Flash Fiction by Mark Antony Rossi
My grandfather got drunk and froze to death on a park bench. He carried the burden of shell shock painting his blue lips found wanting the next morning. His suffering was private yet paralyzing and my grandmother often said her husband died in the war and what returned was a pale imitation. Who was this guy and what happened to that spark of life? Nobody really knows.
When your best friend’s head explodes like a ketchup bottle in front of your eyes the experience must have an impact on your worldview. Brushing out brain parts from your hairline because your unit has been hit with large caliber artillery tends to be more than a twist in your sobriety. Roaming fields of bloody torn limbs and half starved scarecrows brings a hammer against the kindest heart.
These are some of events he encountered and the rest I am simply speculating. My research in military records only goes so far. But how much can one man stand of repeated horror before something breaks down? The bench he died upon was but a few feet from the iron gate Brando filmed the iconic “On the Waterfront.”
I often wonder about the irony and the eerie coincidence when considering Brando battled his own mental health demons. Two men of a generation unwilling to share their fears or confront their nightmares. Two men grown distant from their families until no one recognized the face they chose to show the world.
Maybe Brando was on that bench with my grandfather before he passed into paradise. Both singing the blues in a dark park unforgiving to pigeons and patriots. Maybe he spoke to my grandfather upon arriving in the afterlife. Maybe they found a peace Hoboken could no longer provide.
Maybe this is more comforting than admitting the war killed my grandfather twice, damaged my grandmother and probably hardened my mother to the very notion of happiness. Fiction not invented to lie but to give scope to the truth. But even the long view in this family drama doesn’t escape the velocity of vicious rumor. Perhaps just like your family some things should remain secret.