The Soldier’s Wife

We say good-bye.  Gwen leaves, and I go to the ladies’.  I wash the marzipan from my hands, push my brush through my hair, take out my compact to powder my face.  My hands have a clean, astringent smell from Mrs. du Barry’s carbolic soap.  Then I go back to the table to pick up my cardigan that I left there.

All the china on the tables begins to rattle violently.  There’s a roaring from outside.  At first, I can’t work out what it can be, then I think it must be a plane–yet the sound is too sudden, too loud, too near, for a plane.  Fear surges through me: if this is a plane, it will crash on the town.  Everyone rushes to the window. The air seems to thin, so it’s hard to breathe.

“No no no no,” says Mrs. du Barry.  She’s standing close to me; she clutches my arm.

We see the three planes that are flying over us, swooping down over the harbor.  We see the bombs falling, catching the sun as they fall.  They seem to come down so slowly.  And then the crump of the impact, the looming dust, the flame–everything breaking, broken, fires leaping up, loose tires and oil drums flung high in the air by the blast.  I hear the ferocious rattle of guns.  I think, stupidly, that at least there are soldiers here after all, the soldiers haven’t left us.  Then I realize that the guns I hear are German guns, in the planes.  They’re machine-gunning the men, the lorries.  There’s a ripping sound, a flare of fire, as a petrol tank explodes.  The men on the pier are scattered, running, crumpling like straw men, thrown down.

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