okay so after a delightful discussion/weeping session while watching Regeneration with the wonderful Becky and Susie, I felt like posting this. Small one shot, inspired by Sassoon’s poem The Dug Out (which will always have a special place in my heart because the very first time I read it, I cried). Sorely tempted to extend this into a series of things inspired by each of his poems, in chronological order, but~
Title: You are too young
Word Count: 996
You are too young to fall asleep forever
Jowett. Sassoon’s eyes move to the far corner of the dug-out, where the boy (not a man, not yet; but a boy, and if his suspicions are correct, only seventeen) is curled; his features lit by the guttering light of a flickering candle flame than wanes each time there is the whine of a shell overhead. He looks like a corpse, the uniform the only thing bulking out his small frame. So many of them look like the walking dead now, and so, he suspects; does he. Those he sees by day are the same he sees at night, only then it’s quieter and even more nightmarish than this (and Sassoon never thought that possible, not in a thousand years). They go from shining schoolboys with bright smiles and “yes Mr. Sa—I mean Lieutenant” to exhausted, white faces who stare mutely at him with eyes that look like no man’s land.
When he was seventeen, he played cricket and rode horses and they’re seventeen and they look seventy. None of this is fair.
The older men are different. They joke and laugh and make the best of it (he doesn’t know how because he feels so empty and everything he has is poured into his poetry; anger and bitterness and oh how he misses David and Hamo..) and when he asks “are you cold?” “are you wet?” ”are you tired?” the answer is always “not very, sir” “I’ve had it worse sir” said with a wry grin and he hates himself for asking these questions because of course they’re cold and wet and tired but he needs to feel like he’s doing something to help. It’s five days on the line, five days off, or supposed to be anyway; but it’s more like six days on and three days off because of the Powers That Be and their sheer bloody mindedness and they don’t understand that there is a limit to what a man can bear. Frostbite and hunger and blisters and mud and friends that go out on patrol and just don’t come back and all of a sudden there’s no time. Sassoon rubs a hand through his hair and allows his eyes to conceal the flickering light of the candle, carving hollows in Jowett’s cheeks, throwing skeletal shadows on the walls, dimming all around him into darkness.
And far away, the thudding of the guns.
He opens his eyes (does it for them, this is all for them) and stands from his cramped seat on an up-ended box next to a rickety wooden table, spread with paper and old, chipped mugs with the dregs of lime tasting water in the bottom. He never thought he would wish for Weirleigh, but now he does. He blinks, hard, ignores the pulsing of the headache at his temples. Jowett is still asleep.
Sassoon moves a little closer to the sleeping boy. The light within has dimmed further now, the candle spluttering pathetically; coupled with the fading light outside the dug-out, leaving the place in not-quite darkness full of vague shadows and half men that haunt both waking and sleeping moments.
There is no indication of breath from the boy’s lips, no murmuring from his mouth in that soft tone that he has grown to know so well. There is no movement of his limbs, face turned to the wall, curled up as though sheltering from something. Aren’t they all, in some way or another? With rum or poetry or lewd jokes, they are all trying to hide from the carnage, from the slaughter and they are the cattle (and that’s why he couldn’t quite bring himself to be angry when Andrews staggered in, slurring his words and stumbling about, shouting some bawdy song from the music halls).
The dug-out is too dark, the not quite silence is far too loud (he can hear his own heartbeat and it unnerves him) and he reaches out a hand, curves his fingers around Jowett’s shoulder and gently shakes.
The boy moves, mumbles something and Sassoon lets out a breath. Jowett’s hand comes up to cover Sassoon’s and so he sits for a few minutes, his eyes lingering on the seventeen year olds face. How will he ever put words to this, to describe it to Robert (Robert knows though, he understands. He’s been here too), to Robbie, to… to anyone at home? He will not because they cannot imagine. There are parts of Sassoon that he has carefully shut away, certain emotions, feelings and thoughts that he has locked firmly away. Thoughts that would never bear fruit, words that would never blossom. This experience; this hell is one of those things.
Holding an eighteen year olds hand as he dies. Seeing the man you’d passed only moments ago; trapped in barbed wire, struggling to free himself and condemning himself to death at the same time. No man’s land. The landscape seemingly devoid of life, but full of thousands of men. The corpses. Bringing in the wounded. The bitter winter; of frostbite and snow and rats.
They will not understand, they will not even try to because they have not lived it and will never live it, because a boy has taken their place. The propaganda artists, the show girls with their recruitment songs and happy tunes and the old men, they are all Judas. He grits his teeth and slowly moves his hand from Jowett’s shoulder, smoothing the dark brown hair back from the lad’s forehead. “Not long now, old chap,” he mumbles, too quiet to be heard over the distant rumbling of the guns and gets to his feet, slowly moving to pick his kit up from the peg where it rests on the wall.
The guns are louder now.
His eyes flicker to Jowett.
This is not right. This has never been and will never be right.
And when you sleep you remind me of the dead