This short story, by Anita Acavalos, was inspired by the WWI poetry of Wilfred Owen, namely “Dulce et Decorum Es” and “Anthem for Doomed Youth.”
I’m up to my knees in cold mud. Haven’t slept. Haven’t eaten. Don’t know since when. Time doesn’t matter. I’ve stopped measuring it in seconds, minutes, hours, days… To me it’s just thumps. Thumps I hear of people falling from the trench walls. Dead. Like puppets falling from a stage. Maybe that’s what we are though. Maybe after all, all this is nothing but a stage. We came here thinking of all the glamour of warfare, the glory of dying for your nation but what is so glorious about choking in your own blood? It’s ironic, when we came here our fear was that we would be drowning in theirs.
Mum wrote. Selena died. They walked into our home, took the boy and raped her. The men fighting for her freedom, our nation’s freedom, took her’s and mine within it. War drives you mad. The sound of bombs will forever echo in my sleep. Last time they gassed us, I lost my oldest friend, I had to stay there, watch his eyes go all bloodshot and I couldn’t touch him. I couldn’t bury him like a friend. He was put in the ditch with all those killed that day, no labels, no tombstone. Maybe if we forget, it will be like it never happened.
People don’t have names when they are in war, it’s easier to kill them that way. When you fight them you don’t see a father, a brother, a son. You see the enemy. Yet the more I stay here the more the enemy seems closer to me. They see my everyday problems, they know my fears, they FEEL my pain. Thump! I can’t turn to see who that was, does it even matter? We are all going to end up like that anyway. Our epitaph will be either “hero” or “traitor” depending on who wins.
Why are ideas so important? Why did we have to get in this war for a country so far from us? Why is it so hard for people to see the hardships of war? Then again maybe I was blind to it as well. She never was. From the day I told her I was leaving till the day I left, she couldn’t talk to me like she used to, couldn’t love me, couldn’t see our life ahead. She always used to say “you seem to love this heroism more than me and the life you are leaving behind, I wish I wasn’t this plain, I wish our life wasn’t this ordinary but I am content.” Despite it, she still wrote to me when I left to say she loved me and that she would wait. It’s my fault she betrayed her promise and now all reason to go back is gone. Thump! Funny isn’t it? When that first happened we would all run, now it’s the way we know we are alive, seeing others die.
I don’t know why I still hold onto this wall, what is there to live for? The ideals I fought for died the minute I first faced death. You can’t touch ideas, can’t kiss them, can’t love them. They mean so much yet are so unreal that when placed in reality you seem to forget all about them. Why am I here? Why did I miss three years of my son’s life? Why have I never returned to where I first saw her? My Selena, under the moon, dancing. I fell for her and now she has subsided to being an idea. I can never touch her again, never kiss her, never tell her I love her, all because I hadn’t realised she was the idea I lived for. I look up. There she is, she has come to take me, in a white dress that remains untouched from the mud and blood of the trench, unaffected by the smell of death. She IS real, she IS here, she IS mine…THUMP…
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