Friday, July 19, 2013

Flash Fiction by Abigail Wyatt

The Beachhead
    'Look,' you say, 'the May is coming out. Soon it will be summer.'
    You are staring out the window, your hands immersed in a bowl of cooling soapy water.  Something about the sag of your shoulders gnaws at my peace.
    'Are you alright?'
    It's a coded question. Your heart has been troubling you lately. You already have four stents. They want to make it six.
    'I'm fine,' you say. Your tone is cheery but you don't turn to look at me. 'Why don't we get out for a bit? A walk will do us good.'
    Today's fine weather has arrived like an unexpected holiday. It has comes in the wake of a winter not cold but grey and interminably wet. For months on end, we were shrouded in mists and pressed upon by skies that sought to stifle us. No relief, no respite. No surprise when our spirits gave way.
     Now, though, all the trees are in leaf and the earth wears green and yellow. The beech trees, visible from our bedroom window, are a glory of tender new growth. There is a breeze, sure enough, but the sky is painted blue, as blue as it might be in a picture book. It is pleasant to watch the tree tops stir and feel the sun's rays through the glass.
Our chosen destination is Crenver Grove, an expanse of ancient woodland. I put on my winter hat and my pink wellington boots. With so much rain over so many weeks the ground is sure to be sodden. You wear your scarf as well as your hat which you pull down over your ears.
    It was in Crenver Grove, before we met, that you went walking alone one winter's morning, encountering there, or so you like to tell me, the ghost of a great white dog. Now the woodland is properly 'managed'. You remark on its greatly altered character. Then you take my hand and, shouldering your camera, set off down a winding path. Beneath the soles of my candy pink boots the woodland floor is cushioned by leaf mould. The breeze nips at our noses and ears but the new season stirs us just the same.
'Here it is.'
    You hurry ahead, calling over your shoulder.  Your cheeks are flushed and your hat is on crooked, your blue-grey eyes are full of light. 
    'This is the trench I wanted to show you. Can you see how the earth falls away?'
    You trace the outline of what is, indeed, a trench by pacing its length. Your boots stir up the mush of twigs and dead leaves. I follow behind.
    'On this side, see, there's a gentle curve. That's where they would have approached it. On the other side, though, is steeper bank. That’s where they would have thrown themselves down.'
       I stand on the brink where the earth tips away and try to catch the echo of their footfall. I listen for their laughter, their youthful voices, perhaps the fading notes of a song. At times, no doubt, they brooded and complained as they sat with their backs against these tree trunks, smoking, talking, making plans, remembering their girls back home.
     'It was a practice trench.' Your words break my thoughts. 'Of course, they would have needed to practise. To be able to make a beachhead you need to dig pretty fast. They must have been here, face down in the soil, right on this spot where we are standing. It was probably a beautiful day, a day much like today.'
   'And then what?'
    I know the answer but I can't keep from asking the question.
   'And then they would have been loaded in trucks and taken to Trevebah to embark.  They would have been marched down to the water’s edge and then onto the boat. They next thing they would have known they would have been halfway to Omaha. It all started right here, a whole long lifetime ago.'
      I think about this, a whole lifetime lost, a whole, long lifetime: chances not taken, leaden skies, a woodland on the brink turning green. For them, a few minutes of ear-splitting noise, blood and flailing bodies.  A forest of saplings, of tall young men who will stay forever green.
    We are silent for a long time before you raise your camera. Your photograph bears witness to the beauty they lost. You take my hand. We walk on in silence.  My heart is full of gratitude for the fact that yours beats on.
Abigail Wyatt was born an Essex girl but has lived most of her adult life in Cornwall. Since 2008, her poetry and short fiction, have been published in more than seventy outlets including a number of poetry and prose anthologies. She is a founding member of the Red River Poetry Collective and one of the editors of Poetry24.  Once a teacher of English, Abigail now works part-time in a café and devotes as much time as possible to her writing. Her collection of short fiction, Old Soldiers, Old Bones and Other Stories, is available from here.

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