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The Pen is Mightier than the Sword

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Broken

***************

I broke my grandfather’s bone-handled knife the day I left home to sign up. I was six months too young and seventeen years too stupid to realise what it meant when my father tried to stop me. I left just as the clock on the wall chimed the quarter hour, its little bells echoing as I slammed the door to drown out my father’s anger. It was the last time I saw him – a broken man standing by his father’s kauri chest, holding the pieces of his father’s knife. I wanted to kill Jerry but I started with my father.

 

When I got to Egypt in ‘40, I’d already proven my luck by surviving the trip. I was a trained killer by then, at least that’s what they told me, but I puked my guts out almost every day for the first week onboard.

 

I shot my first German in Greece. He poked his head around a corner and I put one through his brains. I chucked when I saw him close up, lying all twisted and broken in the dust of a town I can’t remember anymore. I knew plenty of ways to kill a man – a bullet, a blade, a grenade – but I have never forgotten that I killed my father with a word.

 

I slipped a bayonet under a man’s ribs and up into his heart in a ditch beside a road in Crete. He sighed as his legs gave way and he slid off my blade. I watched him fall but I can’t remember his face now. Maybe he didn’t have one. I remember sitting beside him for a while, crying with him until it was only me holding his hand as it became cold and stiff. I didn’t need a blade to break my father’s heart. All it took was a word.

 

 

I said it once, to a soldier as I had him pinned beneath me in the rubble of a house in Italy. It didn’t do the job so I had to use a brick. I was all out of bullets. He looked as young as I was before I smashed that brick into his terrified eyes. I can’t remember much about him except his eyes. They were blue, like mine, and they were set too close together. They were as round as the face of the clock on the wall back home as I swung that brick down. It took me an hour to wash the dust and blood from my hands. I didn’t apologise for killing the enemy, and I didn’t cry about it anymore. And I never got the chance to say sorry to my father.

 

The letter from Aunty Pat reached me three days before I demobbed. My father had gone downhill pretty quick after I left, she wrote, but he had managed to hang on till VJ Day, after Little Boy and Fat Man broke Japan. I cried for the first time since Crete.

 

When I got home there was too much work to be done to stop and think. I worked for the Railways until ’48 when I signed up again. It was a new enemy but a familiar way of dealing with him. I hated the little commie bastards. I had always been bigger than most of my mates at school but compared to them I was a giant.

 

It was bloody hard work but I remember I was pretty stoked when I made it into the SAS in ‘55. They showed me more ways to kill than I’d ever dreamed possible, and they taught me how to be smart about it.

 

I was smart about it all right. ’56 and ’57 were good years in the business. We wiped them out in Fort Brooke and Negri Sembilan. Good times. Until I took some metal.

 

It’s still there, in my head and in my chest. Docs said that they couldn’t take it out – too risky – they might break something and that’d be the end of me. So they left it all in and I was out again. Back home to the wife and boy.

 

The wife and boy.

 

I can’t remember how it happened. One moment I was watching the telly, and the next… I can’t remember it at all. I just can’t remember what it is I have to apologise for, or to who. I can’t remember, and now I can’t say goodbye.

 

So I sit here, on my grandfather’s kauri chest, writing this with my old bayonet next to me. It looks a bit grubby. I don’t remember how it got that way, but a bit of dirt won’t matter much. Under the ribs and up into the heart.

 

Good times.

Edited by Psimon

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Holy moly, that's well written! I still have chills. welcome back in a big way! (and belated happy birthday. ;) )

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Welcome back!

 

Thank you for your speaking.

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I havn't visited here in a while and was happy to see you had written some thing. Well done ..very viceral

 

 

*birthday kisses*

Edited by WrenWind

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My initial edit (above) was fairly well received by my tutor, and he suggested I could try a revision/re-envisioning that developed the emotional centre of the piece, that is, the emotional transformation of the narrator from stroppy teen running away from home to psychotic/very disturbed killer. So here it is... enjoy (?)

 

Broken - revised

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I broke my grandfather’s bone-handled knife the day I left home to sign up. I was six months too young and seventeen years too stupid to realise what it meant when my father tried to stop me. I left just as the clock on the wall chimed the quarter hour, its little bells echoing as I slammed the door to drown out my father’s rage. It was the last time I saw him – a broken man sitting on his father’s kauri chest in the hall, holding the pieces of his father’s knife. I wanted to kill Jerry but I started with my father.

 

When I got to Egypt in ‘40, I’d already proven my luck by surviving the trip. I was a trained killer, at least that’s what they told me, but I don’t know if it was seasickness or something else that had me waking in a cold sweat and waving my lunch goodbye over the rails for the first week onboard.

 

I shot my first German in Greece. He poked his head around a corner and I put one through his brains. I chucked when I saw him close up, lying all twisted and broken in the dust of a town I can’t remember anymore. His eyes and mouth were wide open, enough to let the flies crawl in when it got too crowded at what was left of the back of his head. After I’d wiped my breakfast from my boots I tried to say the Lord’s prayer for Jerry, to make it alright, but I couldn’t get past the first line.

 

I slipped a bayonet under a man’s ribs and up into his lung in a ditch beside a road in Crete. He sighed as his legs gave way and he slid off my blade. I watched him fall but I can’t remember his face now. Maybe he didn’t have one. I asked him his name but he didn’t answer so I called him Jerry like all the rest. I told him he was going to die, that his lung would be filling and he would drown in his own blood. I think he understood. He started to cry and I sat beside him, crying with him until it was only me holding his hand as it became cold and stiff.

 

 

I tried the same with a soldier as I had him pinned beneath me in the rubble of a house in Italy – tried to tell him he was dying and that he needed to just let go. My words didn’t do the job so I had to use a brick. I was all out of bullets. He looked as young as I was before I smashed that brick into his terrified eyes. I can’t remember much about him except his eyes. They were blue, like mine, and they were set too close together. They were as round as the face of the clock on the wall back home as I swung that brick down. It took me an hour to wash the dust and blood from my hands. I didn’t apologise for killing the enemy, and I didn’t pray for them. I didn’t cry about it anymore either.

 

I used my fists on the last Jerry I killed. He’d quit, raising his hands above his head, when I had him dead to rights in the attic where he’d holed up in the last town we took before the end. I used my fists, and my boots, and my thumbs pressing into his soft, blue eyes as he tried to block out the end he saw was coming. I held him by the head with my thumbs in his eyes and smashed his superior blond head into the floor until it started to splash in the pool that filled the floorboards beneath us, soaking them in pure German blood, and I laughed when it splashed ‘cause it reminded me of the puddles in the road on a wet day walking home from school trying to kill time, trying to delay the end, with Mum crying on the kitchen floor and my father standing over her with his fist raised ready for the next look or the next word that would justify the next hit, but it never came, and Mum slit her wrists the next day and lay on the bathroom floor, her life filling the floorboards beneath her… I knew plenty of ways to kill a man – a bullet, a blade, a grenade – but I have never forgotten that I killed my father with a word.

 

The letter from Aunty Pat reached me three days before I demobbed. My father had gone downhill pretty quick after I left, she wrote, but he had managed to hang on till VJ Day, after Little Boy and Fat Man broke Japan. I cried then.

 

 

When I got home there was too much work to be done to stop and think. I worked for the Railways until ’48 when I signed up again. There was a new enemy in the jungles of South-East Asia, but a familiar way of dealing with him. I hated the slant-eyed bastards. They all looked the same to me. They were cookie-cutter soldiers, like the gingerbread men that Mum used to make. Cookie-cutter communists. I had always been bigger than most of my mates at school but compared to them I knew I was a giant. It was bloody hard work but I remember feeling pretty stoked when I made it into the Special Air Service in ‘55. They showed me more ways to kill than I’d ever dreamed possible, and they taught me how to be smart about it.

 

I was smart about it all right. ’56 and ’57 were good years in the business. We wiped the communists out in Fort Brooke, near Perak and Kelantan, and in Negri Sembilan, in an area the guerrillas called Mountainous, between the towns of Seremban, Kuala Pilah, and Tampin. I didn’t look at their faces anymore. Just put a bullet between their slope eyes or tried not to slip in their guts after they lost the game of grenade ‘hot-potato.’ They were good times… until I took some metal.

 

It’s still there, in my head and in my chest. Doc said that they couldn’t take it out – too risky – they might break something and that’d be the end of me. So they left it all in and I was out again. Back home to the wife and boy. I’d almost forgotten about them. Picked up the wife after the war and the boy was born after I left again. I didn’t ask for much when I got back – just some peace and quiet, a hot meal on the table, off to the races every now and then to watch the geegees lose what was left of my hard-earned pension, or to stand in a haze in the pub with a beer in the hand and a bellyful to piss away during the night before going home to the wife for a quick one. To spend a morning sleeping off the night before and grabbing some grub before setting off to the TAB or the pub. Not much to ask – the simple pleasures.

 

I can’t remember how it happened now. I know I came home from the pub with a skin full, ate my dinner and sat down with a cold one. The wife had stayed up, but the boy was asleep. I was watching the telly, can’t remember what was on, and the wife had said something about going to her Mum’s for a while with the boy, like a holiday… and then I’m looking her in the eyes as she’s pinned beneath me in the rubble of the house… and I’m telling her that she’s drowning… and all I can see are her eyes, as round as the face of the clock on the wall back home… back home… as I swing the brick down, but it isn’t a brick, it’s my fist, and the little commie bastard must have heard me and is watching from the hall, and I’m up and grabbing him before he can get on the blower to call up his million slope-eyed buddies, and I hold him close as I push the bayonet under his ribs and up into his lung in a ditch beside a road, and the flies begin to buzz around his eyes and his wide open mouth and he starts to cry and I sit beside him, crying with him until it’s only me holding his hand as it becomes cold and stiff and I try to say the Lord’s prayer for Jerry, to make it alright, but I can’t get past the first line…

 

I can’t remember. And now I can’t say goodbye.

So I sit here, on my grandfather’s kauri chest, writing this with my old bayonet next to me. It looks a bit grubby. I can’t remember how it got that way, but a bit of dirt won’t matter much. Under the ribs and up into the heart.

Good times.

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