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There’s a fog today. Well, there is a fog every day. Doesn’t make a difference either way. Certainly with his eyes going the way they are, it makes seeing more difficult but, his friend is nothing if punctual. And when he isn’t chastising because of the man’s own tardiness, his friend is a complainer.
A horrible, horrible complainer. Been that way for years. Ever since the war ended, took all the fight out of him.
(Open the door quietly so the missus won’t hear.)
The morning air chills the man’s lungs, making him smile. Memories of a frozen France overtakes him, and for a moment he is back, dodging mortar rounds and sprinting for the nearest enemy he can smell.
Fear was a palpable thing in those days.
(Made them easy to track. Jerry’s weakness. His kill.)
“Oi. You all right then?”
He returns to reality, looking over his shoulder and turning the skeleton key in its lock. A smile wrinkles his weathered face. “All right.”
His friend, gruff little Irishman that he is, snorts, blowing smoke from his nostrils. Kerrick is his name. Johnson Kerrick, because his parents were cruel.
“Let’s go then. Damned cold is making mah fucken bones ache.”
Kerrick turns away, heading in the opposite direction. On a mission.
“Let an old man get a cane, will you?” The man asks under his breath, too polite to say anything to the Irishman’s face.
Grabbing his cane, he follows his friend in a rush, trying to catch up. They don’t speak for a time. There’s nothing to say. After the war life became an uniniteresting line of booze, women, and midnight dares. He had found love in one of those American USO women, Kerrick had not. Shunned the notion entirely. Continued his destructive path.
(It wouldn’t kill him. Nothing like that could.)
They’re headed for the same place as always. It’s when they’re almost there that the man even notices the destination.
(He’s too caught up in studying his friend. His actions. The pitch of his voice. Everything is a tell.)
The white bridge sits over an irrigation line in a grove of birch trees. In the stillness of the morning they seem as dead as their leaves peppering the snow underneath. Stick-sentries past their prime and with no one to relieve their watch. His heart squeezes in his chest. Ghosts in the snow. All around him his dead comrades stare back at him in the knots and whorls of the trees. He sighs.
(He had buried so many.)
“Coffee?” He asks, hopefully.
Kerrick grunts again, huddling into his greatcoat, his hat pulled down low. He chomps on a piece of gum with the determination of a long-time smoker.
“It was a bridge just like this where they picked us all up, you remember?” He asks suddenly, stopping in the middle of the bridge.
“The bloody army coming down the bridge lookin’ all fine and dandy. Come and join up, they says, your country needs you, they says. What they don’t says is what they wants us for.”
“We found out soon enough.”
Kerrick rests his elbows on the bridge’s railing. “They wanted us because of what we are.”
The man nods, leaning heavily on his cane. His bones creak, he can feel where the bullets are in his kneecap, shoulder, and shin.
“Then what did they do with us?”
The man waits, he knows what’s coming.
“Left us to rot!” Kerrick yells into the fog. “They dropped us, left us here, and didn’t bother to enquire if we were happy with it!”
“You don’t like Ireland?”
“Like it? Like it?! I was bloody born here, mate! This blasted country made me into what I am! I didn’t want to come back!” His voice raises to a fever pitch. His face flushes red with anger or passion (the other man can’t tell), a wide smile spreads his cheeks. “We can go back, you know. They say the Russians are trying for nuclear domination. We can go back, present ourselves to the Sergeant and-”
(Old reflexes never die, they just get rusty with disuse.)
The man watches Kerrick’s body crumple to the ground, wild smile turning to a frown of confusion. The man sighs again, turns, and goes back to his cane. Bending to pick it up, he feels his age.
(He isn’t old, he just feels that way.)
Ten years after the war and suddenly he’s the Grim Reaper.
(How many is that?)
He rests the cane beside the body. Blood glistens on the pristine white limestone, steams from the cut on Kerrick’s throat.
(Fourteen. The count is fourteen.)
He hefts the body up, struggling with the dead weight.
(He isn’t as strong as he used to be.)
He maneouvres Kerrick to a sitting position, pats his cheek. “We had a good run, mate.”
With a gentle push, Kerrick lands with a loud slap in the water below. The current would take him, and the government would be waiting to pick him up and take him away to be “disappeared without a trace”. The man looks at the stain on the limestone, licks his lips, debates if he has enough time for a cuppa before he has to come back out here with bleach and lye to take the offensive colour from the otherwise spotless stone.
(He doesn’t. Church will be out soon. Traffic will stop and wonder what the stain was from. Questions would be asked.)
He reaches for his cane again. A growl stops him. He stiffens for just a minute. “I thought you wouldn’t hear me,” He tells the creature behind him.
“You stomp your feet,” She says when her jaw is capable of forming human speech.
She links her arm through his. He grips her hand, wedding band flashing in the dim light.
“Another one?” She asks this carefully. Despite his flaws, Kerrick had been a friend.
He nods. “I’ll get the bleach.”
“After tea,” She agrees.