Waking up

He wakes up to the images he can never erase, of men killing and dying under his command. Not yet fully conscious, he gropes to his nightstand, finds the one thing that helps blur the images. One mouthful, he tells himself, knowing that it won’t be.

Through the bottom of the bottle, his room slowly comes into a focus of sorts. His uniform hangs in the closet. It’s the one article of clothing that is always proper. Everyone knows his standing order, that his uniform is always perfect. He looks at the row of medals, each a testament to the men that he has lost. His mind loses its focus again, and he looks around for his bottle.

Empty. How did it get empty already? He only had a mouthful, didn’t he? He opens a drawer, pulls out another bottle, breaks the seal. Just a drop, that’s all he needs, then on with his uniform.

There’s something important happening today. What was it? Another medal? Too many medals already, too many men dead. Don’t need another medal, need another bottle. Don’t want to remember them. Don’t want to forget them. Why do they call? Where’s his drink?

He stands up again. He looks in the mirror. When did his uniform get on? It’s perfect, as usual. He sees a steward behind him in the reflection. Medals shine from both chests. Why did he have the medals? He wasn’t the one who died. Another swallow, for the memory. A voice, just a faint murmur. More medals, right. Would the right people get them?

He can’t give the medals to the deserving. They’re in the ground. He can’t give them their drinks. He raises his drink in a toast to the dead, and the steward takes the empty bottle out of his hand and guides him out to face the living.


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