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Dandelioned Fragments

Father's Day brings appreciation for all types of father figures. No matter the twists and turns life brings, fatherhood carries with it an immense love that reaches through time and diagnoses.



Gradients of gray hatch the skies as the sun wrestles to release the chains of night. Without allowances for laggards, including celestial beacons, Charles breaks camp plodding his way through fractured footpaths. Hat slung low on his head, bag swaying ever so slightly over his rounded back, his shoes are one size too small. He treads with an uneven gait, scars inflicted by valor.


Fading into the façade of the awakening urban base, he is spared second glances, often overlooked. Yet thinly veiled shades of uneasiness sprinkle the occasional passersby. Easier to keep eyes downcast, focused on the mission.


Radiating torment hinders his progress and he leans against a wall for respite. Visions deluge his senses: slick grasses, blinding smoke, the thrum of rotor blades. Final moments tattooed to the marrow. Salves from the heavens splatter his arms, a portal to the present.


Grimacing with effort, he steels his reserves; only one click to go.


Nondescript, the brick building stands resolute, simultaneously lamented as an albatross to development and lauded as a harbinger of hope. To its clients the structure is yet to be defined, their journey undetermined. Here, blocks of trauma and loss are dismantled and rebuilt, one at a time.


 

Sandpaper hands grasp her own, while his eyes peer quizzically at the cracked tile floor. Imperfect, not to standard he relays wordlessly—though whether he means the floor or Anne is uncertain.


Punctuality supersedes his waves of lucidity; Charles is always on time.


Silvered whiskers emanating from trenches of wrinkles, his eyes radio his location. A prisoner of two dimensions, he darts between the two. Jungles of darkness and screams that never quiet contrast with incandescent light and needs unmet.


“When is the last time you have eaten,” Anne queries, making eye contact.


“Tango,” he answers.

‘Tango’, the code word for the letter T, she translates to Tuesday or Thursday. Neither is palatable; today is Wednesday.


Foraging for the fare held for these instances, Anne gathers double on Charles’ behalf. Opening a plastic wrapper with ease, he adjusts his position in the chair opposite hers. Trust and rapport are not freely given; seventeen months of consistent outreach elapsed before Charles accepted services. Many more will pass before objectives can be met.


The DD-214 arriving days ago, military records detail succinctly that which Charles cannot. Dates and decorations convey a piecemeal narrative, one wherein a purple heart awarded aptly epitomizes a battered and broken, bruised soul. Invisible open wounds incapable of scarring is but one diagnosis, complicated by lingering lacerations that fail to relent. The terrors of the night elude entombment.


Attempts of discussing next of kin remain futile; Charles has deployed from the present. The next appointment for Friday is communicated in military time, his fluency cemented decades ago. Retrieving a frayed notebook from his rucksack, illegible scrawls of two columns overwhelm the front and back of each page. He adds one more row to the collection.


Charles exits the facility, evaluating his retreat. Grenades of sirens detonate as an ambulance careens past, swerving around motorists. Sight drifting earthward, he acknowledges the sidewalk as his guide.


 

An intersection impedes his progress, and he halts. Small yellow galoshes with pink polka dots launch into his peripheral vision. Stamping one after the other, they do not adhere to a pattern. Left then right fly up and down, locking their target on a pint-sized puddle. Whispers waft between the galoshes and adjacent black boots.


A dandelion is thrust into his scope and his gaze adjusts, tracking it to the face of the bearer.


“Here’s a flower for you! They always make me happy, maybe they can make you happy too,” the galoshes bubble. Beaming as Charles takes it, she departs waving cheerily.


Held between two fingers, he twirls the dandelion as a memory flickers. An act of muscle memory vastly underutilized, he smiles. Shrugging his pack off his shoulder and unfastening a side pocket, he rustles for an object known by touch. With corners worn round and creases that mar the finish, a little girl joyfully poses. A patch of dandelions at her feet, she holds the hand of a warrior. Scrawled behind, an aged, penciled message reads, “I’ll miss you Daddy. Come back home soon!” Hearts adorn the note that requires no signature. A picture that kept him whole when the world spat its worst.


A helo orbits overhead. Charles shepherds the talisman to its shelter and quickens the pace. The next joint operation occurs in two days at 0800 hours.

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