Happy Veteran’s Day

I hold his right hand in mine, feeling its warmth, gauging its willingness to bleed. A quick swipe of an alcohol pad and two thorough dustings with clean gauze, then I strike his fingertip with a lancet. A bubble of red appears on his flesh. I gather it up and feed it into the hungry machine that tells me if his blood is too thin or too thick.  Confessions from a Coumadin clinic.

Through his thick glasses, he studies my machine. I put a small Band-Aid on the cut I just made. He scowls. I watch him, his blue eyes still so blue. The wrinkles on his face pay testimony to his long life. Almost 90 years old.

It’s Veterans Day, so I make small talk while the machine judges his blood.

“Are you a veteran?” I ask.

“Uh, yeah. World War II. Europe.”

“Were you in France?” I ask.

I’m a closet Francophile. I know I shouldn’t be. They hate Americans or so everyone tells me. But there it is. I watch Rick Steeves traipse across France, and I want to leave my mundane life and follow him. I listen to a language CD borrowed from the library, trying to recall the French I spent two years in high school and two years in college learning. “Bonjour, monsieur. Pardon? Je ne comprends pas. Je suis Americaine.”

“Battle of the Bulge,” he says to me. “Coldest winter on record.”

His blue eyes meet mine. “I wasn’t there on vacation,” he says.

The machine beeps, and his blood is neither too thin nor too thick. It’s in range. It’s perfect. I tell him so, and we make a date for four weeks when I’ll repeat this simple task. I help him put on his heavy winter coat. As he leaves the small exam room, I shake his hand and thank him for his service. It seems such an insignificant gesture, but it’s all I know to do.

Hands and arms inside the cart, please. Next: My favorite poet

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