|Illustration by Mark Satchwill|
Both Sides Now
By Katherine Tomlinson
Illustration by Mark Satchwill
It was the kind of California day Ron Zubic liked best, warm and windy after two days of rain, a soft sun falling on his face like a kiss..
Zubic’s best friend, a native Californian, complained about the sunshine all the time. “It depresses me,” he’d say. When Zubic had laughed at him, Terry had shown him a printout of a news story on CNN about summer-onset Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Zubic had not been convinced.
“It says here it only affects one percent of the population,” he’d pointed out.
“What, you don’t think I’m special?” Terry had countered, but then he’d laughed, bitter humor being his default option for dealing with unpleasant topics.
It was no joke, though, how he started getting depressed and agitated the hotter it got. By June Terry would be damn near suicidal and there would be nothing Zubic or any of the guys could do.
Gene Burkhart had tried to get him into some kind of treatment but the VA system just wasn’t set up to handle anything but the basic alcohol- and drug-related problems. Not that those programs helped anyone either.
Kids were coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan so fucked up nobody was going to be able to fix them. And a lot of them kept getting sent back or kept going back out of some sort of screwed-up sense of honor. And that was fine with the Army until someone went nuts and started shooting women and children.
And then nobody wanted to know.
It had been the same way a generation ago.
Zubic’s father had come back from Viet Nam with skin rashes and fingernails that kept falling off. He was so sensitive to cold he wore sweaters in 100-degree weather. He’d told Zubic that he’d stopped having sex with Zubic’s mother because his jizz felt like it was burning.
That was more information than Zubic needed to know, but by the time his father told him that, his mother was long gone, shacking up with the principal from the high school where she taught history.
His dad blamed Agent Orange for his symptoms. The VA said Agent Orange was harmless.
“Except to the vegetation it kills,” Zubic’s dad had said.
By the time the VA had come around to admitting that there was maybe, sorta, possibly some kind of peripheral, distant, unlikely connection between Agent Orange exposure and a slew of nasty symptoms suffered by vets, a lot of those vets were gone.
Zubic’s dad was still around, but he was half-eaten up by cancer and spent most of his days loaded up with pain meds.
“Now they give me the good drugs,” he’d said to Zubic with a crooked grin the last time he’d been out to Apache Junction to see him.
Terry was a lot like Zubic’s dad. He figured that was why he liked Terry so much.
He hadn’t seen Terry for two days and he was beginning to get worried about him.
He’d gone looking for Terry in all the places where he normally parked his mobile home, which is what he called the ’99 Toyota Camry he lived in.
They’d caught the nutball who was killing people down in Orange County but whoever was murdering vets in North Hollywood was still around.
Gene Burkhart was holding the cops’ feet to the fire, making noise whenever a new body was found, but this was L.A. Lots of people died in L.A. every single day.
Zubic just hoped Terry hadn’t become a statistic.
He was one of those hard-luck guys who never seemed to catch a break. He’d joined the Army after 9/11 because he felt like he needed to do something to protect the country.
He’d come back with his ideals shattered and a wicked case of PTSD.
It didn’t help that his girl had moved on too.
Zubic didn’t have a very high opinion of women. He knew it was tied up with his feelings for his mother, which were complicated, but none of the women he’d met in recent years had convinced him they were any different than she was.
Zubic was distracted from his train of thought by a dog-shaped cloud blowing across the sky.
It wasn’t a vaguely dog-shaped cloud that you could sorta, maybe call a dog if you squinted one eye shut.
It was one of those totally defined cloud pictures like the ones you see uploaded on YouTube.
Zubic didn’t like women much but he loved dogs.
Zubic missed Maverick.
He’d brought the shepherd back from Afghanistan with him, filling out more paperwork than if he’d brought back a Muslim war bride.
He’d loved that dog more than he’d ever loved anyone, except maybe his dad, and when Maverick got cancer, he’d almost fallen apart.
He hadn’t had the money for surgery or chemo and letting the dog suffer because he was dead broke didn’t seem right.
He found a vet who was willing to give him a break on the cost of putting Maverick to sleep, and in the end, he’d had to take that option because his dog couldn’t eat and was in pain all the time. He’d dropped from 75 pounds to 50 and looked like a canine concentration camp victim.
He and Terry had gotten shit-faced that night, pounding beers and shots of vodka so raw it tasted like lighter fluid.
That had been six months ago.
Losing Maverick had been hard.
He didn’t think he could stand losing Terry too.
Not that he was queer or anything.
He hoped Terry would show up soon.
He’d come to the park looking for him and had been here for the last day, waiting.
It had been raining all day Saturday but by early Sunday morning, it was sunny again.
The park was starting to fill up with families setting out picnic lunches and teenage couples pretending they were there to study but really just looking for a chance to feel each other up.
He saw a fat kid run by wearing some sort of costume, followed by a pretty girl dressed like some kind of an elf or something. The girl had nice tits.
A runty brown dog ran up to Zubic and sniffed him.
“Hey dog,” Zubic said and the dog barked.
“Chester come here,” the dog’s owner said.
The dog didn’t move.
“Go on,” Zubic said as the dog sniffed him again.
The dog’s owner headed their way, annoyed that his dog was not obeying him.
“Chester, come here now,” the guy said in his “I-really-mean-it” voice.
Then the guy saw Zubic.
“Oh my God,” he said.
And then he threw up.
The dog kept up a steady barking as the guy pulled himself together enough to dial 911.
“Yeah,” he said when someone answered. “I’ve found a dead body.”