I spin around in my new white toe shoes just as Mrs. Morrison showed us, except today I get to hold these oversized red, white and blue balloons. Later we’ll give them to the wounded boys–that’s what Mrs. Morrison calls them. Some just a few years older than me, so I must remember to be kind and not look away from the horrid burns and missing arms and legs.
“Be kind, Alicia, imagine how pleasant it is for these boys to watch such sweet young girls dance and twirl for them.”
I wouldn’t feel happy at all to be wheeled outside only to sit and watch, unable to move, like the big Yank with the awful burns. The nurses say he’ll be dead soon.
I offer him a balloon, but he shakes his head and smiles a lipless grin.“Dance, child, no war here.”
He’s wrong. At night I dream of his horrible face and hate him.
He’d made this jump before. Then the night had lit up with anti-aircraft fire, and he stood in the plane with Jack and William waiting for the light to turn from red to green. Only boys they had been, their hearts slamming against their chests, their bodies so pumped with adrenaline that they barely felt the cold air. And when the door opened they stomped in unison, terrified yet exhilarated. Ready for battle. Uncomprehending.
Now all that is past: the blood and horror, Jack’s fast grin and bright blue eyes, William’s soft voice when he spoke of his family, his home. All is wind and sky, forest and mountains.
He feels only the sway of his body beneath his canopy as he descends effortlessly. Frosted mountains surround him as the verdant earth grows closer, and he sees now what he couldn’t then. There is no glory in war. There is only the futility of death.