Excerpt from Good Little Soldiers
By Dianne Fitzpatrick as told to Sondra London
Listen to Dianne Fitzpatrick read this Excerpt
Even before my father made me watch him kill, I knew how mean he was.
Take the way he used food to keep control. Although he was a cook in the wealthiest army in the world, he let his own children go to bed hungry.
Or he would bring home canned goods from work but remove the labels so we couldn’t tell what was in them. Open the can and you had to eat it, or else.
If we needed supplies, he bragged the Army took care of his needs.
If there was no food in the house for dinner, he would say that was no problem, because he already ate.
He would come home and ask us if we were hungry.
We were always hungry, but if we said so, he’d tell us how he had taken some prime cuts of steak from work, but the dogs at the pound wanted it, so he gave it to them.
If we said we were not hungry, he’d say, “Good, then I don’t need to bring any food home for you.”
Our behavior had a direct influence on his career, he said. If we didn’t do well in school, if we got in trouble or talked back, he would get demerits, and that would affect our living standards.
Everyone commented on what well-behaved children we were, and how well we respected our parents.
I was not yet five when Dad took Steven and me to a giant grassy bowl-like area with a high ridge running around it, and a cliff on one side.
We followed Dad single-file as he paced off the perimeter at the tree line. Near the bottom of the bowl we came to a shiny aluminum pipe sticking out of the hill, and without a word, Dad pulled the grating off the pipe and crawled into it.
“Where’d he go? It’s dark in there.”
“Dark and wet.”
We waited, mystified, until he crawled out, covered with mud, and pointed at me.
Nobody was laughing. This was no game.
I didn’t move. He pushed me in.
My dress caught under my knees and tore as I crawled deeper and deeper into the dark, damp smell of decaying earth.
I turned back towards the light. Sharp white teeth gleamed as the dark figure held up a finger and hissed: Shhhh!
I must have been crying because I stopped.
In the silence, I heard him crawl out and screw the grate back down over the pipe.
I closed my eyes and sucked my thumb, until I noticed the shining diamonds of light in the grate. Once my eyes adjusted to the shadows, I could see the pipe opened up into a wider space. I shrank back from the edge.
The light had drained from the diamonds and the deepest dark kept me down, until a blaze of light brought Steven into view.
“I talked him into letting me take your place.”
He aimed his flashlight around and gasped, jerking the beam towards his feet.
“You don’t want to know. Come on, let’s get out of here.”
Later, I asked my brother what he had seen. He called it a grotto, and said he saw gear stashed in the corner: a lantern, a shovel, a crate of K-rations. And on a shelf he saw three grinning skulls.