In Montana the gaping sky dazzles like a baby’s mobile above our outstretched fingers. But what’s interesting to me is how the plateaus got here, Randy says, before recounting numerous myths, beginning with UFOs that flattened out the mountains in the 60s, leaving dozens upon dozens of alien refugees that fled to Billings, Missoula, Bozeman, you name it. You’ll still see them there, he tells us. Refugees? we ask. No, UFOs.
Randy says he’s not paranoid. He tells us this after detailing his tenure as an army nurse in three wars, including his latest stint in Afghanistan, after which he returned to find his wife and his 2007 Chevy Silverado gone, relocated four miles away to the county sheriff’s buffalo ranch where Randy says he can see, if he passes by slowly enough, the slope of his wife’s body against the hood of the truck. The sheriff behind, necking her. I still miss that son of a bitch, Randy says, and we cannot tell if he means his wife or the Chevy.
PTSD? Fuck nah, I don’t have that shit, Randy tells Kim. Kim has been our rock the entire trip; cut from a lineage of Pittsburgh steel and alpine callousness, she asks the hard questions, like this one: Randy, are you sure your wife didn’t leave you because of the PTSD? What she means are the night tremors, abrupt changes in mood, paranoia, dreams of drones crashing into army barracks. Shit nah, Randy says. Those are symptoms of marriage, those are effects of people, not war. If there’s one thing the army taught me it’s that you persevere through those problems, you get over the humps, you get it?
And then Randy does something mystifying: he flattens his coarse left hand inside of Kim’s until only the copper-tinted arch of his wedding ring peaks out. See this? he asks. I sold my ‘69 Mustang to buy my wife this ring. All of the soldiers thought I was nuts to do it. I didn’t care, still don’t. I’ll get her back.
This is how the plateaus were created: one small act multiplied by a dozen small acts, streaks of light like debris in the Montana sky, a ring that glints like the arc to love or war. Crashes, refugees.
I love my country and I love love equally, Randy says, before he disappears again.
Matthew Daddona is a poet, fiction writer, and reviewer residing in New York City. He is a founding member of FLASHPOINT, a spoken word group, among other collaborative projects. His most recent writings have appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Rumpus, Gigantic, and Forklift, Ohio. He is currently working on his first novel.