Last Days of the Garden: Chapter 1
Short Ongoing Story By: Anthony Imperioli -
Even while lying on the floor he tried to get up. That’s no place for a soldier.
It’s been a week already. Donned to a hospital bed underneath the ongoing flickers of fluorescent lighting. Privacy held solely by a napkin-thin curtain that easily gives way to the traffic within the room. A nurse, a patient, a visitor. The colors of the walls follow your cliché hospital palette. The kind of colors you’d never paint a room in your house with cause they remind you too much of sickness, blood, adult diapers, mucus filled tissues, patients screaming, and that wheel chair that’s also a toilet seat.
It’s been a week already. One hand over his forehead. Every time he looked at you, it’d be followed by him nodding his head, nodding “no.” Nodding “no” to the situation, to what he’s become, to everything. It’s all a big “no.” It’s all a big, “it’s not supposed to be this way.”
His grandson sits nearby. Holding his hand as best he can. With no strength in his left arm, he can’t make a fist around his grandson’s hand.
“These arms used to bend steel,” he says, in Italian.
He looks towards his grandson, “I’ve seen so much ugliness.”
He really had. He had been a P.O.W. during World War II, fighting in Mussolini’s army. He gets passionate when he talks about the war. Probably the time in his life where he felt most alive. When you’re that close to death, all you do is feel alive.
“Last night I had a dream,” the grandfather began, “I was all alone in this room, it was dark. There was a man standing at the foot of my bed and he had such an ugly face. It looked like a mask. He came right up to me. Right up to my face. He was yelling right into it.”
He turned to look at his grandson.
“I thought I was going to die last night.”
The grandfather brushes his face with his hand and stares at the ceiling of the hospital room.
“Last time I had a dream like that was on Christmas Eve during the war,” the grandfather continued.
“Mussolini had asked Churchill for a ceasefire, for one night, for Christmas so that the troops can have one night of rest. Churchill denied, saying he wasn’t going to stop fighting. That night, I had a dream.”
“I dreamt I was alone in the tent we set up in the middle of the desert. I was alone and out of nowhere there she was, the Virgin Mary. She came to me and I had fallen to my knees in awe of her. She had a cloak in her hand and she draped it over me and placed it snug around my head. She looked me in the eyes… and she told me…
don’t be afraid…”
A tear rolled down his cheek.
The grandson listened attentively. His eyes darting back and forth. His hand around his grandfather’s.
“Then the English attacked. Bullets whirred by. Explosions were happening all around us. We took off, retreating as they came in. The general got into a nearby truck and drove off. He didn’t get too far as a mortar rained down and split the truck in two. When we got there, the general was still alive, just missing his legs. There was no hope. I took to a nearby cannon to ward off the English. Shooting and reloading, shooting and reloading. It cost me the use of my right ear, how loud it was. A fellow soldier and friend of mine joined me, helping me reload the cannon. He stuck his head out from the behind the shield for a split second and before I knew it he was on the floor. A bullet had pierced his skull. I was the last soldier standing and I didn’t give up. Reloading, shooting. Reloading, shooting. That’s when I heard a voice behind me, in English, shouting,
I didn’t listen. I kept shooting.
he yelled. I finally put my hands up and turned around. I had turned part of his squadron into a smoking pile of rubble. I asked him to shoot me. I asked him to shoot me right in the head.
‘HANDS UP!’ he yelled.
but he didn’t shoot. I don’t know why he didn’t shoot.
maybe he saw the Virgin Mary too.”