Untitled and Unfinished.

He wasn’t the same when he came back. Something had changed inside of him, but she wasn’t sure what it was. Maybe it was the way he jumped every time a car backfired in their little neighborhood, with its tidy houses and small front lawns, the aura of the creditors ever looming overhead. Maybe it was his conscientious manner toward time and the way that when he kissed her goodbye in the morning he always reminded her that he would be back at “seventeen hundred hours.” She didn’t care.
As soon as the rickety screen door has slammed shut, and she’d heard the engine of his pickup start, she would move to where she kept her journals, and with the baby safely away napping in the small second bedroom, she’d write. Not about anything in particular, just this and that. The weather, sometimes, or her mother, or that today the baby walked or giggled just a certain way. A mother’s journal, she had called it, at the time when she imagined herself to be a mother in the best sense of the word, with the whole world waiting for her, accepting her.
But he was gone when she’d had the baby, alone in that tiny hospital bed, eyes squeezed tight, imagining that there could be no worse pain than this. And when she had laid eyes on their little son, she had melted, and then been afraid.
Who would take care of her now that she had another life in her hands? He wasn’t due back for another year. He came back early, though, when the child was nine months old, hit in the legs and arms by shrapnel. He’d been in the hospital for awhile, and walked with a stiff right leg, but other than that, physically, he was in good shape.
He’d walked off that airplane and her heart had skipped a beat. They’d been high school lovers: she, the cheerleader, cocky with her blond hair swaying over the pleated blue and white skirt; he, the basketball jock, strong, lean, ready to compete. They’d gotten pregnant their senior year, the accident they never saw coming, the promise of a future together stronger than their knowledge of reality. They’d been married, after graduation, in her family’s backyard, with the preacher there and her family. His father, an ex-Marine, had given his son enough help to buy a little house for the his young bride and their unborn child.
He’d gone off to war, just like his father had done when he had been in the same situation years before. “It never matters who you’re fighting,” he’d told his son, “just that you’re there.” She’d been upset at the decision, but with the false hope of a future ahead of them, she’d relented and finally let him sign the papers.
He was whisked away, gone to train to be a man while she grew ever larger around the middle and the glow around her made her soul shine. It was her destiny, her mother had whispered around the table at one dinner. That sole support for young daughter had never faltered, not even in the face of the shoppers at the local Wal-Mart who had sneered when they had seen the captain of the cheerleading squad buying baby outfits, essentials, cream to ease the stretch marks growing on her perfect belly. The piercing that had once graced her belly button had been discarded in favor of the newer, older, motherly look that she fought so hard to attain. Her hair fell in a soft bob, her makeup no longer looked teenage, but now applied as though she no longer cared. She did. She cared so much. She wanted so much.
He came home and she thought they’d be a family. She never realized that he wouldn’t be able to hold her in her sleep the way he had once done. He picked at his food, his humor stolen from hsi body by the dry desert air. He no longer kissed her, picked her up and danced with her. He wasn’t the man she’d married, but he was the father of her child, and so she’d stick it out.
One night, they got into a fight and he slapped her. It had been about something silly, a dish out of place on the drying rack she had so carefully arranged. It had crashed to the floor, causing cries of distress from their son, seated in his high chair. He’d reacted to the incident as though it had been her fault, that somehow she was to blame for the mistakes in his life.
She’d cried herself to sleep alone that night, while his new residence became the couch.
She loved him, she kept repeating in her mind. This was the man she’d married.
His father had set him up with a job at the local supermarket, where he scanned groceries for ten hours a day. It paid little, simply enough to keep the bills at bay and food on their little table.
Things were fine, for awhile. He had been genuinely happy to see her, with blond hair and that smiling face, pretty for him. He had wanted to see their child, something he had always dreamed of but had never told her. When he met them, there in the airport, he had felt so calm. He didn’t understand the change that was taking him over, the way he no longer cared to see her, to talk to her, to hold his son and make him smile.
It started out very small, little things, here and there.
A jar of baby food off the conveyor, before the bagger had even seen it was there. The customers almost never noticed. He’d whisk the item away from their eyes; besides, he had the speed that no clerk had ever seen before. Twice as fast as the other cashiers, his days flew by in a blur of frozen meats, deli items, milk, butter, cheese, toilet paper, bread, eggs. He’d bring his little treasures home, sometimes to share them with her, and sometimes not.
It worked out for some time. He enjoyed the sensation it gave him, a little therapy never hurt anyone was his thought. This couldn’t be worse than those kids he saw who rode their bikes in and just left them, forgotten, by the front of the store. They reeked of weed, buying chips and soda with no cares in the world. Certainly, this wasn’t a crime. Not like that. The old women glared at the kids as they did that, no one had ever been that reckless in their time.
He agreed.
It was the end of summer, golden light falling everywhere and trees showing hints of the tragedy about to befall them, changing colors and falling off their branches, and he had gone to work with no intention of anything happening. He had been trying to curb the habit lately, but he couldn’t bear to do so.
Fifteen minutes later, his final paycheck in hand, he exited the job he had grown so accustomed to. He deposited it in the bank, and went home to find his wife and son laying on their sides in the little living room, laughing as though something was indeed funny. He smiled at them, picked up his young son and kissed his wife. Suddenly, something had changed. He felt a little more free than he had when he had walked into that stern looking grocery store.
The phone call came a few minutes later. “Fired?” Screamed his father, irritated beyond belief. “I put my reputation on the line so that you could have that job! And you betray me? Stealing?” The screams continued, and he settled the receiver against his shoulder. “…served this country….better man….raised you right…”
The door opened, and his father stood there, filling it’s little form, leaving no doubt as to his intentions. “We’d better have a talk.”
They disappeared behind the house, walking through the fields that he would have preferred to be working instead of the grocery store. Maybe he would try and see if the local farmers would be willing to let him drive a tractor, or help with the upcoming corn harvest.
The truck drove away, eventually, leaving her alone with their son, waiting for him to walk through the back door, sullen and annoyed. It grew dark, and he had still not reappeared. She walked out back and called for him, his name echoing slightly in the dust.
She waited, figuring that he must be brooding. She fed herself and the child dinner, and by bedtime, when he had still not come back, she called the sheriff.
It didn’t take them long to find his body.
He had been shot once, at close range, with the same sort of handgun his fathered owned. It hadn’t been drawn out, or painful, instead, quick and angry. The physical evidence overpowered any statement his father tried to make, protesting innocence as he was booked into the county jail.
The trial was quick, and the young woman, now older than her years, sat next to her mother, who held the child. She’d waited so long for so little, and the tears fell as she realized it had all been for the little boy sitting next to her, munching on cereal and smiling. He had never meant any of it, not the fights, the criticism, the slamming of the little screen door daily. He had left her a letter, written before he went to war, in which he expressed his deep gratitude for the presence in his life, the way she made him so much more. She cried, silently,her soul ripped apart and his father felt no remorse.

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