Various Responses by Rebekah Marriner
I reach for an Itch at the bottom corner of the bed, an Itch that can never be reached. No matter how far I stretch the stump on my left side the flesh will never unfurl to the long calf I had days ago. I felt it on the first night, shuffled my hands under the linens and ran my fingertips over the raw lumps held together by stiches. I shrank my hand back violently.
I smelt it yesterday, mouldy. The nurse slapped some god awful orange substance on it that made the smell no better. I choked back bile and writhed around the bed but there was no escape from that wretched smell. There is no escape.
I cannot look yet. The nurse says its healing well but she doesn’t know about the itch at the foot of the bed. I smile as she feeds me but quite unexpectedly an anger takes me. With my good hand I swat the food away violently. The spoon clatters as it hits the wooden floor. She looks befuddled. I pity these women here having to look after sacks like me.
I do not think of the past because it is when I had a leg and that is no more for me now. I have to make my peace with that and get on with it.
I do not think of the future because there are only futures for people with two legs, no cripples work on farms or in factories. No sweethearts are lining up to give me a hero’s welcome.
I only think of now, the upset nurse and the spoon on the floor and the Itch at the foot of the bed that can never be reached.
The Billiard Story
I focus on the black spot on the ceiling and think about how I came to be here. There is really not a great deal to do around here. I feel pinned to the bed in all this white linen. My head feels like a creaky battleship every time I move it. The inky smudge on the ceiling is my only companion.
It really was unsportsmanlike conduct how I came to be here. The general is a gruff old codger and likes to sit miles behind the front line while decent chaps like me go up and fight. The corporal was a real lag too, always firing off orders whilst he warmed his lazy behind at the General’s fire. None of them wanted to be knee deep in mud and would do anything to maintain their position.
Unfortunately they encountered some outside interference, mainly the Germans marching onward and peppering their comfortable base with machine gun fire. It was a real situation where they had to do or die. I remember it clearly, the General with a tear in his eye, speaking to the Corporal ‘Well sir, it seems like a small separation must be maintained.’ The corporal whimpered, like the whimpers of the men I here around me now. Real fear, accentuated by the acoustics of the wood panel walls around me.
The General and the Corporal will never know what these men went through for they both turned on me, and thought ‘send him’. They sent me into the night. The pain was excruciating.
The light in this room is bright and through the whimpers of the men I sometimes hear a laugh. I don’t miss the General and the Corporal at all. Both lags are bad. And I am here with my beautiful ceiling.
He flicked the glossy card over in his thumb and forefinger. The Ink was smudged, else he was falling asleep again. ‘To Will, all my love, Euphrasie’. The E had bled into the U. His eyes focused sharply and the words blurred again. He lived in pockets of consciousness. He saw when he could, when the tight sensation in his skull allowed him to.
Sometimes his eyelids fluttered like butterflies in the meadows where he used to walk with Euphrasie. Her father had said she was too young to be out walking with boys, but seeing as he was a good sort and of similar age, her father made an exception. Sometimes the air would be thick with the scent of Forget-me-nots. It would carry over he and Euphrasie in small swells of breeze. The birds would start chanting noisily; it was his cue to get her home before father’s patience wore thin.
He focused sharply. The card was in his right palm. His vision was so acute he could pick the threads on the silk organza that was mounted on the cards. He focused out to the dark walls around him. He saw crests mounted on wood panelled walls, names that he did not recognise. He heard disembodied voices foreign to his own. Figures in white flitted by him. He felt his skull sink into his vision. His eyes focused again and a figure in white loomed over. The image of a smile imprinted in his eyes. He felt safe.
He was at the railway station. The rifle was slung on his right shoulder and dragging him down. Euphrasie told him he looked smart in his cap and uniform. His mother dabbed her handkerchief in the corner of her eye and looked oddly into the middle distance. His mother had been strained in recent weeks. Ever since Guillaume announced his enlistment at dinner. There had been no angry words, but there was now a hollow where mother and son should have been.
Euphrasie looked delicate, a wide belt clinching in her already tiny waist. She smiled as she handed him the card – ‘Don’t forget about me Willy’. She gave him a peck on the cheek and he felt his face flush red. ‘Guillaume’, his mother said coldly.
She started to tell him about the walks that he would miss. There was a temple somewhere round these parts that would take you the best part of a morning to hike out to, and you probably could get lost in the patchwork of green trees surrounding it. ‘Guillaume !’ she said sternly again. ‘You want to see the gardens too. Just open your eyes and we could take a walk right now.’ He felt a warm breeze over him and he lost it again.
He focused in the dark , ‘Guillaume.’ A fair haired lady in white came into view. He heard someone moaning and was unsure for a second whether it was him. He felt the coldness of the room seeping into an open wound at the base of his skull. He felt a sharp tug of his hand and somebody shouted something like ‘he won’t come round’, or some other nonsense.
Euphrasie had spent the six weeks since he enlisted embroidering Forget-me-nots on to silk organza. He often rubbed at the lilac threads on the cold nights. It had become grubbier since it had come into his possession, not four weeks since.
He could hear soft laughing. Somebody said his name over and over… Guillaume, Guillaume, Guillaume.
He felt the flutter of butterflies against his eyelids, and the pain in his skull was no more.