July 4th, 2017, Tuesday.
The glittering happiness, stillness of
all obligation slipped
adrift in the locusts, slatted sun
July 5th, 2017, Wednesday.
The gym is loud and I don't quite catch everything the old pilot says. We’re on machines, getting our cardio in. We’ve been on a waving basis for a while, have never exchanged more than jokes.
Today is different.
“After the war,” he said, “we took an old tiger biplane back to Germany to see the old WWI sites. Did that together all summer. He was a good friend- gone now." The old man looks down briefly and then goes on.
"You can still see them from the air, you know, those sites. He and I, we’re flying over one, we can see this glass box down there. I drop the plane down- you could put those biplanes down anywhere- and there’s a man's bones inside. A soldier, still holding his gun. They’d found him like that. Put him in that box, kept him where he fell.”
Stories are spilling out now, fast, the way they will when they need to be told, and everything around us falls away until we aren’t in a gym any longer.
"I’m driving down a country road after too many beers, following my buddy when his lights disappear. I have to turn around to look for him. I go back a ways, and there he is, sitting out right out there in No Mans Land.
This was out in the country, and what people don’t realize is the Berlin wall wasn’t more than a couple feet high outside the city. Oh, there was barbed wire of course- anyway, this was first time anyone had ever broken into the East side. So my buddy, he’s sitting out there with a cut on his head in that Volkswagen sobering up, and you’ve got the East and West Germans on either side, calling their superiors. And there’s me, standing in the road.
Nobody knows what to do.
So both sides come down and help push the car out. Fixed the wall and redid the wire, like nothing ever happened. Now how ‘bout that?”
He tells me about his neighbor, routed onto a train with her husband to one of the camps. She escaped and walked all the way across Germany back to Berlin. He did not.
“Never saw him again. Took her a year and a half to get home. Think of that,” the pilot said. “She lived right next door to me.”
We were standing between the machines then. I was holding my keys, my phone's alarm had gone off, once, twice.
“It is always so good talking to you,” I said. “I wish I didn’t have to leave. I hope you have a good day.”
“You have a better one.”
“And thanks, you know. For your service. It means a lot.”
He smiles. “I didn't have anything else to do.”
As I head out, he calls after me. “Now you spell everything right, y'hear?”
Then he laughs and waves me on, loose-limbed even now. White athletic socks pulled tall up over his lean calves.
For a moment I can see them, the glittering beauty of those two, half a century ago.
Young men looking into a glass box.
Men under the fields, facing the sky.
This is a wild soul-book
Pauline West's books on Goodreads
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