A short story for the still short new year.
Lucky Boy, copyright 2016, by Donna Rubino
Joe Claesson threw himself down in the brush beside me, sending a sworl of dried earth into my face. “Hey, Cara-sweetie, didja hear?”
I spat. “Quit it, Joe. The name’s Carabinieri.” Nothing made me madder than to have some slice o’ white bread from Kansas make fun of my name.
“Hey, this ain’t New York City.” Joe grinned and clapped me on the helmet. “You rather I call you Angel?”
“It’s Angelo.” I dug a rock out from under my hip and hurled it away. Sometimes I thought Ma musta hated me, naming me after some old great grandpapa in Italy.
“Yeah yeah, kid.” Joe butted shoulders with me. “Orders are to go into the town to mop up any Krauts still there.”
“Who’d be stupid enough to still be there?” Our guys had bombed the hell out of coastal towns like Emilie and St. Lo at the same time my buddies and me landed on Omaha Beach. There wasn’t much left of the town. But then, there was nothing left of the guys in my squad. They died on the beach that day, mowed down by machine gun fire, blown up by landmines.
At night, I could still hear the bombs screeching, exploding, the machine-gun fire, men screaming. The only way I knew if I was dreaming or not was when I saw the blood spraying everywhere, the guys cut in half, limbs flying away, or flying at me. That was Omaha, so I was dreaming.
Since then, we’d marched along paths of sand, packed earth and sometimes paved roads. Made the walking easier, when we could walk and not crawl or run, crouching, in a fire-fight.
“Okay, Cara-sweetie.” Joe rapped on my helmet again. “Let’s go.”
We shoved ourselves to our feet, slung our rifles over our shoulders and headed for the troop gathered around Sarge.
“Y’all keep your heads down and do me proud, boys,” he said in that Southern drawl of his.
I didn’t much care about doing him proud. I was more interested in staying alive.
We followed the road into St. Lo, 19 of us, jumping bomb craters, clambering over downed trees and building rubble, and at a corner pungent with rotting horse remains and piss, separated into four groups to scour the town. Me, Joe and two guys from Cleveland went off down a rubble-strewn street. Before long, we were two as the Ohioans peeled off and headed down a hill towards the bombed out post office.
Joe and I headed toward the town center.
I nodded. An exchange of fire. A yell. The roar of a flame thrower. A withering scream. Cleveland had a flame thrower. Hope it was theirs and not the enemy’s.
Joe and I crouched now, losing our footing on loose bricks, throwing an arm out against part of a wall to keep our balance as we went.
A dog barked. Joe nudged me. “Maybe the Krauts been feeding him. Let’s go look down that courtyard.”
I shook my head and thrust my chin forward. There was a restaurant up ahead, a standing building. I was no hero, but if my job was to sweep for Germans, that was a good place for them to hide.
Joe left me.
I inched along, gaze scanning the empty stone frames of windows on my right, open street on my left, swinging my rifle before me, ready. One more block to the restaurant. Heck, maybe there was some food left. Cheese keeps. Wine, too. Ma’s Sunday gravy popped into my mind. I swallowed a river of saliva.
Under my boot soles broken glass popped, cement dust gritted. A burst of distant machine gun fire stopped me cold near the next corner. An M-1 answered. Another exchange. Too far to be Joe. One of the other fellas.
I gripped my rifle tighter and headed toward my target, slipping on a fallen Boulangerie sign, slamming my rifle butt against the wall to right myself.
I made it to the intersection. At its corner I swung right to check around it, and came face to face with a blond, blue-eyed Nazi. He was taller, bigger, older than me, a good ten years, I figured, and carried a machine gun.
I froze. So did he. We didn’t blink, just stared at each other, fingers on our triggers until the Kraut’s gaze slipped past my shoulder like he was dreaming. Slowly, he turned his back on me and in five steps—yeah, I counted ’em–disappeared through a door and into a crumbling building.
I spun back around that corner, out of his sight. As I slammed my back into the brick wall, my bones melted straight into my boots. So did I, and slid down to sit, gasping for breath, gripping my rifle stock, trying to stop shaking. Shit. Shit. Shit.