When I tried on my Father’s World War II Army Air Force uniform, I was startled to find I couldn’t button it. He must have been a slender eighteen-year-old, thinner than I am at sixty-five, but he already bore the burden of his family’s care on his frail shoulders. My Grandfather had died years earlier.

Since Dad was one of three sons, he was drafted and trained to be a bombardier.

Closing my eyes I imagine his horror when his airplane plummeted from the sky. Breath catches in my throat as the ground rushes up, scowling granite. Glass shatters, splintering sight and sound. Oh my God oh my God oh my God … I’m going to be burned alive!

Pain collapses consciousness. Pain returns with eyelids fluttering, surveying a hospital ward.

Pain hobbles on crutches long after he returns home. It clings to his shoulders like a clammy shell, screaming through his sinews as he works to rebuild the family business.

When pain dissipates, exchanging crutches for a cane, his disability drops to thirty-five dollars a month. My mother saves this money for rainy days.

In his later years he sat slumped in his favorite chair, eyes flat as glass. Now I wonder if he relived that thundering ground swooping up to snatch away his breath, the buckling metal, crackling glass … Did he endure it every day for the thirty-five years he survived … Was his pancreatic cancer sparked by that impact of spine snapping against internal organs?
It was a mercy that his the plane didn’t burst into flames when it crashed. Fire erupted later, over the course of time, consuming his insides, burning his heart.

Published in Stories