Robert R Sytnick
The flickering streetlight on the corner of Higgins and Thirty-fourth Street finds its glow as the Arizona darkness seeps its way into the city.
The turbulent skies rumble, angrily churning and intermixing their gray and ebony forces together like a charging army, releasing their agitation in the form of rain.
The August heat quickly cools under the torrential rain. Paved streets and roadways mysteriously release their hidden energy, perhaps from fear or obligation, allowing an eerie fog to settle.
A city bus on its 11:45 p.m. route comes to a stop at the intersection. A man carrying a duffel bag exits the bus.
He is wearing a long thin gray army coat tied at the waist. His cuffed brown trousers top polished shoes.
Setting his bag down, he turns and looks at the bus driver, then nods as he reaches for his Camel cigarettes. The driver returns the nod, and the door closes.
The smell of diesel fuel filtering into the night air follows the city bus as it continues on Thirty-fourth Street.
Striking a wooden match on the side of his duffel bag, the man draws smoke from the cigarette, inhaling deeply, relieving the tension from the long trip.
He straightens his garrison cap and reaches for his duffel bag, then steps onto the cobblestone street.
Placing the cigarette in his mouth with both hands, he raises the collar of his long coat, preventing any rain from trickling down his back. The sudden movement sends a coldness across his wet shoulders—a chill, sewn into his body and mind over the past four years of war.
The watching streetlight dims in the pounding rain as he discards the cigarette, and it falls onto the cobblestones at the street corner. Puddles of water pool together into a steady stream of rainwater, which finds the discarded cigarette and carries it in silence into the city gutter.
Walking across the street, he finds cover under the awning of Chow’s Chinese Restaurant, a place he frequently ate at years ago.
He smiles to himself, and his thoughts warm while he walks toward the old fire hydrant on the corner. The paint may have faded, but the feelings in his heart have not.
He runs his index finger over the heart shape that remains etched into the hydrant. His pulse quickens, igniting a longing as his tears mix with the falling raindrops.
The man’s fingers continue touching the names that he carved into the heart shape, a lifetime ago. Soon he would be home, home at last in the arms of his wife and high school sweetheart, Barbara.
I am the man in this story. The man who stepped off the 11:45 bus on the corner of Higgins and Thirty-Fourth Street that rainy August night in 1945. A soldier who came home from four years of war.
I sense I am being watched and judged from above, feeling the rusty nails of a crucifixion pounding into my heart with every breath I take.
I have awoken from many restless nights filled with haunting nightmares and body sweats caused by war and my return home.
Countless cigarettes and a trail of empty bottles that I consumed to calm my guilt have followed me on my relentless journey.
I know the night terrors will soon slip into day regrets, and the recurring hauntings will eat at my soul, like spreading cancer.
I have no control over my past deeds or destiny and need to tell my story before the guilt overwhelms me, and I lose what sanity I retain. I am Richard Noble, Private First Class, and this is my story.
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