“Winter in Al Shuwaikh” by Aubrey Hirsch

The power went out on New Year’s Eve. Without the sounds of the radio and the dishwasher, I could hear tanks spitting sand in the desert. I didn’t know whether or not I should be afraid. I looked to my father. He placed a hand on my head. “Let’s play cards, yes?”

When it was too dark to tell the spades from the clovers my father pulled a blanket over us. The digital clock on the VCR had gone dark.

“Is it still 1990?” I asked. I kept my eyes closed and pretended the low rumblings and flashes of light in the distance were passing storms.

“I don’t know,” my father said. “I think so.”

The next week he pulled me onto the balcony in the afternoon. School was out because of the war. He pointed upwards toward the searing sunlight, put a hand over his brow like a sailor and said, “Look!  Can you see?”

I covered the sun with my palm, scoured the stretching sky. “Airplanes?”

“These are silent planes,” he said. “I’ve been reading about them.”

I looked at him, puzzled. “What?” I had to scream over the noise.

“You cannot track them from the ground. These pilots can hit a target as small as you are. And up there,” he pointed to the sky, “there are satellites that can tell a man where he is in the middle of the desert, when everything around him looks the same.”

I looked to my left and to my right, above and below. All along the face of our tall apartment building, the balconies were filling with mothers, with little boys and girls. There were not many fathers. They watched the sky with blank faces.

“Is this the good guys or the bad guys?” I asked.

“It’s the Americans,” he said.

Airplanes filled the sky like gnats. I could not picture the faces inside them.

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  1. Great work, Aubrey. Beautiful and haunting.

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