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Field Protective Mask

Story by Christopher Notarnicola (Read author interview) December 19, 2016

Art by Julian Böck

There is a public restroom in the Dadeland mall which smells so much like the inside of the M40 field protective mask that he stops to check his right side as the door swings closed. He doesn’t wear a belt anymore. The sound of the door latch is so close to the sound an M16 service rifle makes when the bolt is released into the upper receiver, when it’s sent home, when it crashes into the chamber that he laughs at the comparison.

Two of three urinals are wrapped in black garbage bags. A paper sign reads Out of Service. Tiles around the toilets are wet. Stalls are unoccupied. One toilet is covered in liquid shit and yellowed tissue. A face hides behind an illegible signature—black swirls across a mirror above the sink. He runs the push-button faucet. No one speaks directly about what he is supposed to do. Some places smell like gas masks. He pulls a paper towel from plastic teeth, blocks the drain holes. Water rinses the bowl and rises. He bends, lowers his face, splashes. Droplets slip down his chin, around his neck, fall to the counter, to the floor. A scream might help. The faucet stops itself. He laughs to think that this should be his disorder.

Action. The movie version of himself screams into the sink something that would shatter the porcelain and the mirror, boil the water, turn the tiles on the floor, bring steam from the walls, burst the pipes, crack apart the fluorescents, rain toxic powder over his eyes and make mud of his face. He screams for his friends still in the Carolinas, California, Al-Anbar, Kabul. A line in the script makes an artful comparison between his voice and a dog whistle, his scream and a death sentence—audible to most, resonant for few. Yellow. Fluid. Nothing moves through space the way it used to. The script doesn’t mention this part. He breaks the fourth wall. The camera pans. A trumpet cuts out a full beat behind the rest of the band. His tinnitus. The shot pans back. His mouth fills. He cries, spits, lifts his head and bleeds water down the drain, laughs. Cut.

Nothing is on his side. He is unequipped. The M40 sometimes smells like chlorine and water. He cleans floors with a similar mixture. The public restroom sets a drama. He edits on the fly and tells himself stories which make him laugh, machine gun rattle like an inside joke, flashes on a darkened hillside, impacts like nearby whispers and laughs like stories of relief. Everything has similar sounds. No one stays the same shape forever. Some things smell like other things. Friends are waiting in the food court. He opens the door and backs against a wall to allow room for a stranger. A silence passes between them. He listens for the door, breathes in through his nose, laughs to exhale, then exits. He listens for the sound again on his way out.

About the Author

Christopher Notarnicola studies writing at Florida Atlantic University. His work has appeared in Noise Medium and North American Review. He lives in Pompano Beach, Florida.

About the Artist

More of Julian Böck‘s photography can be seen at Unsplash.

This story appeared in Issue Fifty-Four of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-Four

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