Weekend Visit From Afar
Tom Sheehan
Ever-mourning mother since receiving the report her son Purly was killed in Afghanistan, Dorothy Charlton watched the young visitor, Carl Bollis, one of his comrades, talking and eating in her kitchen on an unexpectedly hot Saturday morning in an unexpectedly hot August, the days lashing her with withering heat. Her face had gained color, her arms a shining red, a hot splotch gaining a foothold on her neck. Something new had become something old, something reaching for her, an old voice almost riding the air, filling her mind with soft presumption. Down inside, in heart and lungs, all over, rode new knowledge. What had happened had become, she suddenly knew, her story. All Carl’s scenarios had been related and retold, grim, true, nothing held back as if he was a newsman ... but now it was her story as she passed him another cold drink. She was, in essence, searching this stranger for composite traits, characteristic moves, eye shadows, even a grimace that she'd recognize in an instant to be what it was, a piece of her son, a composite but edifying look, but nevertheless a piece of her son in the chair where he'd sat on another hot morning, that of departure.

Now reflections came into new play; a new soldier in her kitchen mirror, a suddenly exposed image of Purly combing his hair before going fishing. At least, that's what he'd said to her, and she knew a girl waited somewhere near the river, hope working both women. They grow so quick, she thought in short reprieve, leave so soon, regardless of the temperature, the time of day, the day of the week. Oh, life's never in idle gear.

Anything was better than nothing. Anything! The fork full of scrambled eggs moved slowly and precipitously to Carl’s mouth, small chunks, like always, falling back onto the plate. A speared half link of sausage endured chewing on one side of his mouth. Soon she saw his jaw hanging loose, as if he enjoyed a lingering taste. She looked for Purly, even as the visitor kept talking, kept trying to re-insert her son into her life, right there in her own kitchen, in the ladder-back chair where Purly last appeared, where he came again on another Saturday morning, her night's sleep done and gone its way into the strange forever she would know and carry, at command, at resurrection, like this once and very moment.

Suddenly she was overcome by curiosity; not knowing the name of the girl, and wondered now where she waited, what she knew or didn't know about Purly. It became a shared terror in the heat.

First published: August 2016
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