Watchstanding

excerpt of a work in progress

Barrone had always been someone people told their secrets to.

Even on the ship.

She was never sure why, when as far as she knew only a handful of people on the ship even knew what her first name was. But maybe that was it. She didn’t talk very much, and it seemed if you just sat there and said nothing, people were naturally inclined to believe you were interested in whatever they had to say. Or maybe it was because she usually was interested in whatever they had to say. Usually. People amazed her.

She remembered one night during her last deployment she was standing watch in Sonar with STG2 John Sanderson, Sandy, a big, black, boy-faced man from St. Louis. It was when they were crossing the the Atlantic on the way to the Straights of Gibraltar. Their ship was standing plane guard for the carrier, and normally there would have been more people in Sonar, but that night they had broken up into smaller sections so they could have shorter watch rotations and get some extra sleep for the expected long day of safety drills the next day. She wasn’t looking forward to the drills, and hoped they wouldn’t pick any of her spaces to put a fake fire in, or a water hazard, or power failure, or anything. She had hoped she could just sit back in Nixie and read.

She and Sandy had been standing watch for two hours of a four hour rotation and it was getting to the point in the watch where normal conversation about the cruise so far, the events of the day, prognosis for the quality of meals the next day, had pretty much been exhausted. She had just been about to pull her book from out of hiding in her coat—they weren’t supposed to read while on watch— when Sandy told her about Tom’s, a sex club in San Diego. He had discovered the club six years earlier when he was stationed in San Diego for “C” school, the specialized technical training the navy gave them so so they could troubleshoot and repair the electronic equipment.

Sandy told her about how the one night he went to Tom’s, this older white woman— “maybe in her late forties but still hot,” he said—who was sitting at the bar and giving a man Sandy later found out was her husband a hand-job—“They was naked,” he told Barrone, “we all was, hadda check your clothes before you went into that second entrance,”—propositioned him. The woman asked Sandy if he’d fuck her while she continued to handle her husband. “She got another dude’s dick in her hand, but I figured what the hell, ’s’what I’m here for, right?”

He went on to describe a few more of the night’s more noteworthy exploits and Barrone wondered what her face looked like as she sat there listening to his story. Did she look interested, she wondered. She was interested, it was like having her own personal screening of some confessional reality television show or something, but she wondered what it was about her expression that made him feel like he should keep going on. Though maybe her expression didn’t matter to him anyway since he wasn’t looking at her. He was looking at the 53-Charlie computer display that showed a picture of what all the underwater acoustic data “looked” like, all flickering smudges of green light and the absence of it.

Prudence told her she should have been revolted by what he was telling her. She wasn’t, but she suspected other people would have been, her co-workers for instance. She didn’t have to work too hard to generate a picture of the expressions Thompson, or Ayers would have on their faces if they heard the story about “Big Sandy” in some freaky sex-club menage a trios. She wondered what Sessions and MacFayden would think about Sandy telling her this story. She wondered if they had already heard it. She couldn’t make herself be offended, all Barrone could think about was when it would have come up that hand-job man was the older woman’s husband. Did they make introductions before, during, or after Sandy fucked the lady? Or had Sandy just assumed it? She didn’t ask him. If she did that, he might realize what he had just revealed and stop. She just stared at her own screen.

Sandy stopped speaking when they heard the latch on the door to Sonar disengage and they both felt the suck of the cold air of Sonar rushing out to mix with the more tepid air of the rest of the ship. It was STGSN O’Connell, who briefly waved at them then went to check his email on the desktop computer by the entry.

“I hope they don’t give me orders back to San Diego,” Barrone heard Sandy say. “Else I’ll probably get divorced.”

Barrone felt like a priest. She stared at the green flickering lights on her own screen and using the trackball under her right hand, drew spirals with the digital cursor on the sonar display. His confession reminded her of scars from cigarette burns she’d see once on a forearm. The forearm had belonged to a girl Barrone met in boot camp who, while they were folding laundry late one night, told a story about how her house had burned down that Christmas before and then about how the her husband had convinced her to join the Navy and go to bootcamp at the same time as him so they could get stationed together, the girl told Barrone they had seen each other once when she was going through the mess line at lunch, he was serving the macaroni and stewed tomatoes and she couldn’t wait till boot camp was over so she could talk to him again. That girl got kicked out in the sixth week of training for wetting the bed, before Barrone ever got up the nerve to ask who had done that to her arms. Barrone often wondered what became of that girl, and when she remembered her, wished a life for her that was better than the one she probably had.

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