Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain- extract

Theres too many people running around, too much bug-eyed panic, all the freak- out flavors of an ambush situation without any of the compensating murderous release. Fireworks crews to their left and right keep shooting off nasty little rockets that hiss and sizzle like RPGs. Portable decides of metal stairs lead up to the highest stage level, and the Bravos are placed at the tops of these stairways, one Bravo per. A narrow catwalk is all that divides them from the stage backdrop, and Billy is standing there, a step below catwalk level, when a magnificent female beast bombs through the backdrop, it is a louvered sort of opening she steps around as several handlers swarm in. One takes her microphone, another offers Evian, a third presents some sort of small, furry garment that the woman proceeds to pull over her head. Beyonce. If Billy selects he could reach out and touch her thigh. Her hair springs free of the pullover like a solar flare, and from Billys vantage point a foot below the catwalk she towers with a Rocky Mountain majesty. Up close her scalp is the honeyed brown of apple butter, limned with a movie of perspiration that holds the sun. Michelle and Kelly have their own handlers farther down the catwalk. No one speaks. They are all business, these show people, as quiet and lethal as sniper teams. Beyonce shoots her limbs through the sleeves of the coat, a cropped, off- shoulder sateen number with a fur-trimmed collar, and as she arranges herself inside the garment her eyes satisfy Billys. Excuse me, he wants to say, go on, go on, shes so focused and fierce in the moment that hes sorry to impinge even to this small extent. Carrying the show in front of forty million people induces her one of the top human being on the planet, and what strength of nerve that must take, what freakish concentrations of spirit and energy. Shes not even winded! A yogic mastery of the mind-body balance. She inhabits some far distant astral airplane, yet her eyes do something when they meet his, for an instant he seems to register there. In that split second Billy searches for something in her seem not mercy, precisely , nothing so grand as compassion, perhaps merely a bare acknowledgment of their shared humanity, but shes already turning, she takes the mike and one of the handlers is telling kick butt as she steps through the slot and disappears. Someone moves Billy onto the catwalk, then pulls him up short of the commencement of the. The noise out there is just tremendous. He appears to his right and considers more Bravos similarly positioned, and at this instant he wishes he was back at the war. At least there he basically knew what he was doing, he had his training for guidance and the entire goddamn country wasnt watching to see if hed fuck up, but this, this is all wing-and-a-prayer shit. Middle level a voice is hollering in his ear, go left and look for the purple X . Abruptly the music gears down to a meat-grinding crawling, kah-thunka, kah-thunka , it is a trash compactor mulling over more than it can chewing. On the lowest tier of the stage Destinys Child is standing in front of three Prairie View drummers, the girls have taken the sticks and are pounding out the beat with the flailing elbows and lunging posture of fashionable women trying to jack up a car. By the time Billy get stiff-armed onto the stage hes barely breathing. Its like stepping into a sun-filled cumulus cloud, a dazzling, cottony glow all about your person and nothing but air beneath your feet. He moves right-oblique toward the center stairs and arrives, small miracle, in sequence with the other three Bravos and everyone is marching more or less in step. He hears a rushing in his head and not much else. Directly in front of the stage the Drill grunts are doing the overhead rifle toss with fixed bayonets , the fucking, they could kill themselves and wouldnt that be the shit, stabbed through the eye on live Tv with your own bayonet! Need me a soldjah, soldjah son Where dey at, where dey at Billy is last in file, thus he objective up on the purple X closest to center stage. Right face, halt. The rest of the Bravos have somehow is available on the bottom tier, Dime-Sykes-Mango–Abort all in a row. Soldjah gonna be real fah me , Beyonce sings against Michelles and Kellys bass-line chant, Soldjah gonna be real fah me Yeah dey will, yeah dey will Soldjah gonna get chill fah me Yeah dey will, yeah dey will They are serenading the bottom-tier Bravos, slinking and spooning about on goody cat feet, mewling minor-key trills of do-me angst. The entire stage has become a blowup of foreplay aerobics, rocket thrusting, shadow humping, knurling hips and ass, here on the second tier the dancers are twurking Bravo and not a damn thing you can do except stand at attention and get pole-danced in front of forty million people. Its not right. Nobody said anything about this. What might be simply embarrassing in real life is attained obscene and hostile by Tv. Billy dislikes to think of his mother and sisters watching this, then one of the guys starts dancing a little too close, punking Billy with glide-by swivels and squats. Like I really wanna see your junk, buffoon! Billy dedicates him a seem; the guy grins and spins away. Then he comes back around, and Billy speaks with all the feeling he can jam through his teeth: Fuck off .


Cover design and illustration by Steve Attardo Photograph: PR

The guy chuckles and hes gone again. The beat quickens as a line of Prairie View drummers goes marching down the stairs, boom-Lacka- Lacka-Lacka boom-Lacka-Lacka-Lacka . The Drill grunts are doing the Queen Anne Salute while troupes of smiling dancers decorate the flanks with jazzy kung fu moves. Down on the bottom tier Sykes is weeping. For some reason Billy is not amazed, he only hopes it will be over before all the Bravos lose their intellects. Destinys Child regroups at centre stage as a meet cyclone of sunlights and fireworks signals crescendo hour. Sykess back is a heaving pantomime of sobs, yet he maintains strict attention, chin up, chest out, and he has never seemed so brave or dear to Billy as at this moment. I aint scared, Im comin through , I aint scared, I aint scared , Big human cant you handle this good love Im offerin you ? Far across the field the Cowboys cheerleaders have formed a kick line, and even at this distance, through the haze of sleet and fireworks smoke, Billys eyes go straight to Faison, his groan a mere drop in the ocean of sound. Destinys Child is mounting the stairs, pausing every few steps to throw sassy appears over their shoulders, T& A bait for the Tv cameras. Billy doesnt so much as twitch when they pause on his tier, a fulmination of animal heat roaring at his side. For as long as they pose he doesnt move, but once theyre gone he raises his eyes to the sky, then lifts his face a few degrees to get the climates full impact. The sleet stings, but he doesnt winking. He lets it go, the spraying of ice like a billion needles showering down on him, then its like the sleet is hanging and Billys flying through it, zooming toward some unnamed but promising place. Everything else falls away and hes happy, free, the sting in his eyes is all velocity and upward motion. It feels like escape velocity. It feels like the future. Hes still standing here, rocketing toward the world to arrive, when Day taps him on the shoulder and tells halftime is over. Ben Fountain won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 2013 for his novel Billy Lynns Long Halftime Walk, a comic satire on American military adventurism, set on a single day just as the US was losing confidence in the Iraq war. The book is being was transformed into a movie, directed against Ang Lee, due for release in November.
Ben Fountain is likely to be encompassing the 2016 presidential race for the Guardian in a series of articles throughout the year . Billy Lynns Long Halftime Walk is published in the US by Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, and is published in the UK by Canongate Books . Read more:

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