Alex Breeze

Short Stories

THREE WORDS by Alex Breeze
        
        Amidst the dying light of day, he watched the house across the street.        
Light burst through dusk’s haze when a door opened to his right.  An old woman glared his way with a look stole straight from his momma, just before she got out the switch.  Nerves twitched as he turned the key and moved the rented sedan down the street.  Tonight wasn’t the night.  
Neon signs jumped up and down like a child vying for attention as he drove towards the part of town he knew best.  Towns were predictable, the new grew away from the old, the way a child ventures out seeking new.  But he was more at home in the left-behind.
He parked in the pot-holed lot behind a bar, ignoring the stench of urine as he pulled open the reinforced wood door.  Four steps in, he eased to the left and sat with his back to the wall, eye on the room.  The waitress barely glanced at him as she brought a round to another table.  She made her way across the room and stood by his table.  She didn’t bother to speak.  
“Shot of Jack.”  He laid a twenty on the table.
Returning, she set the change next to his drink.  He picked up everything but a dollar then fingered the shot glass.  The candle on the table gave the whiskey a brown glow.  He closed his eyes and took a sip.  The warm bite charged his soul and for a moment he felt something.  Whiskey was one of the few things he missed when he was away.  
He threw back the rest of the drink and waited for it to wash over him.  He’d take care of his business with her tomorrow then there would be one last thing to do.  
He glanced around the room at the usual performances – a scuffle by the pool table, a little grope at the bar.  Folks trying to fight back against empty.  Empty was his friend, everything else was anger and pain. 
He rolled the shot glass on the table with the palm of his hand and contemplated a second, then turned the glass face down on the dollar and left.
Every town had a place that collected RV’s for the night.  He parked behind one that 
had stickers from forty-three states, and crawled into the backseat of his rented car. He fell asleep to the smell of Febreze, and the sound of Ed hollering at Mabel that they were out of beer and her yelling back that he was useless.
He woke to a gray day and when it was over, he would be too.  After a plate of pancakes and two glasses of orange juice, he drove back to her house.  This time her car was in the driveway.  He pulled up across the street and eased his tired body out.
He knocked on the door and listened.  Nothing.  He knocked again.  Again, nothing.  A glance around, a quick move through the gate and he was in the backyard.  It lacked attention, he knew the feeling.  He looked at the side-by-side lounge chairs with a little table between and wondered which one she sat in, which one he sat in.  
“Thanks for the ride.  I’ll email you that recipe tonight.  Bye.”  She was home.
He moved quietly to the sliding glass door and watched as she moved briskly into the kitchen.  She set her purse on the counter then strolled into the living room flipping through the mail.  He waited for her to notice him.  She turned.  Surprise gripped her face, mail slipped from her fingers as her hands covered her round belly.
He slid open the door and stepped towards her.  “No need to be ….”
Her eyes raged, the heat of her glare burned through him like a bullet as she held her hands protectively over her unborn child.
He reached into his pocket.  
She ran to her right, gripped a book from the coffee table and threw it his way.
“Damn woman, give me a chance.”
A pillow, a lamp, flew his way then she reached the fireplace.  With the poker waving over her head, she screamed, “GET OUT!”  
But he couldn’t,  a promise was a promise.  He held out his hand, turned it palm up and let his fingers fall open.  
There, in the midst of the calluses and oil stains, sat a wedding ring.  
She stared at him then his hand.  The poker fell like a body from a roof top, the clank of metal on brick like a scream in the night. 
“He wanted you to know he tried.  He really tried to keep his promise but he just couldn’t.”  His breath cut through a chest gripped by guilt.  “He couldn’t bring your ring back to you so he asked me to.”  
Her hand touched his, with a gentleness he’d never known, as she slipped the ring away.  He expected it to ease his burden, but it didn’t.   
“It’s my fault.”  He hung his head.  “He died cuz of me.  He died saving me.”  Shame shook the words.  “Don’t know why he thought I was worth it.”  He lowered his empty hand and shoved it into his pocket for lack of a better use.  It was the only one he had left but he’d gladly trade it to give her back her husband.
He was sure she would too.
Her hands trembled as she slipped her wedding ring back in place then held it over her heart.  Tears slipped down her cheeks.
“Sorry I scared you.  Sarge, always said I had the social skills of a rapid dog.”
She wiped away the tears and studied his scarred face.  “Leroy?”
“Yes, ma’am.”
He watched her come at him.  He stood still.  He figured he deserved anything she wanted to do to him.  She raised her right hand and placed it over his heart, no doubt ready to tear the useless thing from his chest.  Her blue eyes locked like a missle onto his as she said, with all the softness of a summer’s breeze, “Welcome home, soldier.”
Three words sucker punched him to his knees.  His body heaved.  He fought to hold back the sobs.
His sergeant’s wife touched his shoulder, “Welcome home, soldier.”
Three words slammed into the walls around his aching heart until they collasped into dust.  


Alex has been in love with the short story since she read The Tell Tale Heart as a teen.  As a writer of spicy suspense, she strives to insert that beating heart in every story.
 

Here's the story behind THREE WORDS 
 

As a child of the 60's, I grew up with the Vietnam War but wasn't truly affected by it.  I didn't have a brother or friend who served.  I did wear a POW/MIA bracelet.  It was the least I could do, and, I'm ashamed to say, it was also all I did.  

As years passed, and I became more aware, I regretted not showing more appreciation to those who served.  I saw an opportunity, during the Gulf War, to change that by participating in the pro-troop gatherings.

At one of these rallies, I was tapped on the shoulder by a gentleman who wore camo's and alot of anger.  "Where were you when I came home?" he demanded. 

"I was young and naive and didn't understand," I said.  "I hope it's not too late to welcome you home now."  His eyes filled with tears as he slowly turned and walked away.  My words were too late in coming.

Three Words is my meager way of giving every soldier what they deserve - a welcome home.
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