This second of my stories in the series of those not accepted by journals for publication has composites of persons and events. It is loosely based on vets I’ve met.
A graveyard security person at the Greyhound bus station rousted Paul Carter Jones from a restless sleep on a hard bench saying, “Day shift will be here soon, Doc.”
“Thanks…ah…Guard.” Jones had a five-year history of overthinking, indecision, and not remembering names – even his own. Neither could he fathom why everyone who seemed to know him called him Doc.
Jones limped to the restroom and relieved himself before splashing water on his face and hand-combing his hair. He went to a vending machine and slid in three quarters. While fingering three other quarters in his pocket, he mumbled, “Too many choices.” Buck and a half for a breakfast burger with Gunny. And I can get a free water. He tapped the coin return pad and took the quarters from the return tray.
He limped out of the station into a mix of rain, sleet, and snow driven by swirling blasts of late November wind. His exposed face and hand smarted. I hate Minneapolis! He covered his right ear with his right hand and leaned into the wind. His deaf left ear went unprotected.
The wind driven empty left sleeve of his too large Mackinaw smacked him on the chest, head and back as he shuffled toward the illuminated PCJ Good Eats sign a long block away. He uncovered his ear and the elastic string of his mask slipped off. The wind took it. He struggled to catch his flopping, unfilled left sleeve and tuck it into the same side jacket pocket.
The wind switched directions at the intersection; he eyed a shallow alcove, hesitated, then stepped behind the post supporting the cover. Should get farther in. They’ll see me. Traffic eased and he went to the curb to wait for the pedestrian crossing signal. A passing bus splashed slush and street debris-infused water from a clogged drain. The mini-flood washed over the tops of Jones’s scuffed ankle-boots saturating his Salvation Army gifted argyles.
The light changed to all-way pedestrian. A red-light running driver in a high-lift pickup passing behind him splattered his back with water and slush.
A blast of hot air from the overhead heater just inside the diner door melted the slush in Jones’s greying hair while he waited his turn. He donned a one-to-a-customer ear loop mask from the box by the door before gimping to the ordering end of the counter.
“Morning Doc,” came from the man behind the pass-through window to the kitchen. “Same?”
“Well, Cook, … ah … well sure.” Jones slid six quarters under the Plexiglas next to Girl at the till and followed the floor arrows to the exit end of the counter. Girl placed the bagged sandwich on the serving end with a steaming 20 oz. cup of sugared and creamed coffee.
“Can’t buy coffee this morning, Girl. Water will do.”
“Not too many customers this morning, Doc. Cook said it’s on the house.”
She put a clamshell next to the sandwich bag. “Cook had a leftover bear claw. You should have it. Want your sandwich in the box with it?”
“Well … ah … sure.”
“And Doc,” Girl said, “your change is in the clamshell.”
Jones slid the container into his jacket pocket, picked up the coffee, and backed out the door into the alley side alcove. The rain, sleet, and snow mix turned to dry snow but was still whipped by gusts of wind. He sat the coffee on the step, removed his mask, and took a long drink. The hot liquid warmed his mouth and throat, and he felt the instant warmness in his empty stomach.
A navy corpsman in combat uniform slid into the chow line behind a Gunnery Sergeant and a PFC. The medic selected a sausage-egg breakfast burger and coffee from the serving line.
The lee side of a Dumpster in the alley gave Jones some shelter. He pulled a broken milk crate from behind the trash bin for his breakfast table. He ate the still warm breakfast sandwich first, gulped some more coffee, then nibbled the bear claw with intermittent sips from the paper cup. He took the six quarters from the container and dropped them into his pocket. With his stomach full and warm, he fell asleep sitting on the milk crate. Dry snow drifted and covered his ice coated boots.
A blast shoved their Humvee to a ditch. Jones landed outside and pulled dizzied Gunny and PFC out of the vehicle. It tipped over pinning the medic’s left arm to the ground. Windblown sand peppered his face as he writhed in pain. Gunny and PFC struggled to tip the burning vehicle from Doc’s arm. Corpsman Jones struggled to roll over but didn’t hear Gunny shout, “Doc, Doc, wake up!”
Gunny’s prediction wasn’t totally right. The explosion finished the amputation and seared Doc’s flesh where Gunny started the cut.
Cook and a just arrived patrol officer struggled to tip the overloaded snow laden dumpster from Doc’s empty sleeve. Girl tried to help, but it was too heavy for Cook, Girl, Officer, and their adrenaline.
“Give me your knife officer,” Cook said, “I’m going to cut it off.”
“Paramedics are less than a minute out, they’ll help lift.”
“It’s an empty sleeve. His arm is somewhere near Baghuz Fawqani!”
Officer questioned, “What?”
EMTs wrapped Doc in a warming blanket and started taking vitals. As they started to close the door, Officer asked Cook, “How’d you know about the sleeve?”
“I cut off his arm!”
A small voice came from inside, “It’s OK Gunny. I know there was no option.”
The next morning, Jones heard, “Day shift will be here soon, Doc.”
As my octogenarianism continues, my mind wanders as I wonder.
Or could it be that my mind wonders as I wander?