“Hey, fellas. What colour is love?”
Groans greeted this statement.
“Ah, c’mon, Shakespeare!”
Johnny looked up from his paper that he was squinting at by the firelight’s glow. Dan hid a smile at the nickname the men had given Johnny, who was always working on poems, most of them bad.
“No, really, guys. What do you think? I’m comin’ up blank.”
His sincerity was hard to ignore. Besides, Dan thought that the men, deep down, liked Johnny’s diversions from the war that had consumed them. Answers began to come.
“Love?” Robbie asked. “Red. Hot stuff. Y’know, paaassssion.” His long drawn out emphasis on the last word, accompanied by a leer, brought knowing chuckles from the men.
“Blue,” offered Deevo, his long face glum. He was still smarting from the Dear John letter he had received the week before.
Sympathetic silence prevailed for a moment, then Frank spoke up.
“Well, boys, y’all oughta know by now. The colour of love is definitely brown!”
Hoots and catcalls erupted. Linda Brown was Frank’s sweetheart, whose long, steamy letters arrived regularly. Frank sometimes shared small portions of those letters, the result of which being that most of the men were half in love with her themselves.
“What do you think, Sarge?” Johnny asked.
Expectant eyes turned towards Dan. It still felt strange to be addressed as “Sarge”. Since being promoted no one called him “Rev” any more.
“Oh, I don’t know, boys.” Dan hesitated, then seeing the interest in the men around him, sighed. The least he could do was to play along.
Suddenly he was seized by an answer, and he spoke almost without thinking, hearing his own voice as if from a distance.
“White.” Eyebrows raised around the circle here and there. “Pure. Transparent. Undefiled. Flawless.” Inspiration evaporated, and he stopped, embarrassed.
Johnny looked at him thoughtfully, then bent his head to the paper once again.
Dan stayed up late, praying for the next day’s mission, accompanied by the snores of the men and the scratching of Johnny’s pen.
Long before sunrise they were on the move. They were to meet up with the British and capture the town of Aprilla from the Germans. Dan had been told to expect heavy resistance.
They had just broken cautiously into an open field, Dan leading the way, the brilliant Italian sun shining down hard overhead, when it happened.
Dan’s boot came down on a hard surface, where there shouldn’t have been anything hard. Every muscle locked in place as his body told him the truth a split second before his mind accepted it.
If he had been more alert he would have noticed the grass that was wilting slightly in several places in the field. It was a moment’s inattention that would cost him everything.
He froze, his mind racing. Sometimes this happened. The trigger mechanism was slightly off, the pressure not quite enough. Whatever the cause, the land mine under his boot had not gone off. Yet.
The men stopped. Questions died on their lips as they took in the situation. Veterans all, they knew the score. Horrified gazes traveled from Dan’s foot, frozen on the ground, up to Dan’s face.
A muttered curse floated on the breeze.
Carefully and swiftly, they gathered around, even as Dan tried to motion them away. His fault. His responsibility to save them. He knew he only had moments before his muscles twitched, or some slight vibration of movement set the mine off.
“Back off.” He spoke quietly, through numb lips. “That’s an order.”
He saw the dismay on his men’s faces, and spoke again, quickly. “Deevo, you’re in charge. Go now.”
Deevo’s eyes filled with tears as he nodded slightly, and then straightening, saluted.
The other men did the same, then began to fall back,casting desperate gazes back over their shoulders.
Dan’s leg muscles were beginning to feel the strain, and he knew it wouldn’t be long.
He took a moment to look up at the brilliant blue sky, and to feel the warmth of the sun on his face.
Alright, Lord, he thought, I’m coming. He shifted his weight slightly, with the thought to try to jump free as best he could, knowing all the same it was hopeless.
Strangely, he felt no pain, heard nothing, as the mine exploded and the world fell away. All he was aware of was the flash of a bright white light; a pure, undefiled, and flawless light that enveloped him, taking him home.
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