It has long been a tradition on my blog to post a piece of fiction on Memorial Day. Always involving those lost in service to the nation.
This year is no exception. I humbly submit my work today, entitled “Dawn” for your contemplation. I ask merely that today you reflect on those who gave their lives for this nation. They’d want you to have the barbecue and the beer. But remember their sacrifice as well.
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Dawn was late in coming. At least that’s how Zachary felt. He’d been up most of the night reflecting on his youth, and the men he’d served with. Memorial Day always brought out a streak of melancholy when it rolled around.
There were no women in his shipboard memory, other than the cute ones he left behind, because during his time of service only men served in combat roles. Perhaps that was good, perhaps not. But it was simply the way it was for a very long time in his life.
He set the machine to produce another cup, 12 ounces, strong, and added three teaspoons of sugar (and an equal amount of fiber: he was getting old and clogged works were an issue) to the grimy mug sitting on the counter. As it steamed, he reached down and fondled his dog’s ears. Of all the things he’d remembered missing on the submarines, having a dog around topped fresh food and long showers by a mile. Something about a good dog made life bearable no matter the circumstances.
The brew cycle finished, he discarded the little cup it came in, and set the spoon to work stirring. Satisfied there were no lumps, he grabbed a gas-station donut from the package on top of the refrigerator and slid the door to the lanai open. The old dog popped through ahead of him: sheepdogs first seemed to be the rule in life. Quietly closing the door behind him so as not to wake his wife, he opened the porch door and let Riley outside to do his business. The dog looked up into the sky, judged there to be sufficient light, and ambled out to the fence to leave his legacy.
Zachary sat at the table and watched the stars fade from the sky, and the burning sun jam its pink meniscus over the everglades. Dawn was quiet. God had clearly invented it to calm a man’s troubled soul. And if ever a soul was troubled, it was Zachary.
For the last year, since he’d turned 65 and filed for Social Security, he’d been increasingly aware of his life being on the downward side of the curve. It didn’t bother him, but it did make him long for the friends of his youth.
Sitting there in the early dawn, he stared out at the yard and saw not palmettos and plantains, but a handful of shipmates walking toward him, all clad in dungarees and Dixie Cup covers. A raffish lot, but smiling faces. As they came into view, he recognized each with a smile and murmured each man’s name.
They were the ones who hadn’t made it home during his service. The ones Memorial Day was all about. These were the other guys from his very small unit who had died in plane crashes, fallen overboard, or otherwise ended their own life. They were never sure about Danny, and whether or not he’d just fallen off the ship or jumped in the dead of night. Either way, his remains were never found and he joined the long list of men and women who had died during the Cold War.
Zachary watched as Riley ran through the small cluster of men on the back lawn and banged his paw against the door. With the sound of the door clicking on the frame, the old friends faded away.
Riley came inside to his breakfast. Zachary stayed on the lanai until almost noon hoping for his friends to return. He’d seen them last year as well. This year they stayed a little longer. His wife saw him lost in contemplation from the kitchen and left him be.
Next year he’d probably join them if his oncologist was right. After all, they’d only appeared once the initial diagnosis had been made the year before. That wouldn’t be so bad. After all, he still fit in his dungarees and the Navy was still his world. He’d have to tell his wife soon, for she thought he was in remission. Perhaps today, a day that revolved around death and duty. A day that he wouldn’t see again. Perhaps he’d show up on someone else’s lawn next year? Nope, his was a peacetime death and only those who’d passed on his watch came to visit.
Well, that was for another day. Right now he had to raise the flag to full staff. And, damnit, he’d man up and tell Janet that things were about to change.
Forever. Just like the men who’d visited this morning, he was changing duty stations for good.
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Made me cry. Granted: not hard to do. But well done, Joseph. Touched me.
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