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For Round 7 of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction that have a character come to town and someone leave town.
An American flag.

Sonya stared at the dust that kicked up when the SUV drove away. Dried leaves swirled in its wake. Her fingers, red and swollen from her shift at the slaughter house, plucked at the edges of a kitchen towel.

What had the man said?

Odd. She could remember the thin, pink scar that cut through his upper lip and puckered when he spoke, but not the sound of his voice or his words.

She lowered her body into a chair. Perspiration gathered in the folds of her neck.

What did he say?

Sonya rubbed her wedding band. It had belonged to her grandmother, passed on to her mother and, now, it was embedded in Sonya's finger.


She could picture the man as he walked toward her, his gait smooth, his expression blank. And she could see him as he took his leave: erect, businesslike, not a wrinkle in his dark blue slacks. But, other than that scar, everything that happened in between the coming and going was blank.

The car was a speck when it turned onto the highway. Roiling storm clouds were moving across the plain. The rain pattering on the roof would make for good sleeping. That's what her Tom would say. Somehow Sonya knew she wouldn't be sleeping today.

She shook her head. Poor Tom. Dead at 39. He would have preferred being blown up in Iraq. Honor. He was all about honor. No honor in being the victim of a drunk driver speeding across a median strip and crashing head-on into the pick-up. Tom hated drunks.

Sonya could picture him standing in the driveway, his red hair at the mercy of the wind.

"Tell Joey I'll be back in time for the game," he'd yelled, climbing into his truck and driving off. Dirt kicked up behind, blurring the American flag bumper sticker. But he hadn't come back. Not ever.

It surprised her that she should remember that day. The memory cut deep, trapped her breath until she turned white as flour. At the funeral, she had wanted to crawl into the casket, pull down the lid and slip away alongside her man.

But her son's eyes, awash in desperation, locked onto hers. In that moment, she knew she had to live. Joey was 13 at the time.

The seasons flowed into each other: baseball and farm work in the summer, football and harvesting in the autumn, basketball in the winter and planting in the spring. In all of this, she felt Tom's presence. He was there cheering from the stands, driving the combine, or setting traps in the woods. And she could see him clearly in Joey.

In no time at all, Joey became Joe: agile and strong in athletics, tongue-tied and timid with girls. He graduated from high school and was accepted to Kansas State. At the last minute, he decided not to go. Sonya was relieved. The house wouldn't be so empty after all.

Thunder roared toward her like a line of tanks crossing a vast land. She frowned. What had he said? Sorry? No, that wasn't right.

A spasm clutched her chest. A moan escaped, followed by another, more forceful.

Sonja's face shattered like crystal, one section at a time. From her gaping mouth came a silent scream.

She heard the man's voice, as clear as a clap of thunder.

"Sgt. Joseph — in the line of duty — served his country with honor."