"Private Hewitt's Pork Belly Stew"
by jeff campagna
Up at 6:00 am. Breakfast ready for 7:30 am. Lunch set for 12:00 pm. Dinner ready for 6:00 pm. Prayer at 9:00 pm. Lights out at 10:00 pm. Thus was the redundant routine of Private Hewitt. A man who was where he didn't want to be, though not entirely. Private Hewitt had spent sixteen long sardonic months aboard The N.O.A. Liberty. By now his body had become accustomed to the swelling motion of the sea. Also something he became accustomed to were the far off cries of war, though they did seem to be carried along the choppy water like rolling tumbleweeds in the wind. He would know, he was born and raised in a small town where tumbleweeds outnumbered people. Nevertheless he was far from that town now.
Hewitt couldn't sleep. His thoughts wandered the corridors of his restless mind like a mouse nibbling at the floorboards, keeping you awake. He tried to ignore it, but, just as with the mouse, the harder he tried to ignore it the more persistent it seemed to become. He had waited a long time for this day, and, much to his former disbelief, it was finally upon him. The barracks were silent but even the subtlest of motions, be them human or ship, would bounce off the cold steel walls of the bunk room. It sounded as if everyone was asleep, but the smell of cigarette smoke was a clear indication that the silence misled him. Hewitt hated cigarettes. His internal clock alarmed him. It was time to get up he thought to himself. 6:00 am. And he did not hesitate. He walked the hollow echoing hallways of the ship, past other barracks where soldiers from other platoons either slept, played poker, smoked, fought or masturbated. Up three flights of rusted beaded stairs to the first deck where some squads were already beginning to board the transport boats headed for shore.
"Morning Hewitt" a rough voice shouted.
"Mornin' Remy" Hewitt shouted back. His voice was clearer than it usually was at that time which surprised him. He spoke with a southern drawl like many of the men aboard the Liberty. "Headed out today Ah see?"
Remy spread his arms out with a shrug of approbation. He didn't speak much, but when he did, it was to Hewitt. They had become dear friends over the past sixteen months although they both knew that if it weren't for the service, they would not be friends elsewhere. Remy knew Hewitt's backstory but didn't pretend to understand or imagine what it would be like. Remy knew that Hewitt had joined the service not out of sense of duty or patriotism but out of shear and unstoppable revenge.
Hewitt had spent the last hour or so preparing breakfast for some 950 troops. He spent the next two hours preparing something else. He hated cooking but did it with skill. He knew this kitchen too well. He knew the smell that the sinks possessed when they clogged up and precisely where rats would leave their droppings by the dry storage. If blindfolded he could maneuver the area like one of those very same rats through a maze in a university lab. Hewitt had been working in that kitchen long enough to be aware of the slow dulling of the knives, the even slower rusting of the pans from the salt water all around them and even the ever so subtle change in odor since his first day. Not that he ever wanted to remember it again. He came on this boat madder than a juiced bull in a bull fight. He could recall the bright Corporal welcoming him aboard with a false mirth, which made Hewitt's anger that much more obvious and fortified. "Welcome Aboard The Nation Of The America's Liberty" he recounted the line. It still made him cringe.
The eggs came from a tin can roughly the size of a football. "Whole Dried Eggs" they read in big black lettering. Each can was more rusted than the next but a hot breakfast on the ship was better then rations from a soldier's pack while they were in the trenches. See, a soldier realizes very quickly that, once in combat, everything becomes 'relative'. One no longer compares things to their equivalents back home, but instead they only compare things to the worst possible scenario now. "A cold shower on the ship ain't bad compared to not showering for 16 days on land in the shit" they might say. In any event, the eggs were served right on time at 7:30 am with trays of 'bacon', but everyone knew it was Spam sliced and covered in a brown glaze so as to resemble a horrible unreasonable facsimile. In recent years, Spam had become a staple of the military inventory. Meatloaf Without Basic Training some G.I.s would call it. Others would refer to it as Ham That Didn't Pass Its Physical. No matter what name you gave it; it was still Spam, and there was only one positive attribute to it, it was endless.
Once Hewitt had been on the ship for a few weeks, and the lingering anger of his circumstance had subsided, he started to experiment with his newly designated position. Back home, in The South Of The Americas, he lived a pleasant life with his mother and father just outside of town centre. He played baseball and showed quite a lot of promise at it. He drank socially, watched films and made love to a few women, young or old it never seemed to matter to Hewitt. He was 21 and had bedded more women than other men his age. His mother and father loved him equally and he loved them equally back. Every Saturday and Sunday he would work with his father in mechanics shop fixing old bikes and bonding with one another. His mother would make her infamous Smoked Pork Belly Stew. After Hewitt registered with the service, his mother taught him how to make the hearty dish in case he ever got the chance or needed to. Well, Hewitt never needed to, but he sure as all hell got the chance. He got sixteen months worth of chances. "Three fucking chances a day, seven fucking days a week. Plenty of chances" he would always remind himself, losing the humor a little bit more every time, but gaining irony in its place.
The day grew older and the hunger of the troops still on board grew with it. Hewitt seasoned and poured out the last of the Smoked Pork Belly Stew into buckets. It was a favorite on board, even though everyone knew the closest thing to smoked pork belly on board was Spam. Sometimes, Hewitt would even convince himself that his stew single handedly kept the morale of the ship afloat, despite the fact his morale was always scraping along the bottom of the ocean. Twenty-two moths ago his father was killed. When the 6th World War broke there was a mandatory sign up for trades-people - as they were sparse in those days. Like Hewitt, his father would work on the ships, but as an engine mechanic. As it turned out, the workings of a ship were seldom different than the workings of a bike, principally speaking of course. Twenty-two moths ago Asian artillery sunk the ship his father worked on just off the coast of Sub-Asia, not far from where the N.O.A. Liberty was anchored now. Hewitt had every intention of exacting revenge, or what amount he could, in the name of his father. Though he did not expect to be anchored to the ship itself. Thus, he was where he didn't want to be, though not entirely. After a trivial injury on the military base before deployment, the service, instead of keeping him landed, sent him to war as a line cook for the N.O.A. Liberty.
Hewitt's father would often visit him in dreams but Hewitt would always lie to himself, knowingly, and say they were false apparitions, for his father's message contradicted what Hewitt had sent himself to do. He would see his father dressed in full fatigues set against a backdrop of Asian beach vistas, and see himself against the sharp metal of the ship's kitchen panels.
"War is about duty!" his father would yell. But not in a voice he knew, instead, in a deep contrived sort of voice. One that a Hollywood actor may put on to play a seasoned war hero. "War is about value of one and one's country! Not glory! Not vengeance. The machine of war is so much more complex than the pullings of triggers, Son!" he would continue his speech as machine gun fire would cut the wind's tense howl and giant explosions would erupt behind him. Hewitt's father would flinch from the force and persist in lecture."Duty son! There is more to revenge than revenge itself!"
Hewitt didn't at all believe in The Four Gods, but he knew that if they really did exist, they were right, for the ghost of his father knew of his son's cruel and tragic intentions.
By 2:00 pm Hewitt had left the kitchen and walked back down the barracks floor. With him, he carried a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and a dish towel. As he passed the open doors to the mostly empty barracks, he listened for the rare, but because of that, evident snore of a sleeping soldier. By 2:30 pm he was on deck, in full fatigues which had a name that was not his stitched on the breast, looking for the next transport boat to shore. He had never felt anything like the weight of the soldiers pack. The straps cut into his virgin shoulders. He held the rifle, uncomfortable as he had never used one but confident that when the time came he would figure out how. He knew others would see his actions as wrong, but he thought them to be right. For even the devils think they are doing good.
"HEWITT?" Infantry Sergeant Sheenan yelled in question "Is that you?"
"Yes Infantry Sergeant Sir!" Hewitt replied with false confidence, imitating numerous troops he had heard before. There was a pause in the air manufacturing tension. Neither Sergeant Sheenan, nor the other troops on board the transport boat knew what to say.
"What the fuck are you doing on our transport Hewitt?" Sheenan contested. "You're a cook for God's sake! You ain't trained to be in the shit"
"It's jus' somthin' I gotta do Sergeant Sheenan." Hewitt exclaimed. He repeated with a mutter "Somethin' I gotta do is all"
"What in the hells are the boys back on Liberty gonna eat for dinner tonight dip-shit" another soldier interjected offensively.
Hewitt was silent and merely jumped at the soldier with aggression. Other soldiers on board held him back and a small scuffle ensued, rocking the boat.
By now, Hewitt was crouched in a fox hole near the other troops on the beach. For once, the far cries of battle weren't so far at all. He could feel the heat from the flames which continued to singe the brush. It was almost hard for Hewitt to picture what the tree-line looked like without the additional of fire. The explosions shook the ground beneath him as sand from around his fox hole fell inwards onto his body. He became unsure of his actions. Should he have stayed on the ship? he thought to himself. Should he have even enlisted in the service? he expanded. His internal clock told him is was near dinner time and he briefly thought about the troops still aboard. The sound of machine gun fire got closer and louder creating confusion for Hewitt and instantly ripping his thoughts away from his fellow troops. Were the Sub-Asian troops advancing or were the mechanisms of fear distorting his perception of the sounds he had been hearing all along? He didn't have time to choose. He slowly lifted his head above the fox hole to get a clearer look at his surroundings.
About the same time, back on the N.O.A. Liberty, an order cook wandered into the walk-in fridge in the kitchen to find sixteen 20L buckets, full to the brim, with Smoked Pork Belly Stew. The orderly didn't know anything other than the fact that he had never seen so much of Hewitt's famous stew before. The man did a rough calculation, as anyone in his position would have, as to how many days, and how many weeks that amount of stew could actually feed the population on board. A large amount filled a thick unsteady pot which sat perched upon the stove, simmering.
Plenty went through Hewitt's mind. What exactly the difference was between revenge and duty started the barrage of thoughts. Next through his head was the notion he had not, at least altruistically, thought of his mother. And as he heard a bullet whistle toward his ill-gotten helmet, cutting the wind with an ominous hiss, he understood, with vistas of such omnipotence, the ghost of his father's intimations. The last thing to go through his head was a fiery hot, insignificantly sized bullet from an Sub-Asian machine gun.
Back at the Hewitt house a lonely mother sits by a fire. She expects the worst yet hopes for the best in a distribution of thought only capable of a loving mother. She prays to The Four Gods for their understanding and guidance. She knows, as the portent tumbleweeds rhythmically bounce past her front door, that something tragic has happened. She begins to cry, something she rarely does, in fact hasn't done since her son's deployment, at the notion of loneliness. The tears run down her face, over her gaunt cheek bones and, after hanging on the line of her jaw, fall onto her knit sweater. The fire she sat before no longer provides the heat is was meant to. The house she sits in no longer provides the shelter it had been built to provide.
Hewitt lies in the dirt. A ring of blood around his perforated helmet has stopped seeping into the sand. And as fast as the bullet had entered his brain and exited, so did the notion that he had ended his family's blood-line. He was to be the last of the Hewitt men, a thought he wished he had garnished long ago. A thought that may have saved his life.
written under the influence by