A Warmth in Winter

By Grace Graham

Their grey stares stung the back of my neck, almost as much as the bitterly cold December air. As I marched past, the villagers glared at me with exhausted, melancholic eyes from the windows of their stone houses. My expression was vacant, lacking of any warmth. I was trapped in a dungeon, as if my soul was completely forgotten. Why was I even apart of this battle anymore? All of the motivation to join the German military had slowly faded. I looked pale and exhausted. As the months passed, the dream of glory felt more like an empty promise. Still, I continued to guard and observe the villagers.

Amongst all this despair, there was a single angel of hope. My shoulders softened and my face became animated again. Her name was Marie. My spirit was thawed by her mere half smile, much like my snow-caked boots by the fire. In the evenings, I would watch her walk by the glow of the street lamps before curfew. But, she was forbidden. A German officer could never have a romance with a French girl. We were prohibited by our commanding officers to speak intimately with any of the people in the village. The ramifications were made clear when Lieutenant Reiher was shot on sight when he was spotted in the local brothel.

My infatuation with Marie had begun when I first patrolled her street. She appeared among the cobblestones, between the rows of houses. When she noticed me, much like a frightened rabbit, she retrieved back to her home. To show my affection, I would leave a few crusts of bread by the back door. All interactions with her were short and she had acted timidly when I was near. We had never even spoken.

Eventually, Marie became scarce by the times I made my rounds. The only moments I would see her were during the scheduled town meetings, designed to “keep the peace”. I had to make a bolder gesture to express my affection for her. I couldn’t stand the solemn faces of the villagers, or the closed-off manner in which my comrades conducted themselves. I felt like a violent guard dog, who was begging for kindness. She made those faces tolerable, and I needed her warmth.

My loyalty for Germany had been drowned out by my love for Marie. I needed to confess my desire, even if it meant death. At the following town meeting, I made eye contact with her as she fidgeted uncomfortably in place. Swiftly, I made my way through the crowd of emaciated residents. My commanding officer paused his announcements, and gave a subtle hand signal to the sniper. Time stopped as her brittle body fell into the crowd. My heart pounding in my ears, I embraced her in my arms—trying to stop the incessant bleeding. As the light left her eyes, I stood and charged the officers. I felt a sharp heat pierce my chest, my vision blackened as the blood left my face.

Grace is a student at Eagle Hill School in Hardwick, Massachusetts. She’s originally from Hawaii, but currently resides in Vermont. She enjoys practicing yoga and cooking during her spare time.

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