Seconds and Seasons
Some lives are lived in seconds so that other lives may be lived in seasons
Wilmer Hobbs rethought taking another look at his pocket watch. Only seconds had passed since he last studied its slow-moving hands, making their way past ticks and tocks, ticks and tocks which could only be heard when the world was silent. For Wilmer Hobbs the world was far from silent, grating sounds of artillery rounds growing closer with each heartbeat. To take another, one last look at his watch would only make his heart more heavy, heavier than the rifle he clutched in his pale trembling hands or the ammunition which would soon feed the now silent weapon.
It smelled of burning sulfur and machine oil, his rifle, like the lucifer’s matches his grandmother struck to start morning fires back home. It smelled like the air itself, stove hot and thick with morning fog which spread itself like a blanket over the troop carrier Wilmer boarded just before dawn.
Buffeted by billowing waves, the carrier, heavy engine grinding, pushed toward the beach which still seemed far away. It would do Wilmer no good to open the pocket watch and look inside at the creeping hands or the picture of the girl who promised herself to him.
Only one in ten would survive, his commander told them that morning. The commander lied. They believed him anyway, the men in Wilmer’s unit. Now shivering in uniforms heavy from the ocean water spilling itself onto them in buckets, baptizing them for what was to come, these same men waited for what was just beyond the smoke, which made their eyes burn.
Wilmer could feel the watch deep in his pocket. He could hear it too, now that the world had grown silent. A nearby explosion made everything quiet and faraway, as faraway as mountain peaks back home when morning smoke lifted as he watched through windows of the bus that rattled its way to the war in which he found himself. He could see the face of his girl too, and hear her whispers.
Just a season ago, he was putting on his uniform and heading to the ball game where he would score the winning point. He hadn’t thought about that day so long, that he felt guilty as the night he let his kid brother walk home by himself in the dark.
In the silence, he heard his brother’s voice. He heard him asking to hold the watch that once belonged to their grandfather. Sometimes, when back home, he let his brother hold the watch and listen to its ticks and tocks. He wished he could do so now, wondering what kind of person would find the old timepiece while searching dead for things of value.
Light from the morning sun began to cut its way through the mist, anointing everything shiny. Bayonets and buttons polished the night before by nervous hands, sparkled.
Death waited, seconds away.
When everything was made even more silent for Wilmer and dark, he remembered how the world looked from the window of his father’s car, laying in the back seat staring up at power lines on the way to church. Sunday mornings, skinny wires rising and falling like ocean waves. He remembered droplets of rain against the windows too, tears from heaven
Some lives are lived in seconds so that other lives may be lived in seasons, Wilmer Hobbs thought to himself, soul rising like the smoke on the mountains he remembered.
This is a work of fiction dedicated this Veteran’s Day to those who defend our freedom and protect us from tyranny foreign and domestic.
-Edward Reed 2019