For A. R.-G. (1922-2008)
In the book, he is trying to deliver a package. He tries to deliver this package, but he does not know where he is supposed to go. He asks, but the townspeople do not know the place, either. The soldier walks through the snow, a boy ahead of him appearing and disappearing, his cape flapping in the wind.
The soldier steps out of the book, onto another's page. His long beard is now even longer; it reaches his chest, which is sunken, sallow. The soldier has lost a lot of weight and can barely walk. It was, has been, is still snowing. His footprints appear, disappear, filled with falling white flakes.
The snow fascinates us as it moves diagonally through the air, then horizontally, then diagonally again. Is it real snow? Does it matter? The soldier continues to walk, a package tucked under his arm. What is in the package? Who will open it? We know that it's important. This is what matters most.
The soldier comes upon a house. He knocks on the door, and an old woman screams in his face, slams it shut. We experience déjà vu. This has happened to him before. He moves to the next door, then the next. Finally, he asks about the place. He is still, after all these years, trying to deliver the package.
But the woman in the doorway has no idea, nor does her husband, who is hidden in some back room, chopping wood for the fireplace. I'm sorry, but the only street I know of that sounds anything like it is ____________. No, that's not it, the soldier says, dejected and tired and resigned.
The boy reappears, far in the distance, only now he isn't a boy but a grown man. He still wears a cape, still denies that "the other man" is his father. He's not my father, he says defiantly whenever asked. I don't have a father. My father died when I was just an infant. Leave me alone. Then he runs away.
There is a picture on the wall, a picture of a tavern. All of the men in the picture are dead. They all succumbed to plague. And so, the picture now reveals no more than an empty tavern, a tavern devoid of people. There are cracks in the windows, through which snow blows in. The walls are bare.
The soldier stares at the picture until he realizes that he is himself part of it. He stands alone, a package under his arm, his serial number long rubbed off of his sleeve. He looks around. No one is there. He sits on the floor, puts the package down. He reaches toward it, and as he does his heart gives out.
And so we leave the soldier there on the floor, one arm stretched toward the unopened package. Some snow blows in through the window, whites out the soldier's face and beard. I administer a few injections, but they do nothing. He was already dead before stepping out of the book. I'd forgotten.
The snow will never stop falling. It will never stop because it was, it had not been, it is not falling now. It's raining. There was no soldier, no boy, no package. These things were all a part of a game. And the game is, finally, over. Or is it? I open the book again, begin to read. I am alone here now, under cover.
currently lives in Fukuoka, Japan. He is the author of a chapbook and an e-book, both from ISMs Press