KJ Hannah Greenberg
His duffle bag was dusty. His dress uniform, too, was dusty. Even the insignia on his sleeves were dusty.
The sergeant shrugged and watched the bus, which had left him in his parents’ district, drive away. Sighing, he walked down the long flight of stairs that reached from the main road to his home. Here and there birds chirruped. A dumpster cat crossed his path as did one of the season’s first lizards.
The parking lot near his front door held few cars. A torn, plastic laundry basket lay on its side. Candy wrappers skipped in the breeze. A discarded pair of gym shoes hung from one end of the street’s main waste receptacle. Part of a loaf of bread, snugged in a plastic bag, hung from the other.
The enlisted man fumbled for his keys. Making sure his gun was on safety, he laid it and his kit at his feet. Again, he searched his pockets.
Bullets had flown within inches of his face. His captain’s knees had been destroyed by the enemy. A buddy had had to be airlifted out. The warrior thought that he, himself, had killed a man, but given the confusion and distance, no one had been sure.
What’s more, there had been that half day, in the mountains, the place to which the fighters had been transported after battling in the lowlands. In those heights, all of the surfaces had been slippery with snow. A local youngster, maybe eight or nine, maybe older, had urged the non-commissioned officer, who had just come off duty, to help build a white fort.
The soldier had obliged, forgoing precious sleep to form bricks of frozen stuff and to pile them into a row and then into a wall and finally into a shelter. He had been compensated with the child’s smile.
The man boy exhaled. After reaching into the last of his fabric pouches, he had produced no key. Nearby, a kitten cried for its mother. Tree clippings, placed helter-skelter near the trash bin, rattled a bit in the wind.
The kaki-clad youth shrugged. He rebalanced his gun on his shoulder strap and took a drink from his water bottle. Leaving his large cloth bag on his folks’ porch, he made his way up the small knoll that overlooked their address and sat himself down among the season’s new dandelions.
He fingered those shoots and thought about chewing their leaves, but reconsidered on remembering the neighborhood’s cats. Palms turned sunward, visor adjusted over his face, that former innocent, instead, inhaled and exhaled those flowers’ golden dust. He breathed with great purpose. All of his hours had not been destructive ones.
Note: Originally published in May 2015 Doorknobs and Body Paint.
KJ Hannah Greenberg, who only pretends at being indomitable, tramps across literary genres and giggles in her sleep. As well, she eats oatmeal and keeps company with a prickle of (sometimes rabid) imaginary hedgehogs. She’s been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature, once for The Best of the Net, and helps out as an Associate Editor at Bewildering Stories.