“Alpha Bravo Charlie”

Alpha, he says, as we lie on the mattress one morning during the days I want to know everything about him.

Beta? I guess, but no, he says, it’s Bravo.

Charlie is the first man I ever loved, but not the last one to break my heart.

Delta is the airline I use when I fly down to Louisiana, halfway across the country, to see him.

Echo is the sound my voice makes against the bare walls of his rental duplex.

Foxtrot, a dance we perform in an alternate history of our lives in which he is a World War II GI and I am a young radiant nurse, out for a night with her friends, and when we see each other across the bar time stops and we are in love.

Golf is the game he plays with my father on the day he asks him for my hand in marriage.

Hotel, where I tell the matriarchs at church I stay when I am in fact on this mattress on his floor, living in sin, all summer.

Indigo, which he says may also be India, depending on whom you ask, and is not a real color in any case.

Juliet, a foolish girl whose life was defined by the man she was unprepared to love, the sword she did not wield.

Kansas, I guess, then Kangaroo, then Kris Kringle, because I cannot think of another K word and suddenly neither can he, and so we collapse into kisses until he remembers it’s Kilo.

Lima, Peru, Machu Picchu, a honeymoon spent in the ruins of an empire that believed it could never fall.

Motel, I guess, like the Super 8 with the cigarette-scented floral bedspread where we stay when we move his things across the country; but no, he says, it’s Mike, like his father, a Vietnam veteran who never really left the jungle.

November is the month he leaves, for a war I once believed would be over before my friends were old enough to die in it.

Oscar is the name of his buddy killed by a roadside bomb near Fallujah, the last straw, he says, before he decided to join.

Pink mist is what they call it when you stand that close to the bomb, when the pieces they give your mother are hardly even enough to put in a box, when the flag they hand your Papa is the largest part of you left behind.

Quebec is a place the pussies went during Vietnam, his father says, not knowing that my uncle was a conscientious objector.

Roger, I say, thinking it’s an obvious one, but Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo—and wherefore art thou a soldier?

Sierra, another color he doesn’t believe in, and the name of the daughter he never meets.

Tango, the dance we perform at our wedding a few months before he leaves, my head light from the champagne and the joy and the fear.

Uniforms packed neatly in a foot locker next to rolled up knots of green socks, file folders of tan shirts, the scrapbook I have made so he does not forget my face.

Victor, like what I once believed would emerge from this war, back when I also believed I could never love a man with a gun.

Whiskey on his breath the night before he leaves, when he tells me that if something goes wrong he wants me to be happy with another man.

X-Ray machines are useless against another 9/11 because people will always find new ways to kill each other.

Yankee doodle went to war, a-riding in a Humvee, got blown up by a roadside bomb and never met his baby.

Zulu is the last word of the alphabet that means for as long I try, my love will never be enough to defuse the bomb before it goes off.

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About Elizabeth Charles

Elizabeth Charles writes fiction and teaches undergraduate composition and creative writing at Arizona State University, where she is currently pursuing an MFA. She is a recipient of the 2017 Virginia G. Piper Global Residency Fellowship and 2018 Virginia G. Piper Global Teaching Fellowship in Singapore. Her work has appeared most recently in “Bird’s Thumb.”