"Oh c'mon you old geezer, that's the last space in this lot."
Anna Stewart made a face at the elderly man parking his tan Buick. She had five minutes and three blocks to park and walk to work. Of all the days, she had to work at the shoe store noon to close on Memorial Day.
She swung into a narrow space not even a real parking spot. She slammed her rusting door and started to jog. Her race to the time clock felt more like an obstacle course. Families milled the streets, trying to find a perfect spot to place their lawn chairs for the parade. Vendors blocked her path with their sausage sales, cotton candy fanfare, and overpriced balloon offerings.
Anna mumbled under her breath, frustrated that so many would be in her way.
"Am I the only one who needs a paycheck around here? Move it people, get going."
She wanted to keep groaning but she slammed into one of the patriotic banners proudly displaying Geneseo, New York and 1990. She gagged out a piece of flag and pushed the material away.
Anna passed the halfway point of historic Main Street with the high school band playing Lee Greenwood's, God Bless the USA. Out of synch trumpets threw off her own rhythm. She focused ahead, intent on navigating away from the annoying crowd gathering in front of the sub shop.
"Let's welcome the local veterans who served us so heroically during World War Two. Ladies and gentlemen, when you finish the parade route I hope you return here to Cookie's for a free sub and drink. We're so grateful for your sacrifice."
The squeak of Mr. Cook's microphone rang through Anna's ears. She rolled her eyes as a group of uniformed senior citizens carrying banners and flags took their time uttering thanks to the store owner. Anna pivoted against one particularly slow old man wearing an outdated cap and an outfit way too hot for the eighty degree day. She landed two steps ahead of him when she heard a thump. It was so close she felt a slight wind, followed by shrieks and screams.
"Someone get help, he's convulsing."
Anna stopped and turned. The man she just passed was on the sidewalk in a horizontal spastic dance. She knew by stopping she was going to be late but the gathering crowd seemed in extra slow mode. Voices warbled. Jaws dropped. People stared.
Anna fell to her knees, creating jagged slits in her khaki pants. She reached for his cap and placed it next to her sandals. All her senior year health facts came back to memory. She knew he could choke or injure himself with nearby objects.
"I called an ambulance. They're close by because of the parade."
Mr. Cook panted the sentence from running to her side.
She nodded, pushing a pop can away. He continued to shake. Anna saw the gleam of gold around his neck. Six medals attached to patriotic ribbon wrapped tightly around his neck with each twinge.
"We have to get those medals off him. They're choking him."
Anna heard the siren in the background. She pulled on the ribbons but there was no budging. Purple lines circled his neck.
"I have a jackknife."
The impact of what Mr. Cook suggested hit Anna. This was no old geezer, none of the men and women in uniform were. They were veterans. The weathered lines on the man's face told a thousand stories.
"Wait, Mr. Cook, can we try something else? Can you lift his head and I'll try to remove them?"
A voice boomed from behind them.
"Step away, give us some room."
Anna and Mr. Cook shifted and saw the paramedics. Anna tried to fall back, but froze. She was holding the ailing man's hand. She looked down and realized he was still. Still and smiling.
"Did I at least get to start the parade?"
Anna laughed out a sob, relieved to no longer see eyes rolling, but crisp blue eyes.
"No sir, 'fraid not."
The paramedics pried Anna's hand away and quietly stabilized him for transport.
"You saved my medals. Thank you."
Mr. Cook and Anna exchanged glances. Mr. Cook shared her thoughts.
"No, thank you for earning them."
After the ambulance transported Ralph Hoover away, Mr. Cook handed Anna one of the "Thank you veteran" coupons. She glanced at her watch and handed it back.
"Mr. Cook, do you happen to have a job instead?"
Julie Arduini, http://thesurrenderedscribe.blogspot.com/, is devoted to writing for Christ in ways that encourage and inspire. A graduate of the Christian Writer's Guild, her writing resume is on her blog's sidebar. Happily married to Tom, they have two children.