Cigarettes and Lifeless Eyes
Cigarettes and Lifeless Eyes
‘That one was close,’ shouts his mate, Billy.
‘Chuck us a ciggie, Ted,’ calls Ernie.
Ted looks up, bullets are still flying over them, a grenade hits somewhere close by, he pulls out his cigarettes, lights one for himself, throws one over to Ernie.
A young private runs past them, shouting,
‘His head’s gone! His head’s gone!’
No one bats an eyelid.
Another rolls around on the ground, moaning,
‘Dench, see to him,’ calls Ted.
The soldier’s holding his leg, or at least what’s left of it. He sits in a pool of blood, it’s hard to tell if it’s all his own or not, it’s everywhere.
Pte Dench attempts to stem the bleeding, it’s hopeless. The moaning stops, the soldier’s eyes are still open. Dench puts his head in his hands and sobs.
The young private runs past again, still shouting.
Ted steps on a hand, he grabs it to help up its owner. There is no owner. He drops the hand.
The grenades are getting closer, louder, more frequent.
‘Billy!’ he calls. ‘We need to move, where are all the officers?’
Ted looks around him, Ernie is on the ground, sitting propped against sandbags, his cigarette still burning, just hanging from his bottom lip, his eyes wide and lifeless.
The private runs by again, Ted scrutinises him, he’s a boy of no more than fifteen.
‘His head’s gone! His head’s gone!’ he’s screaming it now. He stumbles over Billy’s body, scrambles to his feet, still screaming.
Ted grabs him, covers his mouth,
‘You’ll get us both killed! Shut up, shut up!’ he shakes him, looks into his eyes, but they don’t see him, he lets the boy go, drops to his haunches.
Voices… with German accents!
Ted thinks quickly and pulls over himself the bodies of his colleagues, he hears quiet sobs coming from somewhere.
The voices get louder, a single gunshot rings out and the boy’s screaming ceases.
I should have kept hold of him… I should have made him shut up… he was just a kid, just a kid.
A burst of gunshots then the voices are directly above. He hears footsteps coming down the ladder.
The voice is gentle.
A woman’s voice… what in the hell?
What’s going on?
‘I’ve found him!’ she calls out.
A small hand reaches out, he takes it and emerges from beneath the table, the woman in white helps him to his stockinged feet.
‘Come on, Mr Norton, let’s get you back to your bed.’
Slowly, she guides him through the day room.
A porter sits at his desk, chewing gum and listening to a portable wireless. Glam rock, the youngsters call it.
Ted can still hear someone crying.
‘Oh, please don’t upset yourself, Mr Norton. Here.’
She hands him a tissue.
He realises, wipes his eyes and blows his nose.
‘Were you back in France again, Mr Norton? In the trenches?’ she rubs his arm.
‘My dear,’ he replies. ‘I don’t think I ever left.’
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