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Works of fiction and poetry by friends of Bamboo Ridge Press.

YEAR OF THE MONKEY CONTEST

Solitaire

Published by LANNING | Sunday, October 09, 2016 5:41 PM


1111 words for October


It was humid, but he loved the moist heat, although he often talked about how much he preferred cold weather, would sometimes brag about withstanding nights of extreme cold dressed only in his shorts.

He stooped, a bead of sweat falling on the brown bedroom carpet, and slowly rolled open the bottom drawer of his gray metal filing cabinet. The disorderly mess of papers struck him as having looked important to him at one time. He dug through the layers of yellowing warranties, certificates and policies, until he uncovered the deteriorating leather pouch at the very bottom.

Sitting back, he shoved aside the last hand of solitaire he'd played. Carefully unzipping the pouch, he didn't dump out the contents. Instead, he removed each medal and ribbon carefully, arranging them neatly on the soft stool surface. No matter how often he looked at them, each time they seemed foreign to him. They were like a rare treasure he'd unearthed after it had sat silently in the earth a thousand years, he, an archaeologist.

He'd suffered severe frostbite in the Battle of the Bulge. The bitter weather had crept through the stiff leather of his boots, freezing his feet white, blue-veined and nearly lifeless.

He fingered the ribbon commemorating his participation in the Holland campaign. It seemed hardly to come anywhere near compensating him for the thousands of hours his wife had massaged his dully aching feet, let alone the thousands of dollars he'd spent for the best, most comfortable shoes he could buy. At this moment, in the dripping heat of the late Hawaiian afternoon, he was thankful that even though his feet had little feeling, at least they didn't ache as much as on rainy or cold days.

He pulled the first of the purple hearts from the case. Examining the deformation of the second toe on his left foot, he wondered how that little oddity could possibly deserve the same token as the jagged trench on his inner left thigh.

A bullet had ripped off his toenail. The shot had pierced his boot, only taking, permanently, the toenail. "Better in the foot than in the head," he'd always joked. He’d removed the blood-soaked shoe very carefully, relieved to see that everything besides the nail was intact.

The gaping rift on his inner left thigh still throbbed. The steel fragment had torn cleanly through his thigh, leaving the scar that always made him uneasy about wearing shorts at the beach nowadays.

"But why should I be embarrassed?" he'd always wonder. "I was proud to serve." Still, he always preferred dungarees to shorts at the beach. And he'd been a die-hard swimmer and surfer in Kekaha before he'd left for college in Wisconsin.

"Besides," he thought, "I'd never have met Chrissie if I'd gone straight through college."

He'd given up his boxing scholarship for the draft. He'd been at the point of receiving an athletic scholarship, but the Army had cut short his flyweight career. Still, the four years had been worth it. He loved his country.

Dragging himself back to Wisconsin after his discharge, he remembered how he'd appeared at Paulie's front door. She loved to tell everyone the story of how he'd come limping and shivering up the driveway on Hiawatha Street. Paulie had thrown open the front door and come running to him, the young man she'd taken in before the war as if he were her own blood son. "Why are you dressed this way?" she'd asked, so thankful that at least he'd come back alive.

"Well, Paulie, I had this terrific Army-issue winter coat, but I threw it in the trash when I landed in Chicago.”

So he'd ridden the bus, teeth chattering, from Illinois back to Madison, dressed only in a thin shirt, slacks.

Paulie had sat him down by the fireplace to warm up. His feet were aching. "I did save this." He drew a P-38 from a crumpled paper sack. "I thought John might like to have it."

Paulie, smiling politely, took the gun from him, wondering whether her husband really would. "Oh, I'm sure he'll love this. Where'd you get it?"

He turned and stared into the blazing fire. John told her later that, after many beers and double bourbon shots, "Hank might have said he took it off a German lieutenant he shot through the head, point-blank. I couldn't quite understand what he was talking about."

That was a war story he'd only told once. And he loved to talk about all the war adventures he'd lived through with close friends, the lucky ones, not the dead. His were a highly selective set of stories, and he loved to tell them because they were always funny.

Once, when his son had pushed him, he'd said, "Chris, you never see the people you kill. You just shoot, maybe at moving shapes and hope you get lucky."

And back he'd gone to the University of Wisconsin. He really was always thankful that the four-year gap in his education had made it possible to meet Chrissie.

It happened in the Rathskellar. He'd walked into the popular watering hole on the ground floor of the student union. He'd been looking for any woman, and there she was, sitting with her sorority sisters. She was a Norwegian girl from Chicago, seven years younger than he.

He still couldn't believe that he, a shy Hawaiian boy, had the nerve to walk over to her and say, "Stand up, and if you're not taller than I am, I'll take you to a movie."

She'd stood up. She stood half-an-inch taller. But she'd agreed to go out with him anyway.

And they'd ended up married.

"So really," he thought, fingering the contents of the pouch, "the war was good to me."

Now, here he sat, basking in the humid heat, with no strong pain in his feet or thigh or head today. Married for forty odd years, three children, four grandchildren, making more than enough money to live comfortably, to afford all those pairs of soft shoes -- everything was very good. It couldn't possibly be any better.

He carefully replaced the collection of medals and ribbons in the worn leather pouch. After burying it again under the disordered stack of yellowing papers, he returned to the recliner.

It took a few minutes to clear the whirl of thoughts that crowded his mind, but the memories gradually subsided into their proper place.

The room had grown dark. He wondered what he should do. He switched on the lamp beside him, picked up the mess of cards, shuffled them together into a neat deck, and dealt himself another hand of solitaire.



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