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Shrapnel by Andrew Shvarts
published in Volume 10, Issue 3 on December 31st, 2003

When I was in the war, I met three kinds of men.

The first were the ones who didn't care, to whom the whole thing was just a sport, who killed in the day and drank in the night.

The second were the ones who couldn't handle it, who went crazy and screamed obscenities and fired wildly into the air.

The third was everyone else.

I think I was in the third group, and the German was probably in the second. I never really learned though, because the first time I met him, I shot him in the groin.

It was in France, in 1945. I was twenty-six, a private with the 101st airborne, and it was in the lush French forest with the towering pillars of trees and the soft rocky snow that I first made the German's acquaintance. My company and I were in an abandoned enemy base, deserted the night before in a fit of desperation. It was a shoddy dilapidated construction, and the cold crept in through the shutters and the walls trembled and bled. The other men in my camp relaxed in a common room, drinking and planning. I sat alone.

The German came from around a corner. I was huddled by a fire, shivering and holding myself, when I heard footsteps behind me. All I could see was a shifting hunched shape stumbling slowly out of the shadows and all I heard was a hushed frantic mumbling. It was a Gothic horror, the ghost of someone I'd killed, the Boogeyman on vacation from under my childhood bed. Then the figure stepped forward into the light and I saw that it wasn't horrible at all, more tragic and pathetic. This Boogeyman was squat and ruddy, with a vein-covered bald head and enormous glasses. He was older, maybe forty, and he walked with a limp and mumbled softly. I wish I knew why he had stayed behind, when all of his comrades had left.

"Guten tag?" I called in a strained accent. "Sir? Guten tag?"

I don't know what the German reached for in his jacket. Looking back on it, I know he was unarmed, but of course, I didn't know that then.

The fact that my bullet hit him in the groin was an unfortunate coincidence.

The German fell with an aborted shriek and lay on the ground. He turned from side to side and moaned softly to himself, clutching his hands between his legs and trying in vain to hold in the blood. My company heard the shot. "Jesus, Goldman," they said. "Didja have to shoot him in the fucking balls?" My captain, a middle school teacher from Maine, placed the barrel of his rifle against the man's sweaty head, and I begged him to stop. There was something so scared and pathetic in the fallen sobbing man that I couldn't bare to think of killing him. My company shrugged, laughed and left. I bandaged the German with a towel and remained with him, as he tossed and turned and moaned. That sad first shriek replayed itself in my head that night as it would in the nights to come. He was so sad and alone, so pained and unhappy, that I sat with him until morning and talked. I told him about Tamebrook, about its streets and shops and people. I told him about how I met Julia in high school and how we'd been sweethearts since, about my brother and my daughter and my whole life back home. I told him about America and how different it was from this land of slaughter under gray skies. After a while, he stopped moaning and listened to me with tearful distant eyes. I gave him my dog-tag, as something to hold on to.

When we left the base, we left the German, unconscious and bloody.

My brother Connor tried to get me into the war, but that's not surprising. Anything remotely interesting that I did over the course of my life, I did because he did it first and pulled me in after. "Long time no see," he said as he leaned against my doorway in his baggy workpants and stained brown shirt. "I got a proposition for you."

I hadn't seen Connor in five years, and then he showed up at my door one morning. Julia was out, buying groceries. Sarah was in the backyard, laughing as she swung back on forth on her bright red swing set. She was four then. She had never met Connor. The two of us had had something of a falling out five years ago, and I hadn't expected to see him again. I told him as much.

"That was in the past," he replied, with a grin. "This is your chance to make it up to me."

I could've told him that he had to make it up to me, that he had been at fault, that it had been his goddamn idea to go out that night, but I didn't. There was no arguing with Connor. He invited himself in, and lumbered through the door, stepping on the pristine carpet with his mud-caked boots. Connor was large, burly even, and each step of his shook the walls of my house. He plodded over to my living room and slumped onto the couch, thrusting his feet up on a nearby table, knocking over a little vase that Julia had bought. Water spilled out. Connor shrugged ineptly.

I rushed to pick up the vase and he laughed. "She's got you wrapped around her pinky, kid." There was no way I could reply, so I didn't. That made him laugh harder. "Where's Julia?"

"She's out shopping," I muttered.

"And I heard you're a father now," he said, nudging his head at a few dolls on the floor as if to show his keen detective skill. "A little girl."

"Yeah." I wasn't surprised that he'd heard. Tamebrook's chief crop was gossip. "She's out back if you want to see her."

Connor craned his head towards the nearest window, strained to peek out, and then slumped back down. "So I'm enlisting."

"Mm." That didn't surprise me either. If the war hadn't broken out in Europe on its own, Connor would probably have gone over there to start it.

"How about enlisting with me?"

I looked up, surprised. "What?"

"It's our duty as Americans." Connor leaned back even further, resting his head on the couch. "And it's gonna be intense as hell."

I had absolutely no interest in fighting in the war, but I often had little personal interest in what Connor and I ended up doing. The five years we hadn't spoken had been the safest five years of my life. They'd also been the best.

He stared up at me "Well? You gonna enlist with me?"

I noticed for the first time a thin scar stretching down along his jaw from his left ear. "That's new." I said, pointing.

"Yeah." He ran a finger along it proudly. "Got it in a knife fight in India."

"You went to India?"

"I didn't stay there for long." Connor shrugged. "And stop changing the subject. Are you gonna enlist with me or not?"

I sighed. "No."

"No? Why the hell would you say no? This makes every adventure we've had together look like a walk in the park! There's nothing more intense than this, nothing more wild! It'll be like the good ol' days, only better." After a pause, he added: "Also, it's our duty as Americans."

"I've got my own life, Connor." I gestured at the house, at the dolls. "I've got a wife and a daughter. I've got people to care for. I can't just go to war for the thrill of it. I'm not like that anymore."

"She's got you wrapped around her little pinky, doesn't she?" Connor said with real hate.

"I'm sorry."

"Goddamn right you're sorry." Connor shook his head. "You're one sorry excuse for a brother."

His words stung. "Listen, it's just that I-,"

Connor had worked himself up into a rage. "What about all those good times we had, goddamn it? What about the time we broke into the school? What about the time we spent all night running around the town? Do those good times not mean shit to you?"

I sighed and looked down. "Connor, do you even remember why we haven't spoken for five years?"

Connor said nothing at first, just stared at me with growing anger. "You son of a bitch," he finally choked out. He stood up and towered over me, and I actually thought for one second that he was going to throw a punch.

The front door swung open. The two of us froze, awkwardly. "Honey?" Julia called as she entered. "I'm back from the store. Can you give me a hand with the groceries?" She stepped into the living room holding a large brown bag. She froze as she saw Connor. The bag hit the ground, and a bottle of milk shattered.

"Connor," Julia said with a facial expression that a lioness might have after finding a hyena lounging in its den, casually sitting amongst her cubs. "You've come back."

"That I have, ma'am," Connor said with strained benevolence. "Just stopping by."

Julia was emotionless, monotonous, but a rare combination of fear and anger danced in her eyes. "How have you been?"

"I've been good." Connor shrugged. "Had some good times."

The three of us stared at each other in silence.

"Well then." Connor turned to the door. "I suppose I ought to get going." He took a few steps out, and then turned around. "You sure you don't want to do what I asked you to do?"

"Yes." I'd never truly defied Connor before, not like this, and I probably wouldn't have if it hadn't been for Julia. It was liberating and frightening at the same time.

Connor sighed and turned away. "I don't suppose I'll ever see you again," he muttered audibly.

"Don't say that," I replied, but a part of me was hoping for it.

"Bye Adam." Our eyes met as he stood in the doorway. His were watering. "It's been good."

"Yeah." I tried to look away. "I suppose it has."

Connor tried to think of something else to say, couldn't, and with another sigh shut the door. Julia and I stood in silence, and after a minute moved to pick up the milk that had been seeping into the carpet.

"What was that about?" Julia finally asked.

"Nothing," I replied.

Three weeks later I got drafted.

When I came home from the war, I was met with no parade. There were no cheering streets full of confetti, nor trumpets blaring, nor gorgeous girls kissing white-capped sailors. There was only Julia and Sarah, waiting somberly at the station, each holding the other's hand tightly for support. I sat alone on the train as it rolled into the gray station at the crack of dawn. The sun was just peering over the horizon, and the few beams of light were trying in vain to add color to the still asleep world. I didn't look out the window as we got near Tamebrook. I wasn't ready to see those familiar American hills or that hazy American sunset. Instead, I sat hunched on the bench with my head in my hands. The train was almost empty, except for the few others desperate or lonely enough to take run: half-asleep businessmen, empty-eyed elderly, young women in torn coats and ripped stockings. There were no other soldiers returning from the war, no home-sick fathers nor anxious boyfriends. They would come later. No one spoke. The only sound to be heard as I rolled into the quaint wooden station was the endless churning and rumbling of the train's wheels. I wanted to be excited, I wanted to be anxious to see my family and hold them close, but I wasn't. I felt cold, empty, useless.

The train came to a lurching stop, and after a few moments of deep breathing I got up and walked to the door. My footsteps were heavy and slow, punctuated by a limp. The door was unwieldy in my hands. Julia and Sarah stood side-by-side front-and-center, waiting nervously at the end of the station's small wooden ramp. We stood there, locked in place.

Julia took the first step. Letting go of Sarah, she rushed towards me, and her gorgeous blue dress billowed behind her like fluid wings. I took another simple limping stride and then I was in her arms, being embraced tightly as life itself. She dug her chin into my shoulder and held me desperately. I held her back, but it was an empty gesture; I did it only because she wanted me to. Her touch was soft, but her skin was cold. After a minute, she pulled away, and brushed a strand of hair out of my face. I don't know what she saw. I saw the same happy girl I married, but she seemed older and sadder at the same time. I noticed lines on her face that hadn't been there when I'd left. "Hi Adam," she whispered and smiled. "Welcome home."

I was at a loss for words, so I simply smiled back.

Julia gently pulled Sarah by the hand. "This is your daddy, Sarah," she said with that faint twang of an accent I had once loved. "You remember him?"

Sarah stared up at me just like Julia had. She had been cute when I'd left but she was beautiful now, just like her mother, with the same full auburn hair and the same crystalline blue eyes. She said nothing, and the two of us just gazed at each other, maybe seeking a hint of the past, maybe not. I wish I could've known what she was thinking. I bent down and she hugged me. She seemed twice as heavy as I remembered her.

The three of us walked to the car, holding hands, an inseparable human chain. I was in the middle, touching both, but they felt strange and distant. It was like staring at a photograph that I didn't remember taking. I knew that at some point, this had been real, but it certainly didn't seem real now.

"Adam." Julia squeezed my hand and I turned to her. "I heard about the...why you're here..." She looked at me with honesty and love. "Are you alright, Adam?"

"I'm fine," I replied, and that was true. I was fine. That was the problem. Fine isn't excited or loving or emotional. Fine is neutral.

We got into the car. Julia drove. I stared out the windows at all the familiar houses and trees. I recognized them but they meant nothing to me.

Two days after my company left the small crumbling base in France, I deserted. I didn't do it out of protest or fear; I did it because of the German.

After we left the base, we marched deeper into the snowy forest that stretched forever. It was desolate, and silent, save the occasional call of a distant bird. I couldn't stop thinking about the German, remembering his old delirious face, his rasping hoary voice, and his limping decrepit frame. Every time I tried to sleep, that one pained shriek me awake. I wondered how he was, if he was still alive, if he was lying dead in that base or if he'd managed to somehow make it out. I wondered if he'd heard anything I'd told him that night. I wondered if he had a wife, if he'd ever see her again, how she'd react to the monster that I'd turned him into. He was older than me, much older, but in those few hours we'd had together he'd seemed to be just a child.

Two days and three nights after we'd left the base, I'd had enough. I had to find out if he was alive or dead, if only to bury his body. I waited until the other soldiers were preoccupied, and then threw down my rifle, tore off my pack, and sprinted as fast as I could. I don't think they noticed I was gone for at least an hour, and I don't think they cared.

The base was exactly as we'd left it, a looming carcass rotting gently in the snow. Our footprints lay fresh around it. There were no new ones. I rushed in through the front door, tore up the stairs, and turned into the hallway where I'd left the German. It was empty, save one pool of dried blood. I ran through the building, looked in every room, even ran a few circles outside. It was empty, a tomb without a corpse. There was no sign of the German, not even a trail of blood leading out.

A trio of British paratroopers who'd been dropped into the wrong area stumbled across the base the next day. They found me wandering the halls desperately. I was unkempt and wild-eyed. I was probably talking to myself. I startled them by rushing out of a corridor, and they shot me. I took a slug in the leg and one in the shoulder, and blacked out. When I woke up, I was in a London hospital being treated for shellshock.

One time, towards the end of summer after my second grade year, Connor and I broke out of the house at two in the morning. I was eight at the time, and he was fourteen. Our parents had been trying valiantly to control us, going so far as to actually lock us in our bedroom and bar our windows shut. Connor found a way to jimmy the lock. We climbed out the windows, jumped into the tree (Connor did it flawlessly; I bruised my arm falling down), and made our dashing escape over the fence. We had no real plan of what we'd do once we were out. It was defiance for defiance sake.

Some places are completely different in the night from how they are in the day. Tamebrook might as well have been a whole different city. All the buildings and streets were the same, but they'd suddenly attained a quiet terrifying beauty. Noisy bustling courtyards had become silent desolate expanses, punctuated only by the mewing of distant cats. Alleys that were once friendly shortcuts became looming tunnels teeming with unseen horrors. The park at the heart of town, small and generally uninteresting, became a vast jungle laden with man-eating plants and skeletons of previous explorers. Neither of us spoke. We just walked through Tamebrook's shadow in awe. For once, we didn't destroy or steal anything. We just observed, and towards the end of the night, we created. We dared to go into the park, collected a cart full of every rock we could find, and built a huge circular sculpture in the woody center. We didn't know why we did it; it just somehow seemed right, a way to leave our mark on the town. We worked for two hours. By the time we were done, the sculpture towered over Connor, Stonehenge on a minor scale. We snuck back home at dawn. All the children of the town, and many of the adults, talked about it for weeks.

It's a strange feeling, to hit the peak of your life at eight.

The hospital in London was a quiet somber place with electric lighting and sterile white walls. Everything was artificially bright. It wasn't a sanitarium or an asylum, just a small hospital with a wing adapted for shell-shocked soldiers. There were eleven of us. Most of the doctors were too busy operating on the normal patients to really deal with us, though we had a weekly checkup. Sometimes, when they interviewed us, they would be covered in blood. My report, which I read weeks after I got out, said that following recovery from my gunshot wounds, I refused to speak or show any signs of life. I simply lay in bed, stared blankly at the ceiling, and ate when I was fed. The doctors worried that I'd lost the ability to speak, but that wasn't true. I just had nothing to say. I didn't have nightmares, not then. My dreams were blank. My waking state was blank. I constantly found myself confused, forgetting where I was, but too lazy to find out.

I had no visitors. I'd had no dog-tags when I was found, and I was listed as missing in action. I didn't have fits or talk to myself like some of the others. I just sat indifferently by my bed, keeping interactions to a bare minimum. One of the other patients killed himself after a few weeks by throwing himself out the momentarily unlocked window. I watched him do it, and I had neither the energy to stop him nor the empathy to care.

Four months after I landed in the hospital, the German came to see me. I don't know how he tracked me down, though I suspect he probably followed the trail of the Brits who put me here. It was getting late one afternoon, so the sun was setting, and the shadows on the walls were starting to stretch into grotesque caricatures of their masters. There had been bombings earlier that day, and they'd shaken the walls of the hospital and shattered the windows. A few of the slightly more lucid patients were helping by cleaning up, so the wing was nearly empty. I sat on my bed and watched the sun as it slowly sank below the horizon.

I heard his footsteps down the hall as he approached. They were slow and flawed, a shuffle with a limp. There was no other noise, and his methodically imperfect steps echoed loudly down the corridor. I knew it was him right away.

He looked better than when I'd last seen him, and worse. He wasn't bleeding or moaning, which was good, but he looked much older. Huge dark bags hung under his eyes. Unpleasant tufts of beard cracked his face, as if he couldn't be bothered to shave properly. A few of his teeth were missing. He looked at least 20 pounds lighter. The surprise I felt when I saw him was the first thing I'd felt in months.

I sat there and he stood there. We stared at each other in silence. He was wearing a simple gray shirt and casual brown slacks. I was wearing my white hospital smock. We must have stared at each other for at least fifteen minutes. Finally, the German walked over to my bed. He stood next to me, and then very gently opened my hand, placed my dog-tag in it. After that, he turned and shuffled out without a look back.

I checked myself out of the hospital a month later. Miraculous recovery.

Julia was attractive in a quiet thoughtful way. In some respects, she was like me. She wasn't wild enough to be one of the popular girls and wasn't bland enough to be a bookworm. She had unusually long auburn hair that curled at her waist and a full curvy figure that most boys would have killed for if she'd ever shown it. She dressed simply, in unrevealing dresses and plain shirts. She wore bulky glasses that covered her face and accentuated her luscious eyes. She looked like she was beautiful purely by accident.

We met by chance. We'd passed each other in the hall a million times, but we'd never spoken. We were just faces in a crowd. We actually first spoke to each other late in our junior year, when we bumped into each other in the hallway. Something clicked between us as we talked about insurance and I felt a faint tinge of excitement as we exchanged phone numbers. There was a rare chemistry between us, born of the same longing for greatness but fear of failure, born of a desire to escape the mediocrity we seemed destined for but crippled by an inability to actually doing anything about it. We were reckless in our own silly ways, sneaking out by window to neck in the forest, talking of exotic travels to Europe, dreaming of danger and sex and Jazz.

Julia and I were married two months after high school graduation. It was good. I was a good father and a good husband. We I settled into ordinary lives, setting aside our grand fantasies, but it was okay, because we were happy. I loved Julia, and when Sarah was born, I loved her. We were a model American family, a perfect unit of three people completely devoted to each other. We never escaped mediocrity but we found a different sort of satisfaction. Perhaps we didn't have joy, but we had happiness. For the first time since that night when I was eight, I felt good about my life.

I didn't lose anything in the war, and yet I lost everything.

Connor didn't come back from the war. He died in Normandy, three days after D-Day. He actually made it through the storming of the beach, killed handfuls of Germans, was regarded as something of a hero. He died drunk, during the brief calm that followed the battle. We were told that it was an accident. He was arranging the supplies, and a grenade went off, wounding him. He died in the infirmary a day later. That's what they told us, but I know that's not what happened. Connor would never let himself be killed in an accident, nor would he willingly do something like arrange supplies, not the Connor I remember. I can guess what really happened. He was drunk. He saw a grenade lying around. He pulled the pin and tried to see how long he could hold on before throwing it. He held on too long. I wonder what he felt in those final few seconds. I wonder if he felt scared, or if he felt liberated.

Maybe a little of both.

The Tamebrook I left was the same Tamebrook I returned to, and yet it wasn't. All the bricks were the same, but they'd lost their luster. All the streets were the same, but they'd lost their direction. The puppy I'd left was now a fully-grown dog. The toddler I'd left was now an energetic young girl. The happy marriage I'd left was stilted and cold. It was like staring at everything through a gray filter. The objects were the same but they'd lost their color and definition, like the world looks when you first wake up in the morning, like the skies of France had looked at night.

I don't know how long it took my family to realize something was wrong. I feigned happiness, pretended to like playing with my daughter, acted like I wanted to kiss Julia. Their touch was unpleasant. Their efforts to love me were like the efforts of the doctors to heal me, well-intentioned but irritating. I didn't speak much or go out much. Every once in a while, I'd take my family to the park. It reminded me of the war, all that nature. I'd come to prefer artificial lighting. The sun was too bright. The things I had loved, the gentle touches or the laughs or the smiles were now haunting and omnipresent, thick dense reminders of what life had once been that crept in from the corners and screamed at you, that tried to pretend that everything was fine, nothing had changed, that acted like you weren't a killer or a murderer, that you hadn't shot some miserable old German man in the groin.

Once, Sarah turned to me and said that she'd heard that a long time ago, a mountain of rocks was found in the park by morning, and no one knew who did it. It took me a minute to remember that it had been me.

For a long time, Julia said nothing about my changes. Perhaps she hoped they were temporary. Perhaps she tried to ignore them. After about a year of neglect, silence, and isolation, she brought them up. "Adam," she said as we lay on separate sides of our bed. "Adam, are you alright?" She put her hand on mine, and it felt clammy and wet.

"I don't think so," I honestly replied.

She sighed. Pent up tears slid down her still face. "Jesus Christ, Adam. What happened to you?"

I couldn't bear to look at her. "I don't feel anymore. I try, but it doesn't work. I'm numb."

Julia was a strong woman. I'd only seen her cry once before. She turned to look at me and tightened her hand on mine. "Do you still love me?" Her voice quivered.

"I don't love anymore."

"Jesus," Julia said, and let go of my hand. She got up, left the bed, and walked to the bathroom. I could hear her crying all night.

I think I know why the German came to Tamebrook. I'd told him everything, from what town I was born in to the name of my child. I'd filled him with dreams of an America that didn't exist anymore. He came, looking for what I'd promised him, and he didn't find it. He found rejection. He found loathing. He was ugly, freakish, old. He was viewed here with as much contempt as he was viewed in Germany, if not more. So he came to Tamebrook, to seek me out, and he saw that I had everything I'd spoken about, a good job and a great family and a nice house. I hadn't lied; I'd just misled him.

Even with what he ended up doing, I don't wish I had killed him back in Germany. I wish I had found him sooner though. I wish I could have sat down and talked to him and found out what he thought and felt. I wish I could have known what he had returned to in Germany. I wish I could have told him that it was just a war, that these things happen, that he could go on living and not cut himself off from life and that the horrors were only in his head. But of course, I couldn't tell him that until it was too late.

One night, towards the end, when Sarah had already stopped talking to me and Julia had started drinking, I snuck out of the house at two in the morning. I didn't bother with the window or the tree, although it crossed my mind. Tamebrook was a different city at night. The streets, clean and maintained during the day, were littered with trash and dirt. The park was a sprawling mess of garbage and unkempt vegetation. I could hear squabbling couples, stray cats, and in some places, the distinctly squalid creak of bedsprings. A few homeless rank men lay in the alleys. A gang of hoodlums was drinking stolen whiskey behind the school. I went to the park after some time and tried to build a new stone castle. I stacked three stones and cut my hand on a piece of broken glass.

You can never go home.

I left the house at breakfast one morning. I couldn't handle it. There was too much life. Sarah rambled childishly though a growing contempt for my uselessness lurked in her words. Julia tried to smile with bags under her eyes and alcohol under her breath. The kitchen exploded with the saccharine smell of syrup and the blare of the kettle and the clanking of silverware and the heat and the noise and the color. It was dense, it was suffocating. This had happened before. I got up and left to talk a small walk out into the empty fields that surrounded the town. They were the only things that could make me feel sane.

The German was waiting across the street. He grew rigid as he saw me. He was dressed like an American. He looked only worse than he had before, on the verge of death. I could see the bones of his skull behind his skin. His gaze was empty and hollow, the look of a man who's seen the world and not found happiness in any of it. I didn't say anything, but I didn't stay and stare at him either. I ran. His presence, the fact that he was here, staring at me with that empty gaze, validated every fear I had had. I had turned him into this. I had turned a hapless man into a freakish ghoul. I had done this.

I ran. I ran as fast as I could, through Tamebrook, past the park and the school and the shops. I ran into the empty fields and I lay there for hours on my back, staring at the cloudy sky. I didn't think. I just lay. I slowly walked home in the late afternoon.

The police were already at the house by the time I got there. It was covered in a swarm of police cars that buzzed red and blue. The walls of the house had been painted red. Julia lay in the bedroom. Sarah lay in the kitchen. They'd gone out struggling, flecks of skin under their fingernails, and fear in their eyes. The officers rushed me the second they saw me, bound my arms and dragged me away.

I was alone for a long awful time after that, and in the darkness of my solitude I realized what I had lost.

Now at nights, I no longer dream of the German. From the peeling gray walls of my new home, I dream of Julia and Sarah and my parents, of the days before the war. Now that I have nothing, I dream of everything. I dream of smiling and feeling and loving. I dream of cherry-colored swing sets and little kisses on the neck. I dream of how good the sun felt on my skin and how sweet a milkshake tasted. I dream of my mother and how she'd squeeze my hand as I left for school. I dream of Connor's boyish grin. I dream of smiling when Sarah stumbled over herself to give her daddy a hug. I dream of the way Julia's auburn hair would slide across me as we lay together in bed. I dream of all those times before I lost what I'd loved and before I'd lost the ability to love, of those days before slaughter and dirt and hate. I dream of an America that never was, of a passing vision of Heaven. I dream of innocence and childhood. In the daytime, I yearn for the night, and I hide the pills they try to feed me with my scratched up hands, and I try to fall asleep. The days are slow and dull and gray, but the nights are vivid and beautiful. I no longer dream of the German, but I wonder sometimes how he is, what he's doing out there, if he's managed to find whatever it was that he'd lost.

Somehow, I doubt it. War wounds don't heal like that.

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