The Veteran

There’s this man who comes to the local general store as often as I do. I come to write. And he comes to eat, read the newspaper, and talk to people. At first, I dreaded seeing him. He is old. Wears a Veteran’s hat with pins and stripes all over it. And the way he masticates his liverwurst sandwiches is enough to make me, if I didn’t care so much what others thought of me, hurl something at his elderly liver-spotted head. He always forgets his hearing aid and is always talking about the Decline of America in a voice made for at least 30 people to hear. And he licks his finger to turn the page of his newspaper and then touches things I could potentially touch. But it’s funny. As time has passed, seeing him every day, he has become someone familiar. And the something familiar he’s become has become a source of comfort. I’m ashamed to say I used to sneer at him when I’d hear his phlegm-ridden cough with little bits of animal organs flying out in my midst. Now, I feel a softness about him. I hear his stories. Every time I’m in here, a new one. People sit with him to listen to his stories. He’s had a life. A long life. He’s got great grandkids. A dead wife. A government that never appreciated what he’d really wanted to do for his country. He’s real. He’s more than the liverwurst that could have gotten on me.