November 1918. The Great War had ended.
Regimented rows of forgotten men lay awaiting their new roles in the post-war era. Taylor knew that his struggles were just beginning. Distant memories of the past tussled in his mind. Restlessly, gas-intoxicated sleep rolled out, unleashing horrors of the past. “Not too fast! Steady on boys!” Marching, struggling, swaying, “BRUTE GUNS-They snipe like hell! Taylor – Cover me!” Choking and drowning.
Shells mocking, helplessly Taylor was thrown into the depths of hell, as putrid flesh splattered his face. Blood ran into shell-holes, desiccating parched veins. Sickening death evaporated infecting the air, strangling the senses. “OH GOD, MAKE IT STOP…..
!”Gasping and struggling for breath, the dissipating nightmare blurred Taylor’s vision, causing him difficulty in adjusting to the blinding whiteness that surrounded him. The speechless soldier twitched as if electric currents ran down his larynx. Wiping the sweat that slid down his face, he whispered: “Dulce et decorum est pro-patria mori. I’ve lost everything because of propaganda made to destroy a man’s hopes.”The nurses, looked straight through him, as if he did not exist. Disinfectant lingered around the hospital corridors nauseating the rapidly aged soldier, who lay on his stone-hard bed, not being able to move for many days.
He closed his eyes and tried to remember how there was once an artist so eager to capture his face. During those leisurely games of football, he caught a glimpse of the many girls gazing at him with their adoring eyes.Dulce et Decorum est Pro Patria Mori – It is sweet and right to die for your countryA man in the opposite bed had never spoken a word to Adam. He would always sit up, fidgeting madly with the bedcovers and muttering to himself.
Adam began to feel suffocated by the humid air. The only escape was the immense, window on the wall to his right. Sometimes Taylor imagined himself soaring into the welcoming sky, although he never got very far. Doctor Roberts had entered the ward a while ago, observing Adam’s subdued expression. He barely heard the doctor telling him that he could go home.However the shock his family would experience when seeing him sutured sharply at the elbow, with missing limbs where his legs had been snatched from him, was still to come.
Trying to occupy himself, he peered out of the open window. Outside, a young man’s erratic behaviour, told Adam that he too had shell shock. The man sat on a bench covering his face with his hands, while a pretty woman stroked his hair. Taylor could repeatedly hear him say “We should die” and then he pushed the woman away from him. The man screamed: “No, no! It’s all my fault- he was murdered, MURDERED!”Back home, Meg breathed in the sweet smell of lavender, blossoming from the garden below the open window. She felt warm as memories of Adam came flooding back. Wondering whether she’d ever see him again, she stared at her own reflection in the shining mirror, touching her gaunt face that longed to be rejuvenated. Tears of affection filled her eyes and suddenly, overwhelmed with emotions, that she had been hiding for so long, she wept inconsolably.
Once again, Meg gazed at the picture of her smiling husband. The image allowed her to remember Adam as he was, three days before he had left. She could picture an evening when they took a stroll around the streets of town. The day before he left, her heart clenched, frightened that she might lose someone very precious. She wished she had never encouraged him to join.t that moment, Adele appeared at Meg’s side. Over the past few years, Meg had only Adele to turn to. It was comforting to have such a sweet little sister, but she still felt empty, wearisomely counting the days since Adam had left.
“Mummy, Mummy!” Stephan, wild with delight, ran to embrace his mother. After a long time, she saw her child’s eyes radiant with joy. “I want to play with daddy! Can we go to the seaside? Mummy – please…?That afternoon, a fellow soldier, Mark, whom Adam had become familiar with, had offered to drive him home. Mark was imprisoned in hospital as a punishment for his alleged crime. He was considered insane, having voiced opinions about how the war had become a personal and political feat to destroy innocent men.
Adam’s frailty made it easier for the doctors to lift the wheelchair down the steps that stood at the hospital entrance. A group of passing girls stared at him as if he was a strange disease. Feeling humiliated, Adam’s thoughts drifted home, dreading the hurt faces that he would have to confront.Voices of the past emerged to taunt him once again and Stephan’s face appeared out of nowhere. Stephan tried to say something but no sound came out. Tears poured down his contorted face. Taylor tried to touch his cheek but found he was grabbing hold of thin air. Landscape whipped past and the car sped on- a green, yellow, green, brown blur.
Giddiness made Taylor feel sick. Finally, the car came to a halt. With difficulty, Mark tried to lift him onto his confining chair, but failed and Taylor toppled over, sending pain shooting through his phantom limb. Without legs, he lay on the hard ground pathetically attempting to move and so he had to literally be carried and lifted into his wheelchair.At home, Meg laughed at Stephan’s glee. He had great expectations. “Look at me! Ring-a-ring-a-roses, a pocket full of poses, a-tishoo, a- tishoo, we all fall down..
.. and with a bump, Stephan fell to the ground, feet slipping beneath him. “He’s here!” Adele exclaimed, justas Meg was cuddling Stephan. Meg burst down the stairs and ran to embrace “….
Adam?” She stopped in her tracks seeing that someone was being helped out of the car into a wheelchair. Cold dread filled her veins. Time stopped as she stood there watching her barely recognizable husband, choking back her joy.Stephan began running to his father, hugging the roses in his hand, but his burst of speed halted. Flowers dispersed, like his lost hopes, as he stared at the shattered image of Taylor. He stumbled back and cowered behind Meg looking into Adam’s eyes with bewilderment, searching for his brave hero.
The little boy began to cry hysterically, gripping on to Meg’s arms, but still in distress, she fell to the ground and wept. Stephan frantically ran as fast as his legs could carry him, locking himself in his room. Adam vaguely attempted to force his wheelchair with his invisible hand into the house, not aware of Mark pushing him. Silently he passed the frozen figure of his wife without a backward glance.
Mark put the suitcase in the main bedroom and left quietly. Meg managed to walk in to the house, passing her sister who stood in total shock at the doorway. Youth – an impetuous naivety, unaware of reality. A little encouragement and Taylor had thought he was brave. Perhaps the biggest mistake he had made was signing up. Why? He still tried to comprehend why he had taken that action. He thought that impressing Meg would make him a God? But God is perfect.
How can God blunder? Shivering, Taylor wanted to go closer to the glowing fire at the other end of the room, imagining that he still had both arms. The fire cackled loudly, daring him to warm his chilled bones. Taylor began shaking feverishly.
With eyes popping, rage brewed inside him. His breathing became so heavy that he gripped the edge of the bed with his one hand. Clenching his single fist, the palm of his hand reddened irately as though crushed bones along the trenches grazed it raw. Thousands of men sacrificed everything, surviving only to become trapped in trauma, forced to hand over their fate to heroic falsehood, where men are still expected to die with a smile on their face.
Taylor’s frustration and anxiety had weakened him so much that his limp head lolled to one side. Hoarse silence echoed in the empty room.Hands shaking, Meg gently took a sip of the tea that Adele cautiously offered to her, but spilt most of it on her hand. The cup fell and shattered. She looked at the bits of china and sobbed vigorously. “Everything’s wrecked! It’s never going to mend.
” The sound of the doorbell pierced Meg’s deepening misery. Wiping the tears off her face, she fumbled at the door.”Meg! How are you? You must be so pleased! Where is that triumphant brother of mine? I want to shake his hand and congratulate him on his victory! Is he in his room?””Yes John but…..
” John strode cheerfully into Adam’s room. “Adam? Guess who? I’m so pr…” Their eyes met and the two brothers stared helplessly at each other. John stood for a long time in a state of numb shock. He slowly approached Adam, trying to come to his senses.
“My little brother.. the valiant soldier…but now..
.””Yeh – there’s nothing heroic about having your limbs ripped off.” John sank slowly onto the bed. After a while John spoke: “But – who says Adam is no longer the same person? Show me you haven’t accepted defeat. Stephan thinks the world of you.
You can’t give up. Don’t -don’t worry.” Still aghast, John silently left.”He ran away,” muttered Adam, turning his head towards the window.John entered the living room and sat beside Meg. He gently tried to comfort her. Thinking he was Adam, she rested her head upon his shoulder.
When she became aware of an arm nearby, she pulled away and instead hugged the cushion on her other side. John spoke as a father would to his daughter, explaining to her the reality. Ever since their father had died, John had taken on the responsibility of looking after his brother. He remembered the first time he had welcomed Meg into the house when she and Adam were newly married and since then she had become like a little sister to him.
Comforting Stephan, who still hid in his room, would be much more difficult. “Stephan..
.its Uncle John. Please open the door.”When Stephan did let John into the room, he immediately hid beneath his bedcovers.
John tenderly lifted Stephan into his arms and although there was no struggle, his big, innocent eyes shone with tears. The poor thing was so confused. He couldn’t understand what had happened.Morning hesitantly left the dragging night behind. No one had slept and Meg’s tired eyes proved this. She walked towards the bedroom, wondering how to approach her husband. Feeling ashamed and hurt, she knelt down next to him. At that moment, Stephan hesitantly wandered into the room, looking into his father’s kind eyes.
“Come here, my son.” He rushed up to his father and snuggled into his remaining arm. John sighed with relief. “Fresh air will do you good. Maybe we should go out for a bit?” he suggested. As they approached the park, they could hear the men playing football.
Adam inhaled a breath of air, but it smelt stale. Even the weather seemed to have lost its exuberance.The men were absorbed in their game, leaving Adam cowering in a dark corner of the playing field, watching. It was a scramble of legs, mud and sweat. One of the players jumped with great strength and vigour, like the soldier Taylor once was.
Battlefield memories were etched in Taylor’s mind. Those familiar faces stood once again in front of Taylor. They ran to attack, splattering mud. Men flopped down one by one powerlessly departing their lives, and the rest were forced to step on their dead friend’s faces. “GOAL!” Adam jerked awake and shuddered as he heard the sign of victory. Adam tried to mimic his brother’s confidence, as he greeted his old friend,Tony, but still shaken from his memories he faltered.
Tony’s eyes searched for where the fearful voice came from, passing straight through Adam. Suddenly, he glanced back at his friend, who blushed furiously. All the men had gathered around him, as if he was an object displayed in a museum. Angry at his own wretched appearance, Adam felt dejected. Each man’s shadow towered over him, making him shrink in his chair. In spite of everything, he tried to pull himself together and managed a weak smile.That night, Meg and John lifted Adam on to his bed. It was strange for him to be dependent on others, especially on his wife who was so fragile herself.
Taylor’s drooping eyelids closed. Lush green grass surrounded him and a blazing sun sat in the sky. Mutely, greyness slid along.
It crept up each blade of grass, slaughtering their existence. The sun twisted into a nightmarish form. A figure emerged from it like a ghost.Taylor’s dead friend glided closer, as blood trickled down his chin. Closer and closer, until an inch from Taylor’s face, a violent BANG blasted the soldier into smithereens. AARRGGHH!!! Adam’s scream shook the house.
Everyone rushed into the room. The defeated soldier couldn’t move. Numbness in his lips stopped him from making a sound. Without warning, he retched the contents of his stomach.
Distantly someone mopped his clammy face.