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Familiar Strangers

It was a bright May afternoon, the mood light behind the big, clear windows of the passenger car as the train streaked across an open meadow ablaze with goldenrod.

“Where is home, young man?” The dainty voice belonged to an elegant lady of about fifty who sat sipping tea on one side of a double-bench compartment. Her husband sat next the her, one arm around her shoulder.

The soldier, clad in his clean, crisp Union blue uniform smiled. “I’m from Indiana, ma’am.”

The couple looked at each other, smiled broadly. “Why, what a coincidence! That’s home for us, too! Why, we’re headed back there now.”

The young man blushed, embarrassed that he already knew. “So am I,” he said. “It’s my birthday.”

“Why, how old are you, dear?” The lady’s eyes twinkled. Just like a mother.

“I was born twenty-one years ago today,” the soldier said.

The older man extended a hand. “Well, happy birthday, soldier! What’d you say your name was?”

Darkness swallowed the car as the train plunged into a tunnel. When it came out the other side, the soldier stood among hundreds of other pale-faced young men.

The kind older couple was gone.

“They didn’t recognize me,” the boy said.

“I’m sorry, son,” a gruff voice sounded in his ear. “Next!”

The old general moved down the list of names on his paper, and the soldier shimmered out of existence.

A single beam of sunlight woke Sara from her sweet slumber, and she grasped at the threads of a tender dream she couldn’t quite remember.

She sat up in bed and clasped the locket against her chest, popped it open. There was her baby boy, born twenty-one years ago to the day.

Tears soaked her bed as she imagined, for the thousandth time, what might have been.

Published inFlash Fiction

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