I didn’t ask because I was drunk, or sad or curious. I asked because she was taking off her jeans. She gave me a look, she gave me a look with a smile. I anticipated more. She gave just a little more. A fraction more. “3/7”.
Probably three times a week. I was nodding the whole time, thinking about the theme for a short story or poem or novel we’d come up with earlier.
It would just come down to how privileged for time we were in the coming months. A moth flickered around the room, chasing rays of light, sound like mandolins, rainbows refracting off the globes of blackness.
It just keeps getting better an better, she whispers into my ears. I hope she’s talking about my writing, but it’s probably to do with the sex. It’s all good stuff, I say out loud.
Prisoner of War – Silver Meadow.
She had an idea, one of her ‘forced ideas of fun’, which I find incredibly challenging, because they fly in the face of my momentary dullness. She’s brilliant like that. Closing my eyes, I follow her example. Using the title of a randomly selected book. Hers was ‘Prisoner of War’, mine – ‘Silver Meadow’.
“I miss your curtain babe, I miss looking up at it, where did it go?”
“Have you had a year without sex since turning 18?”
“Have you had sex with one person for a year? Not a calendar year…”
“What do you think that says about you?”
Yes, please plait my hair // face to face with a possum.
So here we go: disappearing into the treetops, see if you can find me.
I wish I hadn’t been captured. I remember what they’d said in the corps, aboard the freighters, all us diggers, most dead the rest captured I suppose. All I have in my mind is the day before. The fuse of my mind, a flash, the rain and thunder of artillery. Sand spattering, rocks dissolving into shale, leaving a hole and sometimes a scream. Alfred’s leg disappearing in a thud. A ghost and spattering of blood. No matter how good the fucking hats are, this constant bombardment is useless.
They bombed the coast the week before our fleet deployed on the beaches. Gallipoli. A sandy grave, identity lost in a mask of terror. Running commentary of bullets. A sheer rockface, a brief field; the killing ground. Each of us, the nightly skirmish, roaving spotlights, shouts and accented curses.
“thubb-thubbb-taktaktaktaktak”, machine guns and artillery.
My feet haven’t been dry since we landed, the blood, sweat and tears are a ghostly wet that soaks into me and rots me from the outside in. How I wished to be home then, laying between the legs of my sweet young love. It all seems so trivial now. She’d massage my back, run her hands through my hair – so gentle.
That was love and I can see it now, see it clearly. I was so rough back then, but she gave me everything, all of her time and attention. Careful and precious. Now I wish I was dead. The camps are an external torture that I can manage, but it’s my own mind, starvation like i’ve never known. Pushed to the limit of myself. I have become a stomach, acid that burns inside me, kills me. Tongue that drowns me, parched flesh that swells if I don’t have the daily round of breadhusk and water. I am the crust, crushing and folding in on myself with blinking eyes, unable to tear. An ingrown hair on my neck has gone from boil to balloon, it will probably infect and end it all. A wish that I hope comes true, gritting my teeth, lying to myself through the pain. A fear of death takes all the strength I have and pressing against my eyes lids. I popped the horrible welt and thought to myself if the puss that leaked from my neck may be edible. I used it as a lip balm, the lipstick of the sick. Purposeless.
The morning of my capture rose golden over the Adriatic. The Mediterranean, reminded me of the east coast where I grew up. I’d eaten a honey-oat biscuit and watched the sun lean over the horizon. My feet were numb and sodden with sweat which would fast rub blisters and infect. Fighting to my feet, I looked over the camp, small tunnels and an enclave of ditches with blanket coverings. Poor drainage and the sound of the ocean were two things nobody seamed to care much for, we were trying to win a war, there wasn’t space for any of that. I rubbed my lips with the back of my jacket and scorned the surroundings for the sand that chafed at my every bodily interaction. It was hot already. Oddly I felt at home. I looked over the lip of the trench, out and over it all. Some bodies remained, half way towards the hill. Noone had retrieved their corpses, no silver coins closed their eyes. Flies and the smell of shit were the markers that told all. Infected land, with the pointless sick. Money and land, paid for in blood. Gold of the land, red yellow sand and and bullets, bullets everywhere.
There were no attempts that day, no relief, no rest. Just the moon and clouds and the occasional distant chatter of soon-to-be-shrapnel. I looked out over the field. One of ours lay sprawled, face down, while another, maybe someone I knew, perhaps ran with briefly before clambering back behind cover, he’d mounted himself in a way where is back arched and he looked back; eyelids pinned open, gravity pulling them down. He died seeing the world upside down and now stared back at me, black eyes, hollowing with fear and flies. Looking at all of us, compatriots, idiot cowards and survivors alike. I wanted to run out and close his eyes, die drying if I had to- roll over his corpse, to look back on his destroyers. A crippling, gaze that told all. The moon glinted off each bullet in turn. I though back to every time I had change in my pocket, wished for such a time to be now, I could crawls out, taking my two coins and placing them over his empty drilled hollows. The skeleton skull, so full and morose in features, hollow and harrowing, with spiralling buzzing flies, gargantuan from feasting on the riches of the patriotic fallen. I squeezed by eyes shut, shuddering with an strange cold, fever hairs on end, parched lips. I remember the quiet and the cold, the moment before I ran out into that silver-meadow. I thought I’d make it, adrenaline seethed in my veins, iron and shouts and a clanking deep into my bones. My ears filled with a ringing and shouting that may have been my own. Heroic and waster, I fell short of my attempt to rescue us all from the look of death. One more for the ferry man, I thought collapsing. I laughed at the waste of it all. Maybe if I kicked out I’d catch his head with my toes and upset the flies. Am I dying? It was raining down on my and my eyes closed. Small rivers ran down my face and my breathing slowed. I opened my mouth and washed down my spit and blood with the unescaping spirit of patriots. Gunshots rang out all the next day, I scorched and sweated in my boots all the next and then, finally it all went silent.
It was strange to wake up, I may still be dead, but I reckon not. I’m in too much pain to be there, on the other side. its windy too, theres no wind in the afterlife. I believe – it shouldn’t be like this. I’m a prisoner now, skinned, grated down like rope burn on leather tanned hands. Rough sand clog the corners of my eyes. the shackles on my wrist, the blood that cakes for want of circulation. all of it is momentary, strange human politics black and white static shimmers up at me in the moonlight. i think of the maggots inside the skulls of those more fortunate than me. gallipoli having claimed them. the bullet holes werent enough for me to pass over, not yet. so here is my story; the prisoner of war, survivor of the silvermeadow.