Losing Sight

Losing Sight

A Story by The Cynic
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A short story based on the Falklands' War.

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Cold, snow, hunger, but most of all, desolation. These hung over us as we inhabited the inhospitable territories of the Malvinas. We camped in barren nowhere-lands. It didn’t matter where; we were always miles away from Puerto Martinez. The men could hear missiles as they fell, and from the variation in sound, tell where exactly they were going to land.

“That one’s going for the West Regiment,” Pavolati, an Italian-descended porteño, would say.

“That one’s going for the water,” a young one who we called Ramiro would announce minutes after, referring to another one.

But every once in a while, one man would stand and shush all others and listen more carefully. They would all cease to do whatever it was they were doing and look down, as if not looking in the direction of the projectiles would make it easier to hear them. And after a while:

“S**t, this one’s coming pretty near, let’s move!”

The year was 1982. We got drafted in Argentina, then sent to a couple of cold rocks in the South Atlantic Ocean to fight men from England. England! How far away was that? And we were involved in a war with them. War really knows no bounds.

But as I was saying, sadness. Which of course led to suicidal notions among us. Thoughts of ending it, as if it were a dream and a bullet in the head would wake you up. There was a dreamy ambience to the islands, in fact; the gentle lull of the sea sometimes drove us into a state of mindless marching and heavy eyelids. Fog settled in often, and if you were to stand a long way away from us you could see us come out of the fog like ghosts on a mission. We were drafted from all over the country and brought to these remote little pieces of earth on the ocean. Nothing very remarkable about them, so why would we want to defend them? Or take them in the first place?

But it wasn’t my place to argue. It wasn’t anybody’s place to argue. It was our place to fight, or, at least, prevent ourselves from getting killed. Which got severely burdensome as time went by and English missiles fell around us like summer rain. The depressing landscape around us didn’t help. Our first suicide attempt happened unexpectedly, although, to be honest, we should have foreseen it.

We had settled well into routine by that day. Having found a reasonably plain spot of land, we set up camp. A few miles further was our goal; an English establishment for the distribution of missiles. We were to identify it, perform basic reconnaissance, and then report for backup. We were all eager to bathe, as it had been a long day; on that occasion, however, I drew the long straw and had to abstain from personal hygiene in order to survey the surroundings and watch in case any enemies approached. So that my squad marched off to a nearby water source (it may have been a small lake or river, I don’t recall), and left me in charge of our empty, improvised camp.

Foxholes had been dug and set up, and I peered within them as I passed each, just for precaution. It was on my third run-through that I heard somebody tugging on the strap of an official 9mm gun. The usual weapon for our men. But who knew if it wasn’t a Brit, having gotten into one of our foxholes and found a weapon one of our men, in careless abandon, had left behind?

Of course, the Brits would never use one of our guns. We carried slingshots compared to their machines of death. Standing up to one of them would be a David-and-Goliath situation, if he was well equipped. He might have lost his weapon and stumbled into our camp, though. Lost but lucky. With this going through my mind in half a second, I clutched my own 9mm gun and drew it, pointing at the hole I knew the sound had come from.

I walked nimbly. Steadily. Heel first. Lightly. Then slowly add pressure on your heel. Shift the pressure mid-foot. Shift it to tiptoe. As you pull the foot up, be careful not to scrape up dust or make a racket. Repeat with other foot. Repeat procedure as needed.

An eternity later, I looked over the edge of the hole, and barely made out the shape of a man lying with his back against the wall of it. He held a gun in his hand, and the gun connected right into the middle of his forehead. His eyes, though closed, streamed tears, and they fell across his nose and down his cheekbones like the stream of fresh water the other men were probably bathing in now.

And then I recognized him. “Ramirez,” I called. “What the f**k are you doing, you a*****e? You scared me”. Eduardo Ramirez was one of our eldest. He got drafted because, despite nearing his thirties, he was still lively as a teenager and strong as an ox. A sentimental guy, too. During his free time he wrote poems. Mostly existential, about how the war seemed to be a dream, unrealistic, far away from the reality he knew as Buenos Aires. Or was Buenos Aires the dream, and was this the crude and unbearable reality he had woken up to? He frequently cited Calderón de la Barca’s play, La Vida es Sueño. You could hear him sometimes, in the distance:

“…una sombra, una ficción. Y el mayor bien es pequeño; que toda la vida es sueño, y los sueños, sueños son”

Apparently it carried some allegorical meaning. I get it. Life is a dream, and death is a way of waking up, getting reunited with our creator. Maybe that was a reason for his coming over here. Not that the milicos would give you a choice if they wanted you to come, but his relative age could have been a bargaining factor if he’d really wanted to stay in the city.

Or else it was just life experience. In any case, the city must’ve seemed like heaven to him at the time, and the islands must’ve seemed like hell, because, not moving the muzzle from between his eyes, he answered:

“I’m gonna kill myself, man. Don’t try and stop me, I can’t take the goddamn snow and ice and cold any more. I’ve worked it out. Life, how it works. See when we were back on our territory, in what’s really Argentina; that was heaven. We weren’t alive, in a way, but in another we were more alive than ever. This here, on the other hand,” he pointed around him with his gun. “This cold rocky piece of s**t is hell. You read Dante’s Inferno, Esteban?”

That’s me. Esteban Tríes. I´d never thought it’d be so awkward to react to my own name. But after months of reacting to the exclamation ‘Tríes!’ from our Sergeant Villegas, you react differently. “A long time ago I did. Read it in school”.

“That’s good. Now, do you remember what the last circle of hell is like? How do you describe it?”

I didn’t see the point of this. “Cold? It’s a frozen river called Cocytus. The souls of the damned are frozen into the ice for all eternity. Traitorous souls, if I remember well.”

Ramirez looked at me. “You remember well. Now, does that environment sound in the least familiar? Take a look around. We’re in hell, man. We’re in the traitors’ circle. The government sent us here to fight the war as a trial. And if we try to desert our country, we can’t. The water’s all around us. The freezing water. Run and we turn into an icicle.”

I looked up at the bleak white sky and a few snowflakes fell on my face. They weren’t the happy snowflakes you ski on. They weren’t the ones that fell on your girlfriend’s eyelash so that she had to shake them off by batting those long lashes and looking cute with her big eyes. They were tiny round things that bit into your face while you tried to desperately cover yourself, knowing full well the whole time that you were helpless against them.

The man was insane, but he made sense. He had thought this out. Not getting much sunlight must have gotten to him, made him depressed. I heard Russians have a word for “sadness due to lack of sunlight”. I don’t know what it is and I probably couldn’t pronounce it if I did, but it seems clever of them to have such a word.

“Ramirez,” I said to him finally, thinking of a loophole in his argument. “If this is hell, you can’t die. And, in any case, dying won’t help you. See, if you shoot yourself and you’re in hell, you stay in hell. On the other hand, if this is really life and you are alive then you kill yourself and get to spend the whole time in the suicides’ circle. That’s the seventh one, right? Don’t the people there get turned to trees and clawed at for eternity? Seems like a better choice to be able to move with us here, don’t it?”

Ramirez looked up at me, seeing his own irrationality. “You’re right. If this is really a test, I won’t get to heaven by killing myself. It’s a test of my own mental strength. I need to carry on till the end, than then I’ll be back in Buenos Aires.”

I nodded at him. “Damn right you will”

He took the gun away from his forehead now. “What’ll the Sergeant say?”

“He won’t say anything,” I said “Because he doesn’t need to find out”

He thought for a second. “Agreed,” he said, and walked out of the foxhole.

Some people aren’t really crazy. They just lose sight of reality in these situations. Like the fog hiding anything 30 meters past you, you can’t see very far when you’re at war. And when it happens that one in your squad loses sight of what you call reality, the best thing you can do is play along, talk in their terms, and make sure they don’t do anything stupid.

© 2013 The Cynic


Author's Note

The Cynic
Reviews/criticism always welcome :]

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Featured Review

A very interesting story, sometimes it's a bit hard to really understand and grasp, but I love the moral at the end of the story. Perhaps you can make it more gripping and make your characters seem more real. You need to make the reader care about your characters and then the story becomes more meaningful.
You are a really good writer and I quite like your style of writing. Don't be afraid to write, you really are talented. Perhaps you could add more suspense to make it more gripping. I know it is only a short story, but you don't want to bore and confuse people, so make it something fascinating. Remember that the first few sentences is what makes the reader want to carry on reading, so make sure they're brilliant.

Posted 9 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

I spent some time in the Falklands, rather dreary place. You describe the basic feeling of the place well. I think your story could easily be expanded, this part serving as a chapter. I am a fan of short stories it works for me as is.

Posted 9 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

A very interesting story, sometimes it's a bit hard to really understand and grasp, but I love the moral at the end of the story. Perhaps you can make it more gripping and make your characters seem more real. You need to make the reader care about your characters and then the story becomes more meaningful.
You are a really good writer and I quite like your style of writing. Don't be afraid to write, you really are talented. Perhaps you could add more suspense to make it more gripping. I know it is only a short story, but you don't want to bore and confuse people, so make it something fascinating. Remember that the first few sentences is what makes the reader want to carry on reading, so make sure they're brilliant.

Posted 9 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


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Added on September 19, 2010
Last Updated on October 22, 2013
Tags: losing, sight, snow, Malvinas, War, England, Argentina, cold, Falklands