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Fresh Winds, Rolling Waves

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“How do you want me to sign it?” I ask. But Charlie’s someplace else for a moment. He stares, head unflinching, with his great blue eyes penetrating the hideous white of the bed linen, fixed on the broken ceiling lights. Some orderlies walk by us. If this was unusual behavior, they might come buzzing in. But they don’t. Because it’s not.

For a moment the stale bandage on Charlie’s head falls over his eyes, and I adjust it, absent-minded, peering blindly at its dark red spot. Through it, I can see a twisted masquerade of the front line: the hell he wasn’t prepared for. I give the letter a glance. Hell, I read it. All it needs is his signature, which of course Charlie can’t sign, given his condition. But they’re his words; his wasted words to his wife. Well she’s not getting them, and he would know that if the drugs and the pain didn’t make him so delirious every god dang minute. He would know…
He’s still staring madly at the ceiling. Maybe I should wake him up… but… he’s not asleep… just somewhere else, I guess. Maybe it’s best he stays there for now. He used to be a soldier, however hated and disliked. Now he’s just nuts. Maybe its best he stays that way, too.
Seeing him so empty and quiet makes me miss the times he wouldn’t shut up. We all hated him for that. It seemed all he knew was his wife and the day they met. We’d hear all the time how splendid the moment was. By the end of the month we could all recite the day they met, word for blasted word. Every day the same story, as if in his mind somehow it was different, some detail had been left out, or some of us had been spared the fantasy. Then he’d brag about how beautiful she was, how he loved her so, you know, the same sort of things we all stopped caring about when we decided to become a Yankee and write away our souls to the devil that might well be the U.S. army. But Charlie was more aggravating than the rats, and more incessant. Always about the glorious beach house… the fresh winds, rolling waves… that’s where they met, you know. That godforsaken beach house… that was our hell.
Then, the day of the siege, Charlie received a letter from his wife. To put it blunt, she was dead. From what it didn’t say specifically, but the words were clear enough for us, and for Charlie. I’d never seen a man so broken. It was a bad idea to bring him to the battle, but the Captain insisted. Oh hell, we mocked him as we marched, laughed and taunted him with the glorious ‘beach house’ where they met. All the while he just stared, blank… and dead inside. “Angels can’t die…” He would whisper. When we strode into battle in the front lines, Charlie just turned and walked past us, back through the lines, slowly building speed as the soldiers shoved him, and at last we heard the order to shoot the deserter. I did it. A hate for him wound my arms around the rifle like a puppet and I shot that man so his fingers went cold and he fell paralyzed in the dirt. We brought him back to camp afterwards to put him in a box and send him away, but he wasn’t dead. And now… now he’s somewhere else. And I’m with him.
“Charlie, they’re coming by to collect the letters now. How shall I sign it?” But he doesn’t move. “God dang it, Charlie, how do you want it signed?” I start to get unnerved and I-… and something… something’s stuck in my eye. My breath is heavy. “Where are you now, Charlie?” I whisper. “Where are you now?” He smiles lightly at a fixed point located no place in particular. “I think you know.” He whispers. I choke a little and put the pen in his pocket, forgetting that he probably can’t reach it. “You sign it.” I mumble. Slowly he moves his hand, remembering how to use it. I’ve heard about that beach house a hundred times… but I’ve never really imagined it. Now I try to picture what he’s seeing: sitting on the porch, fresh winds, rolling waves, the salty air sticking to his skin… the crisp envelope, bent beneath his fingers as he pulls the pen from his pocket. “Do you think she’ll answer this one?” He asks me lifelessly. The truth is worth nothing now, just like these letters. “I- I don’t know, Charlie.”

‘Love Charlie.’ He signs.

I’ve burnt every letter he’s sent to her. No use putting them with the others, it would just be no good for anyone: just a memory to someone gone, and what are those worth, anyways? I'd reckon I could burn them right in front of his face and he couldn’t see it, but some part of me knows that’s cruel. Some part of me asks why I write these letters of his, and I don’t really have a sure answer. Hope, maybe? For redemption? Hell if I know.

As the paper curls into a smoldering lump of ash, I think of that little beach house of Charlie’s. It’s a good place to return to in tragic times, I think. Fresh winds, rolling waves… seems nice.



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