October 17, 2011

The Letter

Patti Abbott sponsored a flash fiction challenge based on the paintings of Reginald Marsh. Every story written earns $5 for charity. For complete details of the challenge go here. For a list of entries go here. For mine, keep reading.
The Letter



Two Girls On Boardwalk

The fighting wasn’t done but they sent home three and a half weeks ago with a ruined leg. He’s spent the last two on the boardwalk with the letter that arrived the day the machinegun nest cut his squad to chunks of meat in some city he can’t even pronounce. Just sitting there with her letter in his front pocket and his gun in his back, watching the children and the girls and the women and men to old to fight walk by. Watching and waiting for her. Sometimes wishing his head would stop hurting, but mostly waiting and wondering if her hair was still dark or if she had finally turned blonde. 

She had talked about it before he shipped out. She was in love with the actress. The one everyone seemed to like but him. Her friend, Whats-her-name, thought they looked alike. He just didn’t see it and he never cared for blondes.

Catching up to her, he touches her back with one hand. The other, the one he thought was on the gun he was going to use on her for leaving him like that, leaving him by letter, isn’t on the gun at all. It’s clutching the letter.


She turns. “Hello. Can I help you?” Whats-her-name doesn’t realize and keeps walking, keeps talking for two, three, and four clicks of heels on boardwalk board. He realizes then she's not a Rican or a tanned Jew. She's Italian. Isn't she? She's So-and-so, right?

He starts to speak, but nothing comes. “Are you okay? You alright mister?” She asks. He thinks this isn’t her. Is it?

It's not. Just the same, he wants to tell her that she shouldn't have left like that. When she did, it's like she robbed him of some sort of protection and that's why everyone got cut down. He wants to give her the letter back, give it back like it'll make everything go away. But he can't he just clutches his pocket, the pocket with the letter, and his lips move like a fish trying to breathe on land.

Again, she asks, “You okay?”

He wants to tell her no, that he’s not. Not okay. Nothign will move though. Nothign but his leg. It shakes and when it shakes, his head starts hurting again and he just stands there until So-and-so grabs her arm. "Come on Martha," she says. "Let's go.

And they do while he shuffles back to his place and sits down in his spot. Wasn’t her was it? No, her hair is black. Black like dead eyes,

He sits even though the sun is at just that certain height. The bright bullet pierces his eye and his brain hurts. He doesn’t mind. That he understands. That’s something. Something more than a letter he doesn’t remember is his or not.

Sometimes, during the two weeks on the boardwalk, when the light is really bright and the sun is at just that certain height, it sends a single ray like a sniper’s bullet straight through his eye and he has a waking nightmare that her hair is red. Red with blood and pulpy with brains. He closes his eyes then and the dark inside his skull is all smoke and blood.

He’s closing his eyes when she walks by. Almost misses her. Barely catches her when the smoke and blood finally clears, the machinegun cools and quiets, and he returns, again, from that day. If she hadn’t turned and looked over her shoulder, he might not have caught sight of her. But he does.

She’s carrying a red bag and wearing a white bathing suit. High-heeling it down the boardwalk with Whats-her-name who’s in yellow and looking like a Rican or a tanned Jew.

She is blonde.

He stands quickly. Wants to run, but can’t. Moves down the walk, each creak feeling like the bones in his ruined leg are shattering, but he moves, catching sight of her and Whats-her-name over shoulders and around backs.

Memories of her flood his mind. Intimate, but distant. Almost like something he read. Something that used to be his. Something he doesn’t have any more. Does he? He can't remember.
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