The Ghost Soldiers
I saw a duck fly into a tree today. Boy, you don't see that very often. It must have been daydreaming. I was out driving around, and now that I think of it, it had looked over at me just before impact. It must have felt so stupid. Anyway, I didn't stop to see how it was. I wanted to, but I was afraid I would embarrass it. Just that little glance at me may have done it. I feel lousy about it, but it really wasn't my fault. I was on my way to the Memorial Day parade. Suddenly I wanted to see all these veterans in their uniforms marching down Main Street. But this duck had flown by and looked at me, and now its body lay crumpled in a heap. I drove on, not looking back. The police had cordoned off Main Street, so I had to turn down a side street and look for a parking place. There were no parking places for blocks, but eventually I found one. There was a steady stream of people on the sidewalks, all heading for the parade. I fell in stride beside them. "It's a nice day for a parade," I said to one little old lady walking beside me. "You think I'm going to fall for a tired old line like that? You better think again, mister," she said. "I was just commenting on the weather," I said. "I didn't mean to offend you." I kept to myself after that. The parade itself was rather modest. I counted about thirty-five veterans, ranging in age from eighty-five to eighteen. Several were in wheelchairs, several more on crutches, two drummers and one horn player. The crowd just stared at them in silence. Police patrolled the streets as if the queen were passing. I looked but saw no queen. The man beside me looked at me and said, "The parade's so small because everyone from this town is always killed. They're just not fit to fight. I don't know why that is. It must be something in the water. They just refuse to shoot. It's odd, isn't it. They've done many studies on it, and they still don't know why it is like that." "Are you trying to pick me up, because, if you are, you're going to have to come up with a better line than that," I said. "What the hell are you talking about?" he said. "I came here to see the queen, but apparently there's no queen," I said. "We got ride of all that royalty crap hundreds of years ago," he said. "Oh," I said, "well, nobody tole me." I turned and fought my way through the crowd and walked back to my car. The drive home was uneventful, except that I kept imagining this duck flying beside my car looking at me. It was distracting me, as I was not keeping my eye on the road. One minute it was a soulful, almost loving gaze, and the next it felt accusatory. I narrowly missed an oncoming truck, and the driver honked angrily at me. With that, I bade the duck good-bye and concentrated on driving. It's true, almost no one from this town ever came back from any war. They call them the ghost soldiers, much beloved even by their enemies, and I guess that's why I went to the parade, just to feel them march past, that little rush of cold air.