Laura Elizabeth, entry #27, when rage smells like gunpowder


Our deadline for submissions has come to an end, and the hopper is still filled with stories to be posted, all inspired by the micro-monument of a plaque from Montgomery, Alabama forged in 1931 that designated that whites had one drinking fountain, and coloreds another. But racial discrimination, of course, is not exclusively an African American phenomenon, as this entry by Laura Elizabeth so poignantly demonstrates. Here is

A Salute

by Laura Elizabeth

At my grandparent’s house, a clown pillow always waited, fluffed just for me. But I couldn’t rest easy. Grandpa taught me to shuck corn and maybe even held my hand, watched by the blue-gray eye of Lake Erie. But above the guest bed, a glass case displayed the swords of the men he’d killed. They hung above the smiling clown pillow like a guillotine.

Grandpa made the best of being drafted, got his 21-gun salute at Arlington. But his dreams and nightmares were locked in his casket. Grandma’s were locked in her poems of red roses and in her bottle-red hair. Her cheeks were soft as petals, and she cooked the corn we shucked to Midwest perfection. No one talked of swords, just the weather and “Please pass the corn.”

My father was Jr. and Grandpa was Sr. My father never went to war, except at home. When I was eight, we took a family trip to the Pacific, my favorite place to wash away his slurs and start fresh. The stiff wind breathed forgiveness. We parked on a cliff above the beach, and my toes ached to run through cold sand.

So I asked my sister to pass me my Jap Flaps. She handed me the velvet and bamboo sandals from the back of the car. That’s what they were called in the bin at the store. Other stores called them Hong Kong Thongs. As the waves slammed the coast, my father’s face turned purple.

“What did you call those?” he yelled from the driver’s seat. Somehow, this anger was different than before, like the waves of the Pacific vs. Lake Erie’s. The veins stood out on his head as he pulled me from the car. The sandals in my hand fell to the sand.

His spanks never hurt much on the outside. But this time, his rage smelled like gunpowder. A strange metallic taste filled my mouth like blood on a sword. I felt disembodied like the smiling clown head.

Now I realize that maybe my father never liked that glass case either. Maybe he’d wondered about the men who held the swords, their wives and daughters.

Maybe he thought he was doing the right thing. Standing above the Pacific where his father fought, Jr. tried to undo the crimes of Sr. by protecting my sandals from racial slurs. Maybe neither man was to blame for his rage, but instead, the legacy of patriarchy and of war.

The salt content of the world’s oceans is similar to that of human tears. But Jr. and Sr. never got to cry, all the world over. Instead, their hands slapped and hearts closed. Wives and daughters cried, their soft petal cheeks folding with the years. Some wrote, and now we unfold the pages. The waves pound out a 21-gun salute over and over, as if to try again.







8 thoughts on “Laura Elizabeth, entry #27, when rage smells like gunpowder

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

      PS: I’ve just read your “Home Again.” It’s heartening to me that writing of that caliber appears here. I thought some very slight pruning would have only enhanced its power.

  1. Jon Tobias says:

    I really like the use of the different generations and their experience with the same objects, especially the sword and sandals. I also liked the toying with innocence that comes when the narrator describes the Pacific ocean as a place where she likes to “wash away his slurs”, but then she is spanked for using a racial slur to describe sandals. “That’s what they’re called in the bin at the store” is the narrators response to her father’s anger. I wonder, does the innocence at using the slur come from society’s acceptance of the phrase.

    • Laura says:

      Thanks for your detailed comments, Jon! Your entries last year were incredible, and I’ll search the site for this year’s entry… Thanks for your thoughtful question. Yes, the girl never used that term again once she found out it was a slur. In a way she was complicit, although 8 year olds may hear ads and not know what they mean. The fact that stores used these terms without recourse shows societal acceptance for microagressions. I hoped that was changing, but with our new government we have to fight with our pens!

  2. Michael Stang says:

    Laura, I have often enjoyed your talent on this site. You are such a strong contender and what you have submitted for this contest is exceptional.

    War will seal the soldier’s consciousness in secret ways those never to battle will not know. The story gives both sides reason…

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