…and how they shift and turn throughout time. One thing is constant though: whatever the hatred of the moment is, it is taboo to speak out or act against it, a crime in its own right. I wrote this piece for another prompt (a daft prompt about nudity, 650 words, that I wanted to try and flip) but it fits in with the taboo theme so I thought I’d share it here.
From all sides
In those hours after midnight the dark seeps deep like the treacle I still dream of. Yet I crept home in the precautionary shadow of buildings, more afraid of being caught out after curfew than anything. Anything, except hunger. With little enough available, and even less for me, I skulked about at night with sewer rats, supping on gutter scraps.
That night the planes were audible long before the siren. I turned straight home, hoping to get back before the strike, but the blast hit me on a neighbouring street. Silence preceded a screech that deafened, and a cloud of dust obscured the night. Pushed forward, and flattened by the heel of an invisible hand, the strangest thing was a sudden realisation I was naked. Once my mind registered the explosion, the next thing to follow was socially conditioned shame at being unexpectedly and quite publicly nude. It surprised me to realise how deep it went, and how much I cared, in spite of it all.
My feet were the second shock, as I regained focus. Both my shoes were still there, tied tight, but only one moved with me as I pulled both legs towards my stomach and tried to stand. I contemplated what that meant in deep slow breaths, the ringing in my ears phasing out to be replaced by busy, angry sounds. My place in those sounds was unclear and the pain pounded deep and bone-piercing within my phantom leg.
A hand touched my bare elbow and I flinched as it steadied me; a movement that would have given me away to the anonymous face and blanket any other time. We moved through sirens and dust clogging air, and all around my neighbours were scattered through the debris: some part, some whole, some soaking into the streets, but all of them moving senselessly, clamouring at each other. It would be years before I ever saw a zombie movie — not until America — but I tell you, there was nothing fictional about those soulless tides of flesh after wartime life.
I bit down on my lip and tried to breathe, and my aide joined another. Their steady, careful touch, educated by this city life, made quick work of a tourniquet as the sirens dulled and the immediate threat passed. My pain burnt hotter and hotter and I concentrated fiercely to stay conscious as an ambulance arrived. Canvas stretchers swarmed through the scene and lamp-bearers made background trails for my hot new fever. The ache was unreal and the scene surreal as people scrambled the notion of survival, but then I saw him: Heinrich.
My old Lieutenant arrived to take charge of the guard, and in my pain-addled mind we were back behind enemy lines together, fighting for the Kaiser. The pain I felt became his own lost limb, and I carried him back to the trenches again. I broke a smile for him of long-lost sorrow-bonded brothers, yet as our eyes locked I watched his face steer through recognition and into coal-black hate. The word ‘Jew’ spat from his lips to echo off the fractured housing shells. It spread from person to person, face to fearful face, and reached the ears of those occupied bodies who stood binding me together. They dropped me like poisoned meat.
Their next kindness was neglect. Dust and dirt from the streets and skies became a pile that shielded the gutter where I lay, slipping cold into unsteady consciousness. Soon the end of the night became the next morning and blackened tears stained my body. The iron-rich taste of my own blood kept me feeling warm until night fell again and operations moved on; life tidied back into neat piles. I’m never sure now whether I found help or help found me, but I was recovered eventually, resolute: World War One veteran, World War Two survivor. I would fight for my country both times.