Wildflowers: part 13

by jamesmerolla

June, 1944

The drumming of the two giant guns started in the morning, stayed strong through the day and night, before they coughed themselves to sleep in the purple hours of dawn. Marla and Alex did not sleep.

For the next several days, the air smelled like wilting fruit, and the pacing of life seemed to quicken.

Marla was in the field catching grasshoppers when she first heard the low buzz from somewhere far away. It steadily grew closer until it swarmed her in shadows that blotted out the sun. Thousands of planes, big and small, were like a glittering fist cutting through the air. She shielded her eyes and ran with them.

She found Alex standing in the middle of the garden. He watched the planes roll past him, and into the abyss.

     Who are they?

She asked.

     They’re not Germans.

Marla, with her eyes still fixed to the shimmering mass above her, crept back into the field, where she stumbled and fell.

The following day, Alex went into the woods. He didn’t have too, but curiosity led him there. His shirt was torn by Marla when she tried to stop him, and in the rush he’d forgotten his pack.

He had ventured deeper into the woods than previously explored, with just his rifle, and the pair of boots that never stayed tied. He passed John’s body on the way out. They floated past each other, adrift.

With the discovery of the gravel road splitting the forest in half, Alex realized he was now eight or nine miles from the cottage. He wouldn’t get back before nightfall.

There was debris strewn about the side of the road, empty rations, gas cans, and shredded German uniforms. The air smelled of burning fuel and the pungency of men.  Alex scurried through looking for anything he could salvage. He was so hungry, and the berries from the woods were turning his stomach.

The road made him nervous. From where he stood, it seemed endless, and he feared every possibility of what it could bring. He slipped back into the woods, certain he had been seen by someone.

By the time he reached John’s remains the night was in full bloom. Its silence echoed off the trees, and the moon was as bright as an Irish nose. Its light threw shadows on the forest floor in a mockery of the sun.

Shrouded in the moon’s watery glow was a young German soldier.  He leaned in quiet appraisal of John’s remains. It was silent.

Alex watched from behind a nearby tree, and in an attempt to move closer, startled the young soldier.

     Hello? Who’s out there? Werner…is that you?

The soldier’s eyes grew wild with the sound of Alex’s rustling. He was terrified.

Alex stepped into the light and raised his gun. The soldier uneasily stepped back. He was unarmed and raised his hands in submission.

     Who’s Werner? Is he out here too?

     Who are you? I am—

     Is there anyone out here with you?

     I don’t know. I’m lost.

Alex noticed the soldier’s skin was clear and unmarked by age or war, before he calmly pulled the trigger and laid the boy at John’s feet.

Early morning, late summer, 1944, somewhere off the beaten path, France, Marla woke up.

Her blonde hair showed blue in the first summery wisps of daylight, as she listened to the rummaging outside her window. It sounded like funeral footsteps.

While lying in bed, Marla could see strands of trampled airborne grass floating in through the window. She thought of the picture of her and her grandmother in their best dresses.

Warily, she lifted her body to gaze into the inevitable. The Nazi army was shambling through the field with a defeated face. Row by row it shambled, back through the dust it had stirred.

Marla backed away from Alex, who was paralyzed with fear. His eyes, so wide and clear, reminded her of the field in the winter, covered in snow.

He called to her as she drifted into the kitchen.

     Marla…Don’t tell them I’m here.

She stood still at the kitchen window, watching the army limp past, and into the abyss. It was a sight she had wished for since John died, one she stopped believing was possible.

With knife in hand, she slowly eased back into the bedroom, her eyes following the army through the windows.

Alex reached out for her.

     Marla, lay down. Maybe they won’t bother us.

She looked down on his trembling body exposed to her, and gripped the knife tighter.  She started crying.

     I wanted you to know what it was like to lose me right before you died, just like he felt.

She struggled to raise the knife. Her arms felt clumsy and weak.

     Please…not like this. If you want to hurt me give me to them. Tell them I’m here and they will kill me. Don’t do this. Don’t let it be you.

Leaning in closer to him, she wiped her tears, and spoke in a trembling voice.

     You’ll always be mine.

Marla stumbled out of the cottage with a piercing shock in her eyes. Alex’s blood quickly caked in the dust, and the knife was still twisted in her grasp. She uneasily marched toward the army.

She caught the attention of an officer who approached with two young soldiers in tow. They shouted something in German and acted cautiously. But, when they saw her eyes, vacant and alone, their weapons lowered.

She stopped before them, her tears streaked through the dust, and the glitter of their uniforms was dulled and soiled. They watched each other for a moment, a chance meeting in the fog of war.

Without hesitation, she raised the knife to attack.

Her hair was as black as night.