He had agreed in spring to write a short story for the New Year’s Eve edition of a newspaper magazine. An easy enough task, he thought at first. In late May he settled down to sketch out a few images that might work, but soon found himself struggling, adrift. For a couple of weeks in early summer he cast about, chased ideas and paragraphs, left a few hanging, found himself postponing the assignment, putting it to the back of his mind. Occasionally he pulled his notes out again, then abandoned them once more. He wondered how he would ever push into the territory of a New Year’s Eve story – create a series of fireworks perhaps, drop a mirrored ball in a city, or allow snow to slowly scatter across the face of a windowpane? All the beginnings he attempted – scribbled down in notebooks – wrote themselves into the dark.
In early summer he landed on the idea that he could perhaps defy his own notions of what a New Year’s Eve story could achieve and tell a military tale, perhaps the portrait of a soldier somewhere far away, a young American, say, in a distant land. He could find himself, say, in a barracks on New Year’s Eve in Afghanistan, the simple notion of a marine – let’s say a young woman, slightly exhausted by war, sitting on the edge of a valley, in the cold, surrounded by sandbags, in the vast quiet, looking eastward, under a steel mesh of stars, all silence, not even the thrup of machine gun-fire in the distance, the grim perimeter of the soldier’s reality set against the possibility of what might be happening elsewhere, say, at home in South Carolina, say, a relentless suburb of no great distinction, say, a house gone slightly sour with the years, say, a broken drainpipe hanging down from the garage, say, a boy in the driveway, a young boy, in a striped shirt and torn jeans, with a bicycle lying forlorn at his feet, her brother, or her cousin, or perhaps even her son, yes, maybe her son.