Iron Cross

by Chris Okum

Herbert doesn't like anyone, except for Major Walter Schulz, the man who saved his life during the war. Whenever Herbert sees Major Walter Schulz he makes sure to give him a hug and tell him how nice it is to see him and how much he likes him, and he always makes sure to refer to the man by his rank, because to Herbert, Major Walter Schulz will always be Major Walter Schulz and never just Walter. Sometimes Herbert will run into other men he served with, but he rarely acknowledges these men, and when he does acknowledge them with a gruff hello or a nod of the head he usually does it in such a way that the man he is acknowledging knows instantly that Herbert would rather not acknowledge them but is, for whatever reason, acknowledging them. For the longest time Herbert's children could not understand why their father did not like anyone (including them, they feared), and then one day, a day during which they witnessed their father completely ignore a man he had served with, a man who had tried to get Herbert's attention from across the street by waving his hands and calling out Herbert's name, they decided to ask him. They said, Father, how come you don't like anyone except for Major Walter Schulz? Herbert answered that the reason he didn't like anyone is because in his experience people could be divided into three groups: the people who were trying to kill him; the people who didn't care that the other people were trying to kill him; and the people who wanted to save him from the people who were trying to kill him. Major Walter Schulz was the only person, said Herbert, who he had ever known to be a member of that third group. Herbert's children thought about this and then asked him which group he would consider them to be a part of, if only to confirm what they already knew. Herbert looked at his children and then walked into the street as the cars were speeding in both directions. Herbert's children watched passively as their father managed to make his way safely across to the other side despite the fact that not one of the cars slowed down or tried to swerve out of Herbert's way. When Herbert got to the other side he looked at his children, put his hands in his pockets, and shrugged. Behind Herbert was a barbershop that had already closed for the day. A sign in the window said the shop gave the closest shaves in town, albeit not for the squeamish.