Collateral Damage

4 Oct

100 words about the ghosts of war. They are all around us. 

The story is for Friday Fictioneers and is inspired by the photograph below supplied by Raina Ng. Please check out a few,or all, of the stories produced by a wide variety of writers from around the world. You may even find yourself saying, “Hey, I can do that.” (John Bigbooty, this is your moment.)

 (Author’s note: Chất độc da cam is Agent Orange, a defoliant whose use in the Vietnam war scarred two countries and kills and maims to this day.)

Hien Giang rises the hour before dawn. Soon the rich aroma of Pho Ga and fresh Bánh Mì fills the kitchen with Ai’ Long’s presence. They met during the struggle, she a nurse and he a cook in the vast tunnel complex of Cu Chi.

After reunification, two stillborn children emptied her of tears and their house of laughter. She died of cancer a year later.

Chất độc da cam destroyed his life long before he ever asked Ai’ Long to marry him.

In a darkness no flashlight can pierce, Hien Giang sits alone and breaks bread with his family.

83 Responses to “Collateral Damage”

  1. Janet October 4, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    Very moving. Your use of language is beautiful. I love “In a darkness no flashlight can pierce” – it really speaks to the depth of his suffering.

    • dmmacilroy October 4, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

      Dear Janet,

      Thank you for reading and commenting so kindly. It is a dark place he’s in. Humankind? Sometimes I’m not sure.



  2. Paul October 4, 2012 at 3:27 pm #

    It’s difficult to click on “like” with this story. Too much truth, too much pain. Too real. Whether or not it is, it feels very real. Thank you for making me appreciate today. My today.

    • dmmacilroy October 4, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

      Dear Paul,

      Thank you for one of the nicest, most telling things anyone has ever said about one of my stories. I truly appreciate it.



    • Running from Hell with El October 8, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

      Paul wrote what I was going to write. Lovely piece, Doug.

  3. Russell October 4, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

    I agree with Paul. This feels so very real. I watched History Dectectives Monday night on PBS. The story was about a Marine who picked up a diary lying on a dead North Vietnamese soldier in 1965. The History Dectective helped locate the family and return the diary. It was a touching story and drove home the point that we are all human and our similarities outweigh our differences.

    Very powerful writing, Doug. My hat’s off to you.

    • dmmacilroy October 5, 2012 at 6:17 am #

      Dear Russell,

      You sir, are too kind. Two weeks running i’ve felt like flying to the heartland and renting space on a billboard to thank you for you comments.

      It’d be more fun to see what you’d write on it, though. Your story this week is to die for and I’m still chucling over it.

      Thanks again, Russell.



  4. sustainabilitea October 4, 2012 at 4:14 pm #

    Doug, this pierced my heart. I appreciate your use of the present tense and then past tense to go into his past. You seamlessly wove in the foreign names while keeping the story completely accessible to the reader. Wonderful.

    • dmmacilroy October 5, 2012 at 6:19 am #

      Thanks for the praise and for noticing the foreign words. Hien Giang’s story lives in his house with him and not in ours so I knew I had to write it from his point of view. Glad you liked it.

      I was thoroughly impressed with your story this week. As Russell says, “My hat’s off to you.”



  5. JKBradley October 4, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

    You make me consider how far reaching the ripples of our actions can travel. Such terrible consequences in this case. Regrettable for all of us.

    • dmmacilroy October 5, 2012 at 6:25 am #

      Dear JK,

      Thank you for turning your keen eye toward my story this week. I appreciate the comments. Thought yours was pretty special, too.



  6. bridgesareforburning October 4, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    Hi Doug,
    Last week you showed up fashionable late to the party. This week you’re early. Nobody can say you’re predictable, not in your habits or your writing. I admire the authenticity in this story, your knowledge of Vietnamese culture and history. I felt the intense sadness and loss of your main character. A great reminiscense of one of the most senseless and tragic eras in U.S. history. You should be very proud of this one. Ron

    • dmmacilroy October 5, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

      Dear Ron,

      Thank you for your comments and compliments. This story is one that seemed simply to move through me and on to the page. I wonder if America will reverse its course and become known as a nation of peace. I am scared for us and for our future. Too many ghosts.



  7. boomiebol October 4, 2012 at 4:38 pm #

    This just broke my heart…i read it about 3 times…and now i am here with lips pouted. This is so moving, and it just nabbed at my heart.

    Very well done. This is one emotional and very well written story.

    • dmmacilroy October 10, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

      Dear Boomie,

      Thank you so much for your kind comments. I’ll give you back your heart next week.



  8. Parul October 4, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

    Very moving Doug, very intense!
    “After reunification, two stillborn children emptied her of tears and their house of laughter.”
    Simple yet powerful.

    • dmmacilroy October 10, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

      Dearest Parul,

      Thank you very much for commenting.



  9. claireful October 4, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

    ‘Hien Giang sits alone and breaks bread with his family.’ is such an evocative line. Very beautiful.

    • dmmacilroy October 10, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

      Dear Claire,

      Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I do appreciate it.



  10. rich October 4, 2012 at 6:13 pm #

    a darkness no flashlight can pierce. that’s powerful. i wonder if “lightning” might be even more powerful. maybe, maybe not.

    • dmmacilroy October 4, 2012 at 6:30 pm #

      Hi Rich,

      That sentence is meant to incorporate the flashlight on the table, the one he’s carried with him ever since his tunnel days. Lightning would work, but wouldn’t encompass some of the parts of Hien’s story I had no room for. Thanks for bouncing that idea by me. I like the give and take on the subject we all love.



      • rich October 4, 2012 at 6:36 pm #

        oh, i see what you mean.

      • rich October 4, 2012 at 6:52 pm #

        i hadn’t even noticed the flashlight.

  11. Joyce October 4, 2012 at 8:20 pm #

    Very sad, and very real. For some of us from that generation during the Vietnam war era we know about the ‘agent orange’ and delayed stress syndrome, and the complacency and lack of compassion that many in our country had when the Vietnam vets came home. My cousin’s husband had those problems when he came home from the war and for years suffered with the ‘delayed stress syndrome’ disorder. He was an intelligence officer for the army, and interrogated the Viet Cong and north Vietnam soldiers captured. My husband was exempt from the draft when he enrolled in college, but the war and its effects lingered on for many years for everyone, whether vets or not.

    • dmmacilroy October 10, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

      Dear Joyce,

      You are so right. Michael Herr, in his epic work, Dispatches, wrote, Viet nam, Viet Nam, Viet Nam, we have all been there.

      Thank you for commenting from such a deep place in your heart and in your memories.



  12. vb holmes October 4, 2012 at 10:48 pm #

    Powerful story of a man who had been given too much sadness for one lifetime. Your last line really tops it off.

    • dmmacilroy October 10, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

      Dear VB,

      Thank you for dropping by to read and comment.



  13. rochellewisoff October 5, 2012 at 12:18 am #

    Dear Doug,
    Stunning story. That Agent Orange destroyed his life before he ever asked her to marry him drilled me to the depths. II’m sending a standing ovation across the sea to you. This whole piece is so amazing I’m almost speechless.

    • dmmacilroy October 10, 2012 at 1:09 pm #

      Dear Rochelle,

      I like what I tried to do here…

      Thanks for your fine comments.



  14. myothervoices October 5, 2012 at 3:48 am #

    I like that he breaks bread with his family despite the darkness he feels. Doesn’t seem so completely dark after all.

    • dmmacilroy October 10, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

      We all carry the memory of sunshine with us no matter how dark it gets. Thank you for reading my story this week. I do appreciate it.



  15. thecontradictoryoptimist October 5, 2012 at 6:05 am #

    Such a heartbreaking story yet so true. I love the way you’ve put it across.

    • dmmacilroy October 5, 2012 at 6:15 am #

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to let me know you enjoyed it. Fuel for the tank. Mahalo.



  16. Sandra October 5, 2012 at 6:17 am #

    Beautifully written, sensitively conceptualised. A remarkable piece, and one that projects more than a few reflective moments. Well done Doug.

    • dmmacilroy October 5, 2012 at 6:23 am #

      Dear Sandra,

      Merci beaucoup for your fine compliments crossing oceans to reach me.



  17. valeriedavies October 5, 2012 at 7:57 am #

    Thank you Doug for a very moving beautifully told story. Your economy of words tells so much more than descriptive explanations.
    You conveyed the pointlessness and futility of those times so very powerfully.-.

    • dmmacilroy October 10, 2012 at 1:12 pm #

      Dear Valerie,

      Your cogent comments always leave me smiling. Fuel for the tank, ink for the pen and inspiration for the next story. It is I who must thank you.



  18. Raina October 5, 2012 at 7:58 am #

    Dear Doug, what a rich scene! I loved how you filled the home with viet cuisine and her presence. It was a very heartwarming read. And a little sad too.

    • dmmacilroy October 10, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

      Dear Raina,

      This story had its roots where you do, I’m thinking. I wanted to honor you and your fine picture. And i Love Viet cuisine.



      • Raina October 11, 2012 at 12:32 am #

        Thank you Doug.

  19. Joanna (Lazuli Portals) October 5, 2012 at 8:44 am #

    Heart-rending contrast between Hiet Giang’s isolation and his family’s presence. “Emptied her of tears” speaks of such depth of pain that I want to cry with Ai Long for her losses.
    The effects of war linger through time, something which you’ve portrayed so well here.

    Our little corner:

  20. tollykit October 5, 2012 at 10:36 am #

    A very moving piece Dog, and beautify written.

    • dmmacilroy October 5, 2012 at 11:16 am #

      Who you calling a dog? (Thanks for the comment)(Pesky typos)(For a small fee I will correct that….:)



  21. unspywriter October 5, 2012 at 11:06 am #

    You’ve put an all too human face on an old enemy, and that is much needed. “Collateral Damage” is the perfect title for this well-spun tale of ill-thought actions have unforeseen but nonetheless horrific consequences.

    Here’s mine:

    • dmmacilroy October 10, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

      Dear Maggie,

      Thank you for dropping by and reading.



  22. Perry Block (@PerryBlock) October 5, 2012 at 12:39 pm #

    Very affecting piece, well -told in few words.

    Even made me hungry too!

    • dmmacilroy October 10, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

      Dear Perry,

      Thanks. I loved yours. None better.



  23. readinpleasure October 5, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

    Haunting story, Doug, though I was confused by the names. Thanks for the visit. I’m here for others:

    • dmmacilroy October 10, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

      Dear Celestine,

      Names like Kuk? We humans have a wide variety of names, don’t we. Thanks for visiting and commenting.



  24. kdmccrite2 October 5, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    Goodness, Doug. This was heart-breaking and, as usual, beautifully executed. Well done, my friend.

    • dmmacilroy October 5, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

      Dear Kady,

      I’m glad you got a chance to read Collateral Damage and appreciated the writing. Knowing my stories might be seen by you keeps me striving for the best. Thank you for stopping by and making my morning. I’ll keep my eyes out for your story.



  25. elmowrites October 5, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

    Wow, Doug. You are right at the other end of the spectrum from me on this prompt. I clearly prefer my warfare intergalactic and fantastical.

    I found your story completely heartbreaking and the final image just endlessly desolate.

    • dmmacilroy October 10, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

      Dear Jen,

      Just balancing out the scales. I love it when you stop by and read. Thanks for visiting.



  26. Jan Morrill October 5, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

    All I could think was “oh” as a lump formed in my throat. Very sad, powerful and beautiful.

    • dmmacilroy October 10, 2012 at 12:50 pm #

      Dear Jan,

      Shall I aim for light hearted in the next story to make up for it?

      Thank you for reading and commenting.



  27. John Hardy Bell October 5, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

    An extremely powerful piece of writing told from a perspective that isn’t represented nearly enough. The concept of a war coming to an end is such a flawed one. For those who were directly affected, it never comes to an end, as your piece beautifully illustrates. Instead of celebrating when the last shot is fired, maybe we should work harder to ensure that the first one never happens!

    • dmmacilroy October 10, 2012 at 12:48 pm #

      Dear John,

      You are so right. Thank you for visiting and leaving such a nice comment.



  28. Sarah Ann October 5, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

    Thanks Doug for a thought provoking story. Not easy to ‘like’ as Paul said. Not easy to describe the words as beautiful either, but they are incredibly evocative.

    • dmmacilroy October 10, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

      Dear Sarah Ann,

      (Permissable to say that I love your name?) I know what you mean about the ‘like’ button. There ought to be a wider choice. Thank you for your kind comments. I look forward to reading your story in a few days.



  29. newpillowbook October 5, 2012 at 11:22 pm #

    What a heartbreaking story! “Hien Giang sits alone and breaks bread with his family.” So many things we do have long trails of consequences that nobody stops to think through at the time – especially in the middle of war.

    • dmmacilroy October 10, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

      Dear NPB,

      Thanks for stopping in and reading. Almost time for another. Looking forward to reading yours.



  30. Lora Mitchell October 6, 2012 at 1:37 am #

    Tender and heart wrenching from one of my favorite FFictioneer contributors. This place would be a sorry site without Doug’s brilliant stories.

    • dmmacilroy October 10, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

      Dear Lora,

      You do me honor and i appreciate it. Knowing that you are out there reading keeps me on my game. Thank you very much.



  31. Brian Benoit October 6, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

    Your details, from the small to the large, are what makes the tragedy so strong in this – the rising before dawn, the aromas and the memories mingled. Your stuff is usually very powerful, but this is even a cut above the rest I’d say. Great writing.

    • dmmacilroy October 10, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

      Dear Brian,

      Comments like yours are like a drug. Sadly, I am addicted. Thanks for being my supplier.




      • Brian Benoit October 10, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

        Ha, just doing my part

  32. Beth Carter October 6, 2012 at 10:23 pm #

    What an amazing, heartfelt story in such few words. Doug, you are a master. My eyes are stinging with tears as I write this. It hit home because the brother of my husband’s best friend just died this past week. Main cause: Agent Orange.

    Well done. My very different take is here:

    • dmmacilroy October 10, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

      Dear Beth,

      You and many others were the inspiration for my story. Humans are a strange breed, always fouling their nest… I wonder about our future. Destined to keep learning the same lessons over and over again. I appreciate your fine comments very much.



  33. Anne Orchard October 7, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

    So many nations having caused so much pain in their history. I have started researching the transportation of prisoners to Australia from Britain in the 1700s and 1800s, which is part of a pain that my country inflicted on others. Yours brings home such an episode from your country and makes it oh so personal. Thanks for the insights and the learning.

    • dmmacilroy October 10, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

      Dear Anne,

      Thank you for your comprehensive comments. Do you plan to incorporate the results of your research into a novel? I’m intested.



      • Anne Orchard October 10, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

        That’s right Doug, it’s a ‘semi-fiction’ project based on the life of one of my husband’s ancestors, with whom I happen to share a name 🙂 Definitely going to be written as a novel, hence my need to learn how to write fiction. I’m reading a non-fiction book about the time at the moment, and it just doesn’t have the same feeling of a story that I want to achieve. Thanks for the interest, Anne.

  34. Shirley McCann October 7, 2012 at 2:38 pm #

    I loved the reference to the flashlight. Makes me wonder if he keeps it around just in case. Great, moving story.

    • dmmacilroy October 10, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

      Dear Shirley,

      The flashlight was what made me imagine Hien Giang’s story. In the end there was no mention of it, but, yes, he keeps it there, just because. Keen eye.



  35. erinleary October 8, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

    Very touching; truly the effects of war are long term and painful for almost all involved. Well told in so few words. Thanks, Doug.

    • dmmacilroy October 10, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

      Dear Erin,

      Thank you for your kind comments.



  36. tedstrutz October 10, 2012 at 11:54 pm #

    My. That is a powerful tale, Doug.

    • Douglas MacIlroy October 11, 2012 at 6:01 am #

      Dear Ted,

      Thank you, sir.



      • tedstrutz October 11, 2012 at 6:21 am #

        Get my lei ready, Doug…

      • Douglas MacIlroy October 11, 2012 at 6:27 am #

        Dear Ted,

        Stringing it now.

        Details, Ted….details please.




  37. Caely October 23, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

    Dear D,

    Once again, I can associate myself with your words. Although this time it’s a little bit more than usual. You know I’m half Vietnamese, right? My family fled the war and the phrase “in a darkness no flashlight can pierce” made me shiver. A story well written (even if the food mentioned in it made me hungry).


    • Douglas MacIlroy October 23, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

      Dear Caely,

      Yes, knew from your name of your Vietnamese heritage. Were you born there? Your comments on this story really mean a lot to me becasue of your history. Thank you for brightening my day. I’m also glad you think I got the food right. (I love Viet Cuisine.)



      • Caely October 24, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

        Dear D,

        Nice, not many people can figure that out actually. I was born in Sweden, but grew up in a very cultural home. When we meet, we’ll have lots of Viet cuisine 🙂 It’s the best food I know.



  1. THE GIRL MOST LIKELY « Rochelle Wisoff-Fields-Addicted to Purple - October 5, 2012

    […] come home to. So if you’re looking for gut wrenching and thought provoking look to my friend Doug MacIlroy. I promise you won’t be […]

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