This was the last place I expected to hear a mention of her name, not only because I knew none of the soldiers fighting by my side and not only because there was no time to speak—but also because she belonged elsewhere. In my mind, Natasha existed in another realm: a realm of peace, where I could immerse myself in thoughts, recalling our last moments together, recalling love.
Such a realm was far out of reach, because a fierce battle was raging all around me. With the shrill, howling noise of incoming rockets, which we nicknamed Moaning Minnies, this was not the time to think, let alone immerse myself in any kind of mental activity.
I had landed with one of our infantry regiments, but in the chaos that ensued got separated, somehow, from it, and had no choice but to join another team of soldiers. They wore British uniforms—except one who, to my surprise, wore a kilt. He was armed with nothing more than his bagpipes and played a Scottish marching song, even as his comrades fell around him.
For some reason, the German snipers seemed to spare him. They must have thought he had gone mad, and so did I.
Behind us, the coast was crowded with destroyers, landing craft, and battleships, their guns blasting the shoreline. At the same time, there was an ear-splitting crackle of firing, coming from enemy tanks here and snipers there. The sound was heavily punctuated with the boom of shells raining down upon us, all of which made me utterly confused. Scared, too.
There was no reason why one man lost his life and not another. It seemed to be nothing but a game of chance.
Was it my time to go? I tried to act indifferent, even as I drew a startled breath. If it was about to become my last one, then... Then, oh well, so be it.
After a while my mind became numb. It seemed as if it had always been that way, as if moving forward—for as long as I would be lucky enough to survive—that was how my mind would remain.
Looking across the river Orne I saw the Germans retreating. Even so, there was no time to get a sense of relief, because every now and again they turned around and came back to counter-attack.
The bagpipe music had long faded away. At the sound of an explosion, eight of the British soldiers just ahead of me went down as fast as pins in a bowling alley. Another soldier came forward from behind, and both of us went on our hands and knees, crawling through the tall grass to help the wounded.
“The only thing we can do for them,” he said, in his British accent, “is this: stick their rifles in the ground and hang their tin hats on top.”
“To mark their position for the medics.”
Once that was done, I advanced over a mound of earth, heading in a roundabout way towards the river bank. He caught my arm, held me back, and said, “Dig in!”
And I said, “What?”
“You don’t want to die, do you?” he asked, over the firing sounds of mortar bombs. “Can’t you see, plain as can be, that to be above ground isn’t such a bright idea?”
Lenny in Marriage before Death