"The File Cabinet"

by Zoe Pollock

David Cotrone recounts a conversation with a soldier:

In Baghdad, Mark has stood in a morgue packed with bodies, the smell of decay in his nose, blood on his boots. He’s turned right while the Humvee behind him turned left, the latter then obliterated by a bomb. He’s laughed at this matter of chance, thinking it could have been him, wasn’t he lucky? (All he could do was laugh, grieve for twenty minutes at the memorial service, strap on his gun, head back out into the streets, stay focused.) He’s been shot at by children who were given fifty dollars to shoot at American soldiers. He’s seen a baby being eaten by a dog on the side of the road. ...

He’s given five dollars to children for picking up the trash on the street, for helping. He’s seen these children shot in the head by insurgents, left on the street as if they were symbols. He’s put these sights and memories somewhere deep within his mind, a place he calls his File Cabinet. Months later, the File Cabinet has been opened, kicked over, not even sleeping pills or anti-depressants able to close it or right it up. He’s tried to be “a callus.” He’s tried to forget. He’s walked over dead bodies. He’s been covered in dust, even after showering, nothing but dust. He’s felt responsible. He’s tried to justify giving those children money, getting them killed, all for picking up trash.