June 15, 2012 by The Citron Review

by Louis Bourgeois


Downtown Hanoi                                                          

for wayne o’brian bourgeois

The drive home was darker than usual; there were stars and only a hair strand of moon. My uncle drove and smoked hash from a short ivory pipe and listened to hard rock at top volume on the stereo. I sat in a tense silence. I didn’t like loud music or the smell of hash, even though I was used to both. He turned down the stereo and said to me, Why you always so nervous? A boy your age shouldn’t worry about nothing. It was then I saw the first of the crabs. I saw them before he did and it sent a chill down my spine. I’d heard under rare conditions crabs will migrate from one side of the marsh to the other in search of saltier and less polluted water, but this time was the first time I’d seen it happen.

As we drove into the crabs, the crunching of the shells grew thicker and my uncle just laughed and laughed, and laughed, and for some reason the bursting shells made my eyes water. The further we drove, the more frightened I became. The more frightened I became, the more my uncle laughed. You see, my uncle had seen things, or rather, had heard more than was good for him. He’d only been home from Vietnam for about six months. He’d served as a radio operator guiding B-52 pilots over their designated targets and attempting to lead them to safety if they were in trouble. He heard men’s prayers from way up in the sky and then heard their screams as they went up in smoke and headed straight for the ground. He heard the distant crackle of death, and the voice of guilt as a ton of beautifully wrought silver bombs were dropped on some silent village. He heard more than most of us. He heard too much, and now those voices were in him and he had become them. He complained of deadness in the mouth, as if he was constantly tasting cardboard or Styrofoam. The incessant smell of burnt copper, he claimed, stayed with him no matter where he was or what he was doing.

We stopped in the middle of the highway and sat in the car in silence and watched the crabs crawl through the headlight beams. He was crying huge whelps of tears. It was the first time I’d seen him cry. My God, he said, I’ve never seen anything so awful in my life, so beautiful. And then I started crying; I cried because even at that young age I understood that boyhood is not real and there is no such thing as Patria.



Louis Bourgeois is the Executive Director of VOX PRESS. He lives, writes, and edits in Oxford, Mississippi.

One thought on “Downtown

  1. EN Heim says:

    A moving story. Well done.

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