Hi, everyone! Today is the House of Manlove Flash Hop! So exciting! A group of authors have each written an original flash piece, 1200 words or less, and are posting them on their individual blogs today. Some may be characters/worlds you are already familiar with from previous works. Some, like mine, may be brand new.
There are two types of stories floating around for this hop: Fourth of July– The Freedom to Marry (established couples) and Midsummer Madness (summer flings). For my 900+ words (I’m tired of recalculating my word count every time I tweak it), I did an established couple, of sorts. Read on to find out what I’m talking about. 🙂
Black Granite Wall
By K. Vale
Copyright Kimber Vale
Left. Left. Left, right, left. The cadence was stilted and sluggish, a lifetime away from the march of his youth. It was the subdued shuffle of a sixty-three-year-old man, made all the less brisk by the ancient knee wound that hurt worse on rainy days such as this. Still, cane in hand, Gary listened to the drill sergeant in his head, his destination calling forth memories from decades ago. Basic training. Boots and uniforms. Good times, and then guns. Bruce. Bruce. Bruce.
How they’d played at being men, before the war taught them that being men was an ugly job. It showed them that staying young meant you didn’t have to kill or be killed. You didn’t have to wake to the sound of shells and screams, whether real or only—blessedly—in your dreams.
You didn’t have to die in a tomb-dark jungle lit only by the violent back and forth of F1s and M26s. You didn’t have to take your last breath with swarms of mosquitoes angling for a sip before your blood thickened too much for their greedy tastes, and they flew off to the next course in their ample buffet.
The sole good to come of those two boys playing at men was that they had loved like men.
You go, I go. Gary closed his eyes against the steady mist and remembered touching Bruce’s youth-soft face as he made the promise. And then Bruce had gone for good, and Gary had gone home with a shattered knee.
The wall seemed to go on and on before bending at a right angle. As if the world couldn’t hold all those names in a straight shot. The black slab would fall off the ends of the earth before the last martyr was carved into it. Too many. Far too many.
Oh, the stories those voices would tell. All different, but all with the same tragic ending.
He ran his hands over the names, knowing he could search for many with whom he’d shared canned meals, borrowed time, and kid fears. The ones who had come home to their mamas in a zippered pouch instead of a wheelchair, as he had.
Bruce Klein. Tears filled his eyes and spilled down already damp cheeks, mingling with the rain like long-lost lovers. He traced the name with his finger as he’d traced Bruce’s lips so long ago, and then placed his palm flat against the stone.
Wet and smooth, like Bruce’s helmet had been when Gary found him and lifted it off to cradle his head in his lap. Life had already guttered out—no time for goodbyes and deathbed promises. But his skin was still warm. His eyes still vibrant blue as Gary gently lowered his lids and showered him in grief.
Time heals all wounds, or so the saying goes. Maybe that was true, but the scars never disappeared. They’d been etched in his heart as permanently as the fallen had been inscribed on this wall.
He stood for what seemed like years, leaning on black granite instead of his cane, replaying the flash of too-brief time he’d had with his best friend. His first love. Finally, he felt as if he could speak.
“Bruce.” It was a whisper nearly lost to the patter of rain, but Gary knew the intended ears could hear him. Somewhere. Somehow. “I came to tell you my news. See, we’re here on vacation. Mostly, so I could come here, but D.C. has a lot to do. Got a nice little suite in a bed and breakfast, and we’re just takin’ it easy for a week. It’s our honeymoon, B.” His voice broke and fresh tears burned, flooded, and dropped.
“Who would have guessed, right? Way back when we were sneaking around? Now guys like us are gettin’ married all over the place. It’s a new world. You would have loved it. You would have loved him.”
Gary tipped his head up and stared into vast gray clouds, letting the heavens cry down on him, feeling washed clean by it all.
“That’s really all I came to say, B. That, and I miss you. I love you. I always will. And Glenn? He’s good with that. I think he loves you in his own way, too. Loves you for the stories I’ve told him.” He patted the stone with a wet slap. “Loves you for making me the man I am.” He swallowed over the lump in his throat. “Loves you just because I do.”
He stepped back and kissed his palm, placed it over Bruce Klein with a sniff and a soggy smile.
“Wherever you are now, buddy, they’re lucky to have you. I was so lucky to have you.”
Gary raised his right hand sharply, index finger barely touching his temple, and elbow at a 45-degree angle. He stood there, back straight and chest puffed out for only a moment before he dropped the salute.
“AMF.” Gary smiled with the derogatory goodbye. Adios, motherfucker. It was slang their unit had used heavily, as normal as a pat on the back and a see ya. Bruce knew. Somewhere, he was nodding, that old childhood scar on his cheek creasing as he grinned down on Gary and then pulled a Lucky Strike from behind his ear and lit it up, squinting as smoke curled toward his eyes.
Gary turned and picked his way back through the rain, gauging each step on the wet stone. The slick grass. Slow and steady as the hands of a clock.
Left. Left. Left, right, left.
Don’t forget to check out the other flashers! 🙂