Sunday, October 6, 2013


Joseph had always considered himself a good soldier. Not a great one, mind you, but the kind of soldier who always met expectations and never disappointed—reliable to a fault. Fraternization, therefore, was something completely alien to him, both in concept and in practice. He understood the word in the dictionary sense, and he most definitely understood the repercussions of committing such an offense, but it would have never even occurred to him to commit such a seditious act willfully.
            Then again, when Joseph had enlisted in the army five years ago, he would have never thought himself to be in the situation he now found himself in.
            This small café, in the southwestern part of France, in the storied region called Aquitaine, was like nowhere he ever expected to be. Despite the war having been over for several months, there was still a strong military presence throughout most of the country. Having traveled through several regions, Joseph had seen towns in various degrees of destruction and degradation. Some were no more than piles of rubble, while others had received only minimal damage.
            The small village where Joseph now found himself was not quite unique, but it was most definitely a rare exception. The war had left the entire municipality untouched. According to some locals, the Germans had never even once set foot there. By his own estimation, Joseph got the distinct impression that his platoon had been the first visitors to the villages in a very long time.
            The café, across the street from the only inn in town, also happened to be the only eatery. After several days, they G.I.’s had quickly acclimated to this rural hamlet’s way of life.
            Joseph suspected that Sophia had played no small part in this adjustment. Although he had never asked, he had assumed that she was in her early twenty’s like himself.
            He had thought, several times now, that spending the rest of his days with a girl like Sophia could be quite the idyllic dream.
            And then, before they knew it, their tenure was up. Word had arrived that they were expected in another hamlet.
            That brought him to where he stood that day.
            It was mid afternoon, the time right after lunch yet still well before supper. The café was empty except just the tow of them. Joseph started and stopped several times, trying each to find the exact words to confess how he felt, but the words eluded his best efforts to hunt for them.
            Finally, she walked up to him, placing a single, slender finger on his lips. While he stood there, dazed, she turned away and went into the back where the kitchen was. A moment later she returned, a small leather-bound tome in her right hand, a peach in her left. She approached him, holding out both for him to accept.
            Unsure, he took the peach and put it into the cargo pocket of his pants. Joseph then took the book and opened it. Seeing the series of dates and short passages, he quickly realized that it was a journal. Still silent, she motioned for him to sit.
            After watching him take a place at one of the handful of tables, Sophia quickly disappeared once again, this time to return with a pen and inkwell. He immediately understood. Without a word, he took both, bowing in gratitude. Faster than he thought possible, he jotted down the overflowing emotions that now filled him. Relief couldn’t begin to describe the feeling of releasing the flood of emotions on to the rough paper.
            Once he had finished, he looked finally looked up, but she was nowhere to be seen.
            Joseph sat for what seemed like an eternity. He was about to inspect the back room for her, when suddenly his squad leader called form outside.
            There was no more time. He thought it might be better this way.
            Within a few minutes, the small troop of soldiers was assembled and making their way out of town. They exited via the road heading east out of town. Just as the were cresting the small hill just outside of town, Joseph suddenly remembered the peach in his pocket. He fished it out and looked at it. It looked almost flawless. He stopped suddenly in the middle of the road, half his squad mates almost running into him. Amidst their yelling he glanced back to look at the village. What he saw immediately broke him into a cold sweat and made him weak in the knees. As the other soldiers turned to look, he thought he heard one whisper ‘mother of God’ or something like that.
            The only thing he could focus on was the cluster of bombed-out buildings which occupied the same space where the village had been. No one spoke nor made any further sounds.
            Unconsciously, Joseph’s arms went limp and he dropped the peach. Without thinking further, he immediately broke into a sprint, heading for where the café had been.
             Initially, he thought it still remained untouched. As he crossed the threshold, the light pouring through the large hole in the ceiling showed him otherwise. Nervously, he made his way towards the backroom. Pushing past the remnants of the beaded curtain that separated the room from the rest of the café, he instinctively held his breath. The sigh he immediately let out was long and deep.
            There, lying on a small bed in the corner, was the desiccated remains of what was once a young girl. Likely close to his own age, he was sure. Clutched against her chest was a small leather bound tome.
            Joseph went to reach for it, then stopped. Something told him he was better off not opening that tome.
            Just outside of town, about half way up the hill on the eastern side, a perfect peach sat just off the road from the place it been dropped.

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