The air smelled of smoke and sweat and antiseptic. The burned out, salt colored walls, peppered with bullet holes, rose in front of her as she opened the hospital drapes and American tanks rolled down the crumbled streets. They were here to defend France. Most of her patients were Americans. The one who had the room this time yesterday, died last night. Another patient was due. There were two ways to be discharged from here; patched up or passed on.
The orderly rolled in patient #2424, hung the chart on the bed and smiled at the nurse. She smiled back and reviewed the medical record. Patient #2424, Mick Jones. Factual information filled the chart, but the story at the nurses’ station was that Jones had fallen on a grenade to save his buddy and the grenade never went off. As he rose in disbelief, he was shot in the shoulder by enemy fire. The battle had been in an apple orchard. When the fighting was over, split open apples, and split open men, lay in the field under lavender skies and hovering medical personnel, one of whom brought Mick Jones to this hospital.
“How are you doing? How’s the pain?” she asked, her French accent thick around her words.
“The grenade should have exploded,” Jones said.
“Well, it didn’t thankfully,” she answered.
“It was meant for me,” he insisted.
“Now that’s just not true. Take this. It will help with the pain.”
“Viva la France,” Jones said as he raised the water cup and took the meds.
“I’ll be back in a little while. Get some sleep,” the nurse told him.
He tried to remember how it all happened. They had taken the hill after three hours of intense fighting and then rushed the farmhouse where two German stood soldiers holding a knife on a little girl. One of her captors, nudging the knife in her back, ordered her, “Throw it at them.”
The girl raised her arm, the grenade like a metal pineapple in her small hand. “Shoot her,” Jones sergeant ordered. Jones was in front. Jones shot. The Germans fled. The grenade dropped from her hand and rolled toward him. He threw himself on it and waited for it to explode.
“Explode,” he screamed. After a few minutes, they all knew that the grenade was defective.
Jones stood up slowly and looked down at the little girl lying on the straw path leading up to the farmhouse, a bullet hole in her chest. He watched as her blood turned the yellow straw orange and damp, the hay absorbing her heart. Jones pulled out his pistol and aimed at his head. His sergeant knocked it from his hand but it went off and the bullet hit Jones’ shoulder. The official report was enemy fire.
Jones could feel the sedative taking effect. As he fell into a deep sleep, his mind took him where he did not want to go. Up the rain drenched hill, over the rotting wood fence into the orchard, under the trees where a little girl was standing there, standing there with a basket filled with apples, their stems shaped like grenade pins.
Deanna Morris is a second year MFA student at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. Her story “Charlie” was published in Subtle Fiction. Her poem “Sewing Room” was published in IUPUI’s genesis [sic] literary magazine as Best in Poetry. She is just beginning her career as a writer of poetry and short/flash fiction.