Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The bigger picture.

Tony was called up during the first days of World War 2 and sent to Norway. He was eighteen with prominent teeth and a concave chest. Apart from summer holidays at Broadstairs, he’d never been outside Rotherhithe before and the sea voyage, despite the U-boat threat, entranced him.

Not very long after they had landed, they sat Tony beside a fjord with a Carr’s anti-tank rifle and told him to cover their retreat. A column of Panzer tanks was imminent and it was his job to hold them up. He left with a very small quantity of chocolate, even less ammunition and an encouraging pat on his helmet.

He lay there in the glorious sunshine, his anti-tank rifled trained on a distant bend in the road around which the first Panzer tank would soon rumble, and thought how wonderful the morning was. The air was crystal clear, the waters glittered and a soft breeze rustled through the green, clean grass.

A roly-poly famer’s wife appeared round the distant bend in the road with a cow on a halter. Tony listened to the tinkling of its bell on the wind and averted his aim. He hoped she would be well clear before the Panzers arrived, and then tried not to think about the Panzers at all.

As the farmer’s wife and the cow made their way slowly towards him he could see she had an affable smile on her face, to match the morning. He wondered if he should say something as she passed. Something sociable, to dissipate the tension in him, the fear he couldn’t quite acknowledge

As she drew near he shouted over a polite if nervous, “Good morning!”

“Bollocks!” she called out genially. Then, having observed the necessary proprieties, she walked on, leaving Tony waiting for the Panzers.


Oscar Grillo said...

The great comics artist Hugo Pratt told me a similar story. It happened to him in Italy but fighting for the other side. The lady in question was his grandmother.

No One In Particular said...

Full of subtlety. Chips, you make better and better use of the haiku-like restrictions of the short short story. Oscar's illustration, as usual, not only complements but adds another layer of vision to the marriage. This is, without a doubt, my favourite blog, even including mine!

Chips said...

How interesting about Hugo Pratt! My father heard it from a fellow innocent on the Norway campaign. I expect it was a cultural dirty trick practised wherever possible by lonely, frightened men far away from home. If enough people pass this way, I'm sure we'll get many other similar incidents.

On the Jugoslavian island of Krk in 1968, a local man gave me the worst possible obsenity as a translation for "Thank you very much, you've been very kind." Which I used with disasterous results.

Anonymous said...

but what if she knew what she was saying? that's even funnier. ;)