Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Vladistaya Valley

We arrive outside Stalingrad. I say to my counterpart on the other side, "If you but had a place we might rest?" His eyebrows furrow.

I am a Wermacht artillery officer with my company. We don't want any trouble. We are here because we were sent, I say. I see, says Ivan. Well, there is this recently vacated boys military school.

It is a block of stalags somewhere in the Yurals. We drive there in our tracked vehicles, unpack all our gear. There is coal, and some grub. We build a fire and settle in to wait out the winter. From where we are, there isn't a cannon to be heard.

Is there a telegraph? One of my troop is an operator. Well, yes, says Ivan. We locate it, and I begin dictating battle reports.

It is bitter cold, and hard slogging in the mountains. The snow falls and the tracks freeze, and you cannot cross over the bodies in the hard rain.

Two words crackle back. How many? I carefully report, too many to count. We cannot tell the corpses from other berms and won't know until the thaw. We are holding on for the Fatherland. The operator cackles at this.

The Vladistaya Valley is a narrow gorge between rivers I'm told will be running swift with trout come spring. The sun is trapped between the ridges and it is very warm early and long for this climate. It must be held at all costs. It's far superior to Berchesgarten.

Ivan looks quizically at me sometimes, but he doesn't interfere. We are far less trouble than most Germans.

In the Vladistaya, there is a wealth of wheat and even fruit trees in summer. It is superior to the Yukraine. It is so prized that Stalin does not allow it onto any maps. The local citizens trust us now. They bring us eggs and milk. It is a tribute to the Hitler Youth we are so diplomatically successful. There is chocolate for our coffeee some mornings.

As the hard winter grows toward its end, Ivan says., well, now, you must know, there is no such place as the Vladistaya Valley.

And I say, no, of course not, and we're never leaving it neither.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Conflicts, with Roses

I go to the office late for something I've forgotten. There is a seedy type with mock dressup costume, like a tweed coat over blue jeans. He has a pitiful ancient revovler he threatens me with in a dark hallway. I'm somehow not intimidated. He doesn't look that ominous.

You're one of them, he sputters. One of his tormenters. I just waft around a corner into the office, leaving him out in the hall. I hear a click, then two. I reach around the door and with surprising ease cease his weapon.

Now I leave. I must report the revolver. Here, I'll take out the shells. Now who to report to? The crossing guard? No, better ... there's one. I say, I have this pistol here. I took it from one who meant harm. He's still at large.

Now it is very late and I'm at headquarters. So, someone accosted you and you just took his weapon, just like that?

Yep, that's exactly what happened. Strange, ey?

Boy, I'll say.

Eventually they give up asking the same questions. Now it's very late. I must call my Lady. It's after 1:00 AM. I try and call home, and for some reason cannot. I drive very fast along Highway 9, and turn back around Glen Lomond and run through a small garden near a fence and am inside the yard of a wooded plot before I can turn around. When I do, I start for the gate again, but one who is slowly walking towards it unleashes a greyhound.

I am on a motorbike now, and the hound is right beside me. Then the gate is closed, and I'm back in the main house with all the family, and they are all moaning like for a lost relative over their smashed roses. Look, I'll pay, I have to go home. My Lady is waiting.

They try and place over my chest some sort of sign like a horse collar, and another on a family member. They want to take a picture, for proof or something. I've had enough. I rise up. I'm going. One uncle makes to stop me, but he's not very effective. This is a story of blustery weaklings.

I leave, and walk, because I've forgotten where I've left my auto. I don't even have the keys in my pocket. I walk, and the road leads off away from the highway, and I'm now inside a complex that looks like some huge government building. Out of a crowd leaving the offices is my Lady! Our sons are walking before her, in costume, like for halloween in the old days. They're like little lions from Thrifty's.

I am so glad to see them. But what are they doing here? They were here to report my absence?

Maybe I'll find out tonight...

The Usual, the Extraordinary, the Never

Okay, she says, I'm on it. She jumps in her Chevy and she starts her ride. Out to Hatley Field, which is now the Landing Site.

Some weird schlub had hooked weather balloons to his lawn chair in Vidalia, Wisconsin, and gone up, up, and away, all the way to New Hope, Vermont, where she was the ace reporter on the only daily in the county. She thought, as she drove, there are in all matters only the Usual, the Extraordinary, and the Never. She said, I'll come up with a never question, one which will reveal the character and desperation and earnest childlike dash of this daredevil.

It may've been so. But when she arrived on location, she found the flyer had been all wrapped up by the big city news centers for exclusives, during which he shrugged and replied with dull responses to rhetorical questions. It happens like that, she thought on her way back to the paper to draw down her article from the wire services. Maybe that's why I call it Never. In New Hope, Vermont.