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Voices from Below the Mountain
Dan Allawat

Sometimes, on clear and windless nights, on nights when sleep fails to accept me, I can hear those trucks rolling down Interstate 40 some five miles away. When my older brother Tim still lived at home, in this same room as I, he would always tell me I was full of it for saying such a thing. He would swing his head down over the side of his mattress, from up on the top bunk, and tell me there was no way a human could hear the highway from our house way up on the side of the mountain, but probably a dog could. Then he would ask me if I was a dog and jump down and twist my arm till I barked like one. Now that Tim’s gone I sleep in the top bunk, even though it’s not the same as when Tim slept there. He had me down there to talk to, or fight with, or just to hear another person sleeping. I have no one down there.

He came home once for a few days. That was after boot camp. I didn’t see him that much though. Mostly he just ran around with his old high school friends till real late at night and by the time he got home he just slurred a few words to us about how great the Army was and then he would just pass out. Dad said he was just out sowing his oats and that was fine because he was a man now. I guess it had something to do with his new haircut.

It had been a long time since we heard anything from Tim. Momma read the letter he wrote after dinner, while dad and I ate cold peaches from the refrigerator out on the back porch. We could hear momma crying in there with that letter but we pretended we didn’t hear. Eventually she came out and sat with us, that letter balled up like a handkerchief in her fist. When she saw me looking at it she just smiled at me and started pressing the wrinkles out of it as best she could against her faded blue dress.

Momma said that Tim said to tell me hi and that when he came home he was going to make me bark like a dog all night. We all laughed that. Then she told us some other things. She said that Tim said it was really hot over there and it was hard to keep anything clean because of all that sand. He also said that the convoys were sometimes long and tiring but that he was all right and not to worry. She finished by telling us that Tim said it would be difficult get letters out for the next few months but he would try to write when he could. I asked momma if he said anything else and she just shook her head no. I could tell though, by the way she was looking at dad, that there was more and she would tell him later.

It’s dark now and the house is still. I’m in the top bunk but the bottom one is empty. I can hear the television from the living room and mom and dad are in there talking quietly. They talk so quietly, knowing I can hear things, like those trucks out on that highway at night.