The last paper boat. At least Herman hoped it was, watching it float away. Transported by the Danube to a world far from his own. A world without weapons and bombs. Without destruction. Where dreams didn’t die, where they weren’t shattered. Where men lived. He watched as it carried a tale of love, of loss, of grief and of war. Is that why they call it the Black sea, he wondered. All emotions coalescing to form a black, murky mass. Was the sea black inside, hiding behind a shade of blue, flowing nonchalantly. Like the people around him, hiding their sadness behind a smile. It will all be alright, they said. To others, to themselves. That it was destiny. There was nothing they could do, and the world would return to normalcy. It had to. Someday.
His name was Maxwell Max Dugan and this is his story, but only covers those disturbing and warful years between 1941 to 1947, just seven years chockfull of battles, combat, explosions, heroic people, deadly people on a world-wide rampage, and means of salvage, at least of the souls, if nothing else.
Here! Follow my voice! Over here, I say! For God’s sake, man, come over to the fire. What in heaven’s name are you doing, out in such a storm? Come and warm yourself before you freeze where you stand. There, it is only a whistling nook amidst the snow and the cruel wind, but it affords us some small respite and the luxury of civilised conversation. Here we will wait for a break in the weather. I would share with you a morsel, but I have none. Rest and talk must serve as our sustenance. I note that you are hardly dressed for being so deep in the mountains. A light jacket? Such flimsy trousers? I know I must look a fright, unkempt and unshaven, but I am something of an exception. Those who linger in these hills generally know the value of good boots and a winter coat.
As the town announced itself with quick clutter, Greg Mulraney downshifted the Taurus saying it was on its last legs. The floorboards were full of soft threats beneath his feet, metal edges outside and below catching air like a sword causes a draft, a whine, the engine hum hesitant as an offbeat tenor. He saw Pete Leon standing in front of the public house, drink in hand as usual, and thought, Pete looks the same, leathered, liquored, lean, handsome as the long day.
It was early but the sun was already strong and high. In the distance, the road was shiny and sweaty as it curved between the red ground. It was going to be a hot day. In the East, the sun cast a hazy film over the hills. Lachman sat in the sultry shade of an olive tree as a single bee buzzed loudly and persistently around his head. He’d always found that bees were particularly drawn to him. Perhaps they knew how to spot a criminal.
Wonder had him in its grip and worked him over, tossing him into past years as clean as a pistol shot. More than half a century flipped through his movie mind, stopping whenever he wanted, at whatever spot and breaking loose the sounds, the smells, the fingers touching, the skin knowing again, rocking him with total recall. He saw again the older woman who paraded nude behind a window, who finally beckoned when he was on the way to school one day, calling him on to manhood, and to silence and war, and to the eternal draw.
When the German artillery finally ceased firing around sunset, Jack’s neck and shoulders slowly relaxed; he hadn’t realized he’d been tensing them all that time. The relentless shelling had forced his company to hunker in the trenches for over forty-eight hours. Now the silence unnerved him. The shelling could resume at any time, but the officers sent word that the men should rest as best they could.