Iowa Writes

LUCAS SHEPHERD
Frosting


         I walked into our church basement during a wedding reception and told my dad I wanted to join the Army. The night before I'd had a spiritual experience while lying drunk on the back roof of my apartment, forming words out of the constellations, whispering insecurities to the moon, my breath a fog of September gray; something (someone?) told me to enlist. I left that last part out. All I said was the Army part.
         In his weather-beaten hands my father held a glass of punch and one of those nice plastic plates with a raised lip and paisley design around the border. In between some mixed nuts a slab of frosting coated his plate. The thick, creamy frosting had starbursts of red and royal blue decorating the top. That's what I remember most—the frosting.

         I walked into our church basement during a wedding reception and told my dad I wanted to join the Army. The night before I'd had a spiritual experience while lying drunk on the back roof of my apartment, forming words out of the constellations, whispering insecurities to the moon, my breath a fog of September gray; something (someone?) told me to enlist. I left that last part out. All I said was the Army part.
         In his weather-beaten hands my father held a glass of punch and one of those nice plastic plates with a raised lip and paisley design around the border. In between some mixed nuts a slab of frosting coated his plate. The thick, creamy frosting had starbursts of red and royal blue decorating the top. That's what I remember most—the frosting.
         "Don't join the Army," he said. "You know who it is they send to the front lines?"
         "All kinds of people. America is less homogenous than you want to believe."
         He ignored me. "How about the Air Force or the Navy? You'll get killed in the Army."
         I shrugged because I didn't want to agree with him. I just wanted him to say what all twenty-something boys want their fathers to say: He wishes he was me. I wanted my dad to be jealous of my life. Vietnam missed him by a few years; he was fourteen when Nixon announced the beginning of the end. I wanted to answer the call of war that he missed.
         But I couldn't tell him any of that so I said, "You don't like the frosting?"
         "It's made out of shortening and sugar," he replied, plucking a salt-covered cashew off his plate. "It's so they can form it better, but all that fat is like a hammer on my old ticker."
         "Makes sense," I said.
         A week later I called in sick to work and drove to Coralville and talked with Staff Sergeant Polk about joining the Air Force. He was a little man who wore a watch loose on his wrist—it jangled as he spoke. He said, "The chow is better in the Air Force. Better than the Army or Navy. Also the dorm rooms in San Antonio are way nicer." I said, "When you've made the sale, stop selling." We both laughed.
         The sun went up over the railroad tracks and fell down behind the graveyard . . . I stopped getting drunk and searching the stars for direction . . . before I knew it five months had streaked across the sky. Soon I would drive back to Coralville and shake Sergeant Polk's jangly hand, enter a shuttle van bound for Des Moines, fly to San Antonio, and let the Air Force decide my trajectory after that.
         Before turning in my apartment keys, I sat in the empty living room and said goodbye to my girlfriend. The walls were freshly painted white so I leaned up against the doorjamb and she crossed her legs over mine. She wore a short-sleeved shirt dotted with colorful little designs, and that's what I remember most. Also that the February air felt strangely warm. I was leaving one week before Valentine's Day; this, I assured her, was nothing but coincidence.
         "Still," she insisted, "you'd think they'd let you wait a week." As she spoke her hair slipped down over her forehead and something rolled off her chin and splotched the fabric of her short-sleeved shirt.
         I wanted to say: Stop crying—why are you so selfish? I'm the one going to war! I wanted to be mean so she would forget any nice thing I'd ever done, so she could forget about me and this apartment and the car I had to sell. I wanted to tell her I wasn't planning on coming back because it was true; I would serve my time in the military and afterward reinvent myself in a college town. I wanted to say her shirt reminded me of wedding cake frosting on my dad's plate—sweet and creamy, starbursts of red and royal blue decorating the top. But I didn't.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


LUCAS SHEPHERD

Lucas Shepherd has been published in Little Village, Iowa City's News & Culture Magazine. He lives and writes in the lower east side.

This page was first displayed
on January 21, 2013

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