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She took me through a burning sky to the eye of a special thought where space and time go round and round and neither makes a difference. You ask how that can be? Squeeze yourself in behind me and be quick about it. Fly on past morning with the Phantom.

________________

Once upon a time it all came down to two things for me: Dope and Women. Einstein and Jung might've filled up my days at Ol' Miss Pyrotechnic U, amigo, but my nights were my own, and I got toked, stroked, and provoked if anybody tampered with the equation.

It was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius and reality was a crotch. Just ask yo momma. I was lookin' at a nice fat job with one of my old man's companies after the war ended and I could afford to give up my deferment insteada my life, but then I met Elena. Elena, the world's most accomplished apprentice nymphomaniac. I thought she was just horny, like me, but in a weird female way, right? Closer to the Source and all that? Not really the case. She was just crazy for it, pure and simple. In fact, she was just crazy period. We shagged our brains out all semester long.

At about the same time I began to realize I wasn't a sex machine, my draft board noticed that all my childhood buddies were on boats and planes to Vietnam, and what was wrong with me? In two flicks of Elena's tail they were on mine. And Einstein and Jung be damned, they got me.

The idea of walking long distances with a full pack and an M-16 as point man for the queerest real estate company in history was too much for serious consideration, so I took some tests, did a little shuckin' and jivin' on the eye jobs, and two years more or less to the day I found myself—officer and gentleman—with a U.S. Navy F-4 Phantom jet killing machine strapped to my back and a once-horny girlfriend who had blossomed into adulthood and was now getting it from every swinging dick on campus. Shit, you know? The things we get ourselves into.

It should be known, before this yarn gets off the ground, that one a the dudes Elena did for fun while I was flying for the republic's glory, one a the studs my girl no doubt blew wildly while I was over yonder, was Dan, My Best Friend. The little tow-headed shit-for-brains puddle monkey that used to dress my G.I. Joe action figure in Barbie clothes for fun when we were kids. We went back that far.

I was happy for them after a couple of weeks of reeling from the one-two punch of war and then this. She couldn't be with a nicer guy, so I was happy for them. Even if Dan's attempt at a beard made Dylan's look like Fidel Castro's and I secretly felt deep down like they'd last about a month.

The problem was, Dan too fell prey to the powers that were in those days. They were tenacious, my friend, believe it. They searched out the little baby boys all grown up and jumped on them, bees to honey. Dan figured he'd put in his time and then boogie, so he went Army. Two years, maybe less, and then out, right? Right. Also bad hours, low pay, and the possibility of a new asshole shot into you some night in the wet dank dark.

I flew my 26th combat mission the day Dan took the oath. I remember it like it was now. I was level at 190, about point six mach, and I had Elena in my head. Back home, she'd finally done it. You know—every psychotic's dream-scene: she'd tried to blow out the old spark, shut down all systems by chugging half a bottle of Miltown. Route One to oblivion. She didn't quite get there, but while I considered whether that was a good thing or not, the Phantom and I flew into a world of hurt.

The bogey was accelerating from 8 o'clock above me by the time I scoped him. I evaded late, pulled at least six g's. My vision tunneled down to about ten degrees either side, and I didn't see him climb steep in a tight wingover. He had me in sight all the way around the turn. "Atoll! Atoll!" is the last thing you hear in this world at that point. It rattles around inside your helmet. It means do something, Ace, 'cause that heat-seeking missile is pointed straight at you. Death comes on invisible beams of infrared, and he flies right up your poopshoot to cream your genes into eternity. "Atoll! Atoll!" Time stops. The Phantom takes over.

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Elena was always capable of blowing my mind, to say nothing of my joystick, but what was waiting for me when I hit Miramar had no precedent: she had up and married Dan between his advanced infantry training and his plane to Cam Rahn Bay! You believe that?! They sent me a custom photo postcard from Atlantic City. She was looking good and he was lookin' pretty rugged Regular Army.

I had to hand it to him. It took balls to split for a year while your old lady, Miss Collegiate Hot Pants for four years' running, is home in New Effin' Jersey. That's the kind of guy Dan was. Confident and easy going. Master of the universe. He was cool.

Elena's father's a friend of my old man, right? He called me. He's a full-bore old P-38 jock dipped in Vat 69, and he was killin' me, just breakin' my butt, about how 'they don't make 'em like that any more,' and 'how can you call what you do flyin'?'

The point, when he got to it, was Elena. She'd been keeping bad company of late. Hunh, every fifth GI in every third basic training platoon on the post, I thought, but I kept my mouth shut. Did I think I could talk to her, being an old "friend?"

He sent me a ticket to New York and $300 in expense money. I was thinkin' about Elena as I watched the flight attendant's poetic bottom twitch back and forth up and down the aisle. Elena was tall. She was a combination of lankiness and bust that seemed to me like something only an inspired Creator, casting a woman from his own wet dream, could come up with. Five-feet-eight, almost as tall as me, and she had a habit of putting her arm around me, very possessive, but like a buddy too, in a way.

We met in chemistry class on a warm September morning the year Crosby Stills and Nash came out. I spent the first hour sniffing her perfume. Its magic rose with the temperature of the day like a kamikaze mayflower about to die a hero's pollinated death. Powerful stuff.

I found out all about that when I picked her up early one day, months later. She had on a silk-fringed robe I'd given her. It clung to the dangerous curves of her body like another skin. I walked through the door and saw Elena sitting with one leg up on a chair in front of her mirror.

"Just a second, hon. Must finish my cassolette."

It wasn't a word I knew from two semesters of college French at eight AM three days a week, so you can bet I was wide-eyed when she reached down with familiar fingers, found moisture the way a ballet dancer toes the resin-box, and then ceremoniously anointed the inside of each teal-veined wrist.

The human pulse, as you may be aware, occurs in many places at different times. "Works every time, my love. As you know," she said. Her robe fell open as she turned to face me, and yes, there it was, wafting warm across the space between us, straight to some atavistic part of me I could never understand—eau d'Elena.

I wanted her then and there, of course. As usual. But with Elena it was what she wanted when she wanted, and she built it to a splendid pitch before giving in, going down, and coming 'round to my side of the matter.

It was only another thought in an airplane. But I wanted here there beside me in the airplane that moment. I couldn't wait to see her again, straight life. Elena was powerful stuff.

So I rang the bell at the address in her father's telegram. She'd stashed herself in a Sutton Place manse. Good trick on a private's pay. Elena opened the door, wearing the sort of robe movie goddesses used to affect in black and white publicity photos. My heart was drumming double-time. With the possible laminar exception of the Phantom's, I have never seen a more beautiful body. She was all over me like a used parachute in a cyclone.

"Darling!" Arms tight around me; muscular thighs pushed tight up against me; forcing my lips apart with her expert tongue. All the good things in our time together came flooding back. "I don't believe it! How'd you find me?"

"I was in town and I followed my nose."

She smiled and kissed me again. Then she pushed away in a sweeping, balletic turn. Her gown was slit to mid-thigh, and I stared at those legs I was never able to effectively remove from my mind's eye.

"You look great," I managed.

"I know." She sat, crossing her legs so the gown dropped away on either side of her like a curtain parted for the most lavish production on Broadway. She placed a hand demurely atop her knee, ran the other through her hair, and looked at me—nothing more—just looked at me for the longest time. I can only take so much of that kind of thing, so I chased the lump out of my throat and got down to it:

"So how are you?"

"As you see me." She opened a cigarette case, silver, and placed a long, thin cigarette between her glossy lips. I fumbled with the heavy table lighter, managed to fire it up.

"Last I heard, you were living on the Jersey Shore."

"Last I heard, you were playing tight end for Uncle Sam."

I didn't laugh. She could still be cruel.

"I had to get past it," she said. "You have any idea how much your life is an open book in the military?"

"Some."

"Very small minds, darling."

"Yeah, but this…" I looked around. This was indeed a mansion.

"We do what we have to. You know I always have."

"But how—" I was interrupted by the bell. She put her finger to her lips. God, those wet, red lips used to fit so good, so smooth around—

"Excuse me a minute, hunh? Company coming." She grinned. "I wish you'd called first so I could've cleared my calendar."

She detoured over to her liquor cabinet, opened an expensive humidor, and pulled out a good long stick of Thai weed, the sort that was expensive even in Bangkok. She crossed back over to me, Thai stick and papers in hand, gave them to me, and grabbed me intimately with her other hand.

"Do this in the other room while I take care of business. You'll be glad."

The other room was dark, and she closed the door right behind me, so I had to freeze like a statue in order for my eyes to get it together. Before they did, though, the darkness slid away. Elena's incredibly bright blue bedroom was on the other side of the glass wall. I watched her tie off the curtains. She looked right at me, adjusting her camisole, checking her makeup. Floor-to-ceiling one-way mirror, just like in the movies. Elena move real close to it, examining an eyelash. And then she performed her singular exotic act, her cassolette as she called it back in the old days, applying to each precious wrist nectar of the goddess. She smiled, then cracked a wait'll-you-see-what-happens-next wink.

The doorbell rang again and I watched her elegant ass sashay out. I heard voices, barely, and then the tinkling of glasses, so I turned my frazzled attention to the Thai stick, unsure of just exactly what I was in for.

When you have a 20-million-dollar flying machine for an office, there are a number of lines you have to draw. As a matter of common sense, I never allow weed to tangle up my reflexes and concentration. Don't get me wrong, I love me dope, but there are bigger and better highs, darlin', and sunrise at forty thousand feet, Albuquerque over your shoulder and New York in two hours is one of 'em. So, after a spectacular undergraduate career in non-credit pharmacology, I got off the chemical trip and into my real-life flying carpet. But right then, for the moment, I knew—soon as I lit the stick—that I would be glad.

The first thing that happens is I get that rush below and behind the ears that circles somehow up into the center of my brain flashing this is some great ganja. I hit it again, two times, and already I'm wondering did I roll this or did Elena?

Lordy, when you're away from it, it seems like maybe it comes on stronger. Quicker. But I lose the thought, just before the room starts to buzz is it my head? yes, but it's also the stereo good sounds the chick has always had good taste in music. I wonder is she thinking of me?, remembering how we used to lie there catching our breath while the Stones or Dylan ran away from us, led the way for us. We'd roll back together, sweaty, rushing…she was so good….

I drop off the deep end of memory. The space inside my head is a real place, but there are unreal people scattered across it, and one of them is me.

I focus on the joint. It's out. Who knows how long it's been? Elena comes through the bedroom door. She pays no mind to me this time, only leans against the tall oak bed post, coquette/professional. Geez, it's come to this/we've come to this. I realize I'm all hot for the old memory and it's all mixed up with this new deal, this new Elena, the one who's standing there with eyes only for whoever's coming through that doorway next. Trying to wrap my alleged mind around a complicated thought, I manage to re-light my doobie nonetheless.

Male figure through the door. Expensive suit, expensive hair, expansive air, and he's primed for my best friend's wife and so am I, and I need her too, again, like I did once or twice or a thousand times upon a time.

You may remember I mentioned Elena was a gorgeous woman. She must look a vision to this new guy who's tearing at his necktie, his shirt buttons, aching for her. She smiles across the room at him, cool in the face of his clumsy passion. The widest-set brown eyes betray her own excitement. She curls around the bedpost, feline, hands holding it, smoothing it, up, down, anticipating, promising.

Her gown is the palest rose, almost white. Delicate blue Chinese flowers may or may not swirl across it. She allows the silk to slide slowly down. New guy can hear it fall, I know, crashing like the sky on fire, the excruciating sound of all the beginnings that ever were. He still can't get his shirt off and now his eyes look into hers and he's trapped, I know, doomed. I know that feeling oh so well.

And we all slide away, don't we, into the sky-blue room, dancing on a bank of roseate cauliflower clouds…and she feels so good, my G-suit woman, wrapped so tight around my mind and body…So Good…and the pressure builds and my brain is aching and I can hear her cry, far away, "I'm coming…I'm coming…"

I go instantaneously from plus to negative G and the world turns pink and I hear a man scream as I ride supersonic Elena across the sky.

________________

Guilt. You know it. Beaucoup guilt sometime in the PM three days later, swelling up inside of me. Mind-numbing, chest-beating, hair-shirted fucking Judeo-Christian guilt. Guilt when I think of her, turning Big Bucks on her back like a thousand other high class New York hookers. Guilt when I think of her old man, desperate for me to straighten her out. Capital "G" guilt when I think of Dan, up to his ass in somebody else's shitty war, innocent in that and in all of this. Guilt for all of them, and for me, 'cause I loved every minute of it. And I wanted Elena, again, all the time. For me. Like before.

So OK, first things first: I had to run down the emergency checklist: "Yes," I said to the old man, "Elena has been having a time, but things are looking up. She just misses her husband is all."

Which was a joke. She just missed being a certifiable sexual psychopath is what it was, but I figured what the hell, she needed a 24-hour man, and when Dan got back from Nam things would be OK.

Yeah. That's what I told her dad. That things would be OK. But there wasn't any way I could believe that myself. I dialed the squadron back in S.D. "Gonna stay here a few more days, boss. Yassuh, it's a personal problem, boss. Yassuh, I'll keep y'all posted." Cocksuckers. I didn't marry the navy. They had temporary possession of my faculties, but that's all it amounted to. You can't let 'em forget it an inch.

The morning I was scheduled to leave, I awoke to Elena's wonderful, almost worshipful, practically sacramental expert fellatio. She shook me softly, like a single tree on a desert island blown by some divine wind. Fingers drummed, separately and together, and by the time I was ready to die and go to heaven she held me tight, slave-collar tight, and one thing led to another and soon we rode together on passion's slipstream, trading licks—cosmic rock n roll— till it all went ballistic and I felt her body switch into autopilot. Yes I thought.

"Yes, oh yes," she said.

________________

Elena was a Zen mistress. She had gone to the finest schools, alright, and finally learned how to live out on the street. On her own. I'd have to get used to it, I realized: life had not eaten Elena alive. Far from it. She rode life—high, wide, and handsome—for all it was worth.

Her memory burned at the edges of my mind, but in overview, as seen perhaps from icy altitude, I was OK. Words would repeat themselves in my head. A smell would come back from time to time. But it was nothing I couldn't handle. I flew. Elena fucked. The world revolved.

________________

I got the news at dawn. I was marveling at the pink and blue sky when the duty officer shook it into me: Elena's father was calling. Dan was dead. Elena had slit her wrists. She was gone.

The old man asked me if I could get him a ride in the Phantom. Sure, I said. Next time around.

________________

Seems like maybe that all happened in another lifetime. Six miles below us, night has finally outrun the day. The Phantom and I are content: we have shared another sunset.

I set up Beatty on the No. 1 Nav and absently twirl the OBS. The Phantom protests. She will do that, child of perfection that she is. I was careless once. Since and forever, she and I have no use for luck.

The present clicks in and double-checks the radial and the future: 126 TO. The Phantom banks, anxious, left.

I try to settle in for the duration, but I cannot lose the thought. I cannot tear myself away. The past flies with me tonight.




On Vietnam:

REMFS

  1. I was a prisoner in a Mexican Whorehouse
  2. A long time gone
  3. How to brush your teeth in a combat zone
  4. Libber and I go to war
  5. Fate takes a piss
  6. Thanks For the Memory
  7. Back in the Shit
  8. LZ Waterloo
  9. Saturday Night, Numbah Ten

grunts
Phantom

a long commute
Andy X Kirby True
a tale of two Woodstocks
Buy a Gun
Dawn at The Wall
Draft
Feat of Clay
Funeral Detail
I was a free man once, in Saigon
The Joint Chiefs of Staff
the shit we ate

AK-47
Breaking Starch
Combat Infantryman Badge
David Dellinger
Dickey Chapelle
Firebase Mary Ann
Garry Owen
Gloria Emerson
Graves Registration
I Corps
MOS
Project 100,000
REMF
the 1st Cav
The Highest Traditions
Those Who Forget
Under the Southern Cross
Whither the Phoenix?

A Bright Shining Lie
Apocalypse Now Redux
Hearts and Minds
We Were Soldiers