• Norma Hughes

THE DUSTY VETERAN

Old Mate would peddle his stories to anyone who walked by. He looked as old as earth; his face lined like the ripples of the desert. Upon the sparse tufts of prickly grass outside the front of Old Mate’s house was his rusting cast iron tub. Old Mate would wake with the colouring of the sky and fill his tub, bucket by bucket. His frail frame would strain under the climbing sun, red dust filling the cracks of his cobbled brow. After the bath was full, he’d change into bathing shorts, place his faded pink towel astride his head, and slosh into the cool water. Old Mate would wipe his face with his knotted hands, and gently wash the few hairs on his speckled head. Children of passing families would try to stop and listen, eager to hear what he had to say.

On his good days, he told stories of working on a submarine that took him to far away countries, how it had breached and was torpedoed. He spoke of prison camps in dusty places where one could poke a finger between their ribs and find naught but sand and space. As he spoke every shadow of the landscape appeared to shift to his words, and he himself appeared lighter. On his quiet days, he could be seen looking despondently into the dirty waters of his bath, resigned in accepting that the dust would never wash away from the creases of his body.

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