THIS IS A WINDSOR KNOT • by Nolan Capps

Roman Sherwood never expected anything from his drill instructor but glares and open-handed blows. Then came the day of the inspection. Sergeant Musselwhite singled the boy out, directed him onto the quarterdeck, and taught him how to wear a necktie like a Marine. A flush filled Roman as his drill instructor’s smooth knuckle brushed his Adam’s apple. Musselwhite’s Smokey-the-Bear shadowed both their faces, and Roman smelled the coffee on his breath and the Aqua Velva on his neck. They stood close enough to kiss.

“This is a Windsor knot,” Musselwhite said. “And this is how you adjust it.”

He pulled the knot tight around Roman’s neck.

Roman thanked his drill instructor and stood a bit straighter. The pride was new. In church, even as a teenager, he had worn a clip-on tie. He wondered now why his father had never stood across from him, put hands to him, shown him how to loop one end around the other and pull it through in a neat knot. Why had his father never shown him how to dress like a man?

He heard again his father, the pastor, rehearsing a sermon in the den while Roman clipped a red, too-short tie to his collar. His father practiced jokes, pauses, threats. Why had he, who seemed so concerned with the souls of the men and women who came to hear him preach, shown so little concern for the soul of his own son?

Roman played with the tie and longed for one more touch from Musselwhite’s knuckle on his neck. A forbidden, familiar warmth filled his chest, and he fought to quench that warmth. The Windsor knot at his throat made it hard to swallow. He pulled it tighter. Then he felt controlled. He felt better.

“Roman,” said Casey, his bunkmate. “How’d he do that tie, man?”

Roman tried to say, come here, I’ll show you. But the words came out in a wheeze.

“Bruh,” Casey said, “I think he put it on there too tight. You’re turning red.”

“It feels fine,” Roman said. He looped the tie around Casey’s neck.

“This is a Windsor knot,” he said. “And this is how you adjust it.”


Nolan Capps was born in Augusta, Georgia. In 2009, he enlisted in the Marine Corps infantry, and he served as a mine sweeper in Helmand, the most dangerous province of Afghanistan. He has worked as a landscaper, trim carpenter, short-order cook, and writing tutor. He earned his MFA from New York University. His writing has appeared in War, Literature & the Arts, Arts & Letters, phoebe, and the Kenyon Review. His first novel, Mosquito Wings, is on submission.


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