Before the next war you will sit down with your family for dinner. You'll share something wholesome, with cage-free eggs and a tomato from your garden. Would you please pass the milk? your son will say, and you will feel a warmth welling up in your chest to hear such thoughtfulness from a child. Suddenly the television program you were watching will be replaced by the president’s pallid face in the Oval Office. A flag will hang limply behind him. The president will speak. You will frown. Your wife will sigh. You will wonder how it came to this. Turn off that trash, your wife will say, and afterward the three of you will finish the meal in silence. And in the silence you will realize something has changed.
Before the next war you will look lovingly at your wife’s face from across the kitchen table. You will notice how the years have marked her. Your memories will drift backward in time to when you were new to each other, when you lay with her on the white sand of a far-away beach. And you held her all morning and watched the waves roll in, one after another breaking gently against the shore. And the warmth of her body and the rhythm of the waves made you feel something strange, a state of mind you can only describe as religious, an awareness of connection between you and her and all creation. You developed a sudden but unshakable faith in the goodness of people, a belief that the story of mankind is one of gradual but inevitable advancement. Everything is getting better, you reasoned. The world is changing. Technology is changing. More people have more freedoms than ever before. More people are lifting themselves out of poverty. More people are happy. You wanted to hold on to that feeling forever. You wanted to hold on to that moment in time with the woman you loved. Let’s never go back, you said. Never, she said, smirking, sunlight setting her hair and skin aglow like fire. But of course you did go back.
Before the next war you will dutifully collect plates from the table after dinner and scrub them clean under the faucet. You will turn on the television again. Uniformed men will lead a judge in handcuffs out of a courthouse. You will change the channel. A crowd will gather around a bonfire. They will chant. They will raise their hands to hail the flag. They will yell at the unlucky cameraperson who records them. You will see the rage in their faces up close as they scream. Watching this will make you feel small and useless. You will ask yourself how things came to be this way.
Before the next war you will step outside at twilight and notice a series of white contrails arcing across the dusky sky. Beneath you, the planks of a porch will creak, the porch of the farmhouse you bought to keep your family distant from the rest of the world and its sickness. A late-summer breeze will cause the wind chime to ring like distant music. Maybe they’re only airplanes, you’ll tell yourself, even as the trajectories of the vapor trails curve gently downward to the earth. Maybe it’s fireworks. Before the next war your mind will churn like a sea made turbid by fragments of hope, memory and fear. You will, of course, have many questions. The answers will come too late.
Alex Miller is a writer and graphic designer who lives in Pittsburgh. His fiction has appeared in Fifth Wednesday Journal, Galavant and Rabbit Catastrophe Press. His novella, "Osama bin Laden is Dead," was published by Vagabondage Press.