One of the other nuns came to relieve me. I laid down for a few minutes and fell asleep. Sometime in the afternoon I woke up and went to check on the men. Most were sleeping. Franz wasn’t. He beckoned me to come near.
“Yes?” I said.
“I am lonely. I haven’t talked to anyone in ages.”
So I sat down to listen to him.
“Do you know how long this war has lasted? It isn’t over yet, either, I can tell you that. Have you ever hated anyone? In this army, we live on it. My father was murdered by the Allies. My mother and the rest of my family died of starvation. I was so young then, and I remember watching them die away, like flowers wilt and are gone. They’ve done that to us…it is their fault we are in this now.” He clenched my hand so tightly I nearly cried out in pain. “My mother, she was so kind and so beautiful. I loved her with all my heart. She was so full of life and vigor, always ready for a game with us children. But little by little all her strength drained away. She worked, she toiled to let us survive. When I was very young, I remember her laughing gaily. But as the English, the Russians, and the Americans sucked our very life away, my mother became weak and tired. She didn’t laugh and romp with us. If she had the energy, she slaved for a bit of bread, but the energy died. She sat listlessly, with hollow eyes, watching us scavenge for food. Then one morning she didn’t wake up. And it was all because of them.” He nearly started crying. After a moment he regained his composure. “After this war, my dear,” he said hesitantly, “we’ll do something together. We can start a life together, can’t we? After we pound the Allies to pulp, then we’ll live in riches and victory, just you and I.” He squeezed my hand again. I was thoroughly embarrassed and had no idea what to say. I just sat silently, and he took that for an agreement. I heard someone moaning from the other room and left Franz for a moment.
It was the man with the strange melancholy gaze who was making sounds.
“Are you alright?” I asked him.
“Do you ever feel a dull aching right about here?” He put his hand over his heart. “That is my ailment. What is your name, child?” He spoke so sadly and so gently.
“Adele. I mean, Catherine.” I cursed myself for saying Adele; I didn’t know why that came out. I hadn’t called myself Adele for years, at least not out loud.
“Do you forget who you are?” He said with a queer smile. “You aren’t the only one.”
– From Part One, Chapter 14