March 24, 2013

If I bring forth what is within me—what I bring forth will save me. No, not even a sea of blood could wash all this away. It's not like I didn't try. On Christmas morning I saw a vision; as the tips of my eyes peeked over the trench wall. It looked like a comet, or an angel, and it hurtled down and crashed in the middle of no man's land. I looked around me—but everyone was still hungover. I pulled myself over the wall and jogged toward it.

And I hesitated. For as I got closer, a fire bloomed on the horizon and I heard a groan by my foot. I came closer and felt the heat on my face; and I looked down. He blinked at me. He was splayed out against the white of his parachute, like a snowangel; his eyes moved toward me but nothing else.

Where is this? he asked in English. What? I said. Shit, he said. I glanced at the airplane wreck one more time, and headed back toward the trenches. Sarge, I called. Sarge, Sarge. No shut up, goddammit! He yelled, hey, shut up! I stopped. Can't we talk man-to-man? he said. I walked back over and looked down at him. Will you do it? he said. What? Shoot me. His eyes were green and cracked, with perhaps a tinge of desperation in them. Please. Oh come on, I said. Being crippled's not that bad. He looked at me uncomprehendingly.

I have always been cursed, like a little baby bird. All languages make one sense to me—but I cannot even speak my own properly. Like a songbird trying to learn the wrong song, Inge told me. Mostly the higher-ups assume I'm stupid, which is fine by me. I am afraid of being used for the interrogations if they knew.

God, you're an asshole, he said. Christmas morning, I said. What kind of people send out fighters on Christmas? Of all the fucking places I had to land here, he said. Gun, gun, do you understand gun? Pistole, I said. Yes, pistol! he said. You deserve it, I said, for being such fucking barbarians. They shot at my parachute. They'll take real good care of you. I'm a reconnaissance pilot, he said. My name is Eli, do you understand?

A shout rose up back from the trenches, and my head snapped toward it. It was joined by others; and the strains of German sent him into an even greater frenzy. For the love of God, he cried, please! I crossed my arms. Can't you stop being a Nazi for one moment of your life? I'm not a Nazi, I said. Nazi, Nazi, Nazi, he said. Fucking Nazi. I kicked him. You're a fucking Nazi, he said, and your mother was a Jewish whore.

When they finally found us, I was sitting by his corpse, smoking. The Major took one look at the body and walked over and smacked me. Reinhard, he said, why does this pilot have a bullethole in his head.