It wasn’t as if the tremor defined him. The limp was nothing either, just an obstacle to overcome. His discharge had been honorable; he was a good doctor, an even better soldier. When the news featured the war, which was all too rarely these days, John ignored the twinge in the pit of his stomach if you had been stronger, if you had been quicker and did his exercises as well as he was able while shaking with the unfairness of it all.
His therapist did her best to talk him through his frustration, through the realization that he would never return to the deserts and plains, or to the mountains that had constantly echoed the rattle of gunfire and managed to be the most beautiful place John had ever seen in spite of it. He listened to her voice over the shouts in his head, playing the part of the attentive patient, counting down the minutes until he was free to go to the firing range. That always helped more than relaxing music and the breathing exercises Ella was so keen on.
The city was more of a shock than he had thought it would be. Being there was different than being here, in a city that thrummed with life. John had forgotten that lonely wasn’t when the only things breaking the silence were your own heartbeat and the brush of your finger on the trigger. No, lonely was this, the invisibility only found in numbers. John had thought to surround himself with people instead of staying alone in a cottage in Brighton. Now, he was reconsidering.
He finally understood when he found himself crouched behind a dumpster two blocks away from the backfiring car that had seen him abandoning his cane in favor of safe cover. As he slowly maneuvered himself out of the alley and stepped back into the sun, John paused for a second. He wouldn’t have minded if it had been a shot. Nor would have anyone else, really. He would be a body bleeding out on the pavement, a story shared at the dinner table amongst exclamations of sympathy for the teller. He wouldn’t really be remembered for the man he was. Or rather, not the man he had been.
His cane was exactly where he had left it, lying crossways across the pavement, the top slightly bent as if someone had trodden on it.
Being a solider for almost half of his life had made John a neat man. His shoes were always polished to a sheen that would have shamed the palace staff. The closet in his flat was all right angles, straight lines, and exact spaces.
For the first time since the hospital, the shoes remained scuffed, the worn clothes crumpled in a heap near the door.
John hadn’t cried since he had come home. Nor did he now. He pulled out his laptop and began searching for something, some way to begin to matter again.