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Fate and Faith

On a grey, chilly afternoon, I stopped off at the Café du Tank. Today, my shift wouldn’t begin until 4 p.m., giving me enough time for both a hot cup of coffee and a long-awaited shower at the public baths. I spotted a familiar figure peering over a magazine at one of the tables.


“Donnybrook! Long time no see! How are ya?”

Our embrace was warm and instantaneous. Although we rarely displayed such physical affection, it was quite understandable: we hadn’t seen each other in nearly two years. We eyed each other’s insignia.

“Hey, tech sergeant. Not bad, Ken.”

“Not too shabby yourself, Buck Sergeant. C’mon. Siddown.”

“I’m gonna get some coffee. How ’bout you?”

“Ordered a few minutes ago. Don’t know why it’s taking so long.”

“How do you want it?”


I buttonholed a waiter. “Un café au lait pour moi, s’il vous plaît, et un café noir pour lui [A coffee with milk for me, please, and black coffee for him].”

“Your French has gotten a lot better, Donnybrook.”

“I’m dating a terrific girl from Stembert.”

“That’s great.”

“With your language skills, you probably have to beat ’em off.”

“Nah. I get out now and then, but I’m usually so bushed after work, I don’t feel like looking for women.…I guess you know I got transferred to a demolition unit after we went AWOL.”

“Heard a rumor like that, but I wasn’t sure if it was true.”

“I’ve been in a lotta different outfits. They sent me to bomb school for some crash courses. Shells, mines, V-weapons, you name it—I’ve seen ’em all. Been around a lot, too: Normandy, Italy, Belgium.”

I noticed that my friend had aged a great deal over the past two years. Ken was only twenty-seven, but his temples had already gone grey. The lines were etched deeply into his forehead, and there were “crow’s feet” around the corners of his eyes. He hadn’t shaved in several days and smelled of cigarettes…

"Hitler might be able to hold out a long time, [Donnybrook].”

“No way. We’ve got mastery of the skies. He’s outnumbered and outgunned.”

“I wouldn’t count him out so soon. He’s got some serious shit up his sleeve.”

“Those V-2’s are frightening.”

Ken’s eyes narrowed into a cold glare. He leaned over to within a few inches of me and softly deadpanned, “You think the V-2’s are scary? Hitler’s working on rockets that can hit any place on Planet Earth. He’s already got Messerschmitts that can best five hundred miles an hour and chew through anything the Air Corps has.”

“You’re worrying about nothing, Ken. Germany’s on its last legs. We’ll take Adolf out before any of that stuff becomes a real threat.”

“It already is.”

“Man, you’re such a pessimist! I like to look on the bright side.”

“Well, I like to look on the real side. Donnybrook, I hope you’re right, and that the war’s over in a few months, but I wouldn’t bet on it. This thing could go on for years, and we’ll be just a coupla little gears grinding away in a giant machine.”

“I guess in the overall scheme of things we’re pretty insignificant.”

“I said ‘little,’ not ‘insignificant.’ What every guy does matters, but I have this awful sense of being trapped on a huge ship bound for nowhere.”

“You’ll get home all right.”

“I envy you, Donnybrook. I hope. You believe.”

“If you don't believe, then life really is a crapshoot…"

Copyright © 2004-6 Mark Stuart Ellison
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