6,000 Miles

6000miles_coverart16,000 Miles   by Mick Shane

It is a beautiful morning in early May and she is walking her son to the bus stop. It is only three blocks from the house and the boy is old enough to go alone but she wants to be with him today. The boy is frightened of something and trying to hide it from her. She can sense fear in each of her children and she likes to believe her presence allays it. The bus is running late so they sit on the bench and wait. Neighbors drive by and wave. Gus the ancient mailman is beginning his route. He tips his hat and says hello as he passes. A sweaty overweight man wearing a track suit and smoking a cigar rides by on a creaky bicycle; the tires are almost flat. She and the boy both giggle.

The boy is chewing gum like he is mad at it. She remembers his first day of school. He was afraid of the unknown but determined to face it; brave and courageous, like it was his duty. He has the same aura today. She puts her hand on his and he welcomes it, he doesn’t fight it like he would if the other children were here, too. They would laugh and taunt him, call him a sissy or something. Today, she hopes the bus doesn’t arrive and the boy can stay home with her so he doesn’t have to face anything scarier than her cooking. But the bus climbs over the hill.

Do you have everything you need?” she asks.

Yes,” he says.

She gives him a kiss on the cheek and a hug, holding on to him longer and tighter than usual.

I’ll be fine, mom,” he says. He throws his backpack over his shoulder and climbs aboard. As the bus pulls away she can see him in the window waving to her casually. He looks handsome in his new uniform and short haircut and she is proud that she is raising a boy who will make a fine man. He is one of her brood who can survive without her and she feels sad but good about that. She begins to cry and she hopes he can’t see it. She wants to stay on the bench and wait until the bus brings her boy back to her but she has others at home who need tending to, other places to take her other children.

She watches the bus shrinking in the distance and realizes this could be the last time she sees him alive. She gets ANGRY with herself for thinking it, shaking her head to force the thought from her mind, but it nags at her as she wipes tears from her eyes.

Be safe, soldier,” she says like a prayer. Walking home, she wonders how many miles it is from New Jersey to Baghdad.

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