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Volume 12, Issue 3: Pictura

Three Vices

Josh Gibbs

Two Joes stood outside the door of an ammunition depot, and one of them shook his head.

"Have you seen Sergeant Jenkins since eighteen hundred?"
"No."
Private Donald Southam bent his knees and exhaled as if completing some arduous task, although his feet had not technically (that is, literally, by the book) moved in one hundred and twenty three minutes and twelve seconds. Digital watches. Private Benjamin Keith grabbed at his wrist while running his teeth together.
"Why are you grabbing your wrist, Private Keith?"
"I'm checking my pulse, Private Southam."
"Why are you checking your pulse?"
"To see if it's up or down," said Private Southam.
"If it was up, what could you do now?"
"Nothing. But if it goes down, I can feel relieved."
Private Keith cracked his neck.
"Only thing that could relieve me is if some Panamanian came charging right up into this place, and I could steal his soul. Then I wouldn't feel bad about going in there for a cup of something hot. Man, I wish we could do that."
"Well, we can't, and your girly whining won't change it, so keep your eyes peeled to the field."
Private Southam changed forums in his mind, and left the 'Private' behind. He was now Don. And he, Don, had just told his compatriot to keep his eyes peeled to the field. He hoped to God Private Keith would not think he had meant to make the rhyme. He thought to add that he had not meant to make the rhyme, and that it was merely coincidence, but his thoughts then turned to the fact that, perhaps, Keith didn't notice he had rhymed.
"I didn't . . . uh, mean to rhyme what I just said, Private Keith."
Private Keith stared forward into the darkness which held hunters unknown.
"I'm sorry, Don, what did you say?"
He called me Don!
"That last thing I said to you, about uhm . . . uh . . . keeping your eyes peeled to the field? I didn't mean to rhyme that. I don't want you to think I was being a jerk and giving you-"
"I didn't even notice, Private Southam."
Why do I even try?
Both soldiers returned their gaze out into the dark beyond the fence line. They were guarding an ammo bunker at the Rodman Naval Air Station in Panama. Tensions had escalated to a dangerous level of late, and supporters of Noriega's armed forces had been testing the U.S. military's readiness by breaking in to any unguarded place. More forces had been brought in from the States, and patrols were routine now with an occasional fire fight that had left several Panamanians dead.
The sounds of the crickets and the occasional creak of tough shoe leather when adjusting position passed the time for close to forty five minutes. Donald turned the entire transaction with his fellow guard over in his mind. He wondered if honor was in any way based in not saying small stupid things. Is honor bestowed, or is it taken freely? Who must recognize honor? If honor is the reverence others express towards you, can you forsake the honor through a series of small juvenile comments? He wondered about checking his wrist, and his retort earlier about feeling relieved if it was low. It had seemed very witty at the time he said it. Not really stand offish, but more on the clever side. It was a very rogue thing to say. But wait? Why was his own relief important? Why had he been constantly checking on his own relief? Was he in pain? Would Private Keith think he was the type of man who concerned himself with his own pulse? What if Private Keith perceived him to be a liar, and supposed he was checking his wrist to see how fast his heart was beating, because he was terrified the enemy would attack when he was not looking and strike his head with blunt objects, and eat his brain raw from his head?
"How long has it been since Sergeant Jenkins came by here?"
Private Southam snapped his wrist to the height of his chest.
"About one hundred and eighty minutes."
"Do you mean three hours?"
"Uh . . . yes."
Just my luck.
Southam saw his honor fall nearly to 'E,' as if measured on a holy gas gage. He looked over to Private Keith's boots, holding his smoldering face down. As he did, he noticed the exactness at which Keith stood. The width from one toe to the other was very honorable. The boots shone as if shined by respectable polish with a divine rag. The rubber which lined the sides did not have small pebbles ingrained in the grooves as his own did. None of the laces were twisted within the crossing, and showed no sign of fraying any time soon.
"Well then, I say forget it, I'm going inside to sit down and have a cigarette."
Private Southam watched as Private Benjamin Keith did an about face by shuffling his beautiful boots and pointing them towards the doorway, and then saw the door open and the boots proceed to go inside the building.
Private Southam waited until the door had closed before his mind snapped like a neck in a car wreck and he burst through.
"What the Sam Hill are you doing, Private?"
"What does it look like?"
To Southam, it appeared Keith was sitting on a chair with his feet on the table, searching for a match to light a cigarette which dangled from his lips.
"Do you know what Sergeant Jenkins would say if he found you like this?"
"What about you? You ain't watchin' your post either."
"He'd kill both of us."
"No he wouldn't."
Southam stood still as Keith shook his match out and took a drag on his smoke.
"No one is killing anyone. Sergeant Jenkins ain't killing us. We ain't killing Sergeant Jenkins. We ain't killing nobody, man. And especially no Panamanian on a night like this. They're all off taking the night off, like we should be."
Private Southam pulled up a chair to the table.
"That's not the point. We have to make sure nobody sneaks through the front. This post is important. There are people depending on us!"
"Look, Southam, that waste of space hasn't been by here in three hours. He's probably off in his bed, dreaming of old back home while we sit here and rot, watching for the thieves who aren't there."
"If he hasn't come after three hours, he's more likely to come any minute, isn't he?"
"Maybe so, but I'm only gonna finish this cigarette then I'll go back out there. All I'm saying is we could use a little break. We've been out there for so long I can't even see straight, let alone stand up."
Southam took off his hat and ran his hand over his head.
"Let me ask you something?"
"What?"
"You smoke, Southam?"
"No."
"Yes, you do."
"No, I don't."
"Well, then what do you do?"
"What do you mean by that? I work in the United States Armed-"
"I don't mean like that, I mean what vices do you have? Your suit is perfectly clean. All your buttons in place. You read your Bible. What vices?"
"You mean like bad things I've done?"
"No, vices are continuing. They're small things. Trivial matters. You're allowed to have three."
"Three vices? Who came up with that?"
"It's just one of those understood things. You are permitted three vices in life."
"Who comes up with this?"
"Three vices, Private. You get three, now what are yours?"
"What are yours?"
"Smoking is number one. Drinking is number two. And I always keep number three open. It's the changing vice."
"That sounds like you're cheating."
"No. Something only counts as a vice if you do it more than moderately. Like often. Like, drinking coffee is not a vice, as long as you aren't drinking three pots a day. Then it would be a vice."
"What have some of your past vices been?"
"Why don't you tell me what your vices are first?"
"I don't know if I have any."
"Yes you do, you jerk. You married?"
"Girlfriend."
"You ever cheated on her?"
"No, of course not!"
"Never?"
"No!"
"You drink?"
"In moderation. You know, I don't think I like your side of this. It sounds like a cheap way of justifying anything. Are you just gonna claim murder is one of your vices and go around killing people?"
"No! What do you think I am?! It's something trivial. Drinking, smoking, sick stuff."
"What do you mean sick stuff?"
"Look-do you have any vices at all?"
"I like rock and roll."
"You like rock - that's no vice. I bet you've never been to a club. You ever do anything remotely testy. Go to bars, play cards?"
"I play cards, but I'm really good at it."
"That don't matter for nothing. I'm a really good smoker, and it still counts. That just means you do it too much."
"What if you could drink a lot, and not get drunk, then would that not be a vice?"
"Why wouldn't it be?"
"It would mean you could hold it in a state of moderation for longer. You could do more, and still be average."
"I never thought of that. I'll have to get to work on that right now."
"What?"
"Holding my liquor."
Both men turned their heads at the sound of footsteps by the door.
"Well, there's one of my vices, Listening to morons like you who get me to-"

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