Scene from a Bus Station, 1968

Submitted into Contest #44 in response to: Write a story that starts with two characters saying goodbye.... view prompt

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General

             The bus station was littered with couples holding each other in tears and pain. Salty soaked kisses happening to an audience of pathetic Christmas decorations and propaganda posters encouraging young men to enlist in the U. S. Army. The images of the smiling soldiers bathed in golden light on the posters matched none of the faces of the men in the small area. The Christmas decor did nothing but contribute to the overall bleak tone of the building, reminding everyone there that these boys were being shipped to war just two weeks before the holiday. Annalise McGill and her boyfriend of three years, PFC Anthony Villani, had been just two more faces in the grief-stricken crowd.

“Y- you don’t have to do this,” Annalise squeaked through sobs. Her head held down, allowing a cascade of straight auburn hair to hang over her face as a curtain to close herself off from the brutal reality of the situation.

             “I do, have to do this. You know I do. Its too late to turn back,” Anthony replied. Though he was trying to keep steady, he could not hide the slight quiver in his voice as he spoke. He felt just as sorrowful as she looked.

             “Why’d you have to join the Army in the first place? Have someone else go die in the damn jungle instead of leaving me,” anger started to drive her words.

             “Don’t talk like that. Not now. I’m not going to die over there. I promise. I’m doing this for us. I just would have been drafted if I didn’t enlist anyway, besides-,” he trailed off when he looked up and noticed that tears were streaming down his girlfriend’s face profusely now. Anthony placed his fingers on Anna’s chin and raised her face up. His cool, steel eyes met hers. Eyes that were so often brilliant green, acting as a light on his sadness now struck him down, swollen and defeated. Any comfort Anthony ever took from his lover’s eyes were far gone. He mustered his strength back and spoke again, “It’s only a year. I’ll be back by next Christmas and then we will be able to get engaged and marry.

             “I’m not going to be able to marry a corpse, Anthony!” she screamed at him. The young soldier was knocked back at her words as they struck his heart like serrated poisoned arrows. A few other couples around them even looked over before going back to their own heartfelt goodbyes. “I’ve seen the footage on TV, I hear the stories those boys are coming back with. Anthony, they stick people’s heads on sticks and leave them there. Please! It’s not too late. We can run to Canada; people are doing that. They’re avoiding military service up there. We can make it.” She was desperate.

             Anthony looked back at his girlfriend. She seemed to have gained hope at her last suggestion. The fact was Anthony didn’t want to go to Vietnam. There were much better options for a nineteen-year-old to spend a year of his life. Trading college, parties, and family for exotic bugs, unbearable heat, and- worst of all- unseen enemies lurking around in the trees and bushes, stalking silently through underground tunnels. Any story Annalise might have heard, Anthony was told much worse from guys on base.

             “How would we get from Florida to Canada without even having a car? I would never be allowed back in the states if that happened. Uncle Sam would jump right on me as soon as I stepped foot back in,” Tony spoke. He tried to give a smile and add a bit of a cheerful tone to his voice as he said it but all that came out was a pathetic monotone to counter her offer. “Anna, love, I will be okay, and you’ll be great back here. Ill write every chance I get.”

             “Don’t call me love if you’re abandoning me for some war we aren’t even supposed to be in,” she spat back. Her sadness had been replaced by rage now. “You don’t even love me enough to stay here! You know what this war is and what it represents, and you still went off to get a uniform and add to the problem.”

             “Maybe America doesn’t belong in Vietnam, you’re right. But I can’t sit back and watch good people die without stepping in to do my part,” Anthony grabbed Annalise’s hand gently but she pulled back. “I enlisted because I had to. It’s a good opportunity for me and it’s good for us. Ill be able to save money and buy you an engagement ring when I return. Christmas 1969 will be the best Christmas that ever was.”

             “You’ve already ruined Christmas 1968,” Annalise muttered, “and I don’t want an engagement ring! I want you. I want you stay here and continue at university with me. I want everything to be normal. I want PFC Villani to just go back to being Anthony.”

             “I am still Anthony,” he spoke. Words were increasingly finding themselves to catch in his throat. “Ill be back this day next year and we will pick up right where we left off. I’ll have stories about Vietnam and you can tell me all about college and what you did.”

             “I can’t be your girl if you insist on going still. I won’t hopelessly wait just to wake up one morning to news of you stepping on a mine or getting shot. I won’t do that to myself,” the bus had pulled up and the Army NCO’S were gathering up their soldiers.

             “A- Annalise. You don’t mean that. I can’t do anything at this point, its too late. Its just a year,” Anthony pleaded.

             Annalise shook her head and looked down again, “I’m sorry. I can’t be with you if you aren’t here. Goodbye.

             “Come on! All soldiers grab their bags and get onto the bus! We aren’t going to wait all night!” a random sergeant called out as all the other couples frantically got their last kisses and “I love you”s in.

             “I love you, Annalise,” Anthony said defeated. All the air had been thrown out of him. He tried to kiss Annalise, but she merely turned her face away and continued to look down. “B-bye,” he said, tears forming at his eyes. He grabbed his bags, took one last look at the girl facing the other way and boarded the bus that would take him to a plane that would to Vietnam.

             Annalise stood there amongst all the other sobbing girlfriends and wives. A feeling of total hopelessness had taken over the small bus station as tears flowed freely to the dull tile floor. “Wait, Anthony!” she panicked and turned around. The bus had already left, just two red dots out in the dark December night.

June 02, 2020 08:00

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1 comment

Graham Kinross
08:41 Sep 12, 2022

I can’t believe that no one else had commented on this. You did a great job of showing his naivety. Seems like at the start of every war the aggressors think it will be over in no time because they have more soldiers or better equipment. It was the same in the second gulf war and now in Ukraine. Annalise clearly knew better than him how awful it was going to be. There was a saying I heard somewhere; “in war, men make the mess and women have to pick up the pieces after.”

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