VETERANS OF WAR • by Deborah Winter-Blood

It’s hard to find needles for the turntable nowadays, but the young orderly at the VA helped. He wrote down a link and I followed it, and I placed the order. I worried that it wouldn’t arrive in time.

The sun shines with obscene glee through the blinds as I start the old vinyl. Joan Baez fills the air just as she has for so many of our decades together that they’re not worth counting any more.

I bring your hand to my lips and your eyes flutter open. For Joan or for me, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter, but I remember a time when it did. You used to tease me about my jealousy and I used to deny it. We were silly in love.

“Is it over?” you ask.

“Yes, babe. It’s over.”

The thin pastel of the hospital blanket rises and falls with your sigh. “I can’t see you.”

I gently move aside the tubes and lines that separate us, and I lie on the bed with you, like we lay for so many years when we were nude and young and on fire.

A small group in mint green has gathered in the doorway. “He’s going,” someone whispers, but I already know that. You’ve been going for years.

Your hand – the one that isn’t infested with needles — reaches up and strokes my face. “Did we hold the Mekong?”

“Yes, love.”

“And Saigon?”

Saigon fell, of course.

“Saigon held.” I take comfort in the suck-hiss respiration of the machine beside us that pretends you’re still breathing.

On your last real exhale, on the outgoing tide that takes what remains of you from me — the pieces they sent home forty years ago — you ask, “The war…?”

“It’s over.”

“Can I sleep now?”

I hold your head and remember how I loved your gleaming blond curls. “Yes, my love.”

Even the machines can’t delude me into believing that it’s your heartbeat I feel.

Deborah Winter-Blood is a writer, dog mom and displaced California Valley Girl. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications over the past 30 years.

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