Sunday, 8 November 2009

A War Story - 3

III


It was evening and the mother and the daughter were home, but the boy was in bed. He had been in bed ever since his return from the exhibition, facing the wall.

“How is he?” The grandfather asked in a low voice. He was getting ready to go to work.

As his wife was about to reply, the phone rang. She cupped the receiver with her hand and said to her husband with both respect and a touch of alarm in her voice, “it's the city doctor.”

The man took the phone. The doctor needed a taxi for the whole of the evening and the entire night. His regular driver had been taken ill. The man took a pen and wrote down the doctor's address. “You haven´t seen my glasses?” the old man asked his wife as he took the piece of paper, folded it and put it in his pocket.

“No,” said his wife, “and we gave the whole apartment a thorough cleaning yesterday.”

On his way to the doctor two enormous aircraft came flying in low over the city to land. They were B-17s. He was able to identify them from an illustrated article he had read in the newspaper. It was obvious that some sort of airlift was under way. It was getting dusk.

He knew the doctor slightly, had driven him on former occasions. The doctor was a rather short-tempered man. Influenza was ravaging Reykjavík. They drove from house to house. “Will you come with me into the next one and phone the hospital and write down the patients’ addresses?” the doctor asked. “It´s all I can manage to deal with these kids and those crazy grandmothers. The grandmothers are the worst, they make more trouble than the children do,” he added stroking his large bald head.

The man had thought of mentioning his grandson's strange malady, but now thought better of it.

“I´m sorry,” he said. “I can't see well enough to write. I lost my glasses last week and can´t find them anywhere.”

The doctor muttered something and went into a house. Yet another B-17 came sailing over the town.

It was well after midnight until the doctor got a break from his house visits. The driver mentioned the big aircraft to the doctor, who was suddenly filled with an urge to see them. They drove towards the airport.

A few MPs were guarding the great planes that were larger still in the darkness. Under their wings the soldiers looked tiny.

One of the MPs, holding a gun, came over to the car. The doctor rolled down his window. He had been educated in America and explained their business. He and the soldier had a short pleasant conversation. The doctor had been in Idaho and the soldier happened to come from the same state.

Suddenly the soldier pointed to the sky. Yet another flying fortress was coming in. They could see the warbird growing bigger all the time, and the lights on the wing tips blinking.

Then without warning the soldier ran away from the car. It was obvious that something was very wrong. The plane was coming in over the city lake at much too low an altitude. “My God, it's going to crash-land!” the doctor said.

And like a black goose that had been shot down, the enormous plane crash-landed on the gravel airfield. Soldiers were running towards it. The doctor and the driver were out of the car. The soldier who had been talking to the doctor was beckoning to them. The doctor returned to the car to get his bag and then ran towards the soldier. The driver followed. The broken plane seemed to hiss with anger at its own destruction. Then suddenly fire broke out in the cockpit. The driver could see the trapped crew. It was obvious from the men’s terror that they had no chance of getting out. The fire grew more intense with each swiftly passing second. Then, in less than an instant, a fireball engulfed the B-17. Only the tip of the cockpit protruded from the flames.

“Those men are trapped,” the driver said out loud. “Those men are trapped!” he repeated.

They heard strange crackling sounds, like someone letting off fireworks. “My God!” the doctor exclaimed, “they’re shooting the crew.”

On the edge of the light cast over the airfield by the fire the driver watched as a group of riflemen, resembling an execution squad, fired at the cockpit which was now completely swallowed by the flames. He didn't know if the sound they could hear was the shots or the windows cracking from the heat. An officer was pointing to the driver and the doctor and shouting something in an angry voice.

“Let´s get the hell out of here now,” the doctor said and both men ran to the car. When they drove away the driver saw in the mirror that they were not being followed. Nothing was visible of the plane now but flames. They met two cars heading towards the airfield, obviously out of curiosity. A few men were also running in that direction. “They’ll be turned away,” the doctor said.

“We were lucky they didn´t shoot us,” the driver said.

“Well, they know who we are. Who I am. I won’t be surprised if we’re called in tomorrow by the police for an investigation of some sorts. They’ll want to keep the shooting from getting into the papers.”

"They couldn’t have done anything else,” the driver said.

The doctor nodded. “Just take me home. I have to rest a bit. Then I'll phone the hospital and go in my own car in the morning and attend to any patients who may phone during the night. You go home now and have yourself a rest, old pal.” He patted the driver on the knee in a brotherly fashion. “This is quite enough for one night.”

They parted, and the man drove home. The shock of seeing the men being shot in this way to save them suffering had not yet sunk in.

He parked his car and opened the door of the apartment block where he lived. He entered his apartment, took off his clothes in the living room, and looked up into the dark sky where the boy had seen the angel or whatever it was, but there was nothing to see except the moon which stood out large and cold-looking. On the sofa the boy was peacefully asleep in his usual way, with his face turned away from the wall.

The man opened the door to his bedroom, slipped under the sheets and lay there in perfect stillness. He decided not to wake his wife. No matter how hard he tried, he could not get to sleep. Grey light began to show in the window. It would soon be daybreak. He must have slept. He woke up. He had had a strange dream, or was it a vision? He had seen his glasses. They lay by a fence in front of a house by the city lake and they were covered by grass. A few days earlier he had stood there before picking up a resident who had ordered a taxi. “Damn it,” he said. He tried to lie still but knew he would not be able to go back to sleep without making sure that the vision was true. He slipped out of bed.

“Are you going somewhere?” his wife said in a sleepy voice.

“Yes,” the man said. “I have to check something.”

“Will you be long?”

“No, I´ll be home in time for coffee.”

He quickly put on his clothes, went outside and started his car. He drove downtown. There was the fence he had seen in his dream. And the tree at the street corner. He stopped the car and got out. He moved the grass near the fence pole with his shoe. There were his glasses. He picked them up and put them on. They were definitely his.

When he got home, his coffee was ready. As his wife poured him some coffee she said: “Oh yes, the boy´s teacher phoned last night. He was rather upset. He said he just wanted to let us know why he hadn’t included our grandson’s work in the school exhibition. He said that the drawing had been totally unacceptable by any standards, so he'd destroyed it to prevent it causing any more offence. What’s wrong with the lad? What did he do?”

“Probably a fine piece of work,” the man said.


THE END

A War Story - 1
A War Story - 2

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