Josh is a failed screenwriter in California and he’s broke; it’s tough and the last weeks have been even tougher. At forty-two he didn’t expect a DVT in both legs. Nor had he planned to lie that his mother was dying to persuade British Airways to carry him back to England for her last Christmas.
I’m not only broke, he says to his friend, Father Luke. I’m broken. I just managed to pull together enough cash for a one-way ticket home and life on the dole. And now the hassle over my bloody legs; it’s too much. It’s a really bad winter back there and I’ve no warm clothes; I’ll bloody freeze. I can’t even afford a new coat.
It’ll be okay, Josh, Father Luke says. Have faith. I’ve a coat you can have, I’ll get it. Luke returns with a heavy-duty military field coat, Here, try it on.
It fits, Josh says. It’s great. Thanks, Luke. What are these stripes?
I guess you didn’t know I served as a padre in Vietnam. They’re medal stripes. I should have taken them off. Vietnam Gallantry Cross and the Vietnam Distinguished Service Order.
You’re a hero?
Nah, not that.
You know what? I have to be pushed around in a wheelchair. They think I’ll keel over.
I came home from Nam in a wheelchair. It’s the only way to travel; first on, first off, like a film star.
You were coming home from war, Luke.
An evil war, Josh.
Josh’s aircraft lands at O’Hare late, in the middle of a snowstorm. Sitting in his wheelchair on the shuttle bus he’s wrapped in Luke’s coat, with his only luggage, an Olivetti Lettera in its case, on his lap, wondering why everyone is staring at him.
At the terminal, a well-built Afro-American wheelchair attendant gets Josh off the bus and into the building. We need to keep moving real fast, the attendant says. They’re holding the London flight for you. You English, right?
Why’d you fight in Nam?
Those stripes don’t come without seeing action. I was there, an’ all.
It’s not my … Josh’s answer is drowned out as they push through the doors and onto the runaway where the plane is just visible through the snowstorm.
You paralysed, right?
Josh can’t hear over the wind.
There’s no lift. I’ll carry you up them stairs.
The wind howls.
What did you say? Josh shouts.
I’ll carry you.
No way. Josh stands, and struggles up the steps
It’s a goddam miracle! The roaring wind carries the attendant’s words away from Josh who has reached the top of the stairs.
Josh turns, look back, sees the attendant standing with his mouth open in astonishment and waves. He turns too quickly, loses his balance, falls backwards and tumbles down the steps followed by his typewriter.
Shit, the attendant groans looking down at Josh’s inert body. There never were miracles for veterans at Christmas – nor any time else, either.
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© Phil Cosker 2020
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.