Five o'Clock in Kansas

March 18, 2011
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He heard their footsteps on the dirt outside. He checked his watch. It was 4:58 in the afternoon in Kansas. 4:58 on a Sunday afternoon. He tried to imagine what they were doing back home. Mom and her friends would be setting the table for Sunday dinner, putting the finishing touches on the meal. He wondered what they were making. Mom usually made something different every week—she liked to give them some variety, she said. What variety, Dad always wanted to know, since she made the same thing every week: delicious. Mom always blushed then and told him to stop, even though they all knew she appreciated the compliment. Dad would then turn his attention back to the football game. He tried to imagine himself by Dad’s side, watching the game, but it was difficult to invent a football game in his mind when he didn’t even know which players were still in the league. He hadn’t watched a professional football game in years. He hadn’t seen anything except this camp in over a year.
The footsteps stopped. He heard the door to the next cell open. He heard somebody stumble into the cell. It was the kid next door—the new guy right out of the academy. He couldn’t help but wonder if the kid had a family—anyone who ran to answer the phone hoping for some news, who held their breath every time the mail came, who listened to the news with an aching heart, watching, waiting, and praying for some sign that they weren’t waiting for a cross at Arlington.
The footsteps started again. Once again, he checked his watch. 4:59 in Kansas. They opened his cell door and pulled him out. They marched him down the avenue between the cells. He glanced into the kid’s cell. The kid was on a ragged pallet, lying still. He lost sight of the kid as they pushed him onward, across the dirt floor, and into the interrogation room. They sat him down in a chair and left him alone in the bare room. He knew what was coming; he had been there too many times not to know. He looked down at his fingers. The nails were still encrusted with dried blood from the last session. His arm still hurt from the session before that—he suspected they had broken it, but since everything always hurt now, it was hard for him to tell. He hoped he could take it this time. He hoped he wouldn’t give in. He hoped he would be sent back to his cell just as he had every other time, hurting all over, but knowing he had done his duty.
He checked his watch for the third time. He felt a rush of reassurance and confidence. In a few minutes, they would be back and then it would hurt, but for now, everything was alright. Now he knew he would not break today. It was 5:00 in Kansas.
They would file into the dining room, ravenous, ready to eat. Dad would stand up at the head of the table. They would all bow their heads, fold their hands, and close their eyes. Then he would pray.
“Lord, we thank You for this meal that You have provided for us. Thank You for this opportunity to gather with friends and loved ones this afternoon. We ask that You bless this meal, that it may nourish and strengthen. We also ask that You be with our son Jim. We may not know exactly where he is or what he’s doing now, but You do, Father. Draw him close to You, help him perform his duty and bring him home to us. We ask this in the name of Your Son Jesus, Amen.”

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SecretNonConformist said...
Mar. 25, 2011 at 4:04 pm
So beautiful! I was legit crying. One question. What war is this soldier fighting in? 
Searchlight replied...
Mar. 26, 2011 at 11:17 pm
I originally wrote the story as taking place during the Vietnam War, but I decided that I wanted the story to be sort of a tribute to all POWs/MIA soldiers so I kept everything as vague as I could so that the story could conceivably take place in any war.  So I guess the answer is that the soldier is fighting in whatever war is most relevant to the reader (that's the goal, anyway)
SecretNonConformist replied...
Mar. 27, 2011 at 8:49 am
Yeah I thought it was Vietnam. Just wanted to know exactly. Great idea though! Keep it up!
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