pages Formation

by William Males

Published in Issue No. 15 ~ August, 1998

Foggy mornings trainees grew like mushrooms in the company street. They had been regular folks, but now were regular army. They had dreamed irregularly before being drafted, dreamed now regularly of survival in the jungle.

The sergeant referred rarely to their individuality and if he did it was a bad sign. “Fischer,” he called. The trainees took no notice of words.The more the words, the less you listened. Names were another matter.When the sergeant said a name you listened up. For a moment you stopped wondering if you’d pulled your socks up right or if you’d get to keep your feet.

The man the name belonged to loitered by the sergeant’s side. “BetaCompany,” the sergeant said, and his words stood at attention. “This man is not performing as he should. You all know what I mean.”

The barracks and the fir trees of Fort Dix seemed to lean into the sergeant’s words, straining to hear what was going to happen to this man who couldn’t hold his rifle right. They’d heard his name often enough.

The trainees were less interested. They’d been sheared a second time,scalps were naked under helmets. The morning cold crept in. Words marched from the sergeant’s mouth and trainees tried listen. ButFischer’s name belonged to Fischer only, and it was, after all, time for breakfast.

” . . . blanket party,” the sergeant said, and everybody heard. The word for beating had been spoken and men awoke to a longing to slug. “He can’t go on causing trouble for the whole company. He must learn respect.”

“Respect” gave a good echo. It was a well used word that loved to bounce off the barracks. It got under everyone’s helmet. Then everybody’s belly growled, as if they had a common one.

The growling was aimed at Fischer, and the formation swayed ready to break. Fischer was keeping them hungry. Fischer was keeping them cold.

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William Males dropped out of Yale for the Army in '67 and out of the Army for Sweden in '69. He would have dropped out of Sweden too, but that wasn't an option. His pieces are about this sort of thing. Three have been published in Stand Magazine, Newcastle Upon Tyne, and three broadcast on the BBC World Service. He recently received a Master of Fine Arts from Bennington College.