“Two-Minute Tuesdays” are a series of micro-stories written in
two five minutes or less. Consider them “public practice,” like shooting free throws in the park.
These are words. These are words that I write in a little green journal when I don’t know what else to say.
My only fear is that I won’t have a chance to finish them. Which is not a fear that I can do anything about when I don’t know what the words are, or how many there will be, or how many more are left. But know how many wouldn’t help them get out of my head any faster, or onto the page any faster, and so all of this is really beside the point and I’ll keep on writing on from here and into the next paragraph.
I’m in hell. We’re in hell, actually, me and all the others. We’ve stopped saying it. The last time I heard anyone complain about something was in the fall. Boyle was with us in the mess, behind the third trench—this is such a mundane, boring memory, but it’s what I have—he was in the mess with us, and somehow a clod of sod had gotten into his soup. “There’s mud in my soup,” he said, out loud, to no one in particular, and when the words went out among the drenched and silent men and provoked not a single remark that was the moment that I knew we truly were in hell, and not just headed toward it.
Was that day any different than the one before it, or the one after? No. I’ve had worse than mud in my soup. But because hell is a place you carry around with you it’s possible to arrive there without leaving the same mess tent you eat in every day. People talk about things when they’re headed toward them, I’ve realized—you say “I’m tired” when your’e getting tired, you say “I’m hungry” when you’re getting hungry, you say “we’re in hell,” when you can see it coming toward you. Once men arrive there they stop talking about it. And that’s how—
—sorry bit of excitement there. Parsons got shot. He’s dead. A detail got called up to carry him back, but they left me off it. Probably because they know I don’t mind being here. Better to send one of the others back, give him a few minutes reprieve, than to waste it on me.
I’m either broken or fixed, and I don’t know which. The other men break, going crazy and stripping out of their clothes, jumping up above the trench and getting shot, gibbering into madness as the shells come down, lying down and dying of nothing one afternoon and leaving their boots and jacket to the company to fight over. I don’t break that way. I don’t even feel my body any more, except in some distant way, it’s cold and hungry now that much I know but I can’t seem to feel any of it with any urgency. I’m sure there are men in the other trench who will be ordered to try and kill us today or tomorrow, but I can’t much be bothered by it. I’m just a watcher. I’m just observing something beautiful.
Beautiful? Here, in hell? I know that the others will know I’ve broken when they read this. But there’s a beautiful purity to the front in winter. We are at the nadir of human experience. No greater degree of physical, mental, or spiritual torture could be devised than what we have created here. Our bodies rot in our boots, we’re fed just enough to keep alive, constant shelling makes sleep impossible, and in the only possible realm of refuge—the spiritual one—we have damned ourselves over and over again to eternal torment by committing the one crime that God puts above all others: murder. And yet I think none of the company particularly fear that God, now.
Propelling us lucky few to such a dark peak is a stunning achievement, and entire nations are devoting their might to keeping us here. The legend of Icarus warns humanity not to stray too close to the sun, but no one has warned us against the depths. Here we find our real strength.
The beauty of humanity. It cannot be worse than this. And I could never leave it. Once you have been to such a place, how can you ever return? I will stay here as long as I can, and if by some miracle the war should end before I do I think I will blow my brains out on the last day.