The Kaiser's war finally reached our remote village that night. They came from the west, and made real our worst fears. I refused to cry, even when yet another German soldier came into my room to have his turn with me. This one appeared much too young to be wearing a uniform. His frightened expression vivid beneath the mask of dirt and grime collected on the long march.
I lay exposed to him. My legs splayed wide, the issue of the three soldiers that came before him still leaking from inside me and staining the bedclothes beneath. I had struggled against the first, but he still took what I intended to give only on my wedding night. The next man, and the one after him, could take nothing more from me. I had been made empty. Left wasted. They each had grunted and heaved atop me, pushed hard with one last manful thrust, then spewed their filth within and upon my body.
The young man approached under my glare of hatred and condemnation. He slid his helmet from his head revealing a shock of short blond hair matted with sweat. He ruffled a dirty hand through it as he cast about the room. He took up an old headscarf, one that had once belonged to my mother, and knelt before me.
He dabbed and wiped at the carnal residue high up on my thighs. I turned my head away. I sensed the delicate touch of the cloth briefly against the ruined place between my legs. He then pulled the tattered remnants of my skirt over my nakedness. But there was no need. Modesty and shame had become only words to me. Achingly small, and weak, and meaningless words.
Laughter and guttural jests in the other rooms of my home were punctuated by the crash of breaking furniture and glass. But here it was quiet. My eyes still fixed on the wall, I waited. Moments passed and the quiet endured. When finally I turned, the soldier was still on his knees by my bed, his face buried in his hands as he silently wept.
For a flittering moment I felt the urge to reach out and touch him on the shoulder, until my anger flared and crushed the despicable notion. To evoke such a feeling of compassion was a violation as despicable as that of those others, and perhaps even more so! I wanted to kick him. To scream and punch. To hurt him in every possible way. He looked up then and met my eyes. Reaching into his pocket, he withdrew a folded photograph.
He looked at it with loving melancholy and held it for me to see. I wanted to turn away, to deny him the satisfaction, but I was unable. Instead I saw a fading image of a young lady, close in age to me, with hair that was dark, like mine. A sister, or a girlfriend. Maybe a lover. The photograph tilted and dropped from his fingers. He hid his face once more and, shoulders shuddering, sobbed as quietly as he was able.
The rumble of distant explosions came to us then. I bit my lip and sought to summon back the loathing I had for this man. For this boy. So frightened and far from home. In the forced company of coarse men reduced to degenerate beasts by war. Caught up in events he would never truly understand. I crumpled onto the floor next to him before I was aware of myself. Once there, I simply surrendered.
I took the boy in my arms and pulled him to me. The downy whiskers of his cheek pressed against the bare flesh of my breast. I gripped him tightly to me, then tighter still. He stank of sweat, and gun oil, and wine, but his warm breath caressed my nipple and stirred something I thought dead within me. His tears continued, and we rocked back and forth just ever so slightly. I gently shushed him like I had my infant nephew years before. Soon he grew still, remaining nuzzled against my breast, the wetness of his warm tears cooling on my bare skin. Both of us were unwilling to let the moment end, knowing that when we did our own personal horrors would once again be fully upon us. Loud voices intruded from somewhere outside.
The sharp crack of rifle fire rang out, followed by a woman's anguished cries. The boy forced himself away, wiping his eyes and face on his sleeve. The moment evaporated. He found his helmet and went to the door, not daring to glance back at me. As he reached for the handle the door burst open. The big soldier who took me first was there with a pistol in hand.
He smiled a broad, putrid smile, clapped the boy on the shoulder, and made some leering remark. The soldier raised the pistol, pointing it to my face. I sat there motionless, staring into my executioner's eyes, feeling an unreal detachment and merely curious as to why I wasn't screaming, or begging for my life. But the boy tugged at the soldier's coat, and said something while grabbing at his own crotch. There was a forced tone of disgust to his words. The soldier laughed hard and loud, then holstered his gun. He shoved the boy out the door and followed behind, shaking his head and chuckling as he went.
From the darkness of my room I watched the troops move out of the village toward the ridge. On this moonless night there was no distinguishing one from the other. They were each a shadow of death's own ghost, meant only for killing and being killed. All through the night the explosions crept closer and became more frequent until just before dawn when the noise of war culminated furiously in an uninterrupted thunder of apocalyptic destruction.
It was midday by the time the Russians came from the east. Word spread through what remained of the village that every German on the ridge had been slaughtered. Most had been ripped to pieces by the artillery. Those that survived were too stunned to resist the Russian assault and were shot or bayoneted where they lay. No prisoners were taken, not even those who surrendered.
I focused on the blossoming soreness of my groin and tried to dredge up some feeling of satisfaction from their gruesome annihilation. But, as I looked once again at the photograph the boy had left behind, there was only a deep ache of longing for that infinitely small moment with him in my arms.