This is a short story, in 600 words.
It was prompted by this photo, sent to me by my good friend, Antony.
Even with the old air mattress, the ground felt hard and cold. Matt was used to that though. The ground in the Falklands had been hard and cold, and the weather had been horrible too.
There was a time when he had been a fit young man. Maybe not that academic, but sporty and strong. The Army had been a natural choice. No concern about qualifications, just a desire to serve in uniform, and to do his best. They gave him a place to live, good meals and medical treatment, and more importantly, a sense of belonging.
By the time of the Falkands war Matt was twenty-two years old, and a proud soldier in The Welsh Guards. Off they went to recapture the islands from the Argies. The first real war since Korea, they told him. He was a corporal by then, and proud to wear the stripes. He was also married to Glynis, and father to young Rory.
At the start, it was a bloody catastrophe. The Argies had been underestimated, especially their air force. The landing ships were both hit, and on fire. This was the first real action for Matt, and his only thought was to get ashore, and get some payback. As it was, they went in with the Marines against Sapper Hill, and that’s where his best mate Spence got it. Matt carried him back under fire. Almost a mile to the aid station, only to be told Spence was dead when he got there.
They gave him the military medal for that, the MM. And when they got back to the barracks in Windsor, his commanding officer presented him with the medal. He got promoted to Sergeant too. Looked better in the press release, he reckoned.
But Glynis was pregnant, and he knew it wasn’t his. A bingo caller, she said. Just the once, she said. He didn’t hit her. He was too angry.
Though he found the bingo caller, and he did hit him. A lot. Six months in prison, and a dishonorable discharge from the Army. That was worse than the jail time.
Glynis was gone when he got out. She took Rory, and moved in with the bingo caller. Matt got a halfway house, and rehabilitation in the community. He had lost the only job he ever wanted, and was marked as a violent criminal, living in a halfway house. When the horrors of the past loomed large in his dreams, the doctor put him on tablets that dulled his mind. Matt tried the Army. He asked for help. But he was now a ‘violent person’, with a criminal record. Nobody cared about such people.
Maybe move to London? They had work there. Security Guards, bouncers at nightclubs. He was still fit and strong then.
But he was too heavy-handed. He pushed when he should have talked. Hit hard when he should have pushed. Put someone in hospital when he went too far.
He was too angry, so they let him go.
The Military Medal had to be sold, the only thing that had ever meant something. But the money from that lasted less than a month. At least it bought him the tent, the inflatable mattress, and the sleeping bag. Matt rubbed his stubbly chin, thinking. How long ago was that now? Twenty years, at the very least.
If he got across the road to Macdonalds before it was busy, he could have a wash in the toilets.
And that friendly African guy might give him a free coffee, and some stale hash browns.