by Sheila Finch
When I retired after more than thirty years teaching, I decided it was time to pursue volunteer work. My Episcopal church in Long Beach runs a program on Saturday mornings for the homeless, offering a shower, a change of clothing, and hot food. So I signed up for one morning a month. It was a little intimidating at first, over a hundred people of all ages milling about in a small courtyard waiting their turn, some with mental or substance abuse problems. But as time went by, I got to know many of the regulars and learned something about their backgrounds and their unique stories, something akin to finding buried treasure for writers.
A number of the Saturday morning visitors are veterans, and one day in the middle of November, a gentleman told me how angered he’d been to read that vandals had desecrated graves in the VA cemetery in Westwood. “I took the bus up to LA,” he said, “and I helped clean up the mess! It was the least I could do for my buddies.” I was very moved by this story, but it took several months before I could see a way to use it. First I wrote a story about a homeless woman—a composite of many such women who came to our shower program—and a visitor from the future. That one (“Field Studies”) appeared in Asimov’s in the May/June issue of 2017. I worked on other projects after that, but the veteran’s story wouldn’t go away. Then one day I had an insight about how to use the material, and “Survivors” was the result.