First Line of the Week – The Veteran

“Do you see it yet?  He promised it would be down there, Joe?  I said, did you see anything?”  Lenny was a bit impatient.  After many months of talking to Brian he was finally going to see what he had been talking about.  Wearily listening to the old Southerner talk endlessly at the nursing home was one of the things Lenny hated about his job.  Lenny was an underpaid orderly in a seedy nursing home, but with an eighth grade education in the nineteen forties, he wasn’t suited for much else. Each day he entered the day room where the residents could spend time outside their small rooms, he was immediately confronted by Brian.  

Brian was an ex-Army man, spent most of his life in the service and was lucky enough to survive it.  Of course luck didn’t always favor him or he would be where Joe was right now, instead of being disabled, locked into a nursing home.  His Army pension could only cover the bare existence of being in this facility, and his communication with Lenny was a needed outlet.  

Lenny had listened to Brian at first, thinking it was his way of living a fantasy life outside of his actual state of life.  After working here a few years he knew that many of the older people, especially Veterans, had to make up better stories than their own real experiences.  It worked somewhat, making their current miserable lives tolerable.  Some of the horrors that would always visit them would take a back seat in their mind if they could invent better accounts about what is now phrased as “being all you can be”.  Brian was one of the older residents, so listening to him drone on with his story took concentrated effort.

It was one of these accounts that was repeated to Lenny often, and after a while Lenny started to believe the old man’s story.  Most memories of these men were jumbled and usually had different nuances in each telling.  Brian’s did not.  Every time Lenny heard Brian’s tale, the facts were always presented the same.  It was because of this that Lenny decided to share it with Joe and they were now at the site where the story took place.

“Joe, see anything?”  Joe had gotten down into the hole to relieve Lenny, who’s digging had gotten them three-quarters deep into the hole.  He, like Lenny, wanted to believe the old Veteran’s story, which if true would enable the three of them to be sitting  pretty for at least a few decades. He pushed the shovel into the earth again and again.  He was starting to think the whole thing was a debaucle when the shovel hit something unusual. He almost fainted.  After paying the cemetery watchman to find the gravesite, finding help to lift the coffin in the middle of the night, all this found him feeling exhausted.  Now he felt relief to have actually found the bag the old man said would be there.

Joe pulled the old canvas bag out from under the dirt and raised it up for Lenny to see. “Oh, my God, the old man wasn’t messing with us!  It’s here!”  Joe climbed out, tired from the shoveling, and pulled the heavy bag out of the hole.  Lenny helped him put it on the pile of gravel and lifted the lantern to see what was inside the bag.  The old Veteran had promised money, even gold coins, from the war.  Joe opened the straps and looked inside.  His face turned into a smile, but then Lenny brought the light closer to see the denomination of their treasure.  The two young men exchanged a look of disappointment and sadness.  There were a few gold coins, not even enough to cover the watchman’s fees, and bills, lots of them.  They were red in color and stamped with the date: 1864.


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