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How I Got Into The Navy

Here in the Gutter we hear a lot of stories of love. Lost love. Bitter love. Angry love.

It's rare we get to glimpse this kind of love. A Travis Richardson kind of love. (Be sure to hit the audio portion to enjoy the full effect)

How I Got Into The Navy by Travis Richardson

Back in 1968 when the Vietnam War raged, I was a freshman in college. I had several inches to grow in height and understanding. Clueless about what to major in, I considered finance, because I never had money. Yet I couldn’t visualize myself wearing a suit or any kind of uniform. Then an English composition assignment changed everything.

Students were required to write a poem and read it aloud. Most of the girls wrote about love and heartbreak, while guys praised strength and conquest. My little ditty was about the creation of the universe after God sneezed, wiping snot on his jeans. Don’t ask me where it came from, those words spilled out of my pen. Classmates were offended and the old guard professor was confounded. I figured everybody hated it. I vowed to stuff my creative brain into a lockbox and bury the key.

I sat under a tree, cleaning my fingernails with a pocketknife, when a porcelain-skinned blonde in a black long sleeved shirt and jeans sauntered up.

“Heard your poem today.”

I blushed from ear to ear. “Sorry about that. Suppose I won’t be writin’ poetry again.”

She touched my arm and I felt electricity spark. “Don’t ever stop writing,” she said, her translucent blue eyes penetrating my soul. “You’ve got amazing talent.”

“What the hell’s going on here?” a voice boomed.

She flushed pink. An enormous prick with Greek letters printed across his T-shirt walked up. His face bore a trinity of features I hate most: arrogance, stupidity, and cruelty.

“Nothing, Cliff.”

“Nothing, my ass, Susan,” he said, yanking her behind him.

I offered the prick my hand. “Howdy, I’m Bill. Susan and I are in English one-oh-eight together.”

He sized me up with a sneer. “Best you keep away from her.”

Cliff pulled Susan across the quad to the women’s dormitory.

Inspired by Susan, I kept writing. I’d say hello in class or the cafeteria and she’d give me a bittersweet smile. Even though temperatures were over eighty degrees, she started wearing turtlenecks. I thought she didn’t want the world to see her. Unfortunately it had the opposite effect on me. It felt like she had a secret and I had to know what was hidden underneath. With my hormones raging, she became my obsession.

Walking across the quad, I spied the maintenance door to the girls’ dorm open. Reacting more than thinking, I spit out my gum and shoved it into the hollow of the striking plate. With a flathead screwdriver, I popped open the door that night. Tracing the plumbing, I found a narrow vertical passage where pipes ran up to the showers. Not much space, but enough for my scrawny bones. Scaling up to the third floor, I wedged myself into a hollow where the shower oughta be.

Using my knife, I cut away drywall through the night until I hit tile and grout. I’m persistent like a hound following a rabbit scent when my mind latches onto something. I edged out a cross between the tiles. It was enough to view most of the shower stall. 

Four women showered, but I kept my eyes averted. Apparently I was a monogamous peeping Tom. Then the curtain drew back revealing Susan. Unlike the other women in robes, she entered wearing her turtleneck and jeans. Unzipping her pants, I pushed my face closer. As she removed her clothes, one article at a time, my excitement turned to horror as I learned her secret. Her ivory skin was littered with yellow, blue, and black bruises. Red stripes crisscrossed her back and behind. A clear handprint marked her throat. My shock turned into rage. I slipped, nearly falling three flights.

When I peeked again, a towel-wrapped Susan glanced around as if sensing my presence. Red-hot hatred boiled inside as I scrambled down. There was going to be a reckoning between Cliff and me.

I ran to his frat house along with my Louisville Slugger. His imperious brethren told me he was out, “probably ballin’ his girl.”

It took all I had not to swing. I spotted Susan’s roommate reading outside.

“Susan around?”

“She’s screwing her boyfriend. Locked me out. Stupid bitch.”

Running upstairs, I knew her room was the one with closed curtains. That didn’t help me in the hallway until I heard a whimper. Busting through the door I saw Susan, naked, tied to the bedposts. Cliff straddled her in his skivvies, fist raised and wrapped with a leather belt.

I didn’t hesitate, whacking a line drive into the middle of his back. Cliff toppled over. Then I made a mistake. Looking into Susan’s eyes, I saw anger directed at me, not gratitude for salvation. Lost in her glare, Cliff slammed me to the floor. With my air knocked out, he pounded my face with his meaty fists. I tried to defend myself to little effect. Grabbing my throat, he began squeezing the life out of me. Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out my pocketknife. Somehow I managed to unfold it single-handed. Bringing up the blade, Cliff’s jugular vein bulged, begging to get sliced. Instead I drove the blade deep into his quadriceps below his hip and jerked it down to his knee. I passed out immediately.

Sitting in court, I expected a prison sentence. But fate’s tricky – always surprising you when you think you’ve got her figured out. The judge called me over to his bench.

“You’re a good kid in a bad situation. So here’s what I’m offering.” He pulled back his robe’s sleeve, revealing an anchor tattoo on his forearm. “Sign up and you won’t go to jail. Plus the seas are a lot better than marching in the jungle.”

And that’s how I ended up wearing a uniform for years, swabbing the decks and wondering what kind of twisted psychology caused Susan to want a sadistic monster like Cliff. Can’t say I’ve ever found the answer, but she’s inspired me to keep on scribbling, trying to figure it all out. 

Travis was nominated for Anthony and Macavity short story awards for “Incident on the 405.” His novella LOST IN CLOVER was listed in Spinetingler Magazine’s Best Crime Fiction of 2012. He has published stories in several publications including Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Flash Fiction Offensive and All Due Respect. He edits the Sisters-In-Crime LA newsletter, reviews Chekhov shorts at and sometimes shoots a short movie. His latest novella is KEEPING THE RECORD.