For the terribleminds flash fiction challenge, The Flea Market
The elderly man was comfortable, resting in the expansive bed that dominated the master bedroom of his suburban home. Under the babble of the talk hosts on the television was the constant, mechanical sound of the respirator. He’d told the doctors he didn’t need it, but they’d insisted. He’d accepted it, grumbling all the while, repeating that he’d taken two bullets for his country and he wasn’t going to let some clump of cells the size of a golf ball take him out now.
Of course, now it was the size of an orange, and getting bigger.
The door opened. The man looked up from the television, past the framed medals on the wall, to the figure walking into his room. He was tall, as tall as the man had been in his youth, with the same short blond hair and green eyes. They were eyes the man had seen before, a long time ago, before he’d gone to war.
The young man said nothing. He closed the door gently behind him. He knew the nurse was downstairs, but she’d be out for groceries in a few minutes. He looked down at the bed, at the war veteran laying there, his once strong cheeks and neck withered by time. The young man reached into his pocket, placing an action figure on the veteran’s rolling tray.
“Do you recognize this?”
The old man looked from the doll to the stranger and shook his head.
“This was my very first G.I. Joe. A Real American Hero. I found this one at a flea market, but I had one just like it when I was little. My mother told me that my father was a man like this. So I watched and read all I could on soldiers. How they were noble, brave, smart and polite. How they sacrificed for their country.”
“Who… who are you?” The veteran’s voice shook like branches in a strong wind. The young man continued.
“So imagine my surprise when my father never comes home. That he was apparently killed in action. Only, he wasn’t. There was a clerical error. He was wounded in action, not killed.” The young man looked over his shoulder at the medals. “Purple heart, right? And next to that? Is that one for the civilians you killed?”
“Get out of my house.”
“No.” The young man seemed to loom over the bed. “When you came back, you didn’t go back to the girl you’d left behind or the boy she’d given birth to while you were gone. You came here. You started over. And do you know why?”
The young man produced an old newspaper and slapped it down on the tray, toppling the action figure. The headline read NEW YORK ALLOWS GAY MARRIAGE.
“Because you didn’t want to live in a New York City that tolerated fags.”
“Marriage is a holy sacrament! They defile it! It’s in the Bible!”
The young man slapped him.
“So you turn your back on the woman who loved you and a son you never met because God told you it was the right thing to do? I thought God was love! What love was there in pretending we never existed, Dad?”
The veteran stammered. The young man seemed to compose himself, producing another paper.
“I know you weren’t sitting idle while this was going on, either.”
The paper now on top of the New York one bore the headline MULTIPLE HIGH SCHOOL YOUTHS FOUND DEAD.
The veteran felt his mouth go dry. “We… we were…”
“Doing God’s work? Hard to justify to parents who won’t see their sons grow up, go to college, fall in love, start lives of their own.” The young man picked up the paper and began to read. “‘All five victims were members of a new student organization aimed at helping kids in the LGBT community survive the bullying and derision they face every day. Apparently they were walking home when an eyewitness reports seeing an unmarked van pull up next to them…'”
The youth glared at him, then continued. “‘… They were found two weeks later in a defunct paper mill’s basement. Their bodies had been dissolved using lye and other chemicals to hide the means of death, but while the case has been ruled a homicide, police admit they are having difficulty finding suspects.'” He put the paper down on top of the other one. “I guess the war never ended for you, did it, Dad?”
“Please… son, I’m sorry…”
“No. You don’t get to say you’re sorry and walk away. You don’t get to lay here in comfort and spend your last few years agreeing with Fox News and shouting at the Democrats. You haven’t earned this. You had a great life, love and a family, and you turned your back on it out of hate. You disgust me.”
The old man’s jaw twitched. “You’re one of them, aren’t you? You’re one of those abominations before the Lord.”
“No. I’m not. I’m just the son you abandoned, here to collect a debt.” He reached over the old man to grab one of the pillows from the bed. “You’re a real American hero, Dad. You should die fighting.”
He pushed down with the pillow onto the old man’s face. The veteran struggled, trying to slap the arms away, but he was too weak. His nails found no purchase on his son’s coat. His cries were muffled by the soft down and expensive cotton cover.
The young man kept the pillow there. He kept it there while the veteran fought him. He kept it here when the slapping stopped. He kept it there until the old man’s bowels were empty and the room stank of death.
He stood up, picked up his flea-market action figure, and tucked it away.
“See? Killed in action after all. The Army was just ahead of its time.”
With that, the young man walked out.