Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Episode 4 "As Heart And Blood by Christopher Marcus
Previously: Javier Gonzales never had much to fight for except a dreary job in his father's small business in provincial Bolivia ... but then world war continued with the Soviet surprise attack and subsequent throttling of the weak Allied forces in May 1946, leaving his grandfather's Spain as the final country to be crushed by the red juggernaut. And Javier had finally found something he would die for ... and soon he may get his wish.
September 6th, 1946
“Why aren’t you answering, Javi-boy? I want to know why you didn’t go with any of those fine lookin’ chicas?”
Javier tried not to directly look at Miguel. It was difficult since they were sitting less than two meters from each other in the already overstuffed truck, bumbling its way up from the lowlands towards purple-hazed Pyrenees, towards the last front in Europe.
A push – on the shoulder. Hard. “You gonna fuckin’ answer now, Javi-boy.”
Javier gritted his teeth. He would not let this Cuban ox, Private Miguel Sanchez, get to him.
He would not.
And the others would see that he was not going to let Miguel get to him. Yes, they would.
If it mattered ... For now, the only ‘response’ Javier heard to Miguel’s challenge were the vaguely repressed chuckle from Corporal Espinoza, who had made himself comfy down in the back, closest to the rations boxes.
Most of the other men in the platoon merely stared down into the dusty planks that only just covered the axles of the worn-out American truck. A few of them stared stiffly ahead, into nothing; as if the single thing they could concentrate on was the sound of half-deflated rubber tires grinding into the gravel road
That … and the occasional distant booming thunder that sounded too unnatural to come from a clear sky. It kept growing in strength for each mile they closed to the mountains.
Javier almost jolted when he felt both Miguel’s heavy paws land hard on his knees, as if this would then force Javier to look straight ahead. When it did not, Miguel leaned even closer across the small aisle.
“Look,” Miguel said, something cold glinting in his dark eyes. “I just want to know why you didn’t come with us and had a piece of those fine Basque girls, my friend. I mean, what if you’re a … fag? I wouldn’t want to have you to watch my back, then, against the Reds.”
By this remark Corporal Espinoza roared with laughter. Most of the others joined in.
“So, Javi-boy,” Miguel said with finality. “What’s the verdict – can we trust you to watch our backs?”
More chuckles and laughter from all around him.
Javier swallowed, and slowly turned his gaze to meet Miguel’s:
“You can count on me,” he said.
Another roar, with Miguel laughing the loudest – ugliest – of them all.
“That’s good, Javi! Very good!” he said in mock approval.
“ - Maybe you should watch your own back?”
Javier stared at the very young Argentinean with the jet-black hair who was seated to his right. The Argentinean had not muttered a word since they left Bilbao, but now he had, and there was a tone in them that was sharp as a bayonet. Challenging …
Miguel stared at the Argentinean, too, sizing him up. He could be no more than 18. Perhaps he had lied about his age. Miguel had a good 5 years on him, at least. Javier knew he was older than both of them, but in this bunch age, didn't matter. Only grit.
“Don’t you like girls either, de la Serna?” Miguel said, slowly – very slowly.
de la Serna just stared back at Miguel, and for a few seconds complete silence seemed to reign in the back of the truck.
“All right, you two – cut it out!” Corporal Espinoza finally intervened. “Sanchez – you shut the fuck up from now on. And de la Serna – you keep the fuck shut up, just like before. I liked that better.”
Miguel breathed deeply, then leaned back. His lips seemed to be mouthing something like: ‘I’ll remember this, Argentinean … ‘ ... but Javier could hardly be sure.
The only thing he could be sure of was that he felt more like putting a bullet in Miguel’s head now, than in the head of one of the enemies. He stared at the black muzzle of his carbine. That bullet - and many others - would be reserved, though, for some of the few hundreds of thousands of Ivans making out the Soviet 1st South-Western Front stretching from Bordeaux to Andorra.
– How could Stalin keep up finding men to feed into that meat-grinder? Perhaps he couldn’t. That’s what General Diaz (with an eagerly nodding Yankee colonel at his side) had made clear, as they were briefed on the first day after the arrival in Bilbao. An air raid had cut short the General’s speech, however, just as he was in the middle of expounding on how the Soviets had completely exhausted their manpower and compromised their supply lines in swarming from the Elbe to the Bay go Biscay over a couple of months.
“You llooking forward to it?”
de la Serna, apparently, had chosen to forget Corporal Espinoza’s belated call to shut up. His voice was low, but not whispering or anything. He looked intensely at Javier. There was a fire in the younger man's eyes, Javier, had to admit that would either consume him or anyone who got in his way. No, age didn't matter much here ...
“I am,” Javier said, trying to keep low as well. “looking forward to finally … making a difference. I am ... ”
“I thought so,” de la Serna replied. “I myself have wanted to make a difference for a long time – to fight for something real. And this is it. There is nothing greater to fight for right now.”
The other men had begun mumbling amongst themselves again, and Espinoza had picked up another bottle of something from the ration boxes. Miguel just stared out the rear, arms crossed, as if he was trying to count each truck in the long column behind them.
“You sound Argentinean, too,” de la Serna said.
“Of course. I’m from Tarija.”
“Ah – in southern Bolivia. Well, close enough, che.”
Hearing the friendly term that was also used extensively in Tarija, so close to the border with Argentina, was almost enough to make Javier forget the near-humiliation from before.
He smiled slightly to de la Serna. “I think we will fight just fine against those commie bastards.”
“Yes,” de la Serna said, albeit a bit hesitantly. “You know, I admired them a little at first … the Communists ... But now – after that treason they pulled, after attacking those who had bled with them to take down Hitler, and after threatening Spain ... Heck, now I would fight even for Franco’s skinny ass!”
“You are fighting for Franco’s skinny ass!” spat Salterra – a small, compact Chilean, sitting next to de la Serna. “Was that what you dreamt about all the way from Buenos Aires, de la Serna?”
“Hey - don't be jealous, Salterra," Javier returned before de la Serna coud: "You can have Franco’s ass - as long as the rest of us are too busy protecting the old land.”
Everybody laughed again. Even Miguel grunted a little, but kept his arms tightly crossed.
“Hey - you girls want it in the ass?” Espinoza barked from down the back. “That’s fine, but you give Ivan a bullet in his – first. Then you've earned it.”
“Hell yeah!” blurted Dominic, the Haitian – and only negro. He was sitting next to Miguel. More laughter, then.
The mood had almost shifted …
Perhaps, Javier thought, these men – his comrades in the 5th Overseas Volunteer Regiment - would die for each other without a second thought?
He had just allowed himself to find in his heart a strange warmth by that particular prospect ... when the world exploded around him.
He thought that he heard somebody shout “landmines!” – or was it: “Commie partisans” - ?
It didn’t matter, really, because the next explosion which disintegrated the truck behind them, also disintegrated the rest of his hearing.
So he didn’t hear the rifle fire from the wooded hills above the road.
He didn’t hear the single bullet that tore through the rough canvas cover on the truck’s back, and ripped out through the side of de la Serna’s throat, pulling jets of wildly spurting, dark-red blood after it.
But as Javier scrambled to get to cover - to get his weapon - to get de la Serna’s body out of the way ... even that which he could still sense – which was mostly what he could see - even that did no longer matter.
Only a single, haunting thought:
‘No, it can’t be over … not already …’
[TO BE CONTINUED]