By: Cameron A. Straughan
Copyright © 2015
Lying on the battlefield, we revelled in the sun. The mud made our backs wet, but we didn’t care. We were all smiles, as we traded anecdotes and passed around the drinks and silver trays of dessert squares that our mothers had delivered to the front line. The thought of fighting was the furthest thing from our minds. The enemy stepped over us, smiling women slung across their shoulders.
“They’ve come to get you,” the others would tease me.
I’d just laugh and look up at the stars. Mistakes like that rarely happened, however, once and awhile the enemy, not watching where he was going, would step right on me. Sometimes I’d cry out, if I was feeling defiant. More often than not, I’d just let it pass, like birds moving from one tree to another. Sometimes, tripping over me, the enemy would drop their women. The others lying around me all took note of such an occasion. Sometimes, she’d stay and chat for a while. It’s boring riding upon the enemies back; you couldn’t blame her. But we were just as boring. She’d soon realize that we were just a bunch of lazy sunbathers, cluttering up the battlefield. However, my fellow soldiers actually envied my position; I seemed to always be lying in the stream of things, which permitted good things to fall my way, regardless of my passive nature. However, on the down side, I got stepped on far more frequently.
Lonely are the brave, but even lonelier are the terminally lazy. Was it courage, or just plain laziness that kept us out on that battlefield, amongst the hills of dirt, the holes left behind by mortar shells, the barbed wire, the dinner parties, the weddings, and the family outings ? The battlefield was such a clutter. They’d send you off to war; you’d bid a tearful farewell to loved ones, only to have them all follow you into battle. You couldn’t tell who was the enemy and who wasn’t. I suppose the four of us were different from the rest. We let it all slip by. It was all quite humorous to us. We were young, and being drafted mattered little; we were completely indifferent. Yet, we all managed to get wounded at one time or another. It was more than being stepped on, or even worst being ignored altogether. In the past, some of us had large bandages wrapped around our heads, and taped to our arms. Round and round, the tape swirled, at times covering the entire body. You couldn’t blame us for lying around in such a condition. You could never keep your helmet on when your head was covered with a bandage, so why bother ?
Legend has it that men fought many heroic battles while lying on their backs. It was a good position for surprise. Were you resting or merely plotting a conquest ? We discussed these myths often, but we didn’t think they applied to us. None of us chose to live a life on our backs; we had never tried it before. We just hoped that we weren’t giving off the wrong impression. We actually weren’t all that lazy; in fact, our lethargic, passive nature was only a clever smokescreen for a more important cause.
The captain, fresh from the front line, brought many complicated forms for us to fill out, as favours to other soldiers. We always had time for this, as bullets flew overhead. Lying on our backs, we were asked to write love letters to wives and lovers overseas, and then forge signatures onto all of them. The signatures were always very sloppy, so the letters could be sent to just about anyone and they’d be relieved that they finally got a letter from so-and-so who was fighting for his country overseas.
We had no actual leader amongst us. No one stood up and chose to represent us, because no one ever stood up. We were all equal, lying there in the mud, amongst spent shells and pieces of barbed wire. Sometimes, we’d end up covered in shrapnel, or even worst, during heavy fighting, we’d end up hidden beneath various body parts. A good rain would wash it all away; we were thankful for that. The weather changed suddenly – drastically – but the sky rarely did. We were all growing restless, lying there, looking up at the same thing, day in day out. A definite change was in the air. We had matured since being drafted. We knew how to fill out complicated forms, forge signatures, and converse with fallen women. But what form would this change take ? Did we not have special duties ? We were our own little unit. Our differences set us apart and made us important. So what form should this change take ?
Love came in the form of a small row-boat. A local farmer had been rowing past with his four lovely daughters when they spotted us lying there. We all chuckled at first, thinking that it was such a cliché. They set anchor and, whether we cared or not, the daughters dragged us into the boat. It was an uncomfortable journey; we were cramped, lying there in the bottom of the boat, and we moved so slowly. The farmer, an elderly man, pushed at the oars with all his might, but with our added weight, the boat slid slowly over the mud and debris. We had great difficulty crossing the trenches, at which point the boat rocked up and down, causing some of my fellow soldiers to get sick. We passed many battles. The enemy took little notice of us; although some of them, running alongside the boat, acted as if they wanted to jump in. They were just being playful, though.
Lanterns were extended by each daughter. How beautiful they were in the cool night air. The daughters weren’t bad either. One had skin like china; a large handle came out of her back. You could take hold of the large handle and lift her up; however, if you weren’t careful, you’d tip her and tea would begin to fill up the boat. When the tea had stopped pouring, clouds of moths flew out from her mouth, each of them attached to long lengths of silken thread, the source of which was deep inside her. She was a strange one, probably not suitable for any of us. The farmer simply laughed at all of this, as we rowed along.
“Where are we going ?” I asked, lying on the floor, lightly caressing his eldest daughter’s legs.
The farmer shook his head quite violently, until pieces of lint flew out of his ears.
“What was that ?” he grunted, somewhat tired of rowing, perhaps.
“Where are we going ?” I asked again.
He just smiled; it was obvious to him that I was enjoying his eldest daughter’s bare legs. Caressing them gave me great pleasure; one of them had a tattoo; it was a serpent. It ran from her ankle up to her knee, where the forgetful tattoo artist had embedded his pen and then left it inserted there. Wiggling the vibrating pen gave her great joy, and the serpent seemed to come alive before us all. But she was, alas, also a strange one, who was probably unsuitable for any of us. The other two daughters weren’t too talkative, on the account that they both had the odd habit of chewing on clay pots, a habit which was bound to cripple just about any social skill. However, their habit proved beneficial; we had no plants to put into the pots – the battlefield was devoid of all vegetation – so it was best just to let these two quiet daughters run their course; otherwise, the pots would only be taking up space unnecessarily.
Looking up at the farmer, we suddenly realized that he was completely naked. His wrinkled flesh had become one with the boat; the oars were but mere extensions of his arms. He was the vessel that was transporting us across the battlefield. We were being driven by strange thoughts – disturbing thoughts. We had been rather suspicious ever since one of his daughters poured tea and moths came forth to greet the guests. Our decision was quick and unanimous; we pulled the plug on the farmer’s plans. The boat began to fill with books and notes. The farmer tried to stem the flow, but the knowledge was great and it was sinking his ship. The lanterns his daughters were holding fell to the floor and set the books and papers on fire. Illustrations, and good advice, all went up in flames. We lay there, the four of us, enjoying the heat. But when our clothes started to catch fire, we decided it was time to go.
We floundered off the boat, and rolled in the mud to extinguish the flames. We watched the boat, trailing smoke and flames, push-off into the distance. The farmer was still rowing. Clouds of moths gathered around the flame, and we could hear china cracking and falling to the ground.
When morning came, we realized that we were lying in the exact same spot where we had begun. To passersby, we looked as lazy and inanimate as ever. But we knew better; we had just fought a battle, and in our own roundabout way, we had won.