The Alchemist
of Desert Storm

by Addie Schweiss 

Here is what I will tell you about my father:

People said my father was a lazy man; he wasn’t. He was diligent and creative when it suited him. Only there were walls in his mind that went so high and were so firm there was no purchase whatsoever, and no dealing with him when he had his mind set on a thing.

My father was brave unless he was being chased, but he was chased often. He never held a regular job in the fifteen years I knew him, and he was as proud of this as my mother was ashamed, and when I learned in school about magnets, “polarity,” that electric thrum that repels and attracts, I imagined the charged particles in my textbook as my mother and father.

You ask me about my father; I can tell you three things. First is he received an Honorable Discharge after Operation Desert Storm, though denied a Purple Heart. Second is that, to my knowledge, my father stole a grand total of some $115,000 in gold amalgam. Third: he is not truly responsible for all those awful things people are saying he did, so please listen.

Listen was his stock command and I his constant audience. My mother, too, at times, when he would smack a palm against the drywall and command her: listen. She rarely did. But I listened, those days when he would take me out of school to maybe see a terrier about to have puppies, or to watch someone install a fuel filter in an engine. We drove to where the roads decayed into cobbles of macadam and mud, sentried by gum-colored mangrove roots thick as my legs. My father would steer with a wrist or kneecap depending on whether he needed both hands to illustrate his point:

In our society, money is survival, isn’t it? So: if you reject money, you’re rejecting survival. A man disagrees with the idea of laboring for the dollar, he’s choosing his own death and it’s him against the world, and, kiddo, the world likes them odds.”

My father’s stories bled into one another, with black helicopters soaring over Wounded Knee toward a place called Ruby Ridge. His accounting of the world traced an arc from a federal building in Oklahoma City to the headquarters of the United Nations, with the world in a mad sprint to a finish line on January 1st of 2000, just three years away.

My father rejoiced in telling me about the days ahead when the world’s computers would overclock themselves with a hundred years worth of mistaken calculations; GPS satellites were going to shoot across oceans like skipping stones. He would breathe faster, fist on the dashboard: the digits of every bank account on earth, from the guys working in gas stations to the Shahs and Prime Ministers in impossible seats of power, all those digits in all those databases were all going to spin like slot machines on dumb chance. Prison doors would open, believing their prisoners hadn’t been born yet. The whole world set back to zero, “and then,” he would growl, “we’ll see who’s really running the show.” My father got headaches and nosebleeds when he talked too fast.

That first time, he took me to a dental office in a closed-down business strip; we both knew he didn’t know the owner like he told me. He didn’t even have me wait in the car while he kicked the door in. Anyone could just walk into a dentist’s office, he later explained, and no alarm panel in the lobby meant no alarm on the door. Dental gold was usually blended with some other metals, but to pawn brokers this was of little concern. Gold and firearms, my father reasoned, would still be worth money in the future; he took some vials from a cabinet beside the dentist chair but did not explain the role of their contents in the coming New World Order.

On the drive back from that first time, he talked mostly to himself: about smoke from burning oilfields in Iraq; how he marched and guarded and stationed with men who now have lead in their blood and their brains; how the pills the Army gave them left them unable to taste for weeks at a time and caused a ringing in his ears to this day. After that first time, whether we were lugging drills from a construction site or peeling out of a closed-down urgent care, he’d tap his forehead and scream lead into gold lead into gold over and over, as though jubilant about the headaches, the impulsivity, the fists and the lost words and the money I saw him never give to my mother.

The last time I saw my father in person was when he was faster than me, or maybe heard the sirens before I did. At fifteen, I didn’t have the mental calluses to lie to the police once I’d been caught. One of them already knew about Y2K, but he didn’t seem worried about anything except my mother and where was she in all this.

I didn’t see him again until it was on television. That’s why you’re here. When you see your father run away and leave you to the police, you realize your father is capable of anything and he will not bend, and I could not hear the words lead into gold over the whine of the news helicopter but I am sure that’s what he was shouting. He was screaming something; you all ask for his motives but nobody asks what he was saying. He did not bend in his convictions unlike you fake reporters, you hacks, you liars, and as far as I am concerned he was not lead; he was not gold; you motherfuckers, he was made of steel.

Now get off my property.

Addie Schweiss is an attorney  who lives in Northern California whose work has been previously published in Midwestern Gothic and Shotgun Honey. He is on Twitter at @lyinginwaitmag.
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