They walked along a sidewalk past engraved names of the deceased, parallel to the rising black wall of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. A late-afternoon sunset burgeoned in the still, western sky, giving forth autumnal colors that provided a lightpainter’s canvas for the small companies of seagulls fluttering past upon gentle breezes that combed their way through Butch’s greying hair, and between the fingertips of his outstretched, trembling hand. He had proceeded to stand in place.
There they were. Still, now. 151st Cavalry Regiment.
Jeanine slipped an arm around his thinning, jacketed frame, and turned her soft-featured face to rest upon his own, offering solace and knowing silence as a weighted counterbalance for his attentiveness slipping away into contemplative recollection.
Every name contained hidden memories that evoked visions of light and movement upon the obsidian stonework. Sheltering jungles off the exposed coastline of the South China Sea swayed gently in the humid air of breaking day. Rotating chopper blades rippled curtains of resonant thunder upon the urgent screaming of combatants unable to communicate rationally over rice wine at a villager’s hut. Glossy platform shoes of an underage dancer in Laos, black as the back alleys of a city gone to sleep yet still conducting business, shuffled calmly in the direction of his next deployment. Forests blazed and turned the color of silk dipped in shallow bowls of dripping red courage. Souls departed in great numbers into a stratosphere, no longer divided over the pathologies of heavily-armed, industrialized societies.
A light breeze began to pick up, then.
Out of respect for the solemnity of the surrounding environment, canine-owners will often keep a close eye on their pets so as not to disturb nearby visitors to the monument, but a lone, brown mutt found himself loose and running freely across a grass cross-section and onto the leveled enclosure beside the wall. The dog trotted near to the couple, standing quite still before what could have been an image of galaxies collapsing or absolution at St. Peter’s, and brushed his tail against Butch’s exposed lower legs – allowing him to become unwound from inner visions long ago passed into recesses of the mind and locked safely away.
“Henderson, come here!” a young boy’s voice shouted in the distance. Jeanine untangled herself and adjusted her gaze to face the entrance pathway, observing a small child jogging clumsily toward them. His glasses reflected little rays of fading sunlight, and something in his pockets, perhaps a combination of coins and toys, made a jingling sound as he approached. The dog did not run away.
“Hi, there,” she said as he drew closer. “What’s your name?”
“Henderson,” the boy replied.
“Two more Hendersons?” laughed Butch. “One was more than enough for me. Here’s another for you, boy,” as he scanned for a moment, and eventually pointed to a name on the list of endless names. “Sergeant Marvin T., ever heard of’im?”
“No, sir,” replied the curious lad. “Should I aught to have?”
“I suppose not. He… saved my life what seemed like more than a dozen times… over there,” he said, looking back at the name. “I shouldn’t even be here now.”
“Then why is one more than enough for you, hon?” interjected Jeanine. “Don’t you want two more Hendersons around to keep you safe?” Butch considered the situation for a moment.
“Is your name the same as the dog’s, boy?”
“Yessir,” replied Henderson.
“Why is that?” the older man asked.
“It was something to do with me being born in the month June, sir.” After a brief silence, the couple began to sputter out pieces of intermittent laughter.
“So that’s your twin there, huh?” asked Jeanine.
“Yes, ma’am, that’s my twin.”
“I once had a twin too, whose name was Henderson,” said Mr. Butch. “We looked the same, talked the same, lived in the same house, went on walks in the jungle. If I ever needed his help, I’d just do this." He put his hands to his mouth and let out a whistle, and smiled. “Can you do that, son?”
The boy put his hands to the corners of his mouth, blew some air, and made the faintest sound of a creaking whistle. “Keep practicing that now, and I’ll give you something to put on old Henderson’s collar.” He unpinned a piece of metal from his cap, glinting purple in the fading daylight, and handed it to over the young stranger. “Keep that safe now, and look out for each other, you hear?”
“Thank you, sir!” the boy cried out, and began to run off in the direction he had arrived in, little Henderson in tow.
Jeanine clasped his hand as they began to walk slowly onward to end of the monument. “You’re always giving away your medals,” she chastised.
“Yeah,” he replied. “It’s less expensive than therapy.”