Today, after much forbearance, I finally retired. I stood at attention, wearing my brown shirt, crisp and military-creased. The other clerks listened politely while my supervisor, a pudgy accountant, read the citation. A limp handshake and we smiled for the camera, holding between us my framed certificate for “faithful service to United States Army, Europe.” Other words, banned these many years, pounded in my heart.
Squares of cake on paper plates, cheap wine in plastic cups–a bitter paste in my mouth. Schade, und auf Wiedersehen.
I buttoned my coat, adjusted my hat, pushed open the heavy door. On my right, across the cobblestoned street, sat our former H.Q. building, long ago stripped of its Luftwaffe emblem. The sky was clear, the air brisk and cold–ideal for a bombing raid.
I hummed the Wagner prelude. My breath floated before me, a small gray fog. At the end of the block I passed through a stone archway, one of many things we built to last a thousand years. The American sentry smiled at me and my arm lifted by itself. Forbidden words rose up from my perpetual ache. I shouted them out before I could turn and walk away.
–Story by Barry Basden