a stone retaining wall listening to music through my head phones. I watched the Euphrates dance of water bugs and emerald birds with triangular wings. Behind me stretched a green grass courtyard that, despite the desert environment, was able to flourish through a river-fed sprinkler system. At the tip of my platoon’s pie slice of land was one of the former palaces of Saddam Hussein, who was currently hiding. Its dome now toppled and upside-down had been blown off by a missile whose partial casing (now festooned with a Ron Jon Surf Shop sticker) lay at the center of the ruins. The front of the palace had a gaping, jagged hole through which you could see a crumbling marble staircase. The thought occurred to me that maybe only a few months before Saddam had climbed that staircase to peer through the window in the rotunda as if he were, and always would be, king of his world.
I was on a week-long mission in the provincial capital of Ar Ramadi supporting a Florida National Guard infantry unit that was in charge of the city’s security. The outpost was about the size of three city blocks. The infantry lived in a partially destroyed building that had also been part of the palace grounds. My co-driver Nick and I shared one of the four frame tents with another truck team. The second and third tents held four other truck teams including Di, the only other woman on the mission, and the last tent housed the platoon sergeant and his driver. That tent doubled as an office. A cleverly crafted patio area had been constructed using scavenged pallets covered with scrap wood for a floor. Camouflage bits stretched and tied between the open spaces of low tree branches provided relief from the relentless sun. Waving atop a few extra tent poles in the center of our compound was the Iowa state flag.
It was July 2003 and we had just moved to this forward operating base in preparation for our fourth mission since arriving in Iraq. With nothing to do beside clean my M16 and kick the tires on my truck, I moved languidly about trying to find the least miserable spot in which to endure the day’s heat. I circled from my bunk to the patio to the retaining wall and back like one of the emerald birds.
THE DEAL: ABOUT FACE by Adam Gittlin is available for purchase on Amazon.com on March 4, 2014. Get a sneak peak at Chapter One!
A hand from behind reaches over me and grabs my chin like a vice, pulling it back as far as it will go. I groan in agony. My eyes stare at the ceiling. A drop of filthy water hits me dead center on my forehead. Seconds later, my torturer’s blue eyes meet mine from no more than two inches above.
“Gereed om te spreken? Of jullie nog denken jullie wipen enigerlei handeling held?”
What language is that? I think, his spittle spraying my skin. And why do I understand it? Given my restrained circumstances, my reflexes still function, and I attempt to shake my head. As I do, my assailant repeats himself. This time I hear it in English . . .
“You ready to speak? Or you still think you’re some kind of action hero?”
. . . As I recall why I now process everything I hear in two languages. He gently traces my face with his fingertips, like a blind man seeing something for the first time.