The Interview


Did you intend to become a hero?

—No.  Actually, I signed on as a medic. 

—So how did you become involved?

—At one point enough assault rifles became available that they handed them out to everyone.

—But you found you could handle the weapon competently?

—To my surprise, yes.  But only when the moment occurred.  Until that point it was standing in the corner of the tent while we played Hearts.

—Hearts?

—It's a card game.  The rules are simple.

—And then?

—Then it all happened.  It's just as I described in my statement.

—You understand why we called you here?

—To receive a medal.

—That's right.  We want to give you a medal.

—Some of us do.  Others are not so convinced.

—I don't understand.  Are there questions?

—Yes, there are questions.  We have a number of questions.  Please do your best to answer them.

—I think I understand.  Will it take long?

—It shouldn't take long at all.  We just need to ask some questions.

—The central question is, Were you brave?

—Did you demonstrate bravery beyond what is commonly expected?

—Were you, in a word, heroic?

—That's what we want to determine.

—That's what we will determine.

—So you see why we called you here.

—I think so.  Although I don't know what I could add to my statement.  I wrote down everything I could think of.  I even asked one of my tent mates to look it over.

—Are you saying you collaborated with someone regarding your statement?

—No, no, of course not.

—Are you saying that you changed your statement in some way?  In some way that might, in the future, earn you a medal?

—No, I'm . . . I'm not saying that at all.  I'm just saying that I included all the facts.

—Facts are important.

—They're vital.

—But they may be insufficient.

—I don't need to tell you how important this inquiry is.

—It's very important.

—It's not just the medal.

—It's the prestige.

—It has repercussions far beyond this room.

—So it's important that we understand exactly what occurred.

—Get down to the heart of the matter, so to speak.

—Later you'll be informed of the committee's decision.  You'll be informed by post.  You may be informed by fax as well.

—But right now we need to get down to the heart of the matter.  How do you spend your free time?

—Free time?

—Yes.  How do you spend it?

—At home, mostly.

—Good.  What is your occupation?

—You mean before?

—Yes, before.

—I was a woodworker, and a potter.

—A potter?

—Yes, I make vases, mostly.  Occasionally I also make furniture.

—So you sit around at home making vases and occasionally furniture when the mood strikes you.  Would you characterize that as correct?

—Well, not exactly.  But I do make vases.  Long, thin shapes. 

—One might call it an idyllic life.

—Nothing is as idyllic as it seems.

—Of course not.

—One might say, look, it's a simple life.  Make vases.  Put together a set of Adirondack chairs if someone wants to buy them.  I have a neighbor.  He's my age, but he has blond hair and a swimming pool.  He has a screened-in porch.  I see him on the porch, think, Is he more at ease?  Is he more satisfied than I am?

—Is that the heart of the matter?

—The heart of the matter?  I don't know.  It's just something I was thinking about.  I was saying to my daughter the other day...

—Daughter?

—That's right.

—That suggests a problem.

—A gap in the files.

—What kind of gap in the files?

—There's no mention of a daughter.  When was she born?

—She's nine now.  Her name's Olivia.

—Where is the mother?

—Is that important?

—It's potentially very important.

—We like to know to who we're giving medals.

—We don't give them to just anyone.

—I understand.  But I don't see what my daughter has to do with it.

—We'll make a note.  Let's move along.  Education?

—Normal, I guess.  I graduated high school.  It was a small class, only fifty or so students.

—And would you say at that time that you were determined to become a hero?

—A hero?  No, no.  Not at all.  I traveled for a while.  I had an old car that broke down every time it rained.  I worked as a cook in a truckstop.  The waitresses used to make fun of me because I was so young.  I lost my virginity to one of them in the parking lot.

—Then?

—Eventually the need for drifting stopped.  I met someone, then someone else.  I had a daughter.

—So how did you arrive here?

—Well, I was never much for politics.  But then it seemed that there was a need.  I saw the signs asking for volunteers.  Then the action started.  And then...

—Then what?

—Then I was in my tent, playing Hearts.  I had a weapon, but I always left it in the corner, behind my cot.  I never even cleaned it, not like some guys. It just sat in the corner.  Then we heard a noise, a shout.  Everyone started running.

—It says in your report that you felt "swept up" in the action.  Would you characterize that as correct?

—I guess so.  Isn't that what you give medals for? 

—Just tell us what you remember.

—What I remember?  I remember a lot of things.  I remember . . . I remember when I cut my foot on the beach.  I must have been very small, because I looked for my mother but she was . . . elsewhere.  I don't know where.  Later I saw her standing next to a man, smoking a cigarette.  She was laughing.  By then there was just a soft mark on my foot where the cut had been.

—What else do you remember?

—I remember when my daughter was sick.  She had the croup.  She came downstairs to my workroom.  It was a real damp night, the sweat was soaking my collar.  I was looking at a bowl I had just taken off the wheel.  She had her hand around her throat and her face was red.  She was four years old.  She looked like she had swallowed an orange, a whole orange, and was now trying to force it down.  I picked her up and drove her to the hospital.  She held her head out the window the whole time, gagging the air in.

—What else?

—I remember running.  I had just dropped my cards, face up.  I thought, wow, I've got a good hand there.  I'm void in clubs and my highest heart is a ten.  But everyone else was running.  So I picked up the weapon and I ran too.  The weapon was banging clunk clunk against my shoulder, like the lid on a boiling pot.

—And then?

—And then it happened.  There were lots of people.

—Who was involved?

—There was a woman.

—A woman was involved?

—No, I was thinking of a woman.  When I was seventeen I used to watch her . . . she was married.  I saw her in town quite often.  I worked in a store and I would see her through the window.  She wore sunglasses and always put her hair up in a bun that revealed the warmest, sexiest spot on the back of her neck.  She was a boyhood fascination. 

—And then?

—Then it was over.  My feet hurt.  I couldn't wait to get my boots off.  Also I was hungry.  I hadn't felt hungry the whole time.  But then, once I started eating, I couldn't stop.

—Was there anyone else worth mentioning?

—There was one man who returned much later than everyone else.  He had become stuck on a fence.  He was climbing over the fence, stuck, and remained there for the duration of the incident.  He returned to the encampment pulling on the bloody gash on his leg like a zipper.  I hear he's receiving a medal as well.

—So then the issue is settled in your mind?

—Settled?  I guess it is, yes.

—Then you consider yourself heroic?

—Heroic?  I don't know what that is.  I was there.  It happened.  Afterwards I took off my shoes and went home to my daughter.

—But then you decided you wanted a medal.

—At first, no.  I never thought of myself in that way.  But then I thought, if they want to give me a medal, who am I to refuse?  And I began to think about it.  To be honest, I haven't slept well lately.

—Why not?

—One night I woke up and before I knew it I was downstairs, eating pretzels and clearing a spot in the living room.  I sat down and ate a bag of pretzels while I pictured the medal over the fireplace.  The next night I did it again.

—And now?

—Now I think about it.  Constantly.  I've stopped eating.  I've lost weight.

—Not very heroic.

—There is no heroism.  There are only medals.

—And yet you want one anyway.

(Pause.)

—Yes.

—I'm sorry.  We couldn't hear you.

—I said, yes.

—We still can't hear you.

—Yes.

—Louder.

—Yes.

—I said, sir, do you want a medal?

—Sir, yes sir, I want it.  Yes.

(Pause.)

—Maybe I could have a cigarette.

—What?

—I was wondering if any of you have a cigarette.

—Here.  Shall I light it for you?

—Not necessary.

—Are you sure?

—I expect you're amused by the spectacle of a one-armed man trying to light a cigarette.

—Did you hear that?  He's worried about amusing us.

—So how did you lose the arm?

—That happened after.  Let's say I was the hero of the potter's wheel.  

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