The Voyage Part Ten – Brian Confesses

The Voyage Part Ten – Brian Confesses. Bruce McCorkill

Prologue
Brian has apologised to Rashid and Samira, they are on his side
Carol has a lot of thinking to do
Brian now has to confess to Carol

Well, the final part of the mission is just about to get into operational mode. Myself, I have a few reservations. Lenny claims to be a good strategist; so far this is panning out. Brian’s managed to get both Rashid and Samira on side, without too much effort, and Carol has hopefully noticed this and it’s counting in his favour. But I have this nagging doubt that maybe Brian should just leave it at that, what Carol doesn’t know won’t hurt her. My fear is that as soon as she finds out Brian’s secret, she’ll go scooting off to Jan to get her advice, and we all know what that will be. But the old vets seem convinced their strategy will work, so who am I to challenge this? I just hope it all works out for Brian, I’ll be in there batting for him, but there’s only so much a fixer can do.

Brian’s chance to tell Carol came a couple of weeks later. Carol had been thinking about Jan’s suggestion, almost running through scenarios about what life with Jan would be like rather than with Brian. She studied her husband of thirty five years, her partner, the father of her children. Did she really know him, what went on in his mind? What was wrong with him. He had said he wanted to tell her something important; she needed to know to help her decide what to do.

‘Brian, you wanted to tell me something. What is it? What’s on your mind? What happened the other night? You have changed since then; you’ve been getting on with Rashid and Samira really well. I’m pleasantly surprised.’

Brian collected his thoughts, remembered Lenny’s advice and began. It reminded him of the minutes before a fight, wondering how it would go, would you survive. He took a deep breath and started to talk.

‘Carol, you remember that last letter I wrote from Vietnam, telling you I was suddenly coming home soon?’

‘Yes I do, I was so relieved to hear your war was over. We could start our new life. I can still remember that long beautiful letter, you wrote all these lovely sentences about our future life together.’

‘Well Carol, the day after that letter my Patrol conducted a raid on some enemy hiding in a little village. I was in charge. In that raid I did a terrible thing. I killed a young Vietnamese girl. It all happened so quickly. We entered this hut, I was in front, this girl suddenly appeared, so I shot her. Then everybody started firing and it was all over in a few seconds.’

‘But Brian, it’s terrible you shot a young girl, but wasn’t she the enemy. We read lots at home about young girls pretending to being friends, tricking our soldiers, but really being the enemy. You were in a war. You were right to kill her.’

Brian wondered how to tell Carol the next part.

‘Yes it was a war, and a bloody stupid war. But Carol, this time was different. Afterwards we found out the people in the hut were South Vietnamese, our friends. I had killed an innocent girl. I found out all she was saying when she put her hand out was ‘please don’t hurt me, I’m your friend.’ So my last action in that stupid war was killing an innocent person. Not a good way to finish my fighting career was it?’

‘But Brian, it was all a mistake; we read about this, what’s it called? Friendly fire or something like that. I can understand you must have felt terrible. But, wait a minute, didn’t you tell me that you got a medal for that fight?’

‘Ah yes, the famous medal. They gave us all a medal to shut us up, keep us happy. Told us to keep quiet and they would ship us home really quickly. Remember, this was the last part of the war, the public back home were protesting, the government was just trying to justify why we were still there. They were only concerned with saving face. The brass made up a story about it being an unfortunate mistake, and got us the hell out of there. We were on the next plane home. My war was finished. Although, the mad war in my mind was just starting.’

‘But I still don’t understand, you did the best you could. You seem to be taking too much blame.’

Brian collected his thoughts and courage. To tell Carol the part he had finally confessed to Lenny. But he thought how Lenny was still him mate, now it was time to see if Carol would still be his wife.

‘Because Carol, as we entered the village it was wrong. You get a funny nervy feeling of what’s right and wrong. You need it to survive. It didn’t feel as though the enemy was there. I was trying to figure out what to do next. Even when we went into the hut and I suddenly saw the girl, I still thought something wasn’t right. Even when I started to pull the trigger, I knew I was doing the wrong thing…I thought I knew what she was saying. But I still pulled the trigger.’

Carol looked ashen faced at Brian. Her Brian, the Brian she had shared her life with for over thirty years, but suddenly a different Brian, a stranger, someone she didn’t know.

‘Why Brian? How could you do something like that, couldn’t you have stopped?’

‘I don’t really know. It was happening fast, the guys were pushing in behind me, Lenny was beside me urging me to shoot. But most of all, I was thinking of you, I just wanted to make sure I was going to get home safely. I was thinking about my letter to you the previous night. About how I went on about my dreams for us, our life together. I couldn’t let anything stuff that up, like being shot by the Viet Cong on my last fight. Your face suddenly flashed in my rifle sights. I just wanted to play safe. Shoot or be shot. In some mad way in my mind in that instant, it seemed to be you or her. So there was really bugger all choice.’

‘Brian this is crazy. You used to write that you worked out these mission strategies really well. You were proud of how you were so cautious, spent a lot of time assessing the intelligence. You told me that you would spend hours before a fight making sure the targets were correct. That if you had to kill people, they were definitely the enemy.’

Brian wondered how Carol would react to the next bit. It was too late to stop now. So he doggedly went on.

‘Normally yes, I was known for being good at these assessments. And yes, normally I would spend tons of time poring over reports, making sure we were going in knowing who was who. But that day we learned we were going home shortly, sooner than we thought. I could hardly wait to tell you. So that night I just briefly skimmed over the data, on the surface it seemed clear they were the enemy. Then I got onto the real business. Writing that long letter, telling you I was coming home. Talking about our future. About getting married, building a house, having a family. So now you know Carol. That’s why the girl and her family died. I just didn’t do my job properly. In some way I chose you over my duty. The guys suspected this too. They knew something was wrong. They wouldn’t look me in the eye, stopped talking to me, avoided me.’

Carol put her head in her hands and tried to make sense of this information flood And of Brian.

‘So that’s why you suddenly changed when Samira smiled at you? I think I’m beginning to understand a few things now.’

‘Yes, suddenly it all flooded back. The look in Samira’s eyes, her saying she wanted to be friends, the way she held out her hand. It all just hit me, the memories poured in and I just snapped. I can’t explain why. It was like a grenade had finally exploded in my brain. You know the rest.’

‘No, I don’t think I do know the rest. I know what happened in the rest of that awful night. I can start to understand. But now I realise there are a few things I don’t actually know. Things I think I had better find out about pretty quickly. For starters, those letters you always wrote. You seemed to be having a good time, enjoying the army.’

She looked into Brian’s eyes again. Eyes which now looked very sad and desperate and empty.

‘Brian I need to know. What was your war really like? The truth please.’

‘Carol, my real war was a dirty shitty filthy war. We soon realised it was a farce, a futile battle for the Western world to save face. But we knew, and the public were beginning to know, that once it was over nothing would have been achieved, it would all be the same. Like lots of the guys, I realised I was killing people for nothing, except to keep the politicians happy, they could publish those bloody body counts. So the multi nationals could keep selling arms to the government and make more profits. Writing letters to you was the way I stayed sane.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I looked at you as I boarded the plane. You looked so lovely but so lonely and sad. I promised myself that I would never let my war upset you. So I wrote cheerful letters, to keep you happy, but they were mostly lies. The guys were all down at the bars and brothels, but I was back at base writing to you. All I wanted to do was to get home, marry you and raise a family. Somehow this balanced out the terrible things we had to do. The best day of my life was when I came into the airport lounge and saw you. You were still so lovely, but now so happy.’

‘But Brian, if your war was so bad, how did you cope after you arrived home, they give soldiers counselling these days. You seemed so happy and contented; you had fun at work and raising the kids. The truth please.’

Brian gave a bitter laugh.

‘Counselling, what a joke. There was nothing in those days. All I got was a debriefing session with an army doctor, who looked at me, said I should be grateful that I was still alive and had two complete legs, then told me to clear off, get married, get a cheap Defence loan to build a house and forget the war. That’s what we all got. They just wanted to piss us off, out of sight.’

Carol was vainly trying to take in this information, make some sense of it. Trying to reconcile this man sitting opposite her with the man she had spent the last thirty five years with. Wondering how she had not suspected what was really going on in his mind.

‘Brian, tell me about your life. Since our marriage. I don’t know you. Why didn’t you tell me about this? What other secrets have you been keeping from me? The truth please.’

‘Just by being busy and keeping my mind occupied. Why do you think I worked so hard and long hours? I didn’t enjoy it, but it kept my mind off my war, and how it finished. When the kids were young, why do you think I always carted them around to events, joined all the parent committees? Why did I always work my bum off maintaining the house? Just to stop me thinking. But when I lost my job, it all went haywire, and the demons started making me have mad thoughts. I tried to talk to you, tried to get you to go to the club, but you always seemed to be off having coffee with Jan, or heading into Collingwood to see Chloe. So I just gave up, started drinking more at the club, then when things got too bad, I talked to Lenny.’

Carol looked softly at Brian, and held him in her arms.

‘I am so sorry Brian. I’m sorry for you, I’m sorry for your sad war, for the lies you thought you had to tell. I’m sorry for not listening to you. I’m really sorry for that poor girl. I’m sorry for everything. But I’m mostly sorry for us. You’ve kept this terrible secret from me, your wife, the woman you supposedly love so much. Now I wonder what else have you been keeping secret from me all these years.’

Then her face suddenly hardened. She backed away.

‘But now I’m sorry that you seem to be blaming your problems on me. Now I’m plain mad at you. You didn’t have to suddenly write that last letter. I could have waited. You should have just done your job properly and then this thing would not have happened. I don’t know what to say, or do. And this is just when I thought things were getting better, it’s been great seeing you and Samira getting along together. This totally changes our marriage and my feelings about you. I need to talk to Jan again, I need her advice.’

With that she strode out of the house, leaving Brian wondering if Lenny was such a smart strategist after all. And also wondering what the hell Carol was going to do. The talk had not gone the way he had hoped.

Sorry, but I have to say told you so, I knew this would happen. The silly bugger shouldn’t have listened to Lenny; he should have just kept quiet. You know that cliché about letting sleeping dogs lie. I reckon that what people don’t know won’t hurt them. Anyway we’re now in damage control. The future of this voyage suddenly seems to be in Jan’s hands, she’s clearly got her hand on the tiller and a few more things as well. So near the shore, but still so far. All I can do is hope that Jan won’t scuttle the boat.

Issues for the fixer to sort out.

What advice will Jan give Carol, and will she take it?
What is this favour that Samira wants to ask Brian?

To be continued.

The Voyage Part Four – The Dinner Disaster

The Voyage – part four – the Dinner Disaster Bruce McCorkill

Prologue
Rashid and Samira are coming to the house for a welcome dinner to their new home.
Carol is concerned that Brian will misbehave and ruin the evening.

To introduce Rashid and Samira to Brian and their new home, Carol arranged a welcome dinner. This would be a good start to their new living arrangements. Judging by Brian’s initial reaction at having his territory invaded, she was extremely nervous about how he would react at actually meeting his new tenants. Having a tasty meal would hopefully break the ice. Her thick headed husband might realise these people were decent folk needing help. She was fairly sure that her promise to Rashid that he and Brian would get along over the tools fixing things could be kept. But she still had doubts about her husband’s reaction to Samira. Carol just hoped it would work.

She aired her concerns to her best friend Jan at their weekly coffee meeting. Carol and Jan had met in the kinder sand pit. An instant bond formed and they stayed best friends, through school, even after their marriages. Neither quite understood this, they were different. Jan flamboyant, Carol quiet, Jan a business career, two marriages and messy divorces, and Carol doing admin work, in a dull but steady marriage to her first boyfriend.

These differences didn’t matter; they had stopped querying their friendship. It just was. They enjoyed being together, the companionship and talking. They had no secrets from each other. Generally it was Carol listening to Jan’s issues with her disastrous relationships, and giving advice, which her friend rarely heeded. Carol would proclaim “we are soul mates,” and after the third wine, Jan would joke “no, people must think we are gay mates.” Then they would just giggle and have another drink, although Jan would often think about their school camps where they shared a little tent, and then a speculative look would come into her eye.
‘Jan, I’m so nervous about this welcome dinner. I really want this to work. I’m hoping it may bring Brian and me together again. He’s such an old fogey at times and we used to have fun together. Since the job loss he’s been unbearable. He’s started having these mad nightmares, he shouts in his sleep, something about being sorry, but he won’t talk about it. Sometimes I wonder whether it’s worthwhile going on. But Rashid and Samira are such lovely people. They deserve a better place to live, and we can help them. Samira is really sweet, and Rashid, well, he is incredibly intelligent and we have intelligent discussions. It will be great to have more time to talk outside the resource centre. And by the bye, he is also a very handsome man.’

To which Jan drily replied, sipping her latte thoughtfully.

‘Yes Carol, I am sure you and Rashid will have lots of deep and meaningful intimate chats on the patio. Very nice, I’m sure. Will you ask Brian to serve the drinks and join in?’

‘Jan, don’t be silly, we are just good friends and I want to help him.’

However she did lightly blush, because sometimes watching Rashid fix the photocopier, Carol would imagine his smooth skinned hands stroking her face, neck, and back, and wondered what it would feel like to have a man other than Brian touch her. It reminded her of the time, long ago, when she had what she called her ‘little fling’. But then she would quickly put these thoughts aside, that was the long forgotten past and this was the present. However, the image would still subtly steal into her consciousness at times, generally when Brian had done something in his unthinking way, or was insisting on his predictable dull sex even when she was either clearly not in the mood, or would have liked to try something a little different.

Her final words to Brian the previous night were,

‘Brian, make sure to behave yourself tomorrow night. Remember, these are people who have greatly suffered, are still anxious and fearful about their future. They are not like your crowd, so for my sake please be patient and understanding and make them welcome. Remember the rules – don’t get drunk, don’t make fun of Samira’s clothes, don’t sneak off to watch the footie, and definitely no Muslim jokes.’

To which Brian cheerfully replied,

‘Sure luv, no worries, she’ll be sweet.’

Despite Brian’s positive response, he was also quite nervous and not looking forward to the encounter. He would have preferred to be watching Collingwood thrash their opponents on the big plasma. He confided to his mate Lenny at the club.

‘I’m a bit nervous about this whole bloody thing mate. This is the first time these sort of people have been in the house. Carol reckons they’re really nice. Now I have to live with them. But this seems to mean a lot to Carol. There’s all these weird smells coming from the kitchen, seems she’s cooking up some special meal. She gave me a talking to last night, told me to be on my best behaviour. I don’t know what to say to this girl, what if she wears that funny thing on her head. Funny part though, Carol says she likes footie. What’s a Muslim girl doing following the footie? Not sure about the bloke, Carol reckons he’s a dab hand at repairing things, maybe he can fix the air conditioner. But we do need the money. Just have to see how it goes.’

Strangely enough, Rashid and Samira were the least nervous. After all, they had endured a long period of hardship, were living in appalling conditions, and had become resigned to suffering discrimination and persecution. An evening with blokey Brian would be easily bearable.

Myself, I’m getting somewhat nervous. But I think it’s going to go reasonably well. Carol has worded Brian up; she’s cooked a lovely meal, and is determined to make the evening work. Brian has promised to behave himself and stay sober. Rashid and Samira are just waiting to see. But there’s still this niggling thought about Carol, what is this ‘little fling’ thing. She’s supposed to be the steady crew member, keeping the boat upright, but she suddenly springs this out of left field. Can’t deal with it now, the front door bell is ringing, so let’s bring it on.

The evening started fairly well. After the introductions, they went on the big house tour, Carol chattering away trying to make everybody at ease. Samira saw the veggie garden,

‘Brian what a lovely garden, Carol said you grew vegetables but this is fantastic. What rich soil, much better that our rocks at home. Can I work in your garden? I can show you how to garden with less water.’

When Brian opened the door of the big shed, Rashid’s eyes lit up,

‘Brian, I have never seen so many beautiful tools in the one place. If I had this equipment I could have repaired so many more things in our villages. Would you like some help in fixing anything?’‘

Even Brian had his big chance.

‘This is my ‘baby’. Fifty two inch plasma, full 3D, 1080 high definition resolution, triple tuner, inbuilt blue ray, surround sound, can record three shows at the same time. Great for watching footie.’

Unfortunately, once they sat down to eat, the evening went belly up, just like that. It started unexpectedly when Samira sat down opposite Brian and smiled at him. He abruptly changed from affable Brian to loud mouthed bogan Brian. With every course he became worse.

The entre comment was,

‘Hey Samira, why aren’t you wearing your heebejeeby dress?’

‘Brian, I choose to not wear the burka, I only wear the hijab or scarf.’

The main course jokes related to food.

‘Hey guys, next week we’ll have a bar b que. I’ve been saving some special pork chops for you. Ha ha, only joking. But look, Rashid, I have some great home brew, very potent stuff, how about a stubby. Don’t worry mate, still joking.’

Dessert deteriorated to water,

‘What I’ll do is to take you guys for a ride in my speedboat; I know you like boats, ha ha.’

This was only a sample of his behaviour, and over coffee Carol savagely kicked him under the table to cut short his favourite joke about the Muslim, the Arab and the Rabbi. Brian gradually succumbed to the drink and slept with his head on the table, and Carol’s worst meal nightmare wound down. He had even made fun of her special dish.

Can you believe this man? I had no idea he could be this crass. I suspected the evening would be difficult, but what was Brian thinking, or rather not thinking. It was maybe a big ask, expecting everybody to be best buddies. The others were all right, Rashid and Samira were tolerant and Carol really tried to make it all work.

But Brian, it’s as though he deliberately wanted to scuttle the boat. Funny thing, it happened so quickly. One minute he’s fine, and then when Samira smiled at him it all changed. Maybe something strange happening here. Any more of this behaviour and he’s off the boat, over the side and eaten by sharks. Then I can have a rest, because this man is becoming hard work.

I mean, I’m good, really good. One of the boss’s best fixers. I get to sort out all the hard cases. The boss hears about a tough voyage and who has to go – me of course. Keeping friends safe in boats is my speciality. I do trains and planes, but they’re easy. Water is the challenge. I mean in one major event I even had to make the hero walk on water, a tough gig, but I finally managed it with the aid of flotation devices. How good is that?

Anyway, I’m off to see the boss to give a progress report and to explain how this thing went wrong. With any luck he may reallocate me to an easy river cruise, help the old ladies up the gangplank. But when I’m gone, I’ll hand over the boat to these people, give them a chance to see how hard it is keeping a boat on course.

Issues for the fixer to sort out.

Should Brian be tossed off the boat, or given a second chance?

What made Brian abruptly change?

Has Carol got a few little secrets?

To be continued.