"Wound House" by WR Tincher
“I was wounded in the house of my friends.” Zechariah 13:6
The breeze from the Sea of Azov drifted over the desecrated village strewn with rifle shells along the Russian occupied lines where the volunteer Ukrainian soldiers stood their ground in far eastern Mariupol. Up the stairs of a two story brick home, two soldiers sat in what was once the master bedroom, the face now hanging like a broken jaw of an old fighter who failed to protect himself from his opponent’s flicker jab and following cross. The light from the mid afternoon sun cut a long shadow across the mouth of the room and over the floor until shade covered one soldier, leaving the other to sit in the half-light of day. Fifteen hundred meters away, Russian heavy artillery rested, waiting to resume shelling the front lines.
“Heard from my father yesterday,” one soldier said. “He tried to kill himself.”
“Grief over the death of my brother. It wasn’t nothing.”
“It will pass.”
“He will try again.”
“It will be a long war.”
They sat together at the table, smoking Chesterfields and drinking black coffee and breaking sweet bread. The wind gained strength and the smoke from the cigarettes blew toward the back of the room and disappeared into a ghost of nothing along the ceiling where the blood splatter stretchedout its fingers from last Friday’s sniper kill—three soldiers, now only two in the house.
“Take some,” the soldier said.
“It is for freedom that he bore our sorrows, I hear.”
“Some say he was a lunatic.”
“Or a good teacher.”
“Lunatics don’t suffer crucifixion. Good teachers don’t mark themselves as a god among men.”
“He was honest. And gentle.”
The soldier drank the black coffee and at the sweet bread and thought of this father to the west at home living along in the afternoon light of day when everything piles upon one another and nothing is as it seems at night when the sun leaves in favor of the second-hand light of the moon and the shelling intensifies. ‘Some are held together in the broken places,’ he thought as he finished his coffee.
“Yes. More,” he said.
“Do you still pray?”
“Yes,” he replied. “To you, O Lord, I lift my soul. In you, O God, I place my trust. Do not let me be put to shame or let my enemies triumph over me.” He ate from the broken sweet bread.
“You?” he asked.
“No. I cannot find words to say anymore. Why do you?”
“My father taught me to pray.”
“I am poured out like water; all my bones are out of joint.”
They drank the black coffee.
“A man of sorrows,” he said.
“Can I believe again?”
“That is up to you.”
“And the Russians,” he said.
“Listen. Starting again.”
“Let me finish mine.”
“I’ll go down stairs. Join me after.” He left the soldier in the upper room.
The soldier continued the meal and continued to think of his father in despair, and thought of his dead brother now in the fertile soil, and he thought of the days before the war when the three of them, father, son, brother—men—took meals together and swam in the sea and passed the night in peace and found the dawn a pleasant thing. But now, in the war, there were no more fathers and there were no more sons and there were no more brothers—only men—and no daylight to rest in, only borrowed light to shine on destroyed villages and scorched fields.
He smoked another Chesterfield and exhaled and inhaled and the rush calmed his shaking hands though he knew the tremors would return with the loss of day, and he knew death would inevitably follow.
“Deliver us from evil,” he said.
It was a likely death though not a forceful one; it stalked and crawled on its belly and eluded the light for it knew its act was evil and foul to the men—whether Russian or Ukrainian or young or old—for it concealed itself among the flock and did not enter the gate but went under the gate and around the gate and over the gate—never through the gate—only to destroy. In the distance, he heard the waves break upon the mine riddled shore only to drag grains of sand back into the sea for the continuous cycle.
And he was a grain of sand.
On a shoreline of more fragmented and displaced grains, destined to see more war as it clicked in its clockwork to its own meter.
“You coming? He called from below the upper room.
“Soon,” the soldier said.
He lit another Chesterfield. It cracked and after some time it burned down the shaft to his shaken, yellow fingers. Good for several more pulls, though the soldier did not pay mind to the remainder of its life. There were still a few left, but they would burn away soon enough. And after they were gone, he would have to hope for more to arrive. Though there was not much hope for more. And with his yellow finger he would squeeze the trigger upon his enemy.
Not a father. Not a son. Not a brother.
Only men, now on an imagined line drawn by other men far from that stretching infinite shoreline in the village by the sea where friends once lived, dwelling together in unity.
The soldier left the upper room with his few cigarettes in his front pocket, knowing full well it was all a lie.