Alf calls me at the hospital to tell me everybody’s all right. This is about an hour before lights out, and the ward nurse, a bastard of captain eyes me like I just sold my country to the Vietcong.
We don’t generally get phone calls from off base. So three in a month, and two within a week, are just too much for the captain to handle.
The fact that Alf is on the other end puzzles me.
We don’t talk much. For the most part, we’re adversaries, rivals in some imaginary game I’ve yet to learn the rule of or what it is about.
“We had an accident,” Alf tells me, referring to him, Bob and Pauly.
The trio apparently decided to take a drive after Bob and Alf dropped acid. Bob refused to let Alf drive, and Pauly being Pauly, said he didn’t care what they did as long as he didn’t have to hear any of the BS.
Bob’s Volkswagen is legendary, and so is Pauly’s ability to cause damage to other people’s vehicles. So as Alf relates the story, I believe it, I see it unfolding in my head like a grain movie: Bob behind the wheel, Alf in the passenger seat, Pauly in the cramped back seat playing solitaire, pretending everything is normal when it clearly is not.
He’s always doing this, trying not to let any of us get to him, when I’m pretty sure, behind that unmoved expression, some voice inside him screams about our being nuts.
Anyway, Alf tells me Pauly suddenly laughs and says he sees a spider.
Alf says he doesn’t see any. Bob looks into the rear view mirror and wants to know what the fuck Pauly is talking about. Pauly leans between the seats and points at the front windshield.
Alf still doesn’t see anything. Neither does Bob.
Pauly smacks the windshield with the heal of his hand, causing it to crack.
“There,” he says, pointing at the cracks. “That’s its web.”
At this point, Bob, who is paying more attention to his cracked windshield than he is to the road, steers the car into a curb.
“It drove the steering box through the front fire wall,” Alf told me over the phone. “But we’re all right. But Bob wants to kill Pauly – not only because he caused the crash, but because he got out of the car and blamed Bob for everything. He even says Bob screwed up his game of solitaire. I think Bob really would have killed him, if Pauly hadn’t waved down a passing car and asked for a ride. He fucking left us there, the prick. But we’re all right.”
After he hangs up and the ward lights go out, I crawl into bed and ponder all this. Around me, I hear the heavy breathing of soldiers who have seen too much war, some of whom won’t be leaving this place alive, and I’m thinking: We’re all really all right, aren’t we?”