Schroeder's Arm

After the war, ex-marine rifleman, Schroeder, without his right arm, his disability check supporting him, rented a room in a white, four story Antebellum house on Carteret Street in Beaufort, South Carolina. The room was small and slanted on the studio bed side, so he had to watch his head when he rose in the morning. But it had every thing he wanted - a bed, a hotplate, a half refrigerator, a chair for reading and a toilet down the hall. Simple, he'd thought when he first rented the room thirty years before, its white walls pure and cleansing in his mind, simple and no more surprises.

After lunch, Schroeder took walks through the city every afternoon from the beginning, his right armless sleeve flapping in the breeze as he moved along. He passed South Carolina palms and mossy oaks, trees already hundreds of years old with hair hanging down, as if women were trapped high in the branches. He walked past the brown Red Owl, decaying from the first, and then later, as years passed, the brand new red, white and blue Winn Dixie on King Street, past the gray-stoned cemetery with pre-Civil War dead, past gabled southern homes and again, later on, the old red fire station remodeled into a bookstore that advertised "expresso, cappuccino, latte and mocha delight." He walked along the river behind Bay Street, past back door restaurant verandas, some new, some old, coming and going, tourists, lovers, heads together, spread out in the sun sipping beer and coffee. He stopped off and on to gaze out at the water and watch the birds dive for fish.

Later, every afternoon over the long years, Schroeder ended up at the bay, where the great Parris Island Marine base loomed over on the other side. He sat on the same bench every day and spent hours staring across the water at the squat red buildings, wondering what life was like for those who marched there, who barked orders and fired rifles, who trained for war the way he had, the morning dew in the air, the metal between their fingers, the sweat on their brows, all those others before and those still to come. And he tried to remember what his own life must have been like before the war came along and took his right arm from him for his country, ripped in the mortar explosion like a log chain tearing a rotten limb from a living tree.

Then, late at night - now - after thirty years have passed simply and with no more surprises, once he returns form his walk, he stands in the very center of his room, alone, sips Scotch after Scotch, pure clear ice tinkling in his glass, stares down at the flap of his arm. He no longer remembers the nerves, the feel, the touch, the itch, no longer remembers the flesh and the bone and the muscle, no longer remembers the way his life had once been long ago and, he knows, will never be again.