“Twenty-two” 479 Words

By Jeff Boyle

 

        The news said twenty-two veterans commit suicide each day, one self-inflicted casualty every sixty-five minutes. This is your day. Take back control and become one of them. Solve every problem. Say goodbye to the flashbacks, the nightmares, the failures. Write a love note apology to wife. Tell her she’s better off. Leave the dress uniform on the bed. Get out the piece and load it. Bring a lawn chair to the back yard. Place gun in mouth, pull trigger, end all the pain in a split-second.

        They’ll hand her a flag as her husband is laid to rest, then process the survivor’s benefits. No more waiting months for delayed disability claims. No more drinking the nights away and sleeping it off during the day when she’s at work. No more avoiding her company and her hopes for a baby, this woman who still thinks the man who came home from the war is the same one who left, not the stranger who no longer sleeps in her bed.

        Now she’s stopped asking, instead dropping hints about her husband finding a job. No one would hire a guy running mental videos of dead Afghan kids and buddies blown to pieces, scenes they never talked about in training. Improvised explosions set off by an invisible enemy. Bad intelligence and not-so-smart bombs killing the wrong people. Discovering senseless death in heat, cold, fire, ice, lives ended or spared by chance. Videos that won’t erase, looping replays of indelible horrors no eyes should ever see, no wife should ever know.

        She says talk to a counselor. Her daily reminder sits by the phone in the kitchen, a symbolic quarter placed beside a card with the phone number for the veterans’ crisis hotline. Make the call she says, failing to understand.

        Only the weak ask for help.

        The strong survive until their will is gone, battles won but souls lost. Nothing left but exhaustion, booze, and disconnected thoughts in a brain so mushed it can’t return to active duty, immune to all prescriptions and those sleeping pills they gave out in the combat zone. Warriors deserve the ultimate sacrifice. A bullet allows no do-overs, no chance to reconsider. Mission accomplished, honor restored.

        Her twenty-five cent piece on the counter begs otherwise, a plea for a miracle.

        Washington’s etched profile on the quarter frowns disapproval, a commander who cannot and will not lie. He knows some decisions offer choices so equal the decision comes down to a coin toss. Trust fate and go with it. Let George decide, heads for life, tails for death.

        Flip the coin high, watch it bounce and come to rest beneath the table. Retrieve it, hoping to find George face down.

        See him smile back with his order, a command to live, give life another chance, start over.

        Put down the gun and pick up the phone.

This story was awarded

"Flash Fiction" 9th Place in the 2015 Florida Writers Association Annual Short Fiction Anthology.

 

Jeff Boyle, Author

Click to email: jeffboyle79@yahoo.com

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