And at the helm of a Hurricane Mk I, Johnson scans the horizon. An encounter is imminent.
She dotes on him. But tonight, he is just insufferable.
“You needn’t be so cruel.”
46 million on alert.
Johnson too. Johnson is on alert too.
“It’s just so out of the way, darling.”
He looks out of the window. The rain is falling. The rain is falling like it is intent on killing him.
“The King will be polishing my boots,” he mutters.
Pitter patter. At 7,000 feet, Johnson can just about make out the French coast. The clouds, opaque, a mesh of dirty cotton.
Then, the sky turns black as tar.
The engines gunned to 340 mph, Johnson is leaving King and Country behind. God rarely applauds a burning body falling from the sky. Nor a .50 caliber bullet through the chest.
Deep within the recesses of some fortification or other, the feeling is that the tide is turning, but at the same time the voices are calling for victory that is within reach. How can that be? He turns to her. She’s reading a magazine, almost completely ensconced in that bubble of hers. How that makes him angry.
Johnson longs to be home. He longs to be home. Who would not long to be home? Longs to be home.
They cross over into Normandy.
He would have dropped them tins of Christmas pudding. He would have lobbed over bottles of sherry if he could.
And Stalin is laughing all the way across the tundra.
King and Country are immutable, naturally. Johnson thinks of friendships, loyalty, and the smoke stacks of his industrial town. After the war (the WAR!), he will go to work in an office. He will have a family. He will buy a house, God willing.
Evidently, Eva has seen the sheen wearing off too. Even she has swallowed the bitter pill. They have all swallowed the bitter pill. It is like an ocean, a torrent, of liquid falsity, evaporated.
Player’s Navy Cut and Gilbey’s. A phonograph sits in the corner belting out uncharacteristically. They stand drunkenly over the table.
“Turn the music down,” screeches a woman in an Eastern European accent, perhaps Romanian.
“Of course,” replies a slight, mustachioed man, bemusedly.
A plan to hatch, though perhaps it is too late. The Russians have stormed back into Poland. The Americans are at Anzio. They sit back lugubriously in their chairs now, the map spread like a tablecloth over the table and the lines drawn so tightly around Germany.
It is Dresden. But the city is already in flames. Johnson cannot bear to watch. His munitions fly free. There is little resistance. He turns back with his squadron. He will land three hours later in a violent storm and congratulations will follow. Then the morning sun will pour through the window and Johnson will get up. The sky will be a clear, abominable blue. He will get dressed and just outside the door someone will have left him a letter. He will pick it up and proceed down to the mess hall. He won’t open the letter immediately. He has already divined from whence it came. He knows now the outcome. They all do.
They, shuffling off to their respective homes with the beginnings of terrible headaches and parched mouths. There was the instinct to act, but how quickly it dissipated! The real actors are in their respective capitals, of course. Off in the distance, the hum of a V2. Perhaps, the last.
How quiet it is! Coffee is brought. The car is brought. He keeps her waiting, but they are soon off to Berlin. And as they are escorted to the capital, she realizes that she has left her mother’s brooch behind. For a moment, she thinks to ask that they turn back, but then she realizes the impossibility of the request. He is, after all, in a hurry.
Paolo Cornacchia lives in the wilds of Maryland, USA. When not fending off sloth, he sometimes writes.