My Country Needs Me
It was a cold day for a picnic, but Ryan insisted. This was the first weekend he’d had off work in months, and he aimed to make the most of it.
He gathered his family, a kite and a basket of cucumber sandwiches (butter, not cream cheese– he hated the texture) and piled into the car. They were all smiles as he backed their beat up Toyota Camry out of the driveway and headed into the city.
On the interstate the radio played a couple of songs he had almost forgotten. His wife hummed along, and he smiled. Jeanine smiled back. The kids shoved each other in the back seat. It was the timeless portrait of the American family.
They arrived at the park as the sun disappeared behind an ominous gray cloud. It was the kind of cloud you don’t want to see on your picnic. The family had found themselves a running joke; they were a rewritten line from Ironic.
Ryan set out the picnic blanket, an iconic red checkerboard number, while the kids expended some energy chasing after each other with no apparent goal. “Let them play,” his wife cooed as she unpacked the watermelon, BBQ chips and ambrosia salad with the little marshmallows inside and set to divvying up the portions. Ryan slyly removed a bottle of wine from his backpack and a smile glanced across his partner’s face. She brushed his elbow. They clinked their glasses and called the children over.
They were enjoying their meal while the littlest boy shared the most minute details of his latest little league practice. The child was obviously entranced by the sport, and Ryan was filled with pride knowing that some day he would be a starting player on his high school varsity team; he wondered if he would take after his old man as an all state second baseman. He was about to share this tidbit with his son when a loud clapping noise suddenly overtook all of his senses. A strange circular breeze billowed the grass.
The panicked family looked all around, they looked to the sky and noticed the helicopter descending upon the field. The other families in the area covered their heads with newspapers and ran in terror; ducking the way people who’ve watched too many television programs about War would to avoid the blades. Ryan stood with a bizarre sense of purpose. Jeanine was a little bit confused, but full of pride as she watched him walk towards the helicopter.
“So brave,” she thought. As he approached she saw a man in full Regalia climb down and shake her husband’s hand. The two exchanged some quick shouts, but they were inaudible above the whirring and gnashing of teeth. After a moment Ryan jogged back towards his family.
Ryan patted his sons on the head, leaned down to kiss his wife on the cheek and said, “My country needs me.”
He turned around and jogged back towards the helicopter. Ryan stood on the runner and signaled the pilot and Jeanine watched her husband rise slowly into the air. As the helicopter headed out into the country Ryan waved to his family.
Jeanine wasn’t sure what to think. Is my husband a spy? A secret agent? What branch of the military was that uniform? She’d been so startled that most of the details were a blur.
Jeanine puzzled for days over what story she was to tell her friends. Eventually she decided to simply tell them he was away on business. She was pleased with her own cleverness, but was decidedly less pleased with Ryan’s when the bill for the helicopter rental arrived.