A Struggle For Normalby Richard K. Moore
As the California Limited sped southward through the long, flat San Joaquin Valley, Thomas O’Roark struggled to stay awake. One moment he was scrunching around in the unrelenting mohair seat, his head bumping against the mahogany window frame, trying to get comfortable; the next he was sitting up massaging the bullet wound in his leg, attempting to ease the pain.
When the train lurched through a switch block, he rubbed his eyes awake and leaned forward to stare through the window, streaked with rivulets of moisture and partially blackened by smoke blown back from the big Baldwin four-eight-four locomotive. The view into the gathering dusk revealed a seamless green landscape of winter wheat, pock marked by an occasional vineyard or orchard, the limbs of its vines or trees barren and scraggly in their winter dormancy. Here and there, a lonely farmhouse and wisp of fireplace smoke offered the only evidence of life. In the distance, the familiar snowy carapace of the Sierra Nevada Mountains was hidden by a mantle of gray tule fog settling inexorably toward the land.
Thomas was returning home from the Great War battered and disillusioned, his once youthful patriotism broken on the reality of mortal combat. His muscular young body had been ripped open twice, leaving him with a jagged shoulder scar and a leg wound that would impact the rest of his life. He had killed and seen his close comrades killed.
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