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Outside the Lines
stretched out on his narrow bunk, his hands behind
his head and
fingers interlaced. He wanted a cigarette badly but
the cook wouldn't let
smoke in their room, not since he burned his
blanket. He had a lot to think
about, and it was hard to think without a
It hurt his head to think in the first place, it
always did, right from the
start. "Floyd is not capable of thinking things
through," his teacher
mother. He knew differently though and so did his
than the rest of those kids," she used to say.
She told all her friends, "Floyd's a genius, just like his father was.
You watch, some day Floyd's gonna do
great things, just like his father did."
He never got to know his father and he never saw
any of the 'great things'
his father did, but from what his mother said he
must have been special; too
bad they broke up. "Your father was a free
spirit," his mother would cry
a bit and say. "He just couldn't stand settling
His mother told all her friends that Floyd was an
officer in the army, "He's
in the Intelligence, you know. He can't talk
about it." Then she'd go
say what a true patriot he was. "Floyd
loves his country so -- I'm so proud when I think
of him defending the flag."
Now here he was lying on his back in his underwear,
wishing the cook would
let him smoke in the barracks. There was nothing to
do now that he cleaned
latrine and shook down the furnace. Well ... he
could have scrubbed the
and raked the leaves out of the scrubby grass
between the buildings, but it
too late. "B" company would be coming back from
rifle practice soon and he'd
only be in the way -- and they'd laugh at him
too. "What'cha doing
Floydi-Toidy -- why ain'tcha scrubbin' the
latrine? Scrub them bowls
clean now Floydi-Toidy!" He didn't like it when they did
that -- he wondered what
would have to say about that. She thought the one
stripe on his sleeve meant
was a major. She thought the Good Conduct Medal on
his jacket was given for
bravery in the face of overwhelming odds.
All those guys in "B" company. They'd move
on, be transferred overseas
where they'd get extra pay, new uniforms, and the pick
of the broads too.
Floidi-Toidy would have to stay behind. He was
cadre -- fit only for limited
KP, tending the furnace and cleaning the latrine.
When "B" company left for rifle practice this
morning, they left the
rack unlocked. They always did that because
everybody went -- but Majewski
a week's leave, and his rifle, a Garand
semi-automatic, was left behind.
was Floyd's gun now to play with, he never had
one of his own. Everybody
said they'd never issue a weapon like that to a guy
He saw it standing in the rack after the company
marched off. He walked up
the rack and ran his fingers over the walnut stock
-- felt the heft of it.
took it out of the rack and brought it up to his
shoulder and aimed it down
the length of the squad room. It was heavy, not
like the toys he played with
when he was a boy. He took it outside and walked
around to the rear of the
barracks, holding it at port arms like a soldier on
patrol. He was out of
here and he suddenly knew exactly what he was going
to do. He walked to the
foot high chain link fence with the razor wire on
top that marked the border
of the camp next to Company "B" and stood there
trembling. He would
rifle over the fence, then he would get himself a
weekend pass, steal a
shipping carton from supply and dress up real
sharp-like as though he was
into town. Just outside the gate he would double
back outside the fence and
the gun. His hands were sweaty and he wiped them on
the legs of his fatigues
-- then, just as he was about to throw it over the
fence, he stopped and
shook his head, turned around and carried the rifle
back to the barracks again.
He lay there on his bunk making future plans --
once he got to town he'd
for the post office before it closed and mail the
gun back home to his
mother. He'd tell her not to open it -- it was a
secret. Who said he
Floyd's hitch was up in three months. He wanted
to re-enlist but the cook
said they'd never let him. "You're a f***-up,
Floyd. The army needs
days -- you ain't got any. Why should they pay
you good money when they
get somebody with brains to do the same thing you
He'd show the cook who had brains! It was a shame
he had to keep this plan
himself. He stretched out flat on his back and
yawned. The only thing left
do was to get the ammo -- half a dozen clips or so.
He would have to get the
supply sergeant drunk for that. He dreamed of what
he could do with that gun
when he got home. The armed man is always in
charge, when he says, "Do something," by God you better hop to it. He
wanted a cigarette so bad he
it -- damn cook!
Floyd rarely had an idea of his own, and those he
did have were aimed at
getting even for all the injustices, real and
imagined, that life heaped on
His mother expected great things of him, she was
his champion -- "Oh
look how you've colored in that elephant, and the
pretty pink clouds
behind him. You're a great little artist, Floyd." He basked
in her praise and in
believed he really was better at coloring elephants
than anybody else. But
his teacher had different ideas -- "Floyd! Don't
you see the lines? You're
supposed to stay inside the lines." She would
hold up David's picture. "See how
nicely David stays inside the lines? Try and do it
like David does."
Floyd seethed inside and made plans to hurt David
-- some way of hurting him
without being caught. He pushed David downstairs
when they were on their way
to the cafeteria, and the teacher gave him hell for
that too. Floyd
all of that now, and he remembered the
justification he felt in proving that
his elephant was better than David's. With this
gun in his hands he would
great things just like his father did.
He lay on his back with the gun cradled in his arms
as though it were a
... he had second thoughts about mailing the gun
home. If he could only
of a way to get it out of here, some way to get it
home. Maybe he could hide
it in the coal bin until an idea came to him.
As soon as one idea came to him, a dozen reasons
why it wouldn't work
followed close behind. In this foggy state of mind
he dozed off and dreamed
and the neat, orderly way he stayed inside the
lines when he colored his
elephant. When he woke he was aiming the rifle at
the ceiling with his
He heard the trucks coming back from rifle practice
and he panicked! He
never have time to get the rifle back in the rack
before the company arrived
and all he could think of was hiding it under his
mattress. He quickly
the foot of the mattress and stuffed the rifle
under it, it left a lump but
was between his feet and it didn't bother him.
But what else should he do? Why couldn't he think
of something he should
He could hear their voices from the latrine,
"Where's Floydi-Toidy! There's
no paper in the john! The soap dispenser's empty! Toidy!
Get'cha ass in
here Toidy!" Then the cook barged in. "C'mon
Floyd! Where d'ya think you
some kinda hotel or sumthin'? I need'ja over at
the kitchen -- I gotta
crate a'carrots need peelin' f'supper!" The cook
pulled him out of his
Floyd staggered to keep his balance.
Something snapped in Floyd; how could he think
about the gun if they wouldn't
let him alone? How could he do the great things he
knew he could do if they'd never let him alone? He ran to the foot of the bunk
grasped the mattress
both hands and almost disappeared beneath it -- the
cook had no idea what he
was up to until Floyd re-emerged from under the
mattress with the rifle in
"Get back Cookie. I swear I'll kill you. I
swear I will." The cook
his tracks, convinced the gun was loaded.
"Where did you get that, Floyd? You ain't
supposed t'have no gun."
was terrified at the thought of Floyd armed with a
loaded weapon. He backed
out of the room and slammed the door. "Everybody
outta the barracks!
outside! That nut Floyd's in there with a loaded
Floyd could hear them out there -- a wild scuffling
of feet as everyone made
for the door. Then sudden and absolute silence. His
own breathing and the
thudding of his heart pounding in his ears were the
only sounds in the room.
like he always thought! The man with the gun calls
the shots -- everybody
makes way for the man with the gun.
He stepped out into the squad room, holding the gun
before him protectively
and stood between the rows of double decked bunks.
There were signs of hasty
retreat. A hat. A pair of shoes. A cigarette
burning in an ashtray. Scared sh**less, all of them, scared of the man with the gun.
He opened the front door
walked outside. He knew they were all out there --
looking at him but hiding
well back in the shadows. He felt like a great
actor on the stage putting on
show for a spellbound audience.
He'd show them! He turned the gun around and put
the muzzle in his mouth
he could almost hear a collective intake of breath
from his cowardly buddies
He took the gun out of his mouth and laughed at
them -- then he held it high
and pulled the trigger. It fired and bucked in his
hand like a wild animal.
Floyd threw it to the ground and stood looking at
it as though it was alive.
Faces began to appear in the dark and finally
someone rushed in, grabbed the
rifle and ran back around the corner of the
barracks. Floyd hardly noticed
he stood there wondering how it was possible for an
empty gun to do such a
thing. His legs gave way and his hands still
trembled from the recoil. He
down and saw the shiny shell casings in the grass.
It was somebody else's
fault, not his. How could that happen? He knew he'd
get the blame, just
always did. How can a man stay inside the lines
when it's somebody else's fault?
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