by untitled06

To be loved as to love with all my heart

Eugene's favorite memories are of his grandmomma -- an elderly woman with stained hands and white streaks in her hair. She had been a traiteuse -- the Cajun word for faith healer and medicine woman -- and Eugene can still remember fondly the heady smell of her clothes. All spice and love and tobacco.

On visits, she would pull him aside into the kitchen and ask him questions about how he felt as she searched his skin for any blemishes and massaged the sides of his neck, looking for lumps. He had tried to learn her magic back then, through careful observation and through the skin by touch. He memorized the patterns her hands took across his spine, studying the lines of careful concentration in her tan, worn face. She spoke soft words beneath her breath as she worked, and Eugene always tried to decipher their meaning. Her voice was gentle and reedy.

"To be a healer ain't no small thing, child," she had told him once. "There's power in it. But with power comes pain, an' a good lot of it. The sickness don't just up an' disappear, it becomes your own, you understand? An' if you don't learn to let it go, if you don't give it to the sky or the swamp or the wind, it'll see you dead an' buried. As good as gone an' no damn fault but your own, I reckon."

Her arthritic fingers trembled as she unraveled a length of string, making knots along its plain length. Nine in all, one for each day of healing, and before his grandmomma tried the string around his neck, she would mutter a prayer over each tiny knot like the beads of rosary.

"God's gift is a right test of faith," she had said. "And without none you ain't gonna be savin' nobody."

Eugene's grandmomma kissed him. Using her edge of her thumb, she traced the sign of the cross on his skin. Once over his forehead, once over his lips, and once over his heart.


Years have past since that first lesson in healing, and Eugene is now a medic for Easy Company, though he's not entirely sure why. Somewhere at the edge of a Belgian forest, he sits alone in a small, cramped hole -- dug waist-deep into the frozen earth.

A flare crosses the night sky, illuminating everything around him in a bright yellow light before dissolving back into darkness, and there is barely a moment's pause before the sounds of shooting reach him, ringing in his ears. His fingertips are numb as he begins to wind a string around his knuckles, murmuring the words of St. Francis, desperate to not think of the cold and the wet and the snow that keeps on falling.

"Lord," he whispers, "grant that I shall not seek so much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand all, to be loved as to love with all my heart." He tries to forget the goddamn Germans and their messy war, tries to push away the sound of grown men begging for some relief. For the end or perhaps just another syrette of morphine. His supplies nowadays are scant at best, but Eugene is trying to make due with what he has, and what he has is very little compared to what he needs.

"With all my heart," he says again.

Eugene listens carefully to the constant hail of bullets that ricochet back and forth between the lines of trees. He waits for the call of medic, but none comes that night.


To be understood as to understand all

Packages fall from the sky the day they bring a man into the church from another battalion. Eugene is there collecting supplies when he hears the approaching chaos.

There is a tear in the man's stomach the size of an apple and from it, he bleeds his life onto the chapel floor, making it difficult for the nurses to walk by. When Eugene pushes his hand wrist-deep into the man's belly, the soldier doesn't cry out; he simply coughs a quiet "oh" as the blood bubbles in his mouth and spatters onto his cheeks. His eyes are wide and pale blue -- the color of ice and the color of winter -- and to Eugene, he doesn't look much like he's dying, more like he's rather surprised.

Perhaps it's the pain that catches the soldier off-guard or the visions of God painted on all the walls. Perhaps it's the fact that another man is scrambling around inside his stomach, trying to reach upward into his ribcage, looking for an artery he won't find. Perhaps it's the furious beauty of the nurse who is looking down at him, her hand clamped firmly onto his gut, holding his insides in as the medic struggles uselessly.

Eugene shouts, the sound of his own forced breath overwhelming his senses. In his mind, he is praying to St. Francis and to Grandmomma and to God. Please don't let me lose this one. Not now, he thinks, not here. Not under the shadow of the cross, with sculpted angels looking down on him and Renee's fingers pressed tight upon his wrist.

Determined, he grits his teeth and closes his eyes and pushes farther, but finds nothing. Renee is looking at him when he opens his eyes again, her grip slipping from him, and Eugene knows that it's time to stop.

His first reaction is anger and he shouts once very loudly, his "goddammit" echoing off of the vaulted ceilings, which are royal blue and studded with golden stars. When he looks back at Renee, he expects to find the same frustration, but all he sees is sadness in her glistening eyes. He wonders how many men she has lost. Not quietly in their sleep -- for he's certain that there are plenty of those -- but in the violent throws of death with bits and pieces of the soldier still left behind on the battlefield.

Not many, her eyes tell him. Perhaps, none at all.

Looking at her now, Eugene realizes how delicately strong she is, and how beautiful. The color rises to her cheeks, giving her face a faint blush as her lips tremble. He goes to speak something comforting but before he knows what to say, she turns her head away from him, hiding her tears behind blood-stained hands.


Afterwards, the wind picks up as they sit outside in chairs salvaged from the burnt husk of the local school house. Eugene watches carefully as Renee begins to unwrap some chocolate, her dirty fingers breaking the bar upon its score lines. Snap snap, is the sound it makes -- sharp and brittle like so many other things about this war. She offers him a square and tells him that what they have - their hands and their calling - is not a gift from God.

"God wouldn't give such a painful thing," she says, but Eugene knows better.


Days later, he finds himself in Bastogne again, delivering another member of Easy Company into the church's hands. It's a bullet wound this time, one vicious enough to tear the spinal cord, and when a medic asks: "What's the matter with him," Eugene answers numbly, only faintly aware that he is speaking.

"He's paralyzed," he says, and looks away.

He knows he should get back to the line. What with Spina all by himself and German artillery out in the open, God knows that he's probably needed, but he's rooted to where he is -- standing at the foot of the basement stairs. He watches silently as his fellow medics perform last rites for soldiers who should have been evacuated days ago. Given enough plasma, proper transport and clean bandages, many of these men would have recovered by now and would have been well enough to return to the front. Instead, they are rotting away in the cellar of God's house, moaning in subdued protest or dying in congested silence.

"Eugene?" he hears Renee say and turns to look at her -- back-lit in the doorway, the same blue scarf tied tight around her hair. "Eugene." The way she says his name with the French slant curling around the vowels, reminds him of his mother and the sound of her voice when he was still very young. It makes his stomach twist more painfully than all of the death and ruin he has encountered thus far, and it frightens him more than he can say.

"Are you..." she starts, but someone in the bowels of the basement calls for her. She pauses and says again: "Are you alright?"

Eugene's not certain of how to answer that, because he's not entirely sure there are proper words for what he is feeling. Tired and cold and afraid are good estimates, but not entirely accurate. He blinks at her wordlessly, feeling the pain rise in his chest -- tightening around his lungs, threatening to drown him. He wants to speak, but finds he is unable to.

"Renee!" someone calls again, more urgently this time, and she follows, her hand raised slightly towards Eugene as if to say, don't go. He turns before she disappears between the rows of broken bodies.

Once outside, Eugene looks up towards heaven. Above him, the sun hangs lifeless in the morning sky, nothing more than a dirty grey smudge against the clouds.


The next time Eugene sees Renee, it's not really her, but what's left of her -- half hidden beneath the buckled roof of Bastogne's church, her limbs bent impossibly beneath her. Before he leaves, he pulls her kerchief from the wreckage, and turns it over carefully between his aching fingers. Welsh's blood has dried on his hands, and the ruddy brown stains crack and flake off his skin.

He knows that the town is being systematically shelled into oblivion around him. Outside, someone is calling for a medic.

Lips pressed into a thin, tight line, Eugene tucks the handful of blue cotton into his pocket. He turns and runs back out into the war.


Grant that I shall not seek so much to be consoled as to console

Late one night, Heffron tells Eugene, "Your hands, Gene, oh god," and his words seem to come as no surprise, though his tone of voice is unexpected. Both Renee and Private Julian are gone and have been for a few weeks; one lost beneath the broken remains of a church, the other left in the woods with a bullet lodged in his throat.

Eugene knows that he has good hands now, like his grandmomma. He has pushed past skin and sinew to test bone, to expose metal, and to staunch heavy blood loss from the causeways of the heart. They're not as strong as Randleman's or as consistent as Power's, but they've graduated into a proper traiteur's hands -- steadier than they were before and more certain.

With his touch, Eugene takes the sickness onto himself and into his heart, and in the rare moments of privacy, he has learned to chase the pain away as Heffron shudders and the far-off sound of artillery settles over the woods to the east.


The foxhole must have been dug by a replacement because the walls are too shallow and the mouth is too wide and when Heffron leans back, it's just a little too easy for Eugene to slide on top of him with one of his hands wedged in between them.

Everything for weeks has been blood, earth, and smoke; bitter cold and burning wood, the slice of sharp air in the lungs. But inside his uniform Heffron smells warm, despite the shivers that run up and down his body whenever Eugene puts his fingers on bare skin. The hole that they're occupying is so small, Eugene has to twist and shift in order to lower his head into Heffron's lap, thigh muscles cramping at odd angles.

"You don't have to --" Heffron starts to say but when he meets Eugene's eyes there's something in them that makes him stop, let's him know that this is nothing, just another part of war. Like administering another desperate dose of morphine, like force feeding Heffron frozen squares of a dead woman's chocolate.

Do whatever it takes to survive, Bastogne teaches them, and both Eugene and Heffron have learned well.


When Heffron comes, there are bits of broken tree mixed in with the dirt and the grit lining the bottom of the hole, and Eugene braces himself against it as the bitterness burns the back of his throat. A pain flares in the palm of his hand and he coughs, the tears rising in his eyes involuntarily. It's a nasty shard of wood that's done the damage and when Eugene tries to pull it out, an angry splinter breaks off and remains embedded in the wound. Blood begins to well along the cut and Eugene winces.

"Shit, you're bleeding," Heffron says and goes to move, but his muscles are sluggish. Eugene stops him, putting his good hand on Heffron's shoulder.

"Don't you get worked up now," Eugene says. He doesn't talk much anymore -- not even to the men that he is saving -- so it's surprising to hear his own voice. Dark and thick like molasses in his mouth. In the quietness that follows, Heffron's hand touches his bended knee, pausing for a moment before continuing further up his thigh. "It was s'posed to make you sleep, Heffron," Eugene hears himself say. He sounds tired.

Beneath the brim of his helmet, Heffron smiles crookedly, his eyes hidden by shadow. "You look like you could use a good night's rest yourself, Gene," he says quietly and pushes Eugene onto his back and into the dirt. "And, for Christ's sake, if we're gonna do this, call me Babe."

The least Eugene can do is comply.


Afterwards, he wanders through the forest, the heat dissipating from his skin all too quickly. He feels like he's lost when in actuality he's making his careful way back to his foxhole. Just like everywhere else on the front, all of the trees here look the same, but his body can tell the difference now and he no longer loses his way. He's learned to read the shattered trunks like the points of a compass, the foxholes and trenches drawing dotted lines all way from the left flank of the 501 back to Battalion CP.

In the dim light of the moon, Eugene settles into his hole and pinches the skin of his palm, making the puckered wound weep. He's surprised to find his blood is warm and sticky, just like any other man's. His lips have chapped in the harsh walk back and Eugene licks them intently with a dry tongue. What he tastes is dirt and metal and Heffron, but what he recalls is a woman with a bare kind of beauty -- her hand firmly pressed over his wrist, the tears shimmering in her eyes. She speaks a language that is familiar and offers him chocolate and kind words. In his memory, she tells him that her hands are not a gift from God, but Eugene knows that is only because she chose to carry the pain with her instead of let it go.

Gingerly, Eugene closes his eyes and closes his fist and begins to wrap his dark grey string around the tightened knot of his fingers, reciting words he learned a lifetime ago in a quiet Louisiana kitchen. He wonders, if he prays hard enough, exactly where his pain for Renee shall go. Into the earth or into the trees, or perhaps even into the sky, where it will gather in the clouds, only to fall back down upon him with the next snow. He's afraid that, wherever the pain goes, it will take the memory of her along with it.

Instead of removing the splinter, Eugene decides to leave it where it is and lets the skin heal over it to form a scar.


The next time they are together, Heffron apologizes awkwardly and asks Eugene if it hurts, running a tentative finger over the glassy skin and the dark bit of shrapnel trapped underneath. Eugene smiles at him faintly in the darkness and shakes his head.

"No, Babe, it don't," he says quietly.


Silverlake: Authors / Mediums / Titles / Links / List / About / Updates / Silverlake Remix