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Cold Hands

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Eric stepped off the bus. His hands were cold. He had no gloves. I left them on the plane, he thought. Stupid.

He stuck his hands into the pockets of his navy blue trousers. His hands were still cold. It was snowing. He looked around the bus stop. It was different since the last time he saw it. The paint peeled off the once brightly scarlet benches.

James came up from behind and punched him in the shoulder.

“Good to be home, yeah?” said James.

“Yeah. Feels good I guess.”

“It’s finally over.”

“Yeah.”

“Where’s your dad?”

“I don’t know. He’ll be here in a second I’m guessing.”

“Well, there’s Julia. I better get going.”

“Yeah.”

“Take care of yourself man.”

“Yeah, you too.”

He watched James hug his wife and slowly disappear from sight. It was good to see him so happy to be home. He felt happy for James.

He sat on the bench. He waited. Twenty minutes passed. His fingers were freezing. He started to pick at the peeling paint on the bench. It peeled off in long strips, revealing the sullied metal interior of bench. Thirty minutes went by.

His father finally pulled up in his beat-up, tan pick-up. It looked the same. His father opened the door. He looked the same.

“Get in boy,” his father said.

“Coming.”

Eric climbed into the front seat. His father started to drive.

“Good flight?”

“Yeah, fair enough.”

They drove. It was about 30 miles to Philipsburg from the bus station in Missoula.
Eric looked at the snow on the trees. The snow completely covered the branches. They passed by his old high school, and it was caked in snow, almost white. The snow covered the cars on the road and in the driveways of the snowy houses, and the lake was frozen over. Winter at home used to make him feel warm inside. It didn’t anymore. His hands were cold. Everything was different now.

They pulled up into the driveway. His mother stood in the doorway. She was crying and smiling. He walked over to the doorway, and she threw her arms around him.

“I knew you would be back, I knew you would come home ok.”

“Yeah, well, here I am.”

The house was mostly the same. The couch was still green corduroy, but the color had faded. The curtains were still white with red roses, but the red had turned a pale pink, and fake daisies were still displayed on the dining room table. The heat was on and she was cooking something, but Eric’s head was cold. I’ll have to grow hair now, he thought, to keep me warmer.

“Do you want something to eat? You look hungry,” she said.

His dad settled on the faded green coach and turned on the television. Eric noticed a brown coffee stain on the armrest.

“I’m tired,” Eric said. “I think I’ll just go in my room and rest.”

“Are you sure you don’t need anything?”

“No, I’m fine, really.”

He woke up in bed at 11:00 PM. It was dark. He turned on his light and looked out the window. Everything was white. Unbearably white. Nothing had changed here, nothing at all. The world was changing, people were dying and fighting, but nothing changed here. He felt sick. On the street outside his window, a red mustang drove by. Fred Williams wanted a car like that. Fred had been saving up for a red mustang since his freshman year. Every day after class he would work double shifts at the drugstore, every weekend he would shovel snow, in the summer he would work in the wheat fields. He almost had enough money before he had to leave. He would never come back now. He would never buy that mustang.

Eric walked out into the living room. His father still sat on the couch, a beer in one hand and a remote in the other. The volume was turned up, the news was on, and the sounds of the televised war erupted from the screen.

“You’re going to wake mom up,” Eric said.

“She’s used to it.” His dad didn’t take his eyes off the screen.

“I have to talk to you.”

“What?”

“ I have to leave here. Tomorrow.”

“No. What the hell are you talking about? Leaving here?” His dad looked at him.

“I can’t stay here. You don’t understand. Everything is different now. I can’t be here and act like everything is normal. I need to go somewhere else and try to wrap my head around everything.”

“What? What do you need to think about? You served your country. You did something that you had an obligation to do. There’s nothing to think about.”

“No. What we did over there was wrong. It was for nothing. Nothing at all.”

His father stopped talking. He turned away from his son and stared into the television screen. The anchor reported that 347 Vietnamese citizens were killed in My Lai by the U.S. army.

Eric walked outside and sat on the front steps. The red paint on the steps was peeling. He put his face in his hands and closed his eyes. His hands were cold. They would never be warm again.





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