An Excerpt from my short story: "Close to the Bones." It'll be published in Hong Kong's Asia Literary Journal.
This is our European vacation: our last as a family unit. I don’t remember much about getting to Waterloo, except that the countryside was streaked and blurred, light over darker green under a dismal grey sky. Father drove; I had the map; Mother had a headache and complained about the cold, why we didn’t go to the hotel first to drop off our luggage and what the rush was to see another battlefield, in Belgium of all places.
I gave wrong directions. Father cursed, calling me names in French. I was rude, also in French, which surprised him since I rarely spoke the language. Everyone was tense. We’d turned into an American family, complete with sullen teenager and bickering parents.
It was still bright out when we reached windswept Mount St. Jean – more a topographical bump, really – that overlooked the battlefield. Mother declined the climb, made a show of sniffling, and went to the souvenir shop for hot chocolate. Father was flailing by the time we reached the top, but I could tell he was excited and all at once he was pointing wildly and talking and trying to catch his breath. There, Napoleon’s army stood. Over there stood Wellington. It is close, very close. The Imperial Guard, the crème de la France, he calls them, assail the British line at great cost and victory is within his grasp when, from there, the Prussians come. Father’s favourite military tactician has lost and is exiled to St. Helena, where he dies.
After so many years of hearing this story, it should have meant something to finally see the place, but that summer afternoon I was homesick and missed K. and was replaying over and over our first kiss by the ocean. It was why I misread the map, why it was not until Father stopped talking and looked out to the far off distant in the direction of Napoleon’s flight that I actually looked around me. There was no war here, just a gossamer mist drifting over green pasture, the air faintly smelling of upturned earth, the wind in my ears.
I looked at Father, who, his story done, seemed so alone and a little lost. His sparse hair was tussled by the wind, his face contemplative. It came to me then that this was how he looked on that naval ship as they headed to Subic Bay. I saw him staring at his gun for a long, long time before he tossed it into the sea.
A deep sadness welled up in me and lodged in my throat. I felt like I was suffocating, and had to turn away for fear that Father might see tears brimming in my eyes and think that I, too, was mourning Napoleon’s defeat.