War, the demon, rolls across the land, killing and maiming all it touches, sowing misery and pain. The old men who wage it sit in their castles and congratulate one another.
Yet in this place, the war has never truly ended. Only last week a child ran along the beach laughing with delight as the surf kissed her ankles, only to disappear in a plume of shattered sand when she trod on one of their land-mines. Indeed, the village has at least a dozen children who lost their limbs or their eyesight rather than their lives, the so-called “lucky ones.”
“Best we get there early,” says Jakes. “This snow’ll fill the place proper.”
“Damn me,” I says. “More water in the soup, and probably a longer sermon.”
“That soup’s still’s hot, ain’t it?” he retorts. “Besides, the coffee’s decent.”
“I got about a quart of wine here,” I says. “Maybe I’ll stay out.”
“Use your head, Togs,” he says. “You drink that now, what’ll you do later? You’ll freeze, is what. Come with me to the mission. We’ll get some soup and sawdust bread, listen to the sky-pilot’s Jesus Jaw. Afterward, we’ll find a warm spot and drink that wine.”
We’re all subject to luck, and luck had me draw the short straw.
It could have been any of us.
We said our goodbyes, no tears shed.
I sit now looking around at this room, cleaner than any place I’ve ever been.
The broker talked endlessly about how all this was to be painless, but I’m still frightened.
I try to imagine all that this money will buy, but my mind is drifting.
All those pieces of me, how they’ll live on in these people.
My lungs, my heart, even my eyes.
What will these strangers see through my eyes?
The whir of the machine, then the silence as the nurse switches it off. I peer up at the circle of faces around my bed, concern and grief and, in one case, repulsion.
I feel myself floating, entirely aware. My individuality seems intact, though I can tell even now it is beginning to dissolve at the edges.
This is not what I’d thought it would be. There is no tunnel of light, no line of predecessors waiting to greet me. But neither is there an emptiness. The world is still there, going on without me while I look on, detached.