Elliott C. Ricehill
Box 316
Fort Madison, Iowa 52627


It is said that the Qahadi Comanches called the
first Anglos they knew, los godammies, after the
first English words they learned.  In those times,
Comanche children woke to ancient and exquisite
morning songs that always said, “I see Beauty all
about me.”  Foolish children; they must have thought
“God damn” to be the daylong prayer-thread of los


Promise was half-awake when the wolves began to sing.  Life had been good for them this spring; their young were strong, spirited, mock-hunting early under the doting tutelage of their uncles.  Now, there was much to sing about; when winter came, men would come with planes and rifles and shotguns, and the timbre of their songs would change.

Those who know wolves admire them; among other things, they are affectionate, monogamous, and maintain a sophisticated, loving balance between self and kind—in short, they are all their two-legged relatives are not.  And above all, they are free,  Gun-freaks know this, and so the wolves pay heavily, mortally, for their freedom.

Don’t we all, thought Promise.  In one way or another.  He drowsed, deep into the cool Michigan night, reflecting that his own time had gone untidily, not like lives he had once admired, boxed and tied and neatly put away; lain there spilled and open, drying to the seasons.  Then a wind had come and blown it all away, risers singing through his hands.

He cleared his throat, quietly, so as not to disturb her.

“You awake?”

“No,” he said, fully now.

“I was wondering—“  She lifted until she was above him, the fine, warm scent of her hair falling around him.  “Seriously.  Okay?”

“All right.”

“Come on.  You’re such a fool sometimes.”

“Okay.  What were you wondering?”

She paused a moment.  “Who is Anton Vidic?”

“Who is John Galt, or Lamont Cranston?”

“Dammit, I’m serious.  Who is he?”

He sat up, groping for his cigarettes on the night table.  “Just a man who went blind.”


His fingers smelled strongly of the cigarettes he smoked, were sensitive and sure, searching for familiar lines and textures.  Promise kept his eyes closed.

Finally the man sat back, frowning, head ever so slightly cocked in the way the newly blind sit, loath to miss the smallest sound, slowly rubbing his restless hands together as if to transfer Promise’s image from one to the other.  Promise could only see his useless eyelids moving behind the dark glasses.

“You still smoke Abdullahs,” said Promise.  They were only three times as potent as American Camels, and as addictive.

Anton Vidic smiled into his hands.  “Twenty-five years.  They are hard to get nowadays.”

“What is harder to get?”  Anna Vidic walked into the darkened living room from the kitchen.  She was nearly fifty now, hair almost completely gray and her skin clear except for tiny laugh wrinkles; a warm, goodlooking woman brightly dressed, a cardigan thrown over her shoulders.

“Popurosi,” said Promise.

Anna Petrovna Vidic laughed and, sitting beside Promise on the low divan, took one of his hands in hers.

“Cigarettes; you always learned the bad words first.”  She squeezed his hand.  “You must take me on a drive, eh?  To the dam.  Promise has a new auto, Anton, a sporting car.”

“A sports car,” said Anton.  “I heard it.  What kind?”

“A Triumph,” Promise answered.  “Only it’s not mine.  A friend loaned it to me.”

“A good machine,” Vidic nodded.

“You’ll like the ride.”

“You two go now.”  Vidic stood, opening the silver Braille watchcase on his wrist, delicately fingering the raised numeral posts.  “I have to rest now.  When you return we can have lunch.”

“You make us happy again, you know?  Anton is pleased.  Did he touch your face?”

Promise laughed.  “Does he do that to everyone?”

“No.  He knew you wouldn’t mind.”

They were sitting on a shaped stone bench, on a lookout high above the western shore of Tuttle Creek Dam.  It was a high, clear day and the huge, manmade lake far below them was a deep sky blue.  A small breeze was running off the hills behind them and the sweet, warm fragrance of lilacs and turned earth was heavy on the air.  To the south lay the ragged edges of the town.  In another five years Manhattan, Kansas might spread out onto these hills.

“I like it here,” she said, patting the cold stone bench.  “Nice.”  Her accent had melted into his ear now and the lines falling away from her broad cheekbones had rounded and softened.

“You two come here often?”

“Me,” she said, “I come here.  By taxi.”

“Anton stays at home.”

“Yes,” she said after a brief pause,” but she was remembering Promise in another time.


Young then, lean, eyes bright against the deep bronze of his face, fatigues dark with perspiration, he was pushing through a milling crowd of American dependents, a rifle slung over his shoulder and carrying her luggage to a three-quarter ton truck.  Pulling her aboard, then Anton, he yelled at the driver, a Marine Lance Corporal, to move out.  Moving, picking up speed, the truck joined the evac convoy rolling past the Embajador Hotel, east to Duarte Bridge and then to the San Isidro airfield.  Kneeling before them, helmet removed, hair dark and matted, he was yelling that they must carry their bags aboard the plane, and while he talked with Anton, she watched as, at the city’s northern outskirts, a sudden, rolling pillar of black, viscous smoke rose.  As the muted rumble of the explosion rolled over them, the dependent children in the cars behind pointed to the cloud, chattering and laughing excitedly.

Much later, after they returned to Holabird, Promise called them from Fort Hamilton to say that he was leaving the Army for good.


“I wonder what he does here,” she prodded, “Elijah Promise.  After all these years.

He narrowed his eyes against the sun.  “Passing through.  We lived here, Marian and I, while I was at Fort Riley.  We were just married then.  I wondered if anything had changed.”


“Nothing,” he said.  “After all this time.”  And because they knew about this part of his life and would understand, he said that for him it was the best of all years, that back then the two of them—Marian and he—had visions for one another, neither of them right, and that they had married for the wrong reasons.  He was speaking of a time removed, he said, and it bore upon nothing that happened afterward.  It had ended badly, but for him it was the best of all years.

Anna Vidic nudged him.  “So solemn,” she chided gently.

He shook his head.


“No.  I came to see my friends.  The truest friends I know.”  He was smiling into his hands now, shy and vulnerable.

“Let’s go,” she said, and she held his arm as they walked to the neat green car.  A young man in a silver-grey shirt was watching them from a wooden picnic shelter on the southern promontory.

“He thinks we’re lovers,” she murmured, laughing aloud.  “See him sneer.”

“He has to,” Promise said stonily.  “The son of a bitch is alone.”  He said it without thinking and they might be haunted by it afterward but their luck was running now.


The great arms of the elm afforded them generous shade, and beneath the dark, verdant canopy it was airy and comfortable.  They sat in plastic-webbed, aluminum lawn chairs, a marbletopped, filigreed table between them.  Just outside the shade and running parallel to an alley, Anna Vidic had planted a small garden and she was there now, patiently and serenely grooming the rows, kneeling in the dark, humid soil.

Anton had told him once that Anna Vidic was brought out of Budapest in 1958, fully a year after her, and three 6.5mm projectiles were still encysted somewhere in her body.  Anna Petrovna Vidic, a shy, shadowy legend in harder times.  Jesus, these people, Promise thought, and almost unaccountably the melodic theme from “Eleanor Rigby,” strongly Eastern European-rooted, came into his head, and a collage of memory-sets:  Sholem Aleichem stories, Rozhinkes mit Mandlen.

Anton gently waved a lighted Zippo beneath a fresh cigarette until the end caught.

“I could never understand why you left the service, he said.  “You left a lot of benefits.”  Except for the dark glasses he had not changed much.  Perhaps his waist had thickened somewhat, but the short, hard forearms had not, and they ended in strong, competent hands.  His straight black hair was cut short as in former times, and his plump cheeks were already bluing toward the second of his daily shaves.  His voice was beautifully accented and resonant; it always startled people, this rich, powerful voice.  Those who knew said he was once a superlative lecturer.

“Could be blind, too,” said Promise, but there was no malice to it.

“Not necessarily.  Why did you leave?”

“Because of Rios.”

“Why Rios?”

“Not just him; he was only part of the whole scene.  I just read my own tragedy into the thing and the decision came.”

There were others he knew personally; besides Rios, there was Ussary and Vinales and Ugarte and Rosario, each of them highly capable and experienced, and of these, only Rosario returned, mutilated and broken, so they sent him back to Ponce in Puerto Rico with total disability checks.  It was said that there were hundreds of capables like them, exiled Cubanos, Guatemalan nationals, RA Chicanos and other Browns, and that they were slaughtered or had hidden along the Cuban coastline for days, waiting for relief that never came.  In the strange dichotomy of US operations that day, descriptives abounded.  If “ill-conceived” was a word for the Bay of Pigs operation, to the capables it was treachery, pure and simple.  And Ernesto Rios from Jourdan, Texas, 52 years old, with five children, fat and old and only a few months away from retirement, was lost there; and Ussary the multilingual, also aged and facing retirement; and Vinales, who’d been written up for the CMH in Korea, one of the very special men who could do all that he required of his men and more, Vinales they never recovered in the covert accounting afterward when the Army’s Graves Registration teams were allowed to pick up the rotting pieces left on the Cuban beach.

Rios and his fine wife, Mary, had made Elijah and Marian welcome to the sun-baked place called Fort Riley, and they came to love the Rios children, then having none of their own.  They would pick the children up on weekends and use the family pass to get into Manhattan’s municipal pool and crowd their small apartment and sleep on the floor themselves.  And when they brought the children back Sunday nights, Mary, rested by then and, by Rios’ rude accounting and to Marian’s shock, freshly fucked, would have a fine dinner waiting for them.

They passed a summer like that, up until Rios left for the staging area at Opa-Locka and then to the hills of Retalhuleu.  Afterward, they mourned with Mary when word came.  Perhaps they were especially vulnerable then because they newly loved and had turned the death into themselves, but it spread when Marian became pregnant and could not accompany him to Europe.  For her the tragedy’s geography ended in Kansas.  In those times he was a soldier, good at it, committed, and (he thought) attuned to the keen visceral sense of resignation and heightened awareness that is part of it, a fine, young animal alert and learning quickly, depersonalizing the instruments—the pantels, Starlite ‘scopes, and the adhesive horror cone of Beehive shells—that accoutered The Profession (yes, it is a Cabal; how could anyone have doubted it?).  It is strange that armies can internalize; somewhere, probably as far back as God, they conceptualized war in terms of its finest psychic elements and, discovering the irreconcilable desolation and inhuman grief of it, wound words about it, conceived manuals and ribbons and standards.  If ably fitted for it, even then he was becoming less committed, less resigned, and there was an intuitive choice already made when Rios died uselessly, personally betrayed, and without the sanction of even fodder-soldiery and already under the perversion that was to be Southeast Asia.  And so Promise went on, to Europe—stopping once at a place 8 kilometers north of Munich called Dachau, which also would work on him—then to Bien Hoa as a MAAG advisor, and finally to the beautiful, gemlike island where he lost the faith entirely.  Young as he was, he was already part of the Exchange, a tightly exclusive group whose arcane skills in those days were admired in every place the US government could insinuate its combat arms cadres.  MAAG passed Nam, to be reborn elsewhere, in Bolivia, Guatemala and Chile.  Through the Exchange he learned that Rosario was alive but butchered anyway, and that Rios and Ussary and Ugarte bloated, turned black, and finally burst in the broiling Cuban sun.


“Anna says you’re a farmer of some sort,” Vidic said, finally.

“Tree nursery; we plant trees and shrubs around hospitals, schools, industrial sites, fix lawns and an occasional golf course.  You’ll have to come up and give us a visit.”

“I’m used to civilization.”

“What’s it done for you?”

“Bite your tongue, boy,” he said testily.  Then he smiled.  “You lived around here once.”

“Just up the road.  Kearney Street.”

“And you’ve been there already too, haven’t you?”

“Sure.  Last night, when I first arrived.”

“How’s it feel?”

“You should know that better than me.”

“Say,” Vidic said, rising, his face reddening.  “What the fuck is this?  Who sent for you?”

“You never did answer me.  Who is Anton Vidic?”

It was dusk and they were sitting on the porch steps and the car’s engine was pinging as it cooled.

“A Hungarian teacher who was big in the ’56 Revolt.  They put him on the government tit when he came over, up until he went blind.  He can’t go home, the world’s passed him by, and his wife takes taxi rides to lonely places.

“It’s not entirely his fault.  Somewhere down the line they conned him—like they do everyone—and he knows it.  They’re coming to visit us soon, by the way.”

“Wow,” she said.  “That’s all down.  How did you meet them?”

“Coincidence.  We just happened to be at the same place at the same time.  We got to be friends.”

They listened to the night sounds awhile.

“Hey, I’m sorry,” she said, “you must be hungry after all that driving.”

“Like a wolf,” he said.