On the Beach

You’ll be sitting in the same chair facing the same window you’ve been gazing out of for the past ten years when the sands of Normandy will curl between your toes again.

The carer will hand you your morning pills. You won’t ask what they are, you take too many to care anymore. The carer will tell you what time lunch will be. But you already know, it’s at one o’clock. Your meals will be at the same time every day. The carer will ask if you want to sit anywhere else before she leaves. You’ll tell her no. The carer will say that the garden doesn’t look nice in the rain and the T.V is on in the other communal room.  You’ll tell her that you don’t care, that you’re going to stay here and look outside. The carer will leave, shaking her head in frustration.

It’ll be three o’clock when the one-legged man sits next to you. When he opens his mouth, you’ll hear seagulls.

You’ll try to ignore him and continue looking out of the window into the garden when he props his crutches against the wall. One falls to the ground and a bomb will explode inside your chest. The carer will hurry over, fussing over the man and jesting at his clumsiness.

He sneezes and you taste the salty ocean on your bottom lip. “Bless you,” you’ll say, annoyed that your peace has been disturbed.

He’ll thank you and ask for your name. You’ll tell him that it’s Heilwig.

The one-legged man will tell you that he’s only ever met one person with that name, and that woman saved his life by cutting off his leg.

You’ll feel warm, bloody bandages on the palm of your hand as you turn away from the window and face the one-legged man.

 

You sat in General Wolf’s office, the sick sensation heavy in the pit of your stomach. He drummed his fingers on the table to the sound of the seagulls flying past the window, waiting for your answer. You tried opening your mouth but you felt the hot bile rising up your throat, so you kept quiet. Better to be silent than vomit on the floor.

General Wolf stood up, placed his hands on his desk and leaned his body forward so his face was in front of yours. He asks you the question again, “why did you let those ten soldiers die?”

It went against everything you had learnt at the University of Medicine, Berlin. Nurses are meant to save lives, not take them. You broke the one sacred rule. But the only guilt you felt was that you couldn’t kill more German soldiers.

You saw the men, women and children wearing the star arm bands. You witnessed the gas chambers and the camps. You heard the bombings that crept into your nightmares. Healing the soldiers was just as good as killing those innocent people with your own two hands. Better to let a wounded soldier die than to release him back into the world to take more lives.

So, when you were relocated to Normandy, you refused. You refused to fuel any army that murdered based on the ideologies of a madman. You stopped giving medication, stopped dressing their wounds, stopped resuscitating.

Breathing in the General’s sour breath, you told him: “I refuse.”

“Having you killed would be too easy,” the general said, “Instead, I will have your entire family incarcerated in a prison camp. I will set you free, to live your life in the knowledge that you caused your family’s pain, suffering and eventual death.”

 

 

You know little French, but it doesn’t matter. Helping the wounded is a universal language.

The salty wind from the beach whips at the tent. The French nurses leave you to stich up the last soldier’s wounds. You’ve worked with them for four months now and they trust you enough to leave you alone with patients.

The doors of the tent bursts open. Two men rush in carrying a soldier on a stretcher. You can’t understand their fast, shouting English, but the soldier’s blood soaked leg is all you need to know.

You signal for the men to put the soldier onto a bed. The sand tremors beneath your feet as another bomb explodes in the distance. The two men run out of the tent.

You don’t know how to call for the French nurses and there’s no time to look for them.

The man’s face is pale and clammy. His eyes roll around the room in agony. You grab all the bandages you can to soak up the blood that’s gushing onto the floor. His leg is completely blown apart. Large chucks of flesh are missing, exposing the muscle and bone beneath.

You place a hand on his forehead. He looks you in the eyes and nods. He knows what you must do.

You take a long piece of rope and tie it tight across his upper thigh. You hand the soldier a flask of whisky and a folded piece of cloth. He takes five deep gulps from the flask and places the cloth in his mouth.

You saw in long, slow stokes, concentrating on the rhythm of your movements to block out the man’s muffled screams.

The nurses walk back into the tent, their cups of coffee falling to the ground as they see you performing the amputation. They run to your side, helping to swab the blood and keep the soldier still.

An hour later and you’re wrapping clean bandages around the soldier’s stump. Finished, you turn to leave and he grabs your arm, wincing from moving too fast.

“Wie heißt du?” he says in a bad German accent.

“Heilwig,” you say.

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