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Shrapnel

March 1971

Jasper

It had been cloudy all day so it was no real surprise when it started raining. In fact I knew it was going to rain because my whole body ached worse today than yesterday. I just wish I had someplace to be when the rain started.

I've been back in the world for almost two months now. Back from the dark jungles and the heat of Vietnam to the now dark and cold streets of Philadelphia.

I'm originally from Texas, born and raised. Had even been nicknamed "Tex" by the guys in my unit. I had looked like the all American boy at the time; Sandy blond hair and green eyes with a charming smile and a southern drawl.

They didn't know who I really was then and even I don't know who I am now.

I know I'm on the street, that I'm dirty, hungry, tired, lost, and in pain. I know that every other step I take is sending pain through me. I know that I don't know what to do about it. I know this feeling of hopelessness, it's not a new feeling for me.

I have been orphaned literally and figuratively many times over by family, country, and well God.

My clothes are soaked through and I can feel the cold through to my bones. It's a hard cold rain and I know I can't stand it much longer. I know I'm in a bad way.

I cross my arms around my chest, duck my head against the wind and the driving rain. I try to concentrate, left foot, right, left foot, right. I consider for a moment just giving up, I haven't got a clue where I'm going. Or what's going to be waiting for me when I get there.

I am homeless. I was discharged from the VA hospital two months ago. They told me, while packing me up, to come back and use their resources. Told me there would be people who could help me find a job, people who would help me find housing.

I couldn't do it, I couldn't go back. The anguish that filled that building made it impossible for me to step foot in it again. So I didn't and consequently I haven't found a job, or a home, or even a friend.

Since then I've been living like a nomad, on the streets not seeing and not being seen, barely scrapping by. Making my way through the streets without knowing which direction I'm going, wondering like I'm trying to loose myself.

The uneven sidewalk I'm walking is treacherous enough without the rain. In the rain with my boots that are so worn there is no traction left, I know I should stop. But the rain and the wind make that an unbearable option, my face already feels raw and numb. If I don't get somewhere dry, I'm going to catch pneumonia or I'm gonna trip and fall. Damn it all I'll probably wind up face down in a puddle just deep enough to drown me.

Even though I hate what I've become. I still don't think I want to die face down in a puddle.

The neon OPEN sign was like a beacon in the fog. It hung in the window of a small diner. Without a thought, acting on pure instinct my hand grips the cold doorknob like it is my last lifeline. I hurry inside and pull the door hard against the wind to shut it behind me. Once inside the door, the diner is warm and bright and I don't want to move. I stand there in front of the counter my clothes and hair dripping on the doormat. When I try moving my wet clothing pulls and rubs and sticks to my skin, making me that much more uncomfortable.

My irritation at my predicament turns quickly to embarrassment when I feel someone staring at me. I haven't spent much time with people since coming back to the States, It feels awkward to be standing in a brightly lit room full of civilians, people who I know are judging me. Looking up in the direction of the staring I find an amused pair of eyes sitting at the counter. Shockingly they belonged to one of the prettiest creatures I have ever seen.

I quickly turn my eyes away from her feeling utterly inadequate.

Alice

It is really pouring outside when the door to the diner directly behind me opens unexpectedly. I thought no one would be crazy enough to still be out on such a cold night in this downpour. There is a cold gust of wind that runs up my spine as a man slides in and pulls the door shut.

I turn around and the sight of him makes me giggle a little, he looks like an angry cat mad because it's wet. The poor creature is soaked through to the bone and dripping. He stands there in the doorway a moment as if to get his bearings. No one in the diner moves, no one offers him a seat. No one else seems to be paying any attention to him but me.

I'm not surprised. His coat is army green, a color that people have been choosing to ignore since the War is a taboo subject.

He stands in the doorway and now seems to be deciding what he is going to do next. I can't help but notice his face is quite handsome but he looks tired and thin. He probably just come in to step out the rain.

He must have felt my eyes on him because he looks up and catches me looking back at him, he quickly adverts his eyes.

Jasper

I don't want to stand here any longer. I need to find someplace to sit, preferably somewhere the wait staff wouldn't feel the need to visit me. I don't have two quarters to rub together. I don't know what I can order with that. Maybe I can stall until the rain stops or eases up a bit.

Most respectable establishments don't let people who look like me stay in their places of business too long. I probably scare away the paying customers you know.

They don't like to be reminded of the War.

I've had on rare occasion found a sympathetic soul who'll buy a Veteran a cup of coffee. But mostly people go out of their way to avoid me. People don't like soldiers.

I make up my mind and start for the back booth when my bad leg betrays me. With a shot of pain that runs from my calf up to my hip it decides it doesn't want to hold my weight. My wet tractionless boot does nothing but quicken the speed at which I am going to fall on my face.

I am going down and then sure I am going to fall and then I don't.

Like an angel she swooped down and caught me.

She grabbed my arm just in time and enabling me to get my balance and my footing back.

"Thank you, ma'am." I speak softly wincing as I put weight back on my injured leg.

TBC...