It’s Sunday and you know what that means. What can I tell you about this old story of mine?
Well, obviously Vietnam was on my mind when I wrote the story; but since I wrote this story maybe 15 years ago, I had not been a soldier in Vietnam since 1966. War stays with anyone who has been in a war for any length of time. And this story is not so much about war but very much about the after effects of war on anyone who has been in war.
I think Iraq war veterans and Afghanistan veterans will agree with me. I’m 66 years old.
Today in Pittsburgh it is overcast and around 50 degrees. The Old Soldier has been to a couple of bars and watched the Steelers and now he is back in his apartment at around 5:00 p.m.
I’m going to post this and drink some beer and read a book that I got from the public library by Eric Berkowits tilted Sex And Punishment and watch some online adult videos.
But the Vietnam War will always be with me.
The Vietnam Veteran
The young man moved into the downtown YMCA in his home town of Pittsburgh. The days and nights passed. He lounged about gathering strength from long walks beside the river, from the texture of old buildings and the pigeons in the square and from the wind in the leaves of the trees. At night there was the glow of the fires in the furnaces of the steel mills on the far shore of the river, and the lights of the city and the moving lights of the traffic on the bridges. There were the sweeping search lights of the tug boats on the river pushing barges heaped with coal. There were the well dressed people coming from operas and ballets.
One day he did those things you do in the morning after you get up and he went outside and found it too chilly to be in a short sleeve shirt and not to be wearing a light jacket, but that was okay; it was going to be a hot, sunny day. He looked up at the tall buildings and saw how sunlight glinted off the highest window panes. He watched the young women walk by. Some of their hemlines were mid-thigh. He bought a newspaper and went into a nice, quiet restaurant for breakfast.
It felt strange reading about the war. He didn’t know how much longer it would go on but he did not have to go to it anymore. The artillery rounds of the support batteries exploding up ahead. The harsh whoop! whoop! whoop! whoop! whoop! whoop! whoop! whoop! whoop! sound of dozens of rotary blades beating the air. The tops of trees sweeping past a few feet below. Forcing yourself to get out and stand in the wind on the skids. The explosions of the artillery shells just up ahead suddenly stopping. The entire squad now standing on the skids. The helmets, fatigues, boots, packs, rifles, grenades, pistols, ammo, bayonets, canteens, sweat, body stench, weariness and the fear. Always the fear.
“Sir, would you like anything else? Sir?”
“Just the check, please.”
He looked down at the deep carpeting. He looked at the wood paneling. He watched the well dressed man and woman being shown to a booth.
For a long time he walked around the downtown. Everything seemed new. He ended up in the downtown park. He sat on a wooden bench and looked at the high tower of water in the huge fountain. People waded in the fountain and some sun bathed on the fountain’s wide rim. A few people stood looking out at the two converging rivers. He knew where the two rivers converged began the Ohio. He looked at the river he faced. Sunlight glinted off the dark, rippling water. A boat with four young people around his age came slowly down the river. The two young women were on their stomachs on a blanket on the bow with the tops of their two piece swim suits undone, browning their backs in the sun. On the far bank two engines slowly pulled a long line of railroad cars. No end in sight. A small, yellow plane on floats taxied on the river. It flew under one bridge then up over the next one. A young couple strolled past. They were holding hands. Her long hair was alive in the wind. She looked up into the face of her companion and then laughed at something he said. Sitting on the wooden bench, the young man took a deep breath and closed his eyes against the sun. The sun was warm on his face and a breeze was gentle on his arms.
“Have you made any plans?” his father had asked him. The older man and the young man sat in chairs in the young man’s room.
“You’re welcome to come down and work in the garage with me. It’s either you or someone else.”
“Or you could go to college now and get paid for it.”
“I’ve been thinking about that, too.”
“To tell you the truth, son, your mother and I are a little concerned about you sleeping all day and then staying up all night listening to the stereo. We hardly ever see you.”
“I play it as low as I can.”
“No, no we never hear it. It’s just that we’re not use to seeing you so inactive.”
“All right you two up there. Supper’s on the table.”
The young man walked back to the Y. He knew he was getting better.
The Pittsburgh Flash Fiction Gazette is an online magazine of serious writing and brazen sexuality.
- The Sunday Flash Fiction Story (7 October 2012) (pittsburghflashfictiongazette.com)
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