Until Dawn


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His hands were cold.

I'd tried everything. Dust-Off wouldn't be for another twenty, and our ECB was a shit-show. Some fucking crunchie got himself caught in a shelling, and everyone was tied up with that. I wondered if it was the McClary kid, but it didn't matter. I was hunkered with a large pile of flesh and innards that still mostly looked like a person.

Martin? Marvin.

He sputtered blood from his lips, and I couldn't hear him. But still trying, God bless him. Red everywhere, pools of it. In his mouth, soaking his mustache and neck, down his back and into the dirt. My knee was pressed into his side, wet and warm beneath my pads, and he was still trying to talk to me even with his guts everywhere. A mortar, I think. I gave him two minutes max, and the whole time he kept coughing and leaking everywhere. A goddamned blood bag.

I tried to pressurize him, but there was no way. Might as well try and blow up a balloon with a hole in it. But I tried. And Marvin, (Martin?) smiled. Guy couldn't speak English, but he wasn't a local either. Found out later he was a tourist from Argentina, and his name was actually Mauro. But I think I called him Martin, though he didn't mind.

Something went off around us, maybe a landmine, and dust is falling around us. I think he knew what was happening to him, 'cuz he's smiling a bit, like he's remembering something. Doesn't even blink when the dust lands on his face, muddy from the blood. His fingers squeezed, and I must have been holding his hand the whole time. He's struggling for something, and it takes me a while to realize he's trying to get at a clasp on around his neck.

It's was the sort of thing I would have worn as a little girl. I open it, the metal still warm from his body, and there's two pictures in it. One side has an old black and white, an older couple, obviously his folks. The other side has a picture of a small girl, glossy and newer. The girl's smiling, and I can see the man's eyes in that smile.

I snap the clasp shut, and the guy says something, but even if he was speaking English it would be impossible to understand through the spurt of blood that dribbles down his neck. I nod, and I know what he's saying, even if he doesn't say it. And all of a sudden I'm looking at this guy, and I can see his whole life in front of me, and it makes me angry and sad but all I can do is smile back to him. He looks happy somehow, and when I get the locket back to the people it belongs to I'll tell them that. Express to them that he was happy at the end and that he loves them.

I kissed his forehead, and I knew by then he was already gone, but it didn't matter. I squeezed his hand once more, and laid it by his side, waiting to hear the rotor of the chopper. In that moment I loved the man named Mauro. Dunn says when he found me, I was crying, but I don't remember that part. I just remember the man smiling.





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