Wishes Are Not Horses


Wishes Are Not Horses



                        Seven airmen sat on tatami mats playing poker on a khaki blanket spread over a table fashioned from four cardboard boxes. The eighth sat on his bunk staring at photographs arrayed on his footlocker. A bulb in an aluminum shade hanging from the tent’s rafter lit the table. A candle illuminated the photographs.

            “Are you in this game or not, Wechsler?” Murph yelled.

            Wechsler didn’t answer.

            “Maybe he’s saving his money for some Pusan pussy,” Boston Blackie said.

            Wechsler threw a brogan at the table, but Pops caught it.

            “Jesus, but he’s sensitive!” Poster Boy said.

            “He’ll get over it,” Sammy said.

            “Get over what?” The Preach asked. “I don’t have anything to get over. Anybody have anything to get over”

            The six others shook their heads.

            “Then what’s eating Wechsler?” Brains asked.

            “Homesick, probably.”

            “But he isn’t looking at pictures from home. He’s looking at pictures of gooks.”

            “Maybe he doesn’t have a home. Maybe the Air Force is his home.”

            “He’s Senator Wechsler’s son, for Christ’s sake. Of course he’s got a home.”

            “Geez. What’s he doing in the Air Force as an enlisted man? And why Korea?”

            “I heard he rebelled. I heard he didn’t want a commission, that he wanted to serve his country without special treatment.”

            “What crap!”

            “I don’t think it’s crap. I give the guy credit.”

            “Yeh, for stupidity.”

            “I feel sorry for him. Look at him. He looks like he’s about to cry.”
            “I think village pussy would fix him right up,” Pops whispered,

            “Speaking of pussy, I think what you did was disgusting.”

            “What did Pops do?”

            “He bought a pregnant mamasan who has two kids, dincha Pops? Ten cartons of cigarettes a month and she’s there for him any time he stops by. She has her own house in the paddy, and she cooks for him and does his laundry. Her belly is out to here. Right, Pops?”

            Five airmen groaned.

            “She’s a good woman,” Pops said. “She’s faithful. Okay, partly because she’s very pregnant and partly because the GIs can find better josans, but mostly because she likes me. She was pregnant when I met her, so she isn’t carrying my baby, and I can’t get her pregnant because I’ll be stateside by the time this one is born. She gets twenty a month in cigarettes, which she sells for a lot more, I get the comforts of home and a little action, and everybody’s happy.”

            “That’s disgusting!”

            “No, it isn’t. There’s a police action going on whether you’ve noticed it or not. She’s surviving this police action, which I spell W A R. The only thing disgusting is the police action.

            “How did you meet this non-disgusting prize?”

            “Her seven-year-old introduced us.”

            “Introduced you?” Poster Boy asked. “I’ll bet the kid came up to you in the village and asked, ‘GI wanna sexy? Sexy have a yes.’ You call that an introduction. I call it pimping for mamasan, you ask me.”

            “So, you think maybe she should have called her babysitter and had her chauffer drive her to her job in Seoul?”

            “Where are her kids when you’re banging their ma? Don’t they—”

            Wechsler’s other brogan hit the table, mixed the cards, and drew threats from all of the airmen except Pops. He chose to sit on Wechsler’s bunk and drape his arm over Wechsler’s neck and shoulder. “May I look at the pictures with you?”

            Wechsler nodded assent.

            Pops picked up a photo of a boy of about eight leaning on a crutch fashioned from a crooked tree limb. His short height caused him to lean over it unnaturally. His right foot was grossly malformed, and he was clothed in rags and a GI fatigue cap with a frayed visor. His smile was broad.

            “This is a good shot. I’ve seen this boy outside the north gate.”

            “His name is Inginy. He’s always outside the gate begging. I give him chocolate.”

            “He looks like he needs more than chocolate.”
            “He sells it. Once in a while he eats some.”

            “And who is this?” Pops held up a picture of a young lady whose heavy lipstick was evident even in the black and white print. She wore western slacks and a sweater.

            “That’s Pongja.”

            “Is she someone special?”

            “No. Just a josan. I met her brother in the village and gave him a carton of cigarettes to take me to her. I didn’t know he was her brother. The carton bought me a long-time, so after we finished we just lay there on the mat talking until my long-time was up. She asked me if I would buy her some weekies the next time I went to Japan.”

            Wechsler paused to blow his nose and didn’t continue his story,

            “Easy, Son, take your time.” Pops scanned the rest of the photos and selected another. It depicted two men carrying a young girl, perhaps five-years-old, by the shoulders. Her head hung limply on her chest and she was bleeding from her nose. They were walking on the rubble of the brick and mortar that was once a building.

            “What’s going on here? Who is this?”

            “Just a little girl with a broken neck. Nobody important. Nobody that matters.” Wechsler got out a box containing more pictures. He showed one to Pops. It was of a brick building whose windows had no glass and whose roof had been bombed off. Through one of the windows could be seen a clothesline strung between what was left of two walls. From it hung a blanket and several articles of Korean clothing.

            “This is the same building from another view. I took the picture a week before I took the one of the girl. That building was her home. See the GI helmet on the floor? That was her family’s washbasin and laundry tub. When I took the picture of her there was what looked like smoke, but it was the dust from the bricks that broke loose off the top of a wall. Those bricks broke her neck. Why would anyone live in a gutted building? What were her parents thinking?”

            “Maybe she didn’t have parents. Maybe she was an orphan making it on her own.”

            Wechsler took the picture from Pops and tore it into small pieces.

            “That won’t solve anything, you know.”

            “Wechsler tilted his head back and sighed. “I have the negative.”

            “You were telling me about weekies.”

            “Right. Pongja wanted weekies. I didn’t know what they were, and her English wasn’t too good, so she reached under her pillow and took out five pages from a Sears & Roebuck catalogue. She pointed to the weekies. It was a set of seven panties. Each one had a day of the week printed on it. These people have nothing and she fucked me for a two dollar carton of cigarettes and maybe some panties. What’s worse, I let her. We should both be ashamed.”

            “I don’t see it that way. I think the Koreans are a very proud and resourceful people. They—”

            “Oh yeah? How about Rosie? Do you know Rosie?”

            “The Rosie that works in the laundry? Sure, everybody knows Rosie.”

            “I was walking down the road past the laundry and I saw Rosie running like hell across the road in front of me. I asked her where she was going in such a hurry and she yelled, ‘Rosie take a piss!’ That’s demeaning. Don’t tell me about pride.”

            “Son, you need to come up for air. Where do you think Rosie learned the word ‘piss’? She learned it from some GI. Don’t blame Rosie. The one demeaned is the one who taught it to her.”

            “I can’t think straight anymore. I just see these people groveling. Everywhere I look I see it. I can’t get away from it.”

            “I see what you see, but where you think grovel, I think survival. I think of a people doing what they need to do. They take life as they find it, not as they would like it to be.”

            “I do the opposite. Maybe that’s a problem for me. I take life as I want it to be, not as it is. My dad was right. He said I should have gone to Harvard. I said later. I said first I wanted to go to Korea and help make a difference. It isn’t worth making a difference. But now I don’t know anymore. Maybe it is. At any rate, Dad will be here next week and I’ve got nothing to show for my life.”

            “Your father is coming here?”

            “With Eisenhower. Ike is coming to honor a campaign pledge. Dad is part of his entourage. He’ll see I haven’t gotten anywhere. His wish didn’t come true, and neither did mine. What can I tell him?”

            “Tell him what my aunt used to tell me, that if wishes were horses beggars would ride. Just like the Koreans, you and he have to deal with what is and make the best of it. But I don’t think that he needs to be reminded of that.  It’s you that does.”

            Wechsler rifled through the box of pictures and picked one to show Pops. “Where were you when Spike Jones came with the USO last month?”

            “In the Rice Bowl listening to him with everybody else.”

            “Not quite everybody else. That’s a shot of me and Poster Boy with two of the village josans. Down the hill you can see the Rice Bowl. Packed.  We were off base lying in the grass listening to Spike, and there was no one on the hill except the four of us. The josans loved it. That one was mine. Her name is Yungja. She laughed and giggled the whole time. Then, at least then, she didn’t wish for anything. She lived for the moment, and I despised her for that. Funny thing . . . I don’t despise her anymore. She was playing the hand that was dealt to her, is all. Just like you’ve been saying.”

            “And the hand you’ve been dealt has your father coming with Ike. How will you play it?”

            “I won’t. I’ll let it play me. I’m through wishing. Wishing bites me. I’ll try accepting. That’s what Pongja does, and that’s what our houseboy does. It’s what they all do.”

            “Your father will be proud of you.”

            Wechsler nodded slowly and repeatedly. “That would be nice,” He put the pictures back in the box. “I wish I had bought Pongja those weekies,” he said.


The End



Gerald. R. Kozak


Gerald’s fiction, non-fiction, and poetry have appeared in nationally distributed magazines and journals, including, but by no means limited to, Modern Maturity, Medical Economics, and The Norfolk Quill. He has self-published three novels and a compilation of short stories and poems. 


  1. Really loved this story. Nice job.

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