Heart of the heartless world,
Dear heart, the thought of you
Is the pain at my side,
The shadow that chills my view.
The wind rises in the evening,
Reminds that autumn is near.
I am afraid to lose you,
I am afraid of my fear.
On the last mile to Huesca,
The last fence for our pride,
Think so kindly, dear, that I
Sense you at my side.
And if bad luck should lay my strength
Into the shallow grave,
Remember all the good you can;
Don’t forget my love.
‘To Margot Heinemann’ John Cornford 1915–1936
Her fever lifts and Felix finds herself in an open truck. A swaying muddle of people; no one she knows. There are soldiers with trench beards and filthy bandages, and civilians too. She is crammed between an old woman with emaciated fingers which feel like ice against her arm, and a mother with a baby who cries and cries.
She hasn’t felt so alone since she came to Spain. From where she sits, knees to her chin, hard metal bars at her back, she can’t see the driver, but she knows it can’t be George. If only. What wouldn’t she give to surrender herself to him now.
Over the church bells’ urgent ringing comes the roar of engines up above. Nuestras? Are they ours?
Felix squints into the sun, and the light knifes her eyes. The planes are diving towards them, then levelling out, and there’s no sign of Republican red on their wingtips. These are German fighters. You can almost see the airmen’s faces – goggles over guns. The truck brakes, screeching, and the people pour out. Felix reaches a ditch by instinct, rolls up like a foetus, bracing herself. The planes swoop back over and over and don’t stop firing. A few feet away someone has lost control of their bowels. The smell is slightly sweet and acrid and familiar.
The silence after the planes have gone is worse than the noise. Felix thinks again of the silence in the snow. It only took one shot. And then there was nothing Nat could say or do to make things better. But how could she have left without meeting his eyes? Why had she denied herself a last look at his face?
Felix watches the others – the old woman, and the mother with the child in her shawl – as they move back towards the truck. The baby is quiet now, because he is dead. Felix watches and can’t speak. Her mouth is dry. She is burning up.