1. For now, he said,
"Ah! but there was no need to call his name.
He was beside me now, as swift as light.
I knew him crushed to earth in scentless flowers,
and lifted in the rapture of dark pines."
-Siegfried Sassoon, "The Last Meeting"
It was something I had to do, something I owed to him. I owed nothing to the people whose stares I attracted, walking through the town in my uniform. As I passed each house, I could sense the relief I left in my wake. Strangers in uniform brought bad news for the families at home, so I made sure not to pause, not to give anyone reason to worry. The person I was coming to visit would know my reasons.
Life in the town fascinated me. It fascinated me how the people could loiter in their doorways, could smile and hum while folding laundry as if a war wasn’t raging just a few counties away. The only ones with fear in their faces were those whose sons were absent, and even they sat gathered around warm lamps with other lads returned from war, telling stories meant to scare. I heard snippets of a few as I passed; they were exaggerations or outright lies. I was glad. The real stories were far more terrifying.
I turned my eyes to the winding path once again. It broke away from the town and climbed up the hill just as it passed the miller’s. He stood out front, pallid eyes meeting mine. His shadowed face had seen many years, but I would guess that they were all spent around that same wheel, in that same town. I wondered if I wished that for myself. A dull life in exchange for a life.
I know I wished it for the one waiting for me at the top of the hill.