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Today's Story by Dara Cunningham

In wartime cinema there are only two women, the wholesome, flag-waving good girl and the damaged troublemaker in red lipstick.

The Mirage of Distance

Half a century ago my mother wrote letters to a man in uniform. My mother; the petite goddess with tawny blonde hair, twenty inch waist and dresses that spilled into crinoline, the innocent epitome of 1950’s male fantasy. I competed with her in senseless, illogical ways. This was one of them.

Loneliness is easily remedied now, with the click of a mouse you can find someone to talk to, flirt with, and make you feel special by the blue glow of the PC monitor in the dark. That’s how he found me, or I found him.

No one writes love letters anymore. No one seals the envelope and crosses their fingers, hoping for a speedy reply when they drop their heart in the mailbox. I was in college, majoring in history by coincidence. I spent years studying war and soldiers and the sacrifices they made. I admired him, and I wanted to know him. The instant anonymity of email and text messages linked me to a man a world away.

His name was Alexander, which means “defender of men”. Also a coincidence.  He was tall and lean with black hair, glasses, and a mocha complexion. He was Latino, the adopted son of Americans. He wasn’t rich; his life had been one of public school, community college and working at McDonalds. That’s what happens to young men with few options, isn’t it? He walked into a recruiter’s office, hating his life and smelling like French fries and joined the Marines, not looking back.

He made the news real, the photographs of endless sand and mortal danger. He worked with bomb sniffing dogs, the loyal four-legged comrades. He learned Arabic; he spent days without sleep, holding a rifle, waiting for it to end.

He came home, bathed in the stars and stripes, ready to be normal but not knowing how. I took a bus to see him once, and I found him walking his dog in suburban New Jersey, so ordinary and yet so exceptional. He was soft spoken; he slowed down the car so geese could cross the highway.  It astonished me how someone so immersed in violence could have this gentle respect for life.

He came to see me once, to consummate the weeks and months of attraction and mystery. I could feel the relentless heat and reverberations of IEDs; I could hear the language of Farsi and fear.

He wore the medal of St. Christopher, patron saint of travelers. Perhaps his mother gave it to him; or more likely the woman who was waiting for his safe return, the woman who deserved him.

I never saw him again.

In wartime cinema there are only two women, the wholesome, flag-waving good girl and the damaged troublemaker in red lipstick who provides temporary relief. If my mother was the former, I was the later, a role I never auditioned for and yet nevertheless played to perfection.


Dara Cunningham holds a BA in History and Political Science. Previously published work has appeared in  Fiction 365, WritingRaw, LITSNACK, DiddleDog, and (Short) Fiction Collective. Originally from New Jersey, she now lives and writes in Northeastern Pennsylvania.


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