“Sample Day” by Jerry Rabushka from Saints and Sinners 2014: New Fiction from the Festival (Bold Strokes Books).
Full disclosure: I have a story in this anthology.
Here we have two characters who have been through respective wars and survived. Hank’s war was literal; a decade ago he served and was injured, and now walks with a limp. The man he loved, Keith, was killed. Hank still sees his ghost during PTSD-triggered flashbacks and hallucinations. Lila was blindsided by a figurative bomb thrown by her lover, who declared she was straight and walked out of the life they shared for twenty years.
They are each doing their best to soldier on. Lila ladles out mashed potatoes and gravy at a shelter Hank visits as a diner. He’s described as having an expression of innocence, while Lila is said to have volunteered to re-connect with her own innocence. They’re wounded birds – kind, loving people who refuse to let the wrongs done to them make them bitter, but who also have chosen to insulate themselves from any future romantic prospects in order to avoid further hurt.
On the day of the story Lila has accepted Hank’s offer to accompany him to “sample day” at Whole Foods Market. Her encouragement gives him the courage to take the first tentative steps toward a new life with Deesh, the deli guy he’s been low-key flirting with for a year, and just as importantly, to finally share the story of exactly what happened during the war, and after it, too. For Hank there was friendly as well as enemy fire. Opening up is cathartic for him, of course, but the reader also gets the sense that helping him take a second chance on love is cathartic for Lila as well.
I haven’t yet read the author’s novel, Star Bryan, but I look forward to it.