Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: SNOOZE (07/20/17)
- TITLE: Lightness, on a Dark Day
By Ann Grover
LEAVE COMMENT ON ARTICLE
SEND A PRIVATE COMMENT
ADD TO MY FAVORITES
Beside me, Jackson scratches in his notebook. Beyond him, Harrison changes his socks, tucking the sodden ones into his shirt to dry next to his skin. Buckley is sleeping, his mouth gaping open, hands slack in his lap. Vernon sleeps, too, snoring softly.
We sleep in the day, in short bouts of uneasiness, for at night, the front is a hive of activity. Under cover of darkness, we crawl over the parapet and remove tangled barbed wire, scorched tree limbs, retrieve our fallen brothers. We extend trenches, exterminate vermin, drain fetid sludge, heap more sandbags along the parapet. All the while, overhead, fiendish fireworks explode, lighting up the landscape, and bullets tear through the air.
“Catch some shut-eye, Private,” says Corporal Hayes to me, a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth.
“Yes, sir.” I curl up in my alcove and dutifully close my eyes. We each have a niche carved into the side wall of the trench, like the catacombs I once read about beneath Rome’s streets. As if we’re already dead men.
My mind offers up a grotesque procession: charred trees, a dented helmet, torn bodies. A wheelless wagon, a headless horse. I slip into insensibility, and through the merging, muddled visions of gore and smoke and ooze and stench comes a voice.
“Tommy, when was the Battle of Hastings?” I’m sitting at my desk at my old schoolhouse, wearing my mud-encrusted uniform, too-big boots, cap falling over my eyes.
“Last week, Miss Kingston,” I answer. “It lasted 141 days, with losses exceeding a million. Massive British casualties the first day.”
Miss Kingston weeps.
Grown again, I run from the classroom, past hollow-eyed classmates: Harrison, Jackson, Buckley, Vernon. Through the dusty schoolyard, past the outhouse, and from the horse stable, my pony whinnies. There’s a wagon nearby and I harness the pony, clumsily threading leather through rusted buckles. Snow falls, mingled with ash, and I drive the wagon, suddenly heaped with sandbags, though the blizzard.
The dingy snowdrifts become a meadow of freshly-mown hay. Someone is singing “Wait ‘Til the Sun Shines, Nellie.” I hum along. No sighing, no more crying.
“Mom!” She’s there beside me in the wagon, wearing her gingham apron, a tea towel in her hand.
“Gracie’s coming for supper, Tommy.”
And we’re in our own kitchen, seated around the table. Dad, Mom, Lenny, Sylvia, Doris. And sweet Gracie, sitting beside Corporal Hayes. The table is laden with platters of biscuits and roasted potatoes and overflowing jugs of syrup.
“You’re late, Private,” says the Corporal. “We’re hungry. Been hungry for weeks. Now eat. That’s an order.”
I fill my plate with biscuits, slather them with butter and syrup. I take a bite. It’s unyielding as stone. Hardtack, after all. Everyone guffaws, and Gracie’s laugh is gentle, sounding oddly like a purring kitten.
Gracie and I rise from our chairs, to walk in the yard. Mom’s face shines; Dad smiles. Outside, I smell damp soil, approaching rain. A battalion of socks strides along the clothesline.
Gracie’s fingers tangle with mine, then her hand trails up my arm. I feel the weight of her head on my shoulder, and she caresses my neck. Her breath is a butterfly, fluttering wings against my cheek.
“Gracie, oh, Gracie,” I murmur, and her lips touch mine. Far, far away, I hear the others still laughing.
Then, from nowhere, I’m clouted upside the head, and I scramble to wakefulness, reluctantly tearing myself from my sweetheart’s arms.
Buckley is smirking, holding a rat by its tail in front of my face. It sways, struggling to escape. The others snigger, grinning from their earthen berths.
“Lucky I rescued you from further advances,” declares Buckley, winking.
“What the ...?” I shout.
“Gracie, oh, Gracie,” Buckley croons.
I lunge at him.
The corporal scuttles to us, his cigarette waggling. “Calm down, Private. It’s all in fun.” He nods to Buckley. “Get rid of it.”
Buckley tosses the rat over the parapet. “She’ll be back, Tommy. She’s besotted with you.”
I grab at Buckley, but he’s away, chuckling.
In the end, I laugh, too, for who was it but me canoodling with a rat whilst napping in that wretched trench? It is grim times, in need of even the smallest sliver of lightness. Laugh, if they must. We all must.
The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
Accept Jesus as Your Lord and Savior Right Now - CLICK HERE
JOIN US at FaithWriters for Free. Grow as a Writer and Spread the Gospel.