PINGING • by T. L. Sherwood

A chair scrapes the floor and then the refrigerator door is yanked open. If that is a mouse, or even a raccoon, I’m not sure I want anything to do with it. But like a kitten, I’m curious to find out what is going on even if I may regret it later.

I walk down the stairs, and near the bottom step I lean over, slowly, to peer into the next room. My clean, warm, well-organized kitchen is being occupied by someone in camouflage. A rifle leans against the stove. The man is pawing through my cupboards. He is picking up a bag of rice, throwing it over to the next shelf and it lands like buckshot on the stack of dinner plates.

I watch the stranger pull out a juice glass and pour a glass of wine. Everything about this scene is wrong — a juxtaposition to my normal quiet mornings. I knew this day would come. I just didn’t know when.

The man picks up the ceramic cover and replaces it when he finds the stick of butter underneath. I wonder what he thought would be there. Tap dancing toads? Chaplains doing cartwheels? More likely wires or explosives.

“Jason?” I say his name softly, not wanting to startle the infantryman. He spins and makes a dash for his gun anyway.

“Where’s my dad?” His voice is sad, tired.

“He’s at work. He’ll be home around five. Can I get you anything?”

“A hot shower would be nice.”

“Okay. Sure.”

He blinks hard and walks into the bathroom. The gun and the juice glass go with him.

Even though I’d met my stepson before he left to fight in the war, he isn’t the same man who has returned. The cheery jokiness is gone now, refilled with dust and sand and melancholy.

I whisper, “Welcome home.”

T. L. Sherwood‘s work has been published in the Vestal Review, The Rambler and Writers’ Journal. T. L. recently read a listener commentary on the local NPR affiliate, and is the co-founder of Ugly Babies, a writer’s critiquing group that is affiliated with the Springville Center for the Arts, a non-profit group in which T. L. has been active for many years.

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Every Day Fiction