THE CAFE DURING THE WAR - MATTHEW SPENCE
Jacobs saw the sign on the cafe across the street as he carried his rifle, looking from side to side in the alleyways. The German troops were already long gone, but there were always stragglers, and there could be snipers in the narrow corners. The street appeared to be deserted, but Jacobs could still hear the sound of artillery fire like thunder coming from the otherwise clear Summer sky. The village was just one of many that had been taken and retaken after the locals had evacuated, like many others Jacobs and the platoon he’d been with since Normandy had seen. Traces of the Germans’ presence were still here, in the form of a burned-out German staff car, a half-track that looked like it had exploded from the inside out; tattered German flags that still hung from some of the buildings.
Jacobs had been separated from the rest of his men during the last fight, cut off by a surprise German counteroffensive from their heavy guns. He remembered being knocked into a ditch, and then waking up alone, scratched and dazed but somehow still alive and in one piece. That was when he’d begun making his way towards the nearest place he could think of.
Intrigued by the cafe, Jacobs moved cautiously towards it. It seemed to have escaped the worst of the bombardment unscathed; there were still cafe tables standing upright that even had unopened wine bottles on them. Jacobs carefully picked one up, and saw that it was still full. Setting it back down, he went to the cafe’s front door and thrust it open, keeping his rifle pointed at the darkness.
Nothing moved, and Jacobs sighed as he leaned the rifle upright and sat down at one of the tables. Table for one, he thought sardonically. An appetizer, monsieur?
Jacobs must have drifted off for a moment. There were voices around him, speaking in French, which he had become fluent in. Startled, he opened his eyes to see men and women,dressed in stylish French clothing. Waiters in their jackets brought wine and food to their tables, and somewhere a phonograph played scratchy jazz music.
Jacobs looked down at himself and saw that he was no longer in uniform, but also wearing civilian clothes. I’m dreaming, he thought, but if he was it was very realistic, and as long as he had the time, he might as well try to relax and enjoy it. After all, the war would wake him up soon enough…
“It’s not an invasion. It’s reconnaissance,” he heard a voice saying-in American English, with an upper Midwestern twang.
“Bull. We’re getting involved in another damn war that’s none of our business. You think they’d have learned from the last one.” His companion, also apparently an American, was a somewhat younger man. Neither one of them seemed to notice Jacobs as he listened.
The other man shook his head. “Had to happen. The Reds were going to start another row with Germany. They’ve been chomping at the bit ever since the revolution.”
“Three years ago,” the other man replied. “And the Germans aren’t all that radical, most of ‘em. They like law and order. Maybe if we’d allowed them to keep the country united…”
“There’d have been civil war, and then the occupying troops would have had to intervene. I should know; I was in Berlin after the Russians pulled out.”
“So now we’re getting involved in another one.” The younger man shook his head. “And I voted for President Lowden because he said he’d keep us out of it!”
There was something odd about their conversation. From what Jacobs could tell, he was reliving a moment not long after the last war, but things weren’t makingsense. Being from Illinois himself, Jacobs recognized the name Lowden as that of one of the state’s former Governors. But a revolution in Germany? As far as he knew, there had been one, but it failed, didn’t it? The old Weimer government had staggered on until that lunatic paper hanger took over…
Their voices were becoming distorted and hazy, like static on the radio. Jacobs realized he was waking up, but this didn’t feel like any dream he’d ever had before, and that included the nightmares that Omaha Beach still gave him. This was more like watching a stage play, a reconstruction of a past event that hadn’t really happened, at least not to his memory. But it seemed real enough…
“Jacobs? Lieutenant, sir?” A hoarse voice was speaking in his ear. Jacobs opened his eyes and saw one of his own men, one of the noncoms from his unit; apparently they’d finally found him. Struggling to sit up, he winced in sudden pain.
“Easy sir, you’ve been hit in the gut. The corpsman patched you up, but he didn’t have enough morphine. You’re gonna be sore for a while, sir.”
Jacobs grimaced. Looking ahead, he saw the cafe-still unharmed, but also, still empty. “Should’ve ordered some Bordeaux,” he said wistfully.
“Um, yes sir. That’d go down good right now, all right. But we just got here about half an hour ago. We’ve been taking up positions along the river. But it looks like you’re going to be sitting the next phase out, sir.”
Jacobs nodded. They were going to take him to a field hospital, then to a real one, then ship him back to England for recovery. This part of the war was over for him, and he would live to see what kind of a world would be made after it. He thought about the two men he’d seen, their strange conversation, wondering what kind of a world they might be living in now…but that was another time, another place. This was his reality, and Jacobs was more determined than ever to live in it.
Matthew Spence was born in Cleveland, Ohio and currently lives in Capon Bridge, West Virginia. His work has appeared in The Fifth Di and The Martian Wave.