I saw Watchmen over the weekend. I'm not familiar with the original graphic novel (which is why I've now decided to read it). Watching a movie set in an alternate history where Nixon is in his third term as president and the Americans won the Vietnam war is an interesting experience to be had in post-war Vietnam. They edited out certain parts of the movie - at least I think they did, since the movie did that bizarre jumpy thing. They edited sex scenes, violence, and I believe anything that delved too deeply into the vietnam war. It surprised me that they DIDN'T cut out the part where Dr Manhattan is obliterating Viet. troops in the fields, or where The Comedian is torching soldiers. But maybe that's because this is Southern Vietnam? Who knows. I see the movie omitted the part where The Comedian is confronted by a Vietnamese women he impregnated - or maybe that was never included in the movie in the first place?
Nora remembers. She remembers the horrible sucking sounds of the mud as they ran the whine of Japanese planes at their backs. They ran over the fields, up the hills, into the caves. Far, far away from the sound of approaching Death. But in the silence of the cave, cradled in her mother's arms, she still heard the insistent noise of the plane, Nora remembers, she remembers it all.
The children play at Nora's feet, on a hardwood floor, with shiny plastic toys. No stone floors. Nora told her husband, no stone. It reminded her too much of the caves they slept in, of the absolute darkness of every night.
Her grand-nieces and grand-nephews are so soft, skin pink and pliable. At their age Nora's hands were covered with calluses, her heels were dirty and hard. She looks at herself now, hands dotted with liver spots, skin wrinkled with age. The calluses are gone and her skin is clean. No marks remain from the war, except the small shrapnel scar behind her left ear. Nobody knows of it except her elder brother - her perfectly coiffed hair hides her scar expertly.
And where is Alex now?
The elated cries of her grand-nephew. Ah, here is Alex, the proud grandfather of seventeen, smiling at his grandchildren. The little ones throw themselves at him; Alex Jr. is hanging off his shoulder. Nora sees her brother wince with pain, but the children don't notice how his face is twisted, the veins in his neck bulging. The expression on his face is so familiar to her; the soundless agony of his pain. After all these years, the scar still hurt him.
She had told him not to take the shortcut to the market. The rocks on that side of the hill were loose; any misstep would send you tumbling down. But no, Alex needed to get to the market before all the good bargains were gone, and they hadn’t had anything decent meals in a while. And why would he listen to Nora? She was seven and he was twelve.
He started down the hill, his pace quickening to a run. And then he fell. And he didn’t stop falling. He skidded down the rocks on his back, trying to stop himself with his feet. He came to a sudden halt halfway down the hill, a ribbon of blood marking his fall. Nora had been so sure he was dead that she burst into tears of joy when she felt him breathing. She fell silent when she helped him up and saw the deep gash running across his back from his shoulder to his hip, a mess of raw skin and exposed muscle obscured by thick blood.
Late that night her father had stitched up Alex’s back with her mother’s sewing needle, the candle as his only light. Nora didn’t sleep that night. Her brother’s screaming kept her eyes wide open. Every time the needle pierced his skin he screamed. His cries of pain echoed though the cave crawled under her skin and seeped into her. All she could see was his blood – the blood on her brother’s back, on her hands, the blood spread over the rocks of the hill.
Someone is shaking her shoulder, trying to speak to her. It is Alex, and it is time for dinner. He starts to help her out of her chair, but when she slips her arms around her shoulder she feels his thick, jagged scar and sits back.
“It doesn’t hurt anymore, Nora.”
But it does, and Nora knows. She shakes her head at him, “You should tell the children they shouldn’t jump on you, make them understand why.”
“They don’t need to know about that. What’s past is past,” Alex looks over at the dinner table, “it has nothing to do with our lives now.”
Nora lets her brother help her up, but she knows about the past. The memories define her, make her. The past was everything, is everything. It is all she has left.