This potent piece of prose was something that all struck a chord with us. The thing we liked the most was that it showed something familiar through a new lens. It took pain and the lingering suffering from war and it brought it to light in a skillful and tactful way, and for that, we awarded Saint-Lo the first place in our Flash Fiction 500.
Flash Fiction 500 - Winner
I never returned here as a young man. I told myself that there was too much life be lived. Keep moving forward. Never turn back.
Then my wife, she looks at me in that way of hers. She tells me: it’s time. She doesn’t say: you’re getting old. But I know that’s what she means. Go now, before it’s too late.
I’m not so old. I’ve still got my own hips. Can still make love to her, if we’re lying down. But I always do what she says. Have done so for fifty years. Mostly.
So I’ve come back.
Truth is, I never left.
Night after night, I am here. She knows, I think. The pillow between us, on the good nights. Under a blanket on the downstairs sofa, on the worst. The cups of tea, silently passed to me, once I’ve hidden my crying and she’s pretended not to see. I think I tried to kill her once, in my sleep. She said nothing. Just made me a cup of tea. I’ve never spoken to her about any of it.
I don’t even like tea.
Over here, they wheel out the remnants of us in ceremony after ceremony, calling us heroes. I snort. My wife digs me in the ribs. Her elbows are as sharp as ever.
She doesn’t know how long I spent with my face in the sand on that first day, too scared even to cry for my mother, letting everyone around me die. She doesn’t know how long I spent in the days after that, dragging boys to their feet, screaming at them, taking guns from the dead and shoving them into the hands of whoever was left. She doesn’t know I made everyone around me die.
I am no hero.
There is a church, in Saint-Lô. When I last saw it, I was sat on the rubble in front of what remained of it, trying to light a cigarette with filthy hands that would not stop shaking. Would you look at that, I said, talking to myself, because everyone I knew was dead by that point, would you just look at that. One jagged tower in a sea of scree.
I didn’t even smoke.
My wife wants to visit the church. Don’t dilly-dally, Jim, she chides, giving me that look. I watch her walk away, her once ruler-straight spine stooped, and think: how has she gotten so old?
I am not a religious man. God lost me somewhere on the way to Saint Lô. But I cross the street. Stare up at the church. Between the fragments I remember is a sheer, green, stone wall. No-nonsense, unembellished, it holds the ruin together, allowing the building to live again.
My wife appears by my side. Greenschist, she says, nodding at the stone. She takes my hand. Her touch soothes me. It always has.
I look down at my fingers, intertwined with hers. Both our hands are spotted and gnarled.
I think: you are my greenschist.