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She always dreaded that the day would come. He had been serving in the army for a second tour of duty, and she would often have nightmares of that fateful moment. The men would come, dressed in their uniforms, and solemnly approach her home with that letter, the typed, impersonal apology from the United States government.
It had happened to Ethyl down the street, and she spent days there, consoling her, bringing casserole after casserole, returning home with the emptied dish every night with the knowledge that she would just have to fill it up again tomorrow, a shared sympathy. After all, it could just as easily be Ethyl bringing the casseroles to her.
And then one evening, she was sitting watching the television when she heard a car coming down the street and just knew. She got up, still dressed from her long day of shopping with Ethyl, attempting to keep her mind off of her loss, and she could see the car slowly driving down the street. She watched from the window, lights off, praying that the car would just pass her house.
It pulled into her driveway, a long, black Buick, and the headlights illumined the space around her, through the window. For some reason she grabbed her purse, an afterthought, or perhaps something to hold onto when the news came. She watched as two older men in uniform got out of the car and straightened their shirts, double-checking for perfection. Then one reached into his pocket and withdrew the envelope.
She reached out to touch him, and he smiled, just for a moment. The men were at the door now.
His smile disappeared, and he nodded knowingly, reassuringly, and she knew what he was trying to tell her. The men knocked.
She looked down at the carpet, freshly vacuumed, felt the gentle caress of his hand at the small of her back, and when she looked up he was gone.