A Sacrifice Remembered

By 13th April 2009December 9th, 2019No Comments

The man sat. He coughed a lot. He told war stories.
He had been a coal miner for decades.
Before that he had served with quiet distinction
In the Great War. He was the boy’s friend.

The man, it was said, worked only when he could.
‘Could’, the boy heard people say, when he, he
Had no money for the pub, for cigarettes and he,
He, ‘could’ not get money by any other means!

They said. They laughed. The boy heard them
Say that the man did not work when he should.
Could, would, should … words, words … judgement!
Judgement being passed by the judgemental.

The man, the man who the judgemental had judged,
Died. He died painfully: coughing: spluttering: spitting.
The ‘dying’ took a long time. The boy watched him die.
To the boy, his friend’s dying seemed to last forever.

The man, who only worked when he could,
Had told the boy stories, endless stories.
Stories about the War. About jerries, grenades, whiz-bangs,
About schumolies, about trenches, doodlebugs. About mud.

Mud. Lots of mud, lots of mud. Fleas, rats, stench.
No-man’s land, foot-rot, fire-steps, fox-holes, fatigue.
And, as he told those endless stories, he was there,
Living every minute, every hour, every day of a hell made by man.

He told about eating tree bark when that was all
There was to eat; how to make water safe to drink.
Endless stories, stories repeated endless times.
The boy knew them all by heart. He still listened.

The man coughed a great deal during the telling.
Spitting out bits of tobacco into the fire.
Bits of tobacco from cigarettes that came apart in his lips,
As he smoked, as he spoke, as he told stories of the war.

He never told how he got the scars on his head,
Where a large patch of hair was missing.
Or from whence the holes in his legs that made him limp.
He had a lot of headaches. He had many stories. He often drank.

After his funeral, where his wife had worn his medals;
Medals for brave deeds done, medals for unspoken
Deeds done bravely and a bugler played the last post,
The house, where the boy had heard endless stories, was very quiet.
The house, the house where the man had told the boy stories,
Stories of bombs, of bullets, of battles, of barbed wire, of broken men,
The house was very quiet. No more echoes of explosions.
The man’s widow worked when she should, always when she could.

The boy always remembered the man who told him stories.
Old soldiers die. They go the way of all flesh. As all must.
Memories of stories, stories told endless times, start to dim.
Old soldiers, everyone a hero, do die. Their stories, unrepeated, fade.

The former soldier had sat. He had coughed a lot.
He had told the boy war stories, endless stories.
He had told the boy stories of the war, his war.
The man had been his friend. The boy remembered him.

Cliff Painter

Author Cliff Painter

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