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The Back Window

by Carmen Ruggero

Ex-Army Lieutenant Gerald Wilson, a forgotten Viet-Nam veteran, devastated by public aggression toward the war and those who fought it, had withdrawn into silence and lived in seclusion, entrapped within his own private hell. The insect infested jungle, the acrid smell of sweat, hot rain, death, still beleaguered his mind, in 1982. He left his house once monthly to replenish supplies, visit the VA Hospital, and occasionally, the Sunshine Café where he sat at a sidewalk table on this particular morning.

“Excuse me.”

He ignored the woman’s voice.

“Excuse me,” she repeated.

He looked down. “Yeah?”

The woman, about fifty years old, approached his table. “May I sit here?”

“It’s a public place,” he shrugged, keeping his gaze fixed on the sidewalk.

“I know it’s a public place. May I sit at your table?”

He kept silent. Ignoring his indifference, the woman pulled up a chair and sat across from him.

“My name is Sandra Stone. Are you the same Gerald Wilson who wrote that series of articles on Nam for the San Francisco Chronicle?”

“Yeah... so what?”

“Why did you stop?”

He turned to look at her? strange like. The question came out of nowhere. “What the hell?” he muttered, then raised his voice: “Coz no one gave a shi...” Christ!“ Coz... no one gave a damn.”

“Some didn’t, some did. Your work was good, but you suddenly dropped out of sight. Why?”

Gerald had never answered that question, not even to himself. What was it to her? Because he caved in, gave up? who knows? who cares? “No one cared I lost my fuc... excuse me, damned legs, fighting that... fu-f... ah... damned war.”

“So? You had a brain and fingers to type with while some came home in a box, too mangled to identify.”

“Look, lady, this gimp doesn’t need your damned pity.”

Sandra felt the sting of his stare. She got up. Her eyes welled with tears. “This is not about you, Lieutenant.”

He watched her walk away. “Wait!”

She turned.

“How’d you know who I was?”

“Does it matter?”

“Guess not. I was rude. You caught me off guard.” His weathered fingers trembled as he pointed to the empty chair. “Please, sit down. So, who is it about?”

She looked straight into his pain-stricken eyes.

“Your last article mentioned a Private John Davis? my brother? MIA. Why did you stop there?

“Don’t know.”

“Yes, you do.”

Her answer startled him.

“Do you know how many people hang on to your words? You mentioned MIAs, POWs, gave us hope, then whisked it away. Because it wasn’t about them; it was always about you and your loss. You had no right to mock our grief. And if you were halfway on the level, I want to know my brother’s final destiny. That’s who this is all about.”

Ex-Army Lieutenant Gerald Wilson had locked all doors, barring the outside world. He’d sworn to let nothing and no one touch him again. But lo and behold, he’d left a back window open, and the breeze blew unfinished business back into his life this morning.

Copyright © 2004, 2005 by Carmen Ruggero

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