People watched as he walked into the bar that night. It wasn’t as if there was a lot of folks in the place; just enough. Two men playing pool stopped their game. A young tough rolled his sleeves down. Women seated at the bar extended their arms to give him a hug. He took off his cap and gave them a kiss.
It’d been a while since they’d seen him; a year and a half. Maybe two years. He looked different. Not like a kid any more. Looked like a man. A jaded man. A fellow who’d seen some things. Been a part of something bigger than he was. And survived.
When he was a kid he used to play war out in the woods with kids from the neighborhood. They’d march in the wet leaves, roll ’round in the dirt, fire toy guns. Prisoners were taken. Some pretended they’d died. Airplanes from the local airport soared over; invisible bombs were dropped.
It was us verses them, he said. Americans taking on Germans in the Hurtgen Forest. We’d fire at them and they’d fire right back. Some guys made it while others didn’t, the soldier said to the small crowd. And, you never knew what you were shooting at. Just firing away at whatever moved. I guess that’s how you win a war. I don’t know, he lit a cigarette, somebody bought him a shot.
And when the firing had finished, bodies were turned over and the horrors of war showed through. Men with no faces. Arms and legs missing. Crying and senseless babbling. No one could make out what they said. He kept that to himself. He didn’t tell many stories. Just sat and drank. While those ’round him wished him well.
He ordered another drink.