a hypothetical addendum to Ernest Hemingway’s short story ‘In Another Country’.
Short Assignment 1 – Logan Bright – 0996298037
“In Another Country” by Hemingway – insert on page 68, after “…really an accident.”
I had been with my group, creeping amongst the underbrush, twilight shadows concealing our furtive movements toward the enemy line. Night creatures and owls were waking, calling to one another, but we made no sound, hands clenched on cold gun metal, faces set. I was to gain higher ground, a vantage point separated from my fellows, to spy the artillery position. My group kept moving as I climbed a rocky hillock, and at the top I saw the gunner with his weapon. He was at his post on the seat but he was reading a magazine. I could have sighted him right there but we had orders. I held my breath and watched him, but he never looked up.
My group moved in an instant. The forward rifleman on our side, lance corporal Ferrin, fired twice, caught the artillery gunner clean in the chest. The body tumbled forward onto the artillery installation, swung it towards my position. The firing mechanism engaged, the pin clicked, and the barrel roared. I took just one slug from the spray, an unlikely accident. It ruined my knee, left the tendons torn.
A medic in camp applied a bandage before the wound could fester, and the men in my group, Ferrin and the others, attested to my bravery in the field. I learned I was to leave the front, for a time.
The night before the transport was due, my superiors gave me leave to go into the nearby village. I caught a ride with a provisioning officer, and he dropped me at a cat-house. When the women asked after the bandages wound around my leg and inferred some act of heroism, I didn’t correct them. The madam smelled of cigarettes and smiled at me, brought me upstairs to recline on silken sheets. She turned the lights down and left the room, and I watched the ceiling until the door opened again. A young brunette slid in on silent feet and whispered that she’d heard I was very brave, an American soldier who had saved many lives. She moved to the bed more softly than I had crept through the forest the night before. She sat on the edge of the mattress and in that moment I felt aware of the gentle touch of the silk for the first time, our weight pressing into the bed. I made to reply but the words caught and I said nothing. I watched her as she moved on her hands and knees over my supine form, careful not to brush against the wounded leg. I felt the heat of her body, choked on the rich scent of her.
“What do you want, handsome, hm? What would you like?” Her voice was soft pine needles on the forest floor.
“I want to get married,” I said after a time.
She looked away. Her fingers played at my belt, service-issue, with a clasp I was sure she had seen many times before.
“Married, hm? You have some lucky girl waiting at home? A pretty American?”
I could find no reply and made none. My jaw was set, unresponsive. The heat in the room grew as she plied her trade, but there was no life I could offer her. She sat back on her haunches and regarded me, her head tilted.
“What’s the matter? Never touched a girl before, handsome?”
I coughed and felt at my bandages, sticky and hot. “Just tired,” I said. I fastened my belt buckle and lay back on the bed. I heard pleasure sounds all around me, from above, below. Sounds of mirth and passion. I tried to block them out, to hear again the silence of my squad approaching the artillery, to see the gunner and his magazine. I tried to be still while my face burned.
The girl left soon after, but the madam never came to throw me out. I left what I owed on a scored wooden table and hobbled the quarter mile back to camp. As the sun broke open the featureless grey, I whistled a few broken notes and fell silent. My hand felt at my wound, and I saw again the gunner with two bright circles on his chest. He never saw me there on the hillock; I could have had him. Not his fault, nor mine. Like any wound from the front, just an accident.