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Wednesday, April 17, 2024 — Houston, TX

R2: Powder

By Tina Nazerian     11/4/15 4:19am

Editor’s Note: The phrase “taking a secret to your grave” has become colloquial to the point where we don’t stop to think about its deeper implications. While many of the pieces we received had outstandingly creative takes on that colloquial meaning, this story really stood out to us in its raw and real interpretation of what it means to take a secret to your grave — how sometimes, it is the secret itself that takes you to your grave.

-Bailey Tulloch, R2 Monthly Contest Committee Head

I went to Iraq to tell a story. Two years ago, I had sat in the Big Boss’s office in New York, where he told me that if I reported on the war for  a while and gave him a stellar story, he’d give me what people in the business would kill for — the nightly news anchor chair. How long I’d be there, he didn’t know, but he assured me that the soldiers would keep my crew and me safe.

The first month, seven American troops and 102 civilians died when a suicide bomber blew up a food market in the city’s center. The Big Boss loved the emotional touches in my story. The third month, the soldiers discovered two members of a suicide bomber network. The Big Boss applauded how my story showed America’s war progress. The fifth month, I overheard some troops at my base talk about how they raped the women when they burst into civilian homes. My story never ran. Eventually, I got a letter in the mail, a warning from the Big Boss to not push the line.

I saw them on the outskirts of Baghdad, during the eight month. I’d been following two of the troops on a mission to kill a trainee suicide bomber, and we stopped on the road so one of them could pee. Less than half a mile away, we saw a father carrying his infant son. He was sunburned across his face, and was swaying as he walked, wheezing. After the soldier zipped up his pants, he pulled out his machine gun, firing twice. First at the father – to spare him the pain of watching his son die, he told me later that day – and next at the child.

“It’s always good to eliminate any potential problems,” he explained.

Those words kept cycling through my head that evening back at the base. They still do. Every time I finish reading the nightly news, I go back to my Manhattan apartment, wash off the powder, and sleep, only to have the words and the father and son creep into my dreams. Sometimes I play the tape of the story I reported that night – two American troops ended the life of a suicide bomber before he ended anyone else’s – and I press my fingernails hard against my skull, hoping for it to break. 

November Prompt: “Coming Home”

We welcome everyone to submit a piece! Email a short story or poem up to 600 words in length to r2ricereview@gmail.com. Winners receive a $25 Coffeehouse gift card!

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