Declined. Denied. Rejected. Classified 4F. However they framed it, the fact was that he was not enlisting. Again. He was getting tired of sitting in his boxers in drafty rooms full of other men and emerging with nothing to show for it afterward but a used newspaper. Oh yes, and a 4F card. "Just give me a chance," he had begged at this recruitment office.
He went to the movies again, hungry for more information from the Newsreels. He tried not to take it personally as the narrator informed the theater that "every able-bodied man was lining up..." The audience seemed to prove that point. It consisted of dames, many over middle age, and older men, with only a few men his age dotted throughout. In fact, he might recognize one or two of them from he recent enlistment attempt.
The narrator segued from able-bodied men to "little Timmy" gathering scrap metal. Steve might as well be a child himself, wasn't that what he was saying? Steve distracted himself by looking over the moviegoers, thinking how he would draw this jawline, or that beard. His attention was caught by the line of a feminine cheek limned in silver as the projector's light reflected from a tear streak.
Several rows in front of him, a loud baritone heckled, "Who cares? Play the movie already?" The man was several inches taller than those sitting beside him, perhaps even one of those who had been with him in that drafty room that afternoon, one of those whose qualifications for armed service were worn stamped on the outside of their skin.
Steve leaned forward and, in a low voice, urged, "Hey, ya wanna show some respect?" He dismissed the loudmouth from his thoughts. A public rebuke like that should remind him of his manners and curb further interruptions.
Instead, he looked at the dame sitting across the aisle from him. She looked like she had dressed for an afternoon out with her fella. Her dark blonde hair was in soft victory rolls, and the patriotic red of her lipstick matched the red of her floral shirtwaist dress. But the man on her left could have been her grandfather. In the blue light of the projector, the number of the seat beside her reflected like a mirror in the desert. Seat 21 was glaringly empty. By the tears welling over her lashes and the controlled set of her lips, seat 21 would continue to be empty, for her, for the rest of her life.
On screen, injured soldiers in stretchers were being loaded into jeeps. The narrator assured the audience that "our brave boys are showing the Axis Powers that the price of freedom is never too high." Almost over the top of that statement, the crumb in front of him yelled out, "Let's go! Get on with it!"
Steve could feel a hot flush begin somewhere behind his sternum and rise up his throat. This was beyond rudeness. The loudmouth was disrespecting everyone in the theater, most of whom would have lost loved ones already in the war. Couldn't he see, didn't he even notice how affected the other spectators were? More than that, he was treating those soldiers who were even now giving their all for America with contempt.
"Hey, just start the cartoon!"
This chump wanted the projectionist to stop the war news and instead play a cartoon? Steve could feel heat all the way up behind his eyes. "Hey, wanna shut up?" he suggested.
As the fat-head rose in his seat to tower over Steve, the narrator asserted that "we'll face any threat, no matter the size."
Yes, I will, Steve told himself. The silver line of a tear, the silver disk of a seat number, burned in Steve's vision as he and the bully took their disagreement outside.