Somme Song

By Vita Forest


Was it because of or despite the shattering shells and the mud and the death? Was it despite or because he didn’t know whether he would ever again see that beloved river, those beloved trees?  It could not be examined too deeply, it could not be thought about, but somewhere, inside his head, he was hearing a tune.  A rhythm that came from the river, his river.  The softly-falling stream, the trailing willow branches, the lazy boyhood days fishing and lying back in a rowboat, face full to the sun.

He heard it through the deafening shells, through the screams, through the steady thrum of rain that pounded dully on the sandbags and turned the ground  to a stinking grey slurry.

He heard it when his eyes were closed, when his eyes were open, when he couldn’t sleep, when he couldn’t dare.  It was there despite it all, singing to him of his river.  He set the notes down where he could, in his mind, on the darkness on the back of each eyelid, branded red against the black, like the afterimage of a shell-blast.  He teased out the tune, holding a line in his head, replaying it, adjusting it, perfecting it, then committing it to memory until a piece of a paper and pencil could be had. He crouched in the trench, over the mud-splattered paper and wrote it down, by the light of a stub of candle, flickering in the gloom.

What it came down to – what it all boiled down to – was that beauty was important.  It was everything when there was no room for it, no room to be human, no place to escape but here inside his head.

He peeled it back and back, burrowed deeper, past the mud, the rotten stink, the thudding flashes crashing up the sky, the wounded, the loss!  The loss!  The lack of any good thing except this piece of paper and this pencil and the puttering light of the candle that let him see enough to get it down.  Drawing down, down to the tip of the lead, the real place, the only place that mattered, the only way to get through.

The whole point of being alive.

His song.

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