Undeferred — Ted Chiles

We were in the common room of Russell Hall, a freshman men’s dormitory at our small Presbyterian College in Western Pennsylvania waiting for our draft number to be drawn. The room was dark with a few table lamps offering scant illumination. Around a black and white TV against a wall we waited for the show. Three years ago, the draft wouldn’t have troubled us because of the fortunate circumstances of our birth. Our parents had either been born to or climbed to an economic class that almost guaranteed the ability and resources to pay for college and garner us a four-year reprieve. Our homogeneity was not apparent to us because we focused on the minor differences: the length of hair, the attempts at beards and mustaches, shapes of glasses and age of jeans.

The broadcast started and it didn’t resemble the state lottery shows with ping-pong balls sucked up through a vacuum tube, a man in a tuxedo and a woman with a deep décolletage working an imaginary crowd. But the broadcast might have if Mr. Vonnegut had taken the scene to heart. Instead, an older white male in a gray suit, white shirt, and a tie of the appropriate width and shape read the birth dates.

August 9 was the seventh birthday drawn and a young man, a boy, we were all still boys, wearing new jeans and mid-length hair, all of which displayed no hint of his political or cultural views, stood and walked away. We, the residual, watched his ascent as he climbed the stairs to his dorm room. He stopped and looked back and we slowly, boy by boy turned back to the screen. But the boy on the stairs had seen in our tilted heads and unknown smiles our relief, our happiness at not being drawn, of not being number seven. As more birthdays were drawn and someone else fell in line before me, I may have grinned, but I had not yet accepted that small cruel part of us that slows down to pass by the burning and bent car in the breakdown lane.

***
Ted Chiles’ flash fiction has appeared in several literary journals including Northville Review, Smokelong Quarterly, and riverbabble. Vestal Review nominated his story “A Recursive Love Affair” for a 2010 Pushcart. Chiles lives in Santa Barbara, California with a writer and two cats.