The story begins in a marina
Someone hitches a ride home during a train strike
It’s a story about the effects of war.
He watched the sail boats going out to sea, taunt sails catching the wind, skimming the surface of the bay like dragonflies. Around him the marina was quiet, still but for the last sailboats, rushing out to catch the sunrise. He came here everyday, every morning and night, to watch the sailboats going and coming. Most days, he ate in the little cafe just outside the marina; two eggs scrambled, toast, sausage, bacon, grits. What they call a Poor Man’s Breakfast. He wasn’t sure of that. Seemed to him most poor folks couldn’t afford sausage and bacon every morning, but what did he know? He afforded the food because of his pension check, money given to silence him, make sure he never told the real story of the war.
The sun rose slowly over the ocean, casting the boats into long shadows over the water, filling the sky with brilliant reds and oranges and pinks streaked with dark slashes like claws from whatever might live beyond.
He rose, stretching to ease sore muscles, a leg that would never work right again, the forever pain in his shoulder. Today he wouldn’t eat. He hadn’t gotten his check yet. It was late. If he didn’t get it soon he would be sleeping on a park bench somewhere, not his favorite place to be. Park benches. They reminded him of Paris during the war, every park bench stinking of the enemy.
Stiff-legged, he walked back up the path to the marina itself, nodding to the fellows he knew, at least in passing. He didn’t think he really knew anyone anymore. Not like he used to. In the war he had never been alone. Afterwards, when they’d come home to silence, to hard looks, mumbled accusations, he felt as if he was the last man in the world.
Making his way out to the street, he started to walk along the road out-of-town. Normally, he rode the train; another plus of the pension. Today there wasn’t a train. Those folks weren’t working, wanted more money, more holidays more everything. Folk that didn’t fight didn’t know, didn’t understand, didn’t value what he and others fought to give them.
Maybe he’d get a ride. Sometimes people stopped. Not as much now as years ago. People were too afraid these days, afraid of strangers, afraid of rabid dogs, afraid of anything possible. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t go to a stranger’s car because they will take you. Don’t walk alone at night. Don’t ride the bus alone. They will attack you.
Who were these people called They? People didn’t understand. They were tame compared to the war. Sane. War was insanity. He’d never understood that before, before he enlisted, before he thought he was heading off to the glory of defending his country, killing the enemy, returning a hero.
He wasn’t a hero. He’d never been a hero. He was a murderer, nothing more.
A car passed him and pulled to the side of the road. Best he could, he trotted forward, leaning down to look into the passenger side window.
“You need a ride?” A stranger. Don ‘t talk to strangers. Don’t go to stranger’s calls. They will take you and you will never be seen again alive. Didn’t their fighting mean anything?
“Yeah,” he side, opening the door and sliding into the car.
“Where are you going?”
He didn’t look over, didn’t do anything but stare out the windshield as if he was seeing his past again, hearing the rockets. Murderer.
“Don’t matter. Just drop me off wherever you like.”