The music, drifting in slowly from the back like smoke on the morning air, is haunting. It takes me back to another time, to another place. I take a minute and indulge, but I can’t stay. The pain of the present is too real. It seems the pain is all I know.
I am in a café somewhere in France, another invisible man in an anonymous place. The war is over. My unit has left. They are back in the states by now, no doubt. I strayed. I don’t know why. I simply walked off. They left me behind, presuming me dead I’m sure. Hell, I doubt they even looked for my remains. There have been so many dead it doesn’t matter any more.
No one here asks who I am or why I am alone. They don’t even notice me. They have empty looks, as if the things about them are not real, which is appropriate, because they’re not.
Sitting here in this café, with the music and the wine, I feel close to civilization, but not close enough. It always eludes me. I will never taste the sweetness of civilization again. I have been where men are not supposed to go, let alone come back from. There is a terrible taste in my mouth, a steady grind in my stomach, a dull ache in my head, and a longing for something I can’t identify.
The sky here is dull and gray, the wind cold. It is a gross contrast to my dear Nebraska, so bright, blue and warm. I know that place is still there, somewhere, if only in a distant dream. I should go but I can’t. I am afraid. I am afraid to look my sweet Doris in the eye, afraid to step into church, afraid to shake hands with my neighbors. They won’t accept me. They won’t take me back into their world. I don’t belong there anymore. Things have changed.
Across the street there is a large foreboding Church. Out front a crucifix hangs, as is usual in these parts, except this one is bleeding. From this distance I can see blood dripping from His hands down to the cold concrete below. His sympathetic, hurting eyes look to me, deep into my soul. I can literally feel His presence in my chest. I am crying. I can’t breath. I have never had such a feeling in my life. I am overcome. I reach for the wine, my only real comfort in this world. A drunken heart endures.
After several large gulps I leave for the privy. I return feeling more in control, albeit more intoxicated. Looking back across the street I see His eyes are closed, His head hangs to one side, there is no blood. The horror is gone but the fear remains. I reach for the wine, the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation. Trembling hands drop the bottle as guilty eyes look back across the street and meet His. Yet those eyes are no longer sympathetic and hurting. They are eyes of fire, the eyes that glared at Peter upon the cock’s crow, the eyes that wilted the fig tree; the eyes that defied Satan in the desert.
I am immobilized, frozen in time. The blood from His hands is gushing in spurts like that of a young German soldier lying in the snow, pleading for his life before the Grim Nebraskan Reaper, who is just as scared but not afraid to take the young life, despite the foreign pleas. I know the blood is real. I know blood is pain and death. And I know that if it weren’t for the nails holding Him in place, like the government-issue boots that held the young Nazi on the ground, He would cross the street right now. He would come close enough to haunt me forever, close enough for the blood to stain my olive drab jacket. And I know the stain would never come out. And I would never be able to take the jacket off. I would keep wearing it, keep drinking wine, keep hiding the truth, keep hiding from the truth. I would keep running, keep drinking, hoping in vain that the blood from the bottle would erase the blood from my jacket and the sins from my soul.
The wine is gone but He still bleeds. The only thing that will heal His wounds and shut His accusing eyes is the revolver at my side.
I will never see Nebraska again, but I am going home. I will lay in the snow with the Germans and hang from concrete on French streets. I am the body and mine is the blood of liberation, which is shed by many for the remission of sins. I only pray they don’t bury me with this goddamned jacket.