Francine Witte

T wenty years later, and the war blood dry, Captain Martin sits down to breakfast. His gingham wife has cooked eggs. He stares at the sunnyside eyes. Unlike most other faces, this one doesn't beg him for its life. Every night, a gauze of soldiers canopies his bed. In those brief minutes before sleep, he tries to explain, offering words like wartime and duty.

Last night, a young one, barely 16, shows up back home in Tennessee. He doesn't have the slash that Martin "t'd" into his throat. Instead, he is tasting a first kiss, the syrupy night around him, the sugary lips under his.

When Martin dreams, the boy grows up and marries. Soon, there are babies and laughter and song. Waking, Martin tries to shake off the haunting.

When noon comes, he walks into town. He peers into the barbershop window. Past his own reflection, a blade is held to a whiskered throat. Yes, he whispers, that's all it was. Not young boys, but the enemy, lathered up, waiting for the knife. Not killing, but a craftsman doing his job.

This thought helps Martin sigh relief and walk away, his face a ghost in the barbershop glass.

First published: August 2001
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