AN OLD SOLDIER REMEMBERS

I was born in 1732, became a soldier at sixteen, fought in my country’s wars, lost an eye in one and an arm in another. So I was already an old man – too old for the battlefield – when my General became my Emperor. 

But I loved him. We all did. We rejoiced in his victories. We cheered when he came back from Elba, as we knew he would. And we grieved when he didn’t come back from St. Helena, as we knew he wouldn’t. 

I was eighty-nine years old when he died. I sometimes wish I’d died too. But the Almighty wasn’t through with me yet. I think He wanted me to see what would become of my Emperor’s work, and of my tiny contribution to it. So I was there at the Invalides when the Germans marched in in ’70, and then again in ’40, and then out again in ’44. 

De Gaulle was no Bonaparte, that’s for sure. And watching them shipped back from Diem Bien Phu with their tails between their legs wasn’t just humiliating. It was heart breaking. As was Algiers. As was all of it, including that awful tower. But not the wine. And not the women. They seemed to grow even more beautiful as the years went by. 

In ’86 – so I guess that’s been a while back – I took an apartment near the sea, just outside Marseilles, because Lilly, my granddaughter, had just landed a job there, and she said she wanted me near her, though of course it was really because she thought I wanted her near me. Which, of course, is true. And, of course, she issn’t really my granddaughter. My granddaughter died the same year my Emperor did. On the same day, in fact. So Lilly is my great great great granddaughter. Or something like that. Actually I’ve lost count.

But what matters is I love her. Not the way I loved my Louise, of course, but I love her anyway. And I think she loves me, in only the way someone can love a wrinkled old pug. You know, with that face all squashed in and you wonder how it can still breathe. Well, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, I still can too. And will until I can’t, I guess. 

Hard to know why the Almighty still wants me around, but I figure when He doesn’t He’ll let me know. In the meantime, and when it’s not too cold, I sit by the sea, and sometimes I think I see my Emperor standing on the prow of that majestic schooner that carried us off to Egypt. And I imagine I’m standing there with him, not on the prow of course, but maybe somewhere on the mid deck. 

Anyhow, it’s hard to say what it was all about back then. Or since. Or now. But maybe it doesn’t have to be about anything. Maybe it just has to be.



Categories: Fiction

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