Yes, this is political. I offer you trigger warnings for language and sexual and racist slurs and comments. Future episodes may also contain rape, abuse, and other unpleasant things.
Chapter 9: Stacy Zimmer
Stacy Zimmer opened the newspaper that had been left behind by someone as she sat in her local coffee shop. She’d chosen a table in the back. She couldn’t bring herself to sit anywhere else in the store. A view of the entire place was in front of her with no windows or doors behind. She felt better that way. Less chance for error. She hated errors. That’s what got people killed. She knew that from experience. Lots of experience. But that was past, she reminded herself. Past. It was over. She was home. No need to be defensive.
The barista called her name and she jumped. Stacy sucked in a breath. No problem, she told herself. No problem, just coffee. She quickly surveyed the shop, a couple of grandmas, a lone guy on his laptop, two twenty-something women, nothing a threat, she assessed as she slid easily from her chair to walk calmly to the pick-up counter. Nothing to see here. Nothing. Nothing but, she still eyeballed the guy. Suit, laptop and briefcase. Big enough to hold an IED. No, she told herself. This is the States. Nothing here. Nothing here.
Her hand shook the cup of mocha latte as she went back to her table. Nothing. Nothing. It wasn’t working. She felt trapped, here at the back of the store with no way out. She grabbed her backpack and her drink and headed out the door. She was three hundred feet from the shop before she could breathe. Moron, she thought. What the hell? It was just a coffee shop. But that’s not the newsreel that was rolling through her head. That was different. That was the sandbox. That was her and her crew, laughing, taking pics with the local boy selling tea. Tea for Christ’s sake. The boy had called them over. “Tea,” he said, smiling. They’d all laughed. He couldn’t have been more than ten. “Tea, Tea.”
Tears ran down her face unnoticed. God damned tea. She’d never drank it again even though that was her favorite. Her morning ritual. Now it was coffee. She stopped in the park, sat on a bench. Her breathing came back to normal as she popped the sipping port on the coffee. She drank and stretched her back taking a deep breath. It was okay. Not a problem. Just a little scare. Nothing to be worried about.
In the open she felt better, more secure. Daylight, clear lines of sight. Not boxed in. Much better. She took a deep breath. Better. Better. She took a sip of the drink and set it on the bench beside her then took the day’s paper out of her pack. It was good. Read the paper. Drink the coffee. The birds sang in the trees nearby and moms were starting to arrive in the park, their little darlings let out of their carriages and set free to toddle in the grass. Yes. This was fine.
Then Stacy read the third page. The government was taking veteran’s retirement and disability funds to create a wall along every continental U.S. border. All about self-defense, she read. But vet’s payments would be cut by half to solve the discrepancy. Half? HALF? Stacy lept up. She couldn’t live on half. Half wouldn’t pay the rent. Half wouldn’t pay for groceries. Half wouldn’t cover her co-pays for her meds. Even in her mental state, she understood she needed her meds or she’d be worse off than she was now. No. NO!
A mother walked by, stroller in front of her, staring. Stacy realized she was hyperventilating, fists clenched, and teeth bared. She shook herself and tried to smile. The look on the woman’s face made it clear she wasn’t reassuring anyone. She grabbed her pack and stuffed the paper into it as she rushed off.
How can this be, she raged as she raced away from the park? I did my time. I was promised. How can they? How can they?
It was late afternoon when through sheer exhaustion she finally came to herself. She had no idea where she was but realized she was hunkered down behind a building, back of a big trash receptacle. A man sat cross-legged a few feet away.
“Hey.” He gave her a nod from behind another of the big trash bins.
She nodded. “Hey.”
Stacy drew in a deep breath. Despite having missed her meds schedule, she did feel almost normal. “Yeah. Think so.”
“Get that myself from time to time.”
She took another deep breath. A fellow soldier. “Yeah.”
She looked him over. Old field jacket, unit patch still on the arm. Greasy jeans, tattered sneakers about to fall apart. “Kind of.”
He shrugged. There’s a shelter, if you need it. Not too far from here.
She thought it over. It was almost promising. “You stay there?”
He chuckled and shook his head. “Hell no. They’ll slit your throat for your shoes in there.”
She smiled. “Thanks then. I think I’ll pass.”
He nodded. “What set you off, if I may ask?”
“G’ment. Assholes. Taking our pay, our meds.” She still shook. This was too much.
He spit off to the side she wasn’t on. “Assholes.”
She nodded. “They promised.”
“Yeah. They always promise.”
She looked closer. He was grizzled, wrinkled. He was a lot older. “The same?”
He nodded. “Yeah. Same old, same old.” He sighed. “What’cha gonna do about it?”
Stacy blinked. “Do?”
“Yeah. Do. Don’t cha think they’ve about worn out their welcome?”
She ran her fingers through her short brown hair. “Like what?”
“You been readin’ the news the last three years? You think it’s a quirk that it’s just us white soldiers left? Just takin’ our pay? Just throwin’ us away? You’re young. You can do something.”
Stacy stared at him. Do something? Fight back? She didn’t think she had anything left.
He looked at her. “You’ve got the skills.”
She stared back. “So do you.”
Thank you for reading.