Lucinda in the passenger seat of a Humvee, afraid, hurtling towards Nürnberg on the A9. Outside, the symmetrical rows of Nazi-planted pine forests click by like the tines of a giant hairbrush. The forest for the trees—a saying that means missing the big picture. Guilty, she thinks. Guilty, guilty, guilty. How could she have been so stupid? She glances at Private Rob Dalton in the driver’s seat. He is out of the uniform he wore when she met him on post. Its patches and pins told one story—private first class, Dalton, 82nd Airborne, US Army. The black wife-beater T-shirt he wears now tells another, and she can see the tattoos that spread from his wrists to his collar bones, a ménage of contradictory symbols—a swastika, peace sign, encircled A of the anarchy symbol, Celtic cross, sign of the Tao, Dead Kennedys logo, Confederate flag, even the golden arches—M for McDonald’s. Could he explain? She shouldn’t have asked, but she did, and now he is trying.
“Nazi punk feels right to me,” he says. He is excited to be stationed in Germany for that very reason, and he’s hoping to hook up with “the real thing” while he is here. Rob reaches into a bag of gummi bears that he brought for her. His tour through the ideologies represented in his tattoos has stalled out on the swastika.
“What real thing?” Lucinda asks.
“Nazis. Nazi Punks. Ought to be some people I can call friend at the gig tonight,” he says.
The inside of the Humvee smells like axle grease and diesel fuel, a combination that invokes her father as strongly as if he had been sitting next to her chuckling over her “date” as he had that afternoon at his office when she told him she was going to Nürnberg with Rob. “I thought you wouldn’t date GI’s,” he had said, leaning on a file cabinet. She had been about to explain that it wasn’t a date, just a ride, but his condescension infuriated her—he, a man who had lost his marriage because he had no scruples, acting as if she had violated her own. “Sometimes things just happen,” she’d said, echoing his explanation to her of why he had cheated on her mother. He had told Lucinda too much then, about the power of lust, about the taste of new sexual conquest, and she hoped the shadow of his own words would make him queasy now.
They are on their way to the Tiefes Loch, a punk club in Nürnberg’s warehouse district, an hour west of the US base at Grafenwöhr. She is with Rob because he made her a fake ID card and because he told her he had a car. But he doesn’t have a car. The Humvee belongs to the Army, and Lucinda is afraid to ask how he got it from the motorpool. Same way he made her an ID card that says she is 18—illegally. She’d had her reservations about Rob from the beginning, but he seemed no more than an over-eager dork she could use for the fake ID and his car. She might have cancelled but for her father’s teasing, and now she feels like she is on a date. It isn’t a good feeling. The gummi bears seem to represent what a corsage does in teen movies featuring a prom. Instead of pinning flowers to her chest, he tells her she can have all the red ones. Then he calls Abraham Lincoln the biggest thug in American history, and although he is a GI in the US Army, he refers several times to “the Yankee Guvment” and challenges its legitimacy. Lucinda tries to untangle what he is saying. “What about freedom?” she asks. Lucinda loves punk rock’s radical freedom and she can’t understand how Rob could think Naziism has anything to do with it.
“I’m all about freedom,” he says, rounding his bulldog-like torso about the steering wheel to show her the word FREEDOM stenciled between his shoulder blades, “Freedom to kick some ass!” He laughs and Lucinda cleaves to the passenger-side door. Outside, darkness is falling and she can’t see the forest or the trees anymore. Just the autobahn blacktop unrolling ahead of them and the taillights of cars swimming by and passing in front of the Humvee. Rob takes offense at each car that passes. “If I had my El Camino I’d show these krauts a thing or two,” he says. He breaks into song, “Sweet Home Alabama.”
Lucinda knows she shouldn’t, but she says, “Lynyrd Skynyrd? That’s not very punk, Private Dalton.”
“Don’t call me that name. That’s my slave name.”
“Your slave name.” She looks at the Confederate flag on his right forearm. “What should I call you?”
“Toxic,” he grins at her. “I am Toxic.”
She met Toxic two months ago, when she had a duplicate I.D. card made to replace the one she’d lost on her trip back to Germany from Oklahoma after her mother had kicked her out. Her Dad had taken her in, flown her to Germany, then sent her to get a new I.D. card once she arrived and found it missing. Toxic was Private Dalton then, a squat, muscular GI telling her to stare at a spot above the camera lens as he shot her picture. She was wearing a Hüsker Dü t-shirt, which instantly meant a lot to him—Land Speed Record—and he received her presence on the slick padded swivel stool like the message he had been waiting for. “What are the odds?” he kept saying. “What are the odds on that?” Lucinda’s black and white t-shirt showed the album cover—a WWII photograph of six military caskets draped with American flags. An eery image, so Toxic’s strong reaction to her shirt hadn’t surprised her as much as maybe it should have. She had taken his instant interest to be an example of the esprit de corp among underground music fans. Besides, she could see that he was lonely. He wanted friends. She ran into him a few more times on the street where, one afternoon, he offered to make a fake ID for her so she could go with him to shows at the Tiefes Loch where all the good bands played in Bavaria. Lucinda was dying to see the place firsthand.
Toxic said he went every weekend, but it is clear to her now that he has never been to the club. “Keep your eyes peeled for Maxplatz,” he says, concentrating as the autobahn gives way to the city’s narrow streets. Nürnberg at night looks like a fairy tale, with the medieval city walls and old churches lit up while the modern buildings fade to shadows. When they find the club, no one asks for her ID and she learns she’ll only need it if she wants hard liquor. She knew beer drinking was legal at 16, but she didn’t know she could get into a nightclub.
So she’s legal, but when she tells Toxic the fake ID is unnecessary, he isn’t ready for her to forget her debt to him. “Took balls for me to make those ID’s,” he says, cupping his crotch in an illustrative gesture. “Nobody thinks they can fuck with the Yankee guvment, but the system is decayed. I can do whatever the fuck I want.”
“But maybe I should throw it away,” she says. “You could get in real trouble for making it.”
“They won’t do shit—slap my wrist—that’s all.”
Low brick ceilings with arched doorways make the place feel like a war bunker, and even the long room with the stage set up on a low platform in front feels cramped—a slam dancer thrown too high into the air could easily hit the ceiling, which is hard to see despite its closeness, obscured as it is by all the cigarette smoke. The band, an American hardcore group, stripped down and visceral, is thrashing through their first set as Lucinda and Toxic push through the crowd. The Sub Plots from Redondo Beach, California. They bring a whiff of home, and it’s much different from the German punk scene, which is theatrical, lugubrious, almost comic in its angst. She watches the band members lean into their set as if the music is a writhing animal they are killing on the floor of the stage, plaid shirts tied around their waists, bare-chested, short hair. The German punks look overdressed in comparison, a sea of black and purple, lycra, leather, fishnets and black lipstick, black eyeliner. Lucinda fits right in with the Germans with her high-buttoned black Victorian blouse and black jeans, but she feels a rush of identification with the band—American—that’s me.
When she was back home, she felt just the opposite, distant from the ahistorical mall life everybody else was living. At such moments she feels that she is more European than American and she dreads going back to the States again, back to another job in fast food, back to guys who are football fanatics and the homogenous sounds of Top 40 radio. But the Sub Plots awaken her patriotism. Hard-driving and straight forward, they make her jump, make her sweat, make her lose herself in the rhythmic rise and fall of the crowd. Toxic sticks close at first, a protective arm at her waist. She pushes him away again and again. The best way to get through the night is not to think about poor, confused Toxic, who, she thinks, probably doesn’t even know who the current German prime minister is, much less Hitler. But curiosity gets the better of her and she shouts in his ear “Who was Hitler?”
He looks down at her as if this is a very good question. “The guy with the mustache.” He moves toward her, and she finds herself moving away from him through the crowd, pressing towards the front. The strobe lights are cutting holes through her brain, through her mind, and for a moment she is afraid she’ll go into an epileptic seizure—the first in over a year. She remembers the last seizure, coming out of it to find herself sprawled across the sofa in her friend Tina’s quarters, Tina’s father in pressed jeans looking down at her silently while his wife stood behind him in a cocktail dress, staring at Lucinda with a look of shock and disgust on her face. Lucinda remembered the woman’s hair, ratted and teased to an impossible height, and that she’d had an affair with Lucinda’s dad.
“Hey,” Toxic says, as if reading her mind by the light of the strobes, “I’ve seen your old man.”
She blinks at him. “Yeah?”
“You got some issues with him, don’t you?”
She closes her eyes. The strobes are doling out too much information to this little man. “What makes you say that?”
“I don’t much like him, either,” says Toxic. “Major Collins. He’s one of them motherfucking sheep who thinks he’s a wolf.”
“True enough,” Lucinda says. And it is, but something in her objects to the pronouncement coming from Toxic. As they rock with the movement of the crowd pressed around them she is visited suddenly by a moment of clarity, a feeling she remembers from her epileptic childhood, a calm in the mind that sometimes follows the cataclysm. How odd, she thinks, to feel it now, without having to go through the seizure first. A freebie. In the clear, calm space that is suddenly available to her she sees her father, the unfaithful, self-absorbed rat that he is, and she feels all her frustrations with him overtaken by a strange, almost giddy rush of gratitude.
Compared to Toxic’s incoherent cultural compost, her father’s attitudes seem cozy, his narcissism the devil that she knows. The devil that she doesn’t know smells sweet, like some sort of candy-flavored cologne and is a thousand times scarier, his allegiances too contradictory for her to predict what he means or what he’ll do. Still, she reminds herself, relating more to her father than this little creep isn’t exactly solidarity with the patriarch. It’s a question of degree.
“At least he’s not a little Nazi,” Lucinda says.
“A what?” asks Toxic, moving closer.
Lucinda smiles, dances away from him.
Toxic nods at her, grins. “Guess I’ll take him down a peg or two.”
“I got you, don’t I?”
The music is beyond loud and she isn’t sure if she heard him correctly. He isn’t looking at her, but is straining to see the band above the heads of the crowd. They’re at the back of the room but the centrifugal force of the mosh pit still threatens to suck them in. “My Dad doesn’t care what I do,” she shouts, hoping to diffuse any plan he may have to use her—to what end she can’t imagine, and is afraid to try. “He doesn’t care about me.”
Lucinda’s first knowledge of punk came as sight before sound one rainy day in Berlin. It was years before, back when the Collinses first arrived in Germany. They were doing the tourist thing and had just hopped on a tram to take them from Checkpoint Charlie, where her father had surprised them all by getting uncharacteristically vocal about the partitioning of the country and the whole business of the cold war. They all wanted to go for ice cream and he had gotten angry at what he thought was their equating the wall with dessert. The kids on the other side of the wall couldn’t have ice cream any old time, could they? Feeling chastened but no less hungry, they settled in to the slick plastic seats. Lucinda took a window seat and had watched from the steamed bus windows as a young woman with an orange Mohawk and dressed in a garbage bag with chains wrapped around her torso and legs attempted to board the bus. The chains hitched her stride so she couldn’t step up the bus steps, causing laughter on the bus as everyone watched her hop and hobble.
Lucinda was accustomed to an informed explanation from her parents when they ran across things she hadn’t seen before, but now they struggled to assimilate the woman into any preexisting order they knew. “She wants attention, she’s got it,” her mother said. Her father had looked at the woman as if she were nonhuman, with the special contempt he reserved for unattractive women—what was the point of her? What was her life worth? In their laughter, Lucinda detected real discomfort. Lucinda hadn’t laughed—the public humiliation mortified her and she ached for the woman, who looked like a Dickensian ghost dragging her misdeeds in broad daylight. Rain fell as the punker struggled to board the bus and orange hair dye ran down her face in serpentine rivulets, the proud spikes of her Mohawk melting like hot metal.
Toxic seems to have forgotten about her for the moment, having tossed himself into the middle of the mosh pit. Lucinda watches as he is sucked under like a ship in a hurricane, reappearing every few seconds as the waves of bodies part. She works to push her way to the front of the stage, noticing as she does that the slam dancers in the pit are all guys and that all the women in the club line the walls, out of the fray. She’s no fanatic, but she has come to see the show and she’s going to see it. Making it to the front by skirting the mosh pit, she plants her hands on the stage, which is elevated to the height of her ribcage. She’s got the bass player’s legs planted on either side of her hands and if she looks up she sees right up his shorts, everything, the whole package. She imagines answering questions at school about the show—were you close to the band?—Oh, yeah. The force of the crowd surges, pushing at her again and again with the weight of a hundred people grinding her ribs against the edge of the stage. She feels like her spine is touching her sternum, every centimeter of breath squeezed from her body and she realizes why none of the other women are up front. She imagines dying here, wonders if her father would grieve, if her mother would come get her, where on the planet they would bury her.
In the nanosecond between songs the bass player reaches down and pulls her out of the pit, pushing her to the side of the stage with a hand on the small of her back. “Get out of here,” he says. She runs to keep from falling, finding herself in a five-foot margin between the stage and the wall, behind a black curtain and in front of an open cooler full of beers. She lifts her shirt, feels her ribs but can’t tell if anything is broken. Helping herself to a beer, she peeks out of the curtain and watches the show. After a few minutes the lead singer starts yelling at the crowd, telling them to calm down. There’s a fight in the pit—not the swirling violence of its usual motion, but a fight that kills the rhythm and brings the moshing to a stop around a small group. Then she hears Toxic yelling “Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!” The crowd responds with a low rumble and a rip and then she sees Toxic lifted high into the air. The crowd spews him out like flesh pushing out a splinter, and he is carried across the top of the crowd toward Lucinda’s hiding place into the waiting arms of two security guards, who receive him like he’s a baby having a tantrum. Toxic is screaming the whole time.
The bouncers have him by the shoulders, holding him down against the side of the stage. “You are a Nazi?” one of them asks in English. Large and longhaired, he looks like he should be wearing skins. Toxic’s small eyes dart over the man’s face, trying to divine the right answer, as if the man might clasp him to his bosom if he says yes. Lucinda’s got a bird’s eye view of the conversation, watching from above, from behind the curtain. Toxic looks small and pitiable, and she realizes, as she watches him search for the right answer, that he is more ignorant even than she thought. Punks aren’t Nazis. But more importantly, most Germans are not amused by any reminder of this part of their past. They’re sensitive about it. Lucinda remembers a couple of years earlier at Halloween when her little brother emerged from the bathroom, ready to walk in a parade through old town Grafenwöhr done up like Hitler. Lucinda’s mother stopped him. “It’s not a joke,” she said, holding his jaw firmly in one hand and wiping the penciled-in moustache from his upper lip. “We’re an hour outside of Dachau. You want to get beat up?” Here in Nürnberg, where the Nazi party officials were famously tried, the same question echoed through Lucinda’s head.
Toxic answers wrong—to both questions. “Hell yeah,” he says. “Fuckin’ A.”
The band finishes another song and the lead singer, a wiry blond with long surfer bangs comes over in time to catch the guard’s question and Toxic’s response. “You’re American?” he says.
Before Toxic answers, the lead singer swings back to the mic, shouting something at the band, and says, “Just so there’s no confusion about how we feel about this fascist bullshit in the states, we wanna do this next song for our American friend here. We don’t play a lot of covers, but the Dead Kennedys said it best.” They launch into “Nazi Punks Fuck Off!” The mosh pit convulses like a giant mouth. Lucinda watches as Toxic stands still between the bouncers, bemused, glancing at the Dead Kennedys tattoo on his left forearm like it has betrayed him. The lead singer runs across the stage and stands above Toxic, pointing at him when he gets to the lyric, “In the real fourth reich, you’ll be the first to go!”
The crowd echoes the line—“first to go, first to go,” directing fists, spit, beer, and lit cigarettes at Toxic. He purses his lips and looks at the floor, letting the top of his head take the brunt of the barrage. He’s at the edge of the mosh pit and then, like that, he’s in it. Lucinda can’t tell if he jumped in or was pulled, but suddenly he’s not there anymore. She comes out from behind the stage and stands over the edge, looking, but the room is full of shadows and the pit is circling fast.
Lucinda spent April 29th at Dachau a few years running when she was a kid. The date marks the anniversary of the camp’s liberation, and her father was repeatedly part of a ceremony, standing with a row of officers in his dress blues before a bed of daffodils and tulips while US and German officials made speeches. Although she knew World War II was long past, it took the young Lucinda awhile to keep the Nazis separate from the communists and to remember whose threat had caused her own family to be uprooted. That US troops were now in place to defend Germany against communism across the iron curtain was hard for a child to keep straight when evidence of the Nazis was everywhere in Germany and the communists were nowhere to be seen except across the Czech border, where Lucinda had once glimpsed a single fur-hatted soldier atop a watchtower. The grass is always greener on the other side—a saying that means it’s easy to glamorize what you don’t have, to take for granted what you do. Lucinda remembers her first visit to Dachau, the fifteen-foot hills at Dachau covered in bright green grass while everywhere else the grass was still brown. Mass graves, mounds of bodies, fertilizing the grass. Lucinda had thrown up when her father explained. Shouldering through the bar, looking for Toxic to start the ride home she’s dreading, she thinks about the green grass of Dachau.
She looks around at the primary colors of so many tortured hairdos against the black pallet of the clothing, the punk uniform. When she thinks of punk rock she thinks of that look of incomprehension on her parents’ faces in Berlin as they tried to make sense of the girl wrapped in chains at the Checkpoint Charlie tram stop; she had thought, here at last is something out of bounds. But every system has its uniform, and here is the uniform all around her, as regimented as a roomful of GI’s, and proof that what started as pure emotion has hardened into just another codified set of rules for representing abstractions. The music is real, though. It plays and there is something outside of language at its center, swirled in violence, something as the song goes off the rails and the lead singer of the Sub Plots screams like there’s no other way to respond to this life. Then the guitar takes off into a solo that sounds like the cry of an animal sucked into a garbage disposal. The white-hot center—Lucinda swims towards it, and the purple and black crowd fades out of her consciousness for as long as the band plays. She gives herself over to the music, her body lifting off the floor, rising and falling with the motion of the tightly packed crowd. But then she sees Toxic. Off to her right, the men’s restroom door swings open and she catches sight of rows of men urinating with their backs to her, framed by the club’s surrounding darkness. In a corner of the restroom by the sinks she catches sight of Toxic’s face, pale between the shoulders of men who surround him, all in motion. She sees one punch connect before the door swings shut. She turns back to the band and closes her eyes, letting the music take her.
Cars flash by them as Lucinda holds the Humvee to its lane and tries to keep it going above 60 miles per hour instead of half that speed, where she feels in control of the vehicle. She has never driven on the autobahn before, never driven anywhere but the dirt roads of the training area between Grafenwöhr and Vilseck, where she learned to drive a stick in the deep ruts made by M-1 tanks that kept her in their path like a train on a track. She has no license. In the passenger seat, Toxic passes in and out of consciousness. He is a bloody mess, nose broken, one eye swollen shut, ears bleeding. It looks like someone has tried to cut the swastika tattoo off his chest—flesh is opened and bleeding from a line cut horizontally across the symbol. When the band finished and the crowd dispersed, she found him at the bar knocking back a row of shots and pouring one over his open wound, pounding the bar and gritting his teeth as the alcohol hit his flesh. When he saw her next to him he asked if she liked the show.
“Great band,” she said.
“They sucked,” he said. He made no reference to what had happened and seemed to hope she hadn’t seen it.
She takes her eyes away from the road long enough to look at his face lolling against the headrest in a streak of light from the headlights on the other side of the road.
“Hey,” he says.
“You think you’re smarter than me?”
Lucinda watches the road. She’s determined not to engage him, not to fight. He looks docile now, but she remembers him yelling, flailing, fighting, and she doesn’t want to reawaken that rage.
“I seen you walking home lots of times,” he says.
If she looks at his wounds, she feels sorry for him, but she doesn’t want to feel sorry for him. After all, he hadn’t crumpled and apologized the way she thought he would when he found out nobody else in the club was a Nazi. She hopes he has only made a misjudgment about how to make friends—she’d rather think he is amoral and clueless than that he’s a real fascist—but whatever it is he thinks he stands for, he’s sticking to it.
“You know,” she says, “most of the Germans who fought in WWII weren’t really crazy about Hitler. They were just soldiers who thought they were being patriotic.”
“He looked at her hard. “You know that for a fact, do you?”
“I saw one once. He was just about your age.”
“My age? They’re old now.”
“He was a ghost. I saw him in the elementary school on post. It was the old Nazi hospital. I saw him in the room that used to be the morgue. There was this guy standing there looking out a window, but the window had been sealed shut. There was no window.”
“Maybe he was a crazy guy.”
“No, no. He was a ghost. Nobody else could see him. My dad tried. He came into the room and stood with me. But he couldn’t see it.”
She remembers the feeling of holding her father’s hand and instructing him where to look. It had been one of the only times in her life she knew she had his full attention. It had never mattered to her that he didn’t see the ghost—he seemed to believe it was there. It seemed to matter to him that his daughter had seen what she said she saw.
“A ghost?” Toxic whistles. “You’re trying to trip me out now.”
“Sorry. I doubt I’d believe a story like that. I never tell anyone, but all this Nazi business tonight reminded me.” That isn’t a good enough reason, though. She isn’t sure why she has told him the story, except that it represents her only other moment of sympathy with a Nazi. She thinks maybe if she can share it with him, she can find some common ground, enough to get home on.
If her motive is to unnerve him, she has failed. Toxic is cool with ghosts. “You think he’s still there?”
“I have no idea. I try not to think about it.”
“Why do you think he’s haunting the place? No rest for the wicked?”
“He wants something.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to believe in ghosts,” she says.
“I believe in everything,” he says in an exhausted voice, as if the effort of so much believing had cost him.
She looks again at the tattoos running the length of his arms. “That’s right, you do, don’t you?”
“Listen to me. Ghosts are hardy bastards. They’re real pests. Me and my Uncle Frank got rid of one once,” he says.
His eyes are closed and he has a hand pressed to his brow. “You’ve got to total the building the ghost is haunting. There was this old lady ghost in a house we was renting. We had to level the place–wrapped .8 gauge chains round and round it, hooked the rope to the back of his truck and pulled the place down. My uncle called it redneck demolition. No more ghost. She’s at peace. It was the right thing to do.”
Lucinda thinks of the chains the punk girl in Berlin had wrapped herself in, imagining what would have happened if someone had taken one end and pulled. How does he know she’s at peace? “Are you saying somebody should pull the school down?” she asks, but Toxic has drifted off again, and Lucinda turns her attention to the smooth, unfolding highway, glad she can relax. Creepy place, that school, probably full of asbestos, lead paint, not to mention Nazi ghosts. She drives, eating a wad of melted gummi bears from the bag Toxic took out of his jean pocket until she sees a sign for exit B299, the Grafenwöhr exit, five miles ahead.
They get back to the base about four o’clock in the morning. She parks the Humvee near the motorpool, in an empty parking lot, and wakes Toxic up. She isn’t sure how he got the vehicle, probably out the back gate, but she plans to let him put it back without her assistance. She’s a ten-minute walk from the quarters she shares with her father and she thinks she can slip in without waking him if she gets there soon.
Toxic startles awake. “We here?” he asks, looking around. In one sweeping motion, he grabs her, coming forward and pinning her against the driver’s seat. He’s incredibly strong, and Lucinda finds herself unable to move him at all, his stocky torso pressed against her like a wall, while he grabs at the buttons of her jeans. But the pants don’t yield easily, the denim too tough to rend. “Cut it out,” she yells, and he gets more and more agitated. “You idiot! Get off me!” She is fighting with all her strength, the lowgrade fear she has felt all night ramping up into a rage that’s got adrenaline behind it, something with force. The candy-smell of his cologne is all around her now, seeming to activate from within his pores as they struggle. It looks like he’s still asleep, but Lucinda knows this is not the case. He’s in a different state, trance-like, but awake, struggling to hold her. She can’t quite believe he’s serious, although each second removes her doubts as she confronts the brute fact of his superior strength and that he really is using it against her.
While he wrestles with her jeans, she works her left leg up and hits the horn on the steering wheel, pressing it as hard as she can.
The sound of the horn shatters the air, and Toxic freezes. “Dammit!” he says, pulling away from her. His expression is one of surprise and betrayal, as if he can’t believe she would do this to him. As soon as he lifts off her she pushes the door lever and slides out the driver’s side like spilling liquid. On the pavement, she picks herself up and runs full speed without looking back. She hears him behind her, yelling that he’s sorry, that he’ll make it up to her.
It’s still early—not yet 6:00—when the phone rings in the living room. From under the covers, still in the clothes she wore to the Tiefes Loch, she hears her father walk down the hall in his bare feet and pick up the receiver. She thinks it must be her brother or sister calling from the States. Maybe her mother, calling for her. She wishes, not for the first time, that she had made up with her mother and stayed in Lawton instead of flinging herself across the Atlantic again to this armed garrison, like some plant that thrives in the artificial confines of a pot instead of in the earth where its roots can unfurl and dig in. She thinks of her mother’s calm bedside manner, the way her normally nervous energy smooths out when something heavy is going down—she’s great in a crisis. If her mother were here, Lucinda knows she probably wouldn’t tell her what had happened, but it would help seeing her face. She listens to her father’s voice, thinking she’ll get up and talk on the phone, too. But she can hear that it isn’t family. His voice has the hard, impersonal edge it gets when he’s talking to someone he works with. And there is some sort of crisis—she hears surprise in his voice.
Before her father is off the phone, another sound rumbles through the apartment. Lucinda watches the long, jagged crack in her ceiling, caused by the constant vibrations of artillery fire, begin to shake and move. She has heard the sound all her life, but never in a residential area. It’s a tank. Lucinda throws off her blankets and runs to the picture window in the living room that looks out on the street two stories below. Her father has hung up the phone and is standing in the window with both hands on his head, his expression a prolonged wince. She looks out the window. Sure enough, an M-1 is rolling down the street in front of their apartment building. It cuts right as she watches, rolling over a curb and crushing a yield sign as it makes its way across the soccer field. On the other side of the field is the elementary school—the old Nazi hospital.
“What’s going on?” Lucinda asks.
“Some kid,” her father says. “They don’t know who it is yet. Probably drunk or messed up on drugs. I gotta get down there.”
It’s Toxic. Lucinda knows this. It’s Toxic, come to exorcise the building. She remembers his cries of remorse as she ran from the Humvee earlier that morning. His promise to make it up to her. “What will they do to him?” Lucinda asks, watching the long cannon of the tank swing from side to side like a frantic eye searching for something.
Her father pauses. “If he doesn’t hurt anyone he may make it out alive.”
“Alive?” Lucinda says. She still feels his body pressed against her, his sickly sweet cologne, and she isn’t sure what to feel. She has lain awake since sneaking back into the house, seething, waiting for her father to get up and leave so she could shower the filth of Toxic, of the whole night, from her skin. She even stood outside her father’s bedroom door for some long minutes, working up the nerve to knock and tell him what had happened. But the longer she stood there, the more uncertain she was of her father’s response. Besides, she has handled the situation herself. Fought Toxic off, gotten away. She doesn’t need further assistance. Now the idea that Toxic may be in grave trouble strikes her funny. She imagines sitting in a courtroom while he explains redneck demolition and exorcism to a military tribunal. If he gets himself killed she’ll never get to hear what he was thinking. But then, neither will her father and the rest of the base.
Her father pulls his eyes from the window and scans her up and down, arms crossed over his chest. “Why are you dressed like that?”
“Woke up early,” she says, placing a hand self-consciously over the pearl buttons of her vintage black blouse. Lots of war widows in Germany made for rich thrift store pickings. “This is new.”
He turns back to the window. “That equipment costs more than that boy will make his entire working life,” he says. “It’s worth more than he is.”
He disappears into his room and two minutes later comes out dressed in fatigues. She watches him leave, then takes off for the school on foot a few minutes behind him.
When she reaches the school, MP cars have formed a semi-circle behind the tank, which is crashing slowly through an outer wall of the old building. Lucinda watches as the ornamental swastika high on the wall, mortared in after the war, reappears, its mortar shaken loose a few seconds before the wall itself crumbles. The MP lights flash in the gray morning light, synchronized with the rise and fall of the car sirens like the light show at the concert the night before. Her father and a knot of other personnel stand behind the police line watching the tank while MP’s in black helmets line up like a firing squad, M-16’s pointed at the tank. The tank has knocked out the walls on the east end of the building, leaving two classrooms open like rooms in a dollhouse. Small desks crumple under the tank, which is quickly decorated with swirling papers. Pieces of brightly colored cardboard hang from bulletin boards and a green chalkboard cracks and buckles. The rear wall is next, and the tank breaches it in one giant push, rolling through the hole it creates, which Lucinda notices is at the bricked-in window where her ghost had stood when she saw him years ago. The long cannon swings from side to side, clearing the space before it. Then the tank stops, its engine switched off. The police sirens are still blaring, but without the rough noise of the tank, silence filters through the rhythmic wails like water rising around a sinking vessel.
Nothing happens. The tank sits still. It reminds her of a toad in a shoebox, trying to camoflauge itself in the wrong environment, the M-1’s green body framed by the white plaster and concrete of the building it has just destroyed. She hears her name being called and thinks for a moment that it’s Toxic calling her somehow from within the tank, but then she sees her father watching her. He leaves his group and strides over angrily.
“What are you doing here?”
She shrugs. “Best show in town this morning.”
“How did you know where to come?”
“Like it’s hard to follow a runaway tank.” She looks up at him and sees that he is only half listening to her. Suddenly she wants to break through the distance between them worse than anything in the world. She wants to tell him about Private Rob Dalton, his idiot nickname and his idiot tattoos; she wants the joke to be funny and the night to have stopped before Toxic laid hands on her. She thinks that whatever separates them is immaterial, a wall to be pulled down.
“Whoever this is,” her father says, “he could come out shooting. Get the hell out of here, Lucinda.”
“Did you notice what he destroyed?” she asks. “Remember, Dad? Do you remember?”
“The Nazi ghost.”
He puts his hands on his hips and looks at the rubble for a minute. “This old post is full of them, I guess,” he says.
She starts to protest—she’s sure that if she explains, the memory will come to him—but she can see in his eyes that he doesn’t remember, a realization too depressing to fight. “I guess so,” she says.
“You went to school here, didn’t you?”
“Yeah. All three of us did. That’s my old classroom.”
Then he looks at her, suspicion dawning. “You don’t have anything to do with this, do you?”
“No!” she says, hands up in a gesture of innocence. “How could I?”
Her father looks over her head at the tank. “I wonder what the hell he thinks he’s doing?”
As they watch, the top hatch of the tank opens a crack and Toxic’s black wife-beater T-shirt flies out, waving limply. They hear the voice of an MP speaking through a megaphone to assure him that he’s safe. Then the hatch opens all the way and Toxic emerges with his hands high above his head. From where Lucinda is standing, the tattoos that cover his arms form an indistinct pattern. “Who knows?” Lucinda says. “I’m sure he thinks it means something.” She looks at the space where her ghost had stood. It is all wide open now, the playground behind the school showing through, with the first rays of morning sun glinting off the chains of the swing set.