The Right Time.
BY SAM SHELSTAD
Things are definitely looking good with Lisa. We’ve been seeing each other for almost a month now, and I’m meeting her parents this weekend. I like her, and I think she likes me, too. But I can’t decide when it will be the right time to tell her my secret; that my collection of American Civil War figurines comes to life at night.
Three years ago, my grandfather passed away and left me a small set of figurines—seven infantrymen, two corn patch sections, and one flag piece, which depict a scene from Miller’s Cornfield at the Battle of Antietam. Shortly after bringing the collection home and displaying it on top of a bookshelf in my bedroom, I noticed that the soldiers could speak. They’re able to move around a bit, too, although this is made difficult by the plastic circles of battlefield that are glued to their feet. The soldiers come alive after midnight—excluding one soldier labeled “Union Iron Brigade Casualty No. 3,” who simply lies there—and return to their fixed positions before sunrise. How do you bring something like that up?
Once, I revealed my figurines to a girl named Patty on the third date. I could tell she was already tiring of me and my limited stockpile of work stories, and so I had to do something to keep her interested. When I showed Patty my collection, and Union Infantry in Sack Coat Loading Firearm offered her a piece of salted pork, she squeezed my hand in excitement—I knew I had bought some more time. We saw each other for another month, but our “dates” were exclusively confined to my bedroom. And I don’t mean on the bed itself; Patty only wanted to watch my figurines squirming around atop the bookcase. She would come over around midnight, we’d pull two stools over to my collection, and then stay up talking to the union soldiers. Patty, a student, switched her major from English Literature to American History, and she would spend our nights together questioning the infantrymen, trying to procure interesting data for her papers. My figurines were happy to oblige her, but warned me of her questionable intentions on the rare nights that Patty stayed home.
“She’s most certainly using you, son,” Union Infantry 114th Pennsylvania Zouaves Reaching for Cartridge said to me one night. “Retreat!”
And how could I ever top that early high-water mark, the night I revealed my secret to Patty? In the words of Union Iron Brigade Troop Marching in Clamshell Pack No.1, I “used up all the artillery before the battle had even begun.” As one might guess, my civil war figurine set is the only thing that comes alive at night in my apartment, unless you count the silverfish in my bathroom. I don’t really have all that much to offer a woman, besides my grandpa’s collection.
That’s why with Lisa, I want to hold off. Let her get to know me for who I am, and not just as this thing that provides access to magic civil war guys. But if I wait too long, it might make her distrust me. Like, she might wonder how I could bore her with every detail about my job selling insurance, what my favorite/least favorite sitcoms are, how my high school karate club trip to Montreal made me the man I am today, etc., and yet fail to mention the fact that I have a living diorama of a battle that she learned about in the sixth grade sitting in my bedroom. Say that I had, at some point in my past, brutally murdered someone; I probably shouldn’t lead with that, but it does seem like something a potential mate should know before getting too involved. Same thing.
I don’t want to mess this up; it can get pretty lonely at night, even with my little friends nearby, quarreling over Hardtack recipes. What I’m really looking for is the kind of companion that Union Infantry in Sack Coat Loading Firearm has found in the figurinette I added to the collection last winter. While Union Nurse No. 1 does not come alive at night like the rest of them—my experiment to see if the supernatural element of my grandfather’s collection was contagious has failed—she still makes the tiny man who adores her happy.
“Every single night, my men and I await Jackson’s troops to come pouring through the corn,” Union Infantry in Sack Coat Loading Firearm says, “and there will be blood on the fields. It is cold, there is never enough to eat, and it is the same thing, over and over again. Some men have their families, others have hobbies and friends back home. I have Union Nurse No. 1. It is because of her, night after night, I am able to endure it all.”
Will Lisa be my Union Nurse No. 1, and help me bear the monotony of my existence? If I play this right, and wait until the perfect moment to reveal my secret, she could very well be. But maybe if I just show her my figurines tonight she’ll finally let me have sex with her.
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