The sun had gotten itself stuck on top of Old Rag. It shone an amber light onto the field before him and coated the river gold.
They had just held the 50th anniversary at Sperryville High. It was a short drive in the Mercedes for him, but others flew in from Munich, South Korea—even the Philippines. Much of the senior class had lived on military bases.
He had tried to tell them about his summer homes and his banking company, but nobody listened. Needless to say, the vets were the center of attention. Ryan Seawolf got a whole crowd to listen to his parachute descent into Cambodia. The Bryan brothers repeated their old story about landing in Korea during a rainstorm. All the men wanted to see were one another’s’ badges—which, of course, they had bought along on the ride. Nobody cared about his stock portfolio.
He grew more jealous by the minute as they laughed about SOP manuals and boot camp. If only he had a war story of his own.
A wild-haired boy—Jason, he believed—sat down on the whitewashed stair next to him.
“Dinner’s ready. That’s what dad says.”
Dinner in Sperryville was a special occasion. His son had decided to start a farm—said banking was a greedy, wasteful way to spend a life—and now cooked the best chicken this side of the Shenandoah mountains.
“Jason,” the grandfather said, “did you know I fought in the Cold War?”
The boy blinked. “Dad never told me about that.”
“Well, it’s a long story. Do you want to hear a story?”
The child looked back inside and nodded.
“Good, because I want to tell it.” He pointed with a ringed finger to the field in front of him. “See this farm, uh,”
“Jason,” he said.
“I’m sorry. Well, Jason, it was the Bloc War of 1963, fought right when Moscow was ready to shell the United States. Our squadron saw a farm just like this as we headed into Vilnius. Our goal was to meet up with the Lithuanian Resistance, a group of rebels hoping to free their country from the hands of communism. The sun had already set, and we were hoping the Sov-yets wouldn’t see it.”
“Were you scared?”
He remembered descending into Vilnius for an international banking conference. The first class seat had almost put him to sleep, but he kept himself awake to watch the Neris snake under their plane. A flight attendant pointed out the National Library to him.
“Only a little. See, the Sov-yets had these big, powerful tanks that could reach every corner of Lithuania. If they came on us, the Americans wouldn’t have been able to advance into Belarus, which was the whole point of the Bloc Assault. We had to crouch real low—” he demonstrated on the steps “—so that we wouldn’t be picked up on radar.”
“One second! Grandpop’s telling a war story!”
No response came from inside. He could hear footsteps coming their way from the kitchen.
“So we advanced, step by step, up the Neris River. The Lithuanian Resistance was to our north. We had almost made it to the National Library when a barrage of shots came out from our left. So we ran up a road—Vytauto, they called it—with our packs shielding us from their guns.”
He would never see his high school class again. But if he could get his son to believe this—even for a few years—it would make the difference. They would call him a hero here; they would make him the pride of Sperryville.
“Now, the Sov-Yet Union knows how to move around their troops. They had guns coming out from the south, the west, the east—even from above. Our cover was blown to nothing. So you know what I did?”
The footsteps stopped at the front porch. His son was watching them from behind—he knew it.
“I went out on my own. Stopped at a little place called Žvėrynas and ducked inside a cathedral. That was when I decided to go solo.”
Jason gave him the kind of stare that he had been looking for at the reunion.
“I crept around the western side of the city. A breathless hour later, I had made it to the White Bridge. They had it blockaded, but I shot down the defenses and moved my way across. You would have loved the sound my gun made.”
“Jason, remind your grandfather—”
“And once I made it to the other side of the Neris, I walked over to Lukiski Square. To my relief, there were about a thousand people standing there with guns. The Lithuanian Resistance had arrived.”
They had ended the banking exposition at Lukiski. But his grandson wouldn’t be impressed by currency discussions and stock trades; he wanted to hear about assaults and medals.
“And wouldn’t you know: we had a straight shot to Cathedral Square. I found myself at the front of the pack, shooting at all the soldiers that came our way, until—”
“There was no Bloc War of 1963.”
He turned around to see his son in the doorway.
“There was no Bloc War. There was no Lithuanian Resistance.”
Jason looked confused. He turned to his father, then to his grandfather.
“What are you talking about?” The eldest of them laughed. “Why, I was right in the middle of the Neris river, looking out—”
“You were a banker. Your only goal was to grab up more money for your retirement fund.”
His grandson had lost his awestruck face.
“Didn’t you hear my story, Jason? I had almost made it to the Square, when…”
His voice trailed off. A bird called from a lone apple tree in the field.
“Come on, Jason. Your dinner’s getting cold.”
Jason looked at his grandparent, then stood up and walked through the door. The rest of the family had already begun eating.
The grandfather stayed outside until Old Rag mountain swallowed up the sun, and until the field and river had all but disappeared.