Author : Sikko Boersma
I made the rounds like a sergeant – tapping a dozing sentry here, putting out a cigarette there. Greetings were muttered, barely understandable. The men were caked in mud. Some had blood on their trench coats. I joked with a young corporal in particularly bad shape – “your uniform is a disgrace, corporal – polish those buttons”. He pulled what was left of his face into a grimace and replied – “yes sir, no excuse sir”.
The officers’ bunker was further back, dug deep. The door opened smoothly to a scene that seemed to be completely out of place. Soft lighting, comfortable chairs. Friends sitting around a darkwood table. Music. Jeffrey grabbed the bottle of amber liquor and had a solid drink ready at my place before I even sat down.
“About time Alec, dragging your heels?“
“Had to make the round,” I replied, and took the glass, “Make sure they’re all ready for the main event.”
“Hear hear. To the big one.”
We raised our glasses, emptied them, slammed them back on the table. We drank the next round without a toast. Strong drink, good year.
“God, we’re in a rotten mood tonight,” bawled Jeff, “This is an oh-nine, have a heart! You’d think we’re getting ready for a funeral!”
Grim chuckles went up around the table. Lars raised his glass: “To us, then!”
The glasses met in a ringing cascade, got emptied, back on the table – next round.
“What do you think, Christian?” Asked Jeff, “Are we really the last?”
Chris took his glass: “Well, I haven’t heard from anyone in a while.”
“I’m shocked, Chris – not even from the girls?”
“No, Peter, not even from the girls – but your sister says hello.”
Soon the night was going by at a furious pace. We recalled stories of a past that seemed almost as distant as the ancient history our dusty teachers had once tried to imprint upon us. But our past was different – who cares about the moldy figures of old? The past we lived, that’s what’s important, that’s what brings back the memories of all the things we left behind when we went into these Goddamn trenches. Remember that guy in fifteenth grade, with the white hair? He went into music, then he painted it black – haha! Man, I’ll never forget that girl I dated in one-seven. You never dated her, you had a date with her, it’s not the same! Fuck you Jeff, let’s have another. To dates, and the mess we made of them! Hear hear!
The night wore long. Jeff, having exhausted his bravura fast as usual, fell asleep in his chair. Chris became sentimental. Eventually the talk died down and we just sat there, looking at the empty bottles, trying not to make sense of anything.
It began just before dawn with the waxing and waning shrieks we knew so well. Jeff woke up: “Looks like this is it, then.”
We got to our feet, picked our insignia off the table. The report of rifles began to swell. Now that we wore rank, it fell upon lieutenant-colonel Christopher Stanford to say something profound. He poured a round of drinks – we took them.
“Gentlemen… It’s been an honor.”
We raised our glasses, emptied them, slammed them back on the table, and took out our service pistols. The barrel, predictably, tasted like metal, and in the last instant I wondered if we really were the last.