The bonds that unite another person to our self exist only in our
Memory as it grows fainter relaxes them, and notwithstanding the
which we would fain be cheated and with which, out of love,
politeness, deference, duty, we cheat other people, we exist alone.
I couldn't believe I was wasting a perfect, I'm talking postcard-in-the-drugstore picture perfect, Spring day when I knew the fish were going to be biting and the call of Mother Nature was whispering my name. Seems like I hardly ever get a Saturday off that doesn't involve either massive amounts of drugs and sleep, not necessarily in that order, as I try to recuperate from various injuries obtained in the line of duty; or copious chores that are found under the heading 'home owner.' It hadn't been too hard to ignore that niggling that the garage needed cleaning and the deck was ready to be stained again. In fact I had actually, tentatively, even a little fearfully, because, yeah, I'm superstitious when it comes to fishing, brought my rod and reel and other gear from the garage where I ignored the mess and focused on my locate and retrieve mission.
I'd spent last evening polishing and cleaning my gear. Never let it be said a fish was caught on a dirty hook owned by Jack O'Neill. The cooler was ready to be iced. The beer and cold cuts were waiting in the fridge. And as I sat in quiet solitude, sipping a brew, listening to Verde and scraping dried worm guts off the hooks with a piece of steel wool, I caught myself glancing at the phone, anticipating its ring, waiting for it to sound the death knell to my plans before they had begun.
But it didn't.
Go figure. I guess even Fate doesn't like to become too predictable. For once, I was eager to get to bed. I mean it's not like I get too many chances to go to bed and have wild monkey sex. So what if an anticipated day off and a fishing trip is a close second . . . third . . . fourth? Okay, fourth to wild monkey sex and sends me to bed early.
I actually was sound asleep when Fate decided it was time to call. That's the only reason I can figure that I would have ever allowed myself to be conned into exchanging my perfect day off for this. It was Daniel, whom Fate chose to use. Daniel, who has the tenacity of a terrier and eyes that could out guilt a beagle. Hell, I'd let Daniel chew on my slipper and not scold him for it. So cut me some slack that I let down my defenses when he called. I was up to my thighs in the middle of a trout stream, the perfect wet dream, when the phone rang.
Before I knew what I was actually saying I had promised Daniel I'd pick him up in the morning. Okay, so call me Mr. Glass is Half Empty, but I guess I figured, why fight it. If it wasn't Daniel, it'd be Hammond or the Tollen, or the Asgard. I mean, check the listings, the entire freakin' universe is in league against me getting a chance to have a simple day of fishing. So I said yes. I think it surprised Daniel that I gave in so easily. Personally I think he was just a bit disappointed I didn't buck him a little. It took some of the fun out of it for him. And in that lay my only degree of satisfaction.
So here I stood. At an auction, for cryin' out loud. Surrounded by a bunch of strangers who seem to have no trouble translating the gibberish the auctioneer is spouting. My kid sister used to have one of those little record players that she just about wore out listening to her 45's. I can still remember sneaking in and turning the speed up to seventy-eight just to hear her indignant shriek as David Cassidy and the Partridge Family sang falsetto accelerato. Picture Alvin and the Chipmunks on speed and you'll get the idea. Well, that's kind of what I was hearing now. I know the auctioneer was communicating. People around me seemed to understand just fine. So why was I standing here feeling like I missed the last train to Translationville?
Daniel is happily wandering around, gazing with myopic lust at a box of moldy old books that have obviously spent the better part of the last two decades in somebody's basement. He senses my glare, he looks over, his face reddens and he gives me a little wave and an apologetic grin as if I had just caught him doing something crude and perhaps a bit nasty, but necessary, in the storage room. I give him a classic O'Neill, 'You are so busted, so don't even think about it look,' to which he sheepishly responds by giving the weather-stained old tomes one last caress with his index finger before moving away from temptation. And no, I don't feel the least bit of remorse about putting my foot down and not letting him bid on those damn books.
Hell, I still remember the last time he talked me into stopping at a rummage sale. Who knew Dr. Daniel Jackson had such an eclectic affinity for other people's junk? He came away from that so called sale with 'The Complete History of Modern Man' in thirty-four volumes. He actually had the nerve to get pissy when I pointed out that the copyright on those bargain basement rejects was 1958, so just how modern could we be talking about? Oh no, he insisted and I caved to those pleading baby blues. Yeah, call it a weak moment, right up until I pulled a muscle in my lower back helping him hoof those damn books up three flights of stairs and ended up in traction for a week.
So no, I had absolutely no problem sending a death threat across the yard if I caught him lusting over so much as a Reader's Digest. He got the message right away. Daniel's smart that way, and anyway, we had agreed up front - no books.
There was only one reason I had let Daniel talk me into coming to this auction today. Furniture. Lots of furniture.
'Jack, you're the one who's always complaining because my apartment's so barren. I checked the paper and there's supposed to be some nice antique-ish pieces for sale.'
'Antique-ish? And that would mean, Mr. Webster . . .?'
I left my question hanging and Daniel skirted it with practiced ease. I guess he assumed I'd figure it out myself. Well, I pretty much had 'ish' defined as anything Grandma and Grandpa had that no one in the immediate and/or extended family would be caught dead displaying in their homes, but which had Dr. Tacky drooling even as I watched.
Well, Daniel had made it pretty clear that he only needed me for two things today, and no my rapier wit was not one of them. Daniel wanted me for my bed and my muscle, well actually my truck bed to be precise, to haul home God only knew what that he finally decided to bid on. With my luck he'd probably decide he couldn't live without that Grandfather clock with no hands that looked like it would weigh half a ton or better yet the piano with all the black keys missing, otherwise in perfect condition. A piano Beethoven would have been happy to decompose on. And for this I gave up a day of drowning worms. Geez, there is no justice.
Having given Daniel a visual reminder that I was keeping an eye on him, I strolled over to watch the action. I stood there, my hands buried deep in my pockets, afraid to scratch my nose, for fear I'd end up mistakenly bidding on a mildewed moose head or a chartreuse goose-neck lamp with no cord. It was actually sort of fun, although you'd have to put me on a rack before I'd admit it to Daniel, and yes been there, done that, don't ask cause I didn't talk then and I won't talk now.
I watched with interest as one old coot outbid everyone and cackled with glee as they passed him a cardboard box full of outdated Playboys. All right, Pops. Let's hear it for the original dirty old man. I waited for the crowd to share my amusement, but the wistful sounds of jealous groans surprised me. The old guy caught my eye and saddled up next to me. "I sell them on eBay. This box'll bring four or five hundred dollars."
As I did the math for the worth of each sex-laden issue, he took my dumbfounded silence as awe to his entrepreneurial spirit. "Last year I cleared enough to fly me and my Grandkids to Hawaii."
My eyebrows rose to Olympic heights that would've made Teal'c envious. I happen to know that eyebrow envy is pretty common in Jaffa society. I gave Old Man eBay what I hoped was a pleasant, if somewhat stunned nod as I wandered away from the action and over to a long table covered with boxes. People were standing around pawing through the contents of each. Well, needing something to occupy the time until Daniel's furniture came up for bid, I did some casual poking in a relatively bargain-hunterless area, after first making sure my threat level was at a minimum. I had no desire to offer competition over Great Aunt Martha's plastic paisley purse, although now that I think of it I do owe Doc a birthday gift.
I spotted an innocuous cigar box which reminded me of the one I had carried with me for years and was now safely hidden in the bottom of my locker at the SGC. On a whim, I reached for the box and flipped it open.
It was laying partially hidden under the paperclips, chewing gum wrappers, used ballpoints and pencils advertizing the First National Bank of Sugardale. Just a slender band of tarnished silver, but it was enough to catch my eye. I hooked it with one finger and laid it in my hand so I could examine it closer. 'Lt. JG William Canton USAF 30 Nov 71.' That was all, except for the single word engraved beneath the name - Vietnam.
A POW bracelet.
I stood there blinking against the glare of the bright sun, suddenly aware that my mouth had gone very dry.
Lt. JG William Canton USAF.
I remembered when it was the fad to wear these bracelets. Lots of the kids had them when I was in high school. Hell, I had comforted Penny Taylor personally when she heard the guy on her bracelet hadn't made it. After all it was the patriotic thing to do. But back then I didn't think beyond the name engraved in the nickle plated surface. It was just a name, a disembodied name.
Not a person, frightened of the life he was living, yet afraid he might die. Not a person - filthy, starving, hurt in the ways you can see and more so in the ways you couldn't. Not a person - deprived of the basic humanities that were no longer a God-given right, because God and all of humanity had turned their backs on you and left you alone and void. Life had yet to teach me those lessons.
Lt. JG William Canton USAF.
Did you have a family? A wife . . . kids? Did an officer show up on their doorstep one day and watch as their world collapsed? Did you make it back home or were you buried and forgotten like the bracelet I held in my hand?
My thumb rubbed the smudged surface.
Did you think of home, Lieutenant? At night when they finally left you to lick your wounds and try not to think about how hungry you were or what was waiting tomorrow. Did you think of your wife and dream about lying beside her, of holding her and drying her tears? Did you dream about making love to her only to wake and realize you were living a nightmare? Did you think about playing ball with your son and dying a little more every day you missed of him growing up? And pleading to a God you no longer believed in that He would let you see your son grow up because he needed his dad. Needed who his dad used to be before your name got etched on this bracelet.
Lt. JG William Canton USAF.
Did you believe in what you were fighting for, even after you were told your country had abandoned you? Did you give up then or did it make you just a little more determined to stick it out another day, another hour, just to prove the bastards wrong?
Did you come home - scarred and changed forever? Afraid that you might wake up from the dream and discover you were back there, that you hadn't come home at all. Were you afraid to love your wife? Afraid that you might see revulsion, or worse pity, in her eyes. Were you afraid to go near your son because you might taint him with your impurity? Were you afraid of who you were because you didn't know who you'd become?
I was still staring at the little bracelet when the auctioneer's voice broke through my memories. Carefully, I replaced the bracelet in the cigar box and closed the lid. When the little box was held up my eyes locked onto the auctioneer. No one else seemed much interested and he seemed glad to unload it for my dollar and a half bid.
"You won't get much for that thing on eBay." Old Coot was peering around my shoulder, checking out my purchase. "The cigar box is actually worth more than that bracelet."
Without a word I dropped the little band of memories into the pocket of my jacket and handed him the box. Before he could say a word I turned and walked towards my truck. I'd wait for Daniel there. Then I was going home. I was anxious to see how the little bracelet looked on the shelves in my bedroom. The place I kept my special stuff, stuff I didn't want to have to talk about with my team or anyone else. The place where I allowed a few of my memories to rest. Sell it on E-bay? Not damn likely. I didn't know if the Lieutenant had ever made it back. But I could find out. I didn't know if I'd ever have the guts to send him the bracelet. Probably not. Hell, I wouldn't have wanted to be reminded of that after all this time. It's not like you could ever really forget. His kids would be grown now. I didn't think they'd appreciate it if I scraped the scab off of a wound that never fully heals. Nope I can't do that.
What I can do is remember. Maybe it's a little thing, but it's enough.
Lt. JG William Canton USAF deserves it. He earned the right not to be forgotten.
It hasn't turned out to be such a bad day after all.
Author's Notes: This little fic refused to be dissuaded. No disrespect is meant to the owners or patrons of eBay. Many thanks to Charli Booker for her beta skills and encouragement.
© March 2004 They're not mine, sigh, a girl can always dream. SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (ll) Productions, Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. No Copyright infringement is intended. They don't earn me a dime, just new friends, a few smiles and some time away from my laundry. That's entertainment! The original characters, situations, and story are property of the author.