Next In Line
“Little Teddy was next in line, he was pale, his palms were moist, he looked nervous.”
The deep melodious tone of the narrator in Theodore’s dreams said. This type of lucent dreaming only happened during these episodic sleep things.
“Why am I having this damned dream again?” Theodore asked himself.
Theodore asked his mom once, when he was younger, if she had a narrator she could talk to in her dreams. “What’s that Teddy? I’m not sure what you’re asking me.” She had said smiling.
“In front of Little Teddy was Chris. Chris was a very intelligent confident child. His word in the class spelling bee this day was, Toe.”
“God, wake up man, come on. Hey but head I need to wake up.”
Theodore had become abusive to his narrator at sixteen, after he had fallen asleep in front of the cake while friends and family sang “Happy Birthday”. He thought that insults and abusive language might help him wake on Que. It helped a little; now at eighteen he needed better results.
““Next!” Theodore saw Ms. Holloway say in his dream. However, a sweet southern drawl entered from somewhere outside the dream.”
“They’re calling me. Wake up man! Shit!”
“Next! Hey. Wake him up!”
The man behind Theodore smacked him in the back of the head.
“Hey!” Theodore jumped, and moved to the counter where the sweet southern lady stood waiting.
“Sweetie, you best not fall asleep like that during training. Drill Sergeants don’t like slackers now. Here you go; follow the line put everything except your canteen in the Duffel bag. Make sure you get everything on that list now. Ok? Good luck now. Go on.”
“Next in line!” she yelled.
Theodore moved on, following the men in front of him, doing as they did. The counter was long and high, it worked its way around the interior of the long, wide building making turn upon turn, jutting out and then returning to shadow the wall. At each new station he picked up a new piece of equipment. At the last station, men fanned out away from the counter, stuffing sets of uniforms into their duffel bags and then moving out the door, duffle bag in one hand and canteen in the other.
“What size do you wear?” The aged man said in a gruff voice pointing to the wall.
Figures were drawn with measurements written at key locations, basically small, medium or large. Theodore considered the figures.
“Quick man you don’t have all day, what size?”
“Ten.” Theodore said nervously, his palms moistening.
“Hat size?” The man said pointing to a line of fitting hats on the counter.
As Theodore tried on hats, the man reached below the counter, pulling out four sets of uniforms, socks, underwear, and undershirts.
“Six and a half,” Theodore said coming back to the pile of uniforms on the counter.
“As Little Teddy went from being next in line to first in line, his complexion turned pale green. Ms. Holloway was looking at him worriedly. “Teddy are you going to be ok?””
“Oh God, I’m asleep again, shit, shit, shit!”
“Are you falling asleep standing in front of me while I’m talking to you?” The gruff man barked.
“Shit, shit! Sorry.” Theodore said.
“Get your stuff off my counter, asshole,” the gruff man said throwing Theodore’s hats on the pile.
“Next in line!”
Theodore grabbed his uniforms and moved to a clear space on the floor. He was sweating more profusely than the men around him. They were giving him odd looks. He was terrified he might fall asleep.
“Hey man, do me a favor please.”
“What’s that buddy.”
“When you leave will you make sure I’m awake?” Theodore asked picking up the boots and putting them in his duffel bag.
“Ok?” the man said shaking his head with a raised eyebrow.
“My name is Ted. Thanks.”
“Fred. No problem.”
Theodore finished stuffing the duffel bag and headed out the door. On the bus he sat next to Fred and drifted off despite his efforts to remain awake.
“Little Teddy had a friend named Fred in elementary school, they sat next to each other on the bus.”
“No, no, no. Fucker, wake me up, fuck.”
“Say please,” Fred said handing Little Teddy a cookie from his lunch box.” “Please!”
Fred, the other Fred, elbowed Theodore hard, “Dude wake up.”
“Please!” Theodore said waking with a start.
“What? How can you sleep like that?”
“Uh, um, thanks. I’m not sure; I just fall asleep all the time. It has been that way for as long as I can remember.”
The buses stopped, and the cluster of Drill Sergeants attacked the new enlistees with directions to “Move! Move! Move!” and “Get off my fucking bus!” and all sorts of colorful phrases keeping the draftees moving toward a common goal.
Later on, during training; Theodore went on sick call. “Little Teddy sat in the doctor’s office waiting for the nurse, mom sat smiling.” “Not again? Wake up, Ted! Shit!”
“Next! Private Ralspin! Wake that man up!”
“Shit!” Ted said entering the exam room. “What’s wrong with you today?” the medic asked.
“Thing is I fall asleep all the time. It doesn’t matter what we’re doing. I’m really getting beat up over it, I need help.”
“You’re tired. It’s called hard work private. Get used to it cause where you’re going ain’t no joke. Now get the fuck out of my clinic and quit wasting my time."
Stunned, Ted walked back to the barracks.
“What did they say Ted?”
“They kicked me out said I was wasting their time, I’m just tired. I didn’t even get to see a doctor.”
The next month Ted, Fred and the others were on the plane.
“Little Teddy sat reading a book, wondering what summer camp would be like.”
“Not summer camp asshole, it’s called Vietnam, war! Now shut up and let me sleep.”
“Ted? Good god man, on a plane to Vietnam and your asleep.”
T. Mark Mangum, 29 December 2017
Published in Medium, 18 May 2020, https://medium.com/@tmarkmangum/next-in-line-4a41154a279c