Instructions on How to Tell the Mercenary’s Story

Begin with how he ordered a quart of milk. The middle is a good place to start. Who drinks milk at a bar? Then toss in minor details like the way he tipped with five $2 bills under his empty $4 glass, and why he leaves a trail of two-dollar bills whenever he comes back home. You hope to finish with how he feels it’s easy to be clever but only if you’re honest do you have a chance to end up wise.

It’s the in-between parts, the edges and the balance you don’t know how to tell. Landing a plane on a warlord’s road, the windshield taking on bullets, he keeps engines ready for take-off once the final hostage is rescued. It’s two weeks later when he tells you this as you sit in a Montana bar, listening to Willie sing and Hillary debate Obama on the TV set mounted next to the deer heads on the wall.

You might ask how he lives with this or why he talks about the line between choices and despair. He can’t fly high enough to get away from that edge. It’s there between the shore and the sea, in the distance between hello and goodbye hugs at home. Once he flew refugees out of a tsunami disaster area. A little girl had begged to board with her dog. It was easy to say yes. Later, when he roamed the Red Cross camp, he found her by her father’s campfire, the dog roasting on the spit. He flies with Shakespeare in the cockpit, tries to land in Shannon anytime he can. There, he finds a spot of light lit with candles and his prayers.


Sherry O’Keefe is a descendant of Montana pioneers and a graduate of MSU-B. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Switched-on Gutenberg, Terrain. Org., Barnwood Poetry Review, Avatar Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Two Review, Babel Fruit, Soundzine, The High Desert Journal and Main Street Rag. Her chapbook, Making Good Use of August, was released in October 2009 from Finishing Line Press.

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