A Memoirby Maggie Panko
“Jesus Christ, Panko, you fucking moron! Your combats are an embarrassment to your section! Your beret’s at the wrong angle again.” Sergeant Wall, the only female supervisor with our unit, lowers her eyes to mine. Hers are shining and gray. Cold light bulbs. Then they target my breast pocket. She jerks at a thin green thread. “These are supposed to be burnt off before inspection.”
Keep screaming, lady. Bitch me out nonstop. Oh, and also—our definitions of fucking moron are fundamentally different. Either way, I’m getting paid. This inspection shit rolls off me. But it’s forced some others out. We’ve lost a number of trainees over the past week. Sensitive types, I bet. Poetic, even. Maybe they don’t need a new life. I do.
“McLeish! Looking sharp today!”
After finishing up we’re instructed to head back up the stairs to one of the classrooms of the James Weir Foote Armoury. Emma McLeish and I step together, massive black rifles at our sides. The rickety wooden chairs and desks have been removed, making the room feel deserted. Master Corporal Barnes puts us in circles seated cross-legged on the floor, our weapons in front of us.
As usual, he hollers as if we were miles away. “Today you’ll be taught how to disassemble and reassemble your rifles.” Master Corporal Barnes is six-five. He loves his height. You can tell when he pulls himself up fully, his chin seemingly set against the horizon. His eyes are dark and fascinated, avid despite his disgust with us: new privates on the Canadian Forces Reserves GMT—General Military Training, known as basic training. “Understand this, soldiers: Your weapon has many intricate parts. Every part needs to be cleaned and put into place properly. We’ll be going out to the shooting range in Niagara next week.”
“Whoa, what? Already?” I say. I’m not scared of gunfire. I’m sure I’ll take it like I take inspection. The words slipped out. Emma shoots me a look of warning.
“Do you have an objection, Panko?”
“No, Master Corporal.”
“You don’t want to protest? Offer constructive criticism?”
I want to kill him. Murder him quickly, publicly, here. Does that count as constructive criticism? Money, money, money. New life. “No, Master Corporal.”
“This training session is enough for you, then? You’re satisfied with the level of instruction the forces is providing?”
“Yes, Master Corporal!”
“Good news, everyone! Private Panko is satisfied with the rifle drill. We can now continue.”
“Fuck,” I mutter, as Barnes points out the metal pieces over the hold, where the rounds are kept before firing. I just added minutes to our session and took them away from our already minuscule lunch break.
“Let it go, girl,” Emma murmurs in return. “He’s not worth it. Or,” she says, a grin spreading across her face, “maybe he is. But we’re not going to know him in that way.”
Like me and everyone in our training unit, Emma’s military profession is musician. We all auditioned. We now play for the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry Band.