Well, where do I start?

The ditch

Your Great Grandfather and his new wife crept along the ditch in the darkness.

On the road above them the Germans guarded the border, Mausers sweeping around them in the darkness, keeping the evils away. There were two of them, not much more than boys. Your Great Grandfather put his hand out to his new wife, the new wife he had married that morning, put his hand out to his left and behind him, and took her right arm just above the wrist, and felt her shaking in fear.

How do I know this? Well, I don’t really. Not for gospel. My mother used to go on about it when I was a kid. But she showed me the spot one year when we were there for a holiday. Looked into the ditch. I’m pretty sure it’s true. Or something very much like it.

The two of them crept along until the soldiers were just twenty metres or so away. They tried to keep as low as they could without getting their clothes too dirty in the mud of the ditch. There was shit there, too, cow shit and horse shit, but they were used to that and didn’t care too much. They crouched, but not low enough that their knees got covered in the mud and the shit.

She was his second cousin, of course. Everybody in the village was related. Life was like that then.

They crept as close as they dared to the two boy soldiers on the road, and then they waited for the others. They had rehearsed the whole thing last night, not there but on a similar stretch of road a kilometre and a half away. It would work. They would get away.

It was not too cold a night, though the stars were twinkling in the sky with the brittle brilliance of winter crispness.

If they got away safely, your Great Grandfather thought, they would be in bed together within an hour or so. He had fantasised about it for a long time, and his penis grew hard and uncomfortable as he crouched in the ditch. He still held her arm, and he thrust aside the memory of the time he had seen her sprawled in the hay above the house next door to his, with his other cousin, Guillaume, lying on her and thrusting between her legs just a year ago. He had probably been wrong. It had been very dark in the hay loft. It was probably some other girl. Guillaume had a way with him, a way that most boys didn’t.

In the dark and the cold they had crouched for nearly a quarter of an hour until their legs were shrieking with pain at the position, and he heard her crying and crying , ‘Merde, merde, ou sont ils, les salauds?’ under her breath, and he reached across to her and clamped his hand over her mouth.

Fortunately, it was at that moment that he heard them singing. Singing and laughing, when they could so easily be lying dead and cold in just a few moments. So many of them had died that way.

The two boy soldiers had tensed and moved together in the darkness. Many of the border guards had died, too, and they were every bit as afraid as the villagers were. But the villagers were together, and the two boy soldiers were alone.

‘Halt’, they both shouted in German. I suppose I should know the word. Oh yes, that’s it: halt is the same in both English and German… ‘Halt’, they both shouted. But nobody halted, and they knew that there was going to be an escape and that they were going to get into trouble. They moved closer together, their shoulders rubbing tightly, and each could feel the other trembling.

‘If we shoot now, they will run,’ said the youngest soldier. ‘I’m going to shoot.’ And he raised his rifle.

The other nudged him. ‘Not yet, Franz,’ he said, hoping that something would happen to help them. He reached to his belt, and unclipped his torch awkwardly with one hand. Franz had still not lowered his rifle, though the barrel swayed and shook. Hans pointed the torch and moved the switch. Nothing happened. He banged the torch against his hip, hearing the batteries bouncing against the springs inside, and the torch flickered into life. He aimed it up the line of the road, and ahead the two soldiers could see them.

Pierre and Guillaume, Christophre and Michel paused for a moment, and held their hands up to their faces. ‘Salut’, Guillaume shouted. He was the brave one, the one who was always first, the one who always took the girl by the arm while the others were thinking about it nervously. ‘Salut, salauds,’ he jeered, and the others laughed and Franz pulled the trigger of the Mauser, which exploded much more loudly than any of them would have expected, and the bullet, hardly aimed, went through Guillaume’s groin and smashed his pelvis as it went, a large, soft-nosed bullet powered by many grains of powder and at only thirty metres range.

Guillaume was lifted from the ground and thrown backwards, his shoulder smashing into Christophre’s hip, and he twisted as he was thrown to the ground, his face searing into the roughness of the road surface, his right cheek tearing and his ear scored by stones. His mouth was wide open and a scream as loud as a factory whistle filled the air, his eyes tightly shut and his hands pushing together into the pain and the gore of his smashed groin and the blood pouring from between his fingers and the pain, the unbelievable pain…

In the ditch your Great Grandfather stood up straight to see what was happening. His new wife was straining against him to run to the man hurt on the road above them, but he held her hard against himself, his left hand still clamped over her mouth, and without realising it had lifted her off her feet. They could see nothing but a confusion of shapes on the road, and the bobbing of the torch as the two boy soldiers ran first towards the village boys, then retreated to the barricade and the little sentry box which housed the field telephone that rarely worked.

Your Great Grandfather ducked his head and folded his body over that of his new wife who was struggling now to get back onto the road to help Guillaume, because his screaming still filled the air and would continue to do so for a quarter of an hour and she could tell it was Guillaume and why him? Why him of the all the boys?and your Great Grandfather crouched over her struggling body and ran up the ditch, ignoring the mud and the slime and the shit, and ran on into the blackness knowing that the boy soldiers would be more concerned with trying to get the field telephone working and keeping the villagers at a safe distance, and worrying whether they would have to shoot again to keep the villagers back and away from the border, and Hans thinking, ‘Thank God it was Franz and not me,’ and crossing himself in the darkness.

Pierre, Christophre and Michel stood in the darkness and looked down at the shrieking shadow of Guillaume on the road, and each muttered a silent prayer of thanks. What now, what should they do now, they hadn’t rehearsed this, should they… thank Christ it was him and not me… should they run for help or carry him away I felt the bullet pass my leg, I was just in front of him and the bullet passed my leg by a hair’s breadth, Jesus it could have been me do I have to take charge now?

Each of them was shaking. Each of them was crying, too, the tears pulsing from their eyes, running ignored down their cheeks, but distorting their vision and forcing them, every now and again, to brush their sleeves across their eyes. ‘What do we do now?’ they asked each other, shouting above the screeching of Guillaume as he lay writhing on the road, blood oozing from between his fingers as he dug them into his flesh trying to stop the pain.

Hans turned the little handle of the magneto on the side of the field telephone, Franz holding the handset to his ear and stuffing his other ear with the fingers of the other hand, trying to keep the screeching out so that he could hear if anyone answered. He could hear the bell ringing, but had no idea if that meant the bell was ringing at the other end or if it was just this end. It didn’t usually work.

When he reached the wire your Great Grandfather put his new wife back on her feet and paused for a moment before removing his hand from her mouth. ‘Quiet, now,’ he told her, and she looked at him in the darkness, and then lowered her head and sobbed. Your Great Grandfather put his arms around her gently and pulled her head into his shoulder, and held her there until her sobbing had slowed and her breathing returned to something closer to normal.

‘Normal?’ your Great Grandfather thought to himself. ‘What is normal in this world?’ But he said nothing, just held his new wife for a while in the crisp darkness, their feet growing cold in the bottom of the ditch beside the road.

In his pocket he had a pair of wire cutters, and he began carefully to cut a way through the tangle of barbed wire that filled the ditch. It was much worse in the ditch than along the miles of the wire that divided Lorraine from the rest of France. Up there, where kilometre after kilometre of orderly Teutonic fence stitched its way neatly around the disputed territory, the wires taut and tidy, just like a Teutonic fence should rightly be. In the ditch, so as not to disturb the line of the rest of the fence, the gap beneath was simply piled full of tangles of older, discarded wire, and staked into place with twenty or so steel pickets.

Behind them they could hear the noise from the road, Guillaume still shrieking in agony, boots clattering on the roadway, shouts and orders. Torches turning this way and that. Your Great Grandfather cut quickly and methodically, snipping away and slowly clearing a narrow path through the briar patch of clinging barbs.

Your Great Grandmother, a bride just that morning, leaned close and held bits of wire for her new husband to cut, and together they worked as quickly as they could because very soon now the Germans would bring the dogs and they would be stopped, and maybe shot or beaten and eventually killed and their bodies would be heaped in the square as a warning to the others. Maybe they would be just shot, quickly.

The wire clippers that your Great Grandfather had brought in his pocket were small and not as good as he had thought they would be. Or maybe the wire was a tougher sort than he was used to. Anyway, he had to squeeze the handles harder and harder to make them cut the wire, and he was sweating with the effort after a short time, and his new wife began looking back along the line of the ditch, worried that the cutting was taking so long, and fearing the sound of dogs, or the flashing of torches. She said nothing, but her fear passed over to her brand new husband, and he began to tremble with the effort. He was still less than half way through the tangle.

Your Great Grandmother leaned forward until her mouth was very close to her new husband’s ear. ‘We have to go, Jean. They will come very soon. We must go under.’

Your Great Grandfather paused, his head sagging. He looked around, listened to the abating noises from the road above them and knew that she was right, his new bride. If they didn’t want to die they would have to go, and quickly.

Your Great Grandmother lay down on her back in the mud and the slime and the shit and grasped the lower wires in the tangle, and pulled herself backwards and under the first strands, lifting the wire over her head. Your Great Grandfather lay down beside her and did the same, their heads sinking in the muck at the bottom of the ditch. They wriggled and pulled and heaved and caught their breath each time the barbs tore at their hands and their faces, and as they got further under the weight of the wires above them, sagging down and grasping, clinging, wounding, their bodies were pressed further and further into the mire.

They struggled harder and faster, each of them ignoring the blood that ran down their arms from the cuts and gouges and tears of the vicious wires that simply wouldn’t give up, wouldn’t let them through, struggling through the mud beneath them, the mud and the sharp stones and the water that felt freezing but which gave off a drifting light fog to indicate that it was warmer than the air which seemed to hang from the crystal clear sky above them, where the stars hung impassively over the struggle below.

They were both wearing black, not in camouflage in the darkness of the night but from custom, your Great Grandfather in a three-piece suit of sorts, long skirted jacket with very wide lapels, worn and shiny at the elbows. Turn-ups at the ankles. Braces. Belt, too, just in case.

Your Great Grandmother was wearing a high-necked frock, a tiny rim of white lacy stuff against her neck. Small, ball-shaped buttons shining blackly running down between her breasts. Ruffed sleeves, is that what they call them? Sort of fluffy and loose at the curve of the shoulders, making the shoulders seem wider and squarer. Long skirts almost touching the ground. Boots, black and nondescript. The barbs tugged at the clothing, tearing it and grasping it and holding them both back and down, your Great Grandmother the worse off by far. But they could do nothing about it except to keep struggling.

The pile of wire was maybe two metres wide at the bottom, and they were completely covered by it when they heard the dogs howling somewhere. There had been engines above, engines and weak lights flashing this way and that as vehicles, maybe an ambulance for Guillaume, backed and turned on the narrow roadway. And then the sound of dogs, and they froze for a moment as the sound of the first howl came to them.

On the roadway a sergeant slapped his thigh with his swagger stick and wondered how mad the world could get. He stood beside his truck and watched. The boys, the French boys, had run away as he had approached, darting away across the fields on either side of the road. His boys, almost incoherent with excitement and adrenaline, had told their tale. For his part, he had heard the same old story so many times that he could have recited it for them, line by line.

He examined the boy on the road, whimpering now instead of shrieking. Might die, he concluded, from shock or septicaemia, or maybe he’d just be a cripple all his life. The sergeant grunted, more to himself than to anyone in particular, and he sniffed and took out a cigarette, and lit it with a lighter he had made himself from a brass cartridge case and a few bits and pieces. He liked the feel of it in his pocket, and the smell of petrol which he stole from parked trucks.

His report would probably dwell on the fact that a Frenchman had been shot while trying to cross the border without papers. That would do. He knew without searching that there would be others who were really escaping at that very moment. He hoped they were well away before dawn, because otherwise he’d have to chase them, and he’d end up filthy and bloody-minded.

He drew on his cigarette, then went to back of the truck. ‘Better get your dogs down here, I suppose,’ he said, and turned away.

There were two dog handlers in the back of the truck, both of them lazy buggers in the eyes of the sergeant. Good dogs, though. The handlers lifted the canvas flap that had helped keep the cold out of the back of the truck, one of them climbing out and lowering the back of the truck. The two dogs stood eagerly on the edge of the truck, waiting to be told to jump down.


Jean and Madeleine headed south as quickly as they could. They had relatives in Lyon, relatives who had escaped before, relatives who could be counted on to help them, especially as Jean had money to bribe with. Not much, not when you think that they had to leave everything behind, but enough for what they needed.

They stayed in Lyon for five months, and on each of the nights they fucked and rooted and wallowed with each other and it was as good as Jean had hoped it would be, and much, much better than Madeleine had been told it would be.

The first night she grieved and wished that it had been Guillaume who pulled at her underwear and flung his hand at her cunt, wished that it had been brave, funny Guillaume who had cursed in frustration as his hands fumbled with all the buttons and cords of her clothing. Wished that it was Guillaume, Guillaume who had excited her so in the barn the year before but who had never quite got anywhere because Jean had come up and seen them, wished that it was Guillaume’s cock that had pushed into her and hurt her so much for a few minutes before… well, before realising that it was, indeed, Jean who was with her and Jean who was doing it and doing it so well and surprisingly and very soon indeed she was more than satisfied that it was Jean.

That was in the night. Well, the night and the morning. And, twice, in the middle of the day in the kitchen of Madame K, their hostess, while she was sweeping the yard just under the window, and when she could have looked around at any moment, and though she wouldn’t have seen much, she would have known what they were doing.

But they were quiet and controlled and it was a great adventure, doing it like that in front of everybody, in the quiet of the day when all that could be heard was the swish swish of the broom on the cobbles of the courtyard only metres from where they stood beside the sink, Madeleine holding on to the shaft of the pump with her eyes closed as Jean slipped his great thing in and out of her between her buttocks, holding her dresses up out of the way and she dying to cry out, to laugh, to call his name, to push back at him and widen her knees so that his great long cock could slip backwards and forwards so, so… deliciously.

All well and good. I remember the feeling only too well. But Jean had business to attend to, and once he had slipped out of Madeleine and wiped his penis clean on a corner of her petticoats and bobbed his buttocks back so that his shrivelling cock disappeared back into his pants, and he looked at her with his eyes wide and smiling, even loving, as he struggled with the buttons of his fly as she, Madeleine, your Great Grandmother, looked flushed and excited and shy and proud and laughing all at the same time, while all this was going on and while Madame K paused in her brooming to listen if they had finished yet so that she could go back into her kitchen, Jean’s mind turned back to the business of finding a place to go, a livelihood with which to earn their living, and a place to live that would allow them to get a big, wide bed so that they could fuck some more.

I guess you’re really too young for this. Maybe I should hold off until you’ve grown up some more. No? You want me to go on? Look, just don’t tell your mother I’ve told you this.

Now, this is the way fate works, you know, accidents happening, things just turning out right, sometimes things going wrong. The great John Lennon knew about it: ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’, he wrote to his son, Julian. And he was right, and that is what happened to Jean.

This is the way it went:

Monsieur K, his host, worked as a farrier. A shoer of horses. I saw his place once when I was a boy, when my mother took me to Lyon when I was eight or so. She was looking for Paul, and didn’t know his address, so she took me to Monsieur K’s place, the place where he still worked after all those years. I can picture it now, a great long colonnaded vault, hundreds of metres long and with a lazy curve around the place outside. It must have been twenty metres deep, unlit except by the daylight pouring through the smoke from the hooves and the braziers, daylight slanting in hard grey slabs between the long low arches that flanked one side of the building. It wasn’t a crowded place, but it was dark and busy and noisy and very, very smelly. Piles of dung under the back ends of the horses, great big cart-horse types, their backs much higher than the tallest of the men, tails bunched and ribboned, hooves the size of dinner plates under huge, shaggy fetlocks. Is that the right word?

Beside each farrier a brazier burning, jet-propelled by big bellows that the farrier worked by pulling a long pole down from the darkness above as the air blasted through the coals and the farrier turned the great steel shoes in the dazzling whiteness of the fire. One hand up to the pole, pump, pump, pump and turn the shoe with the tongs held in the great paw of the other hand. Then, suddenly, the tongs whip the shoe out of the fire and over the horn of the anvil and the hammer, short and fat and heavy, rings out in a perfect rhythm as the final shape of the shoe is fashioned right there, the horse looking back over its shoulder as if it had seen the same thing a thousand times. Probably had. The farrier tosses the shoe into the air, turns it and checks it from all angles and when he is happy with it he plunges it into a bucket of water at this feet which turns the glowing red metal a flat, hissing black, and he quickly raises the hoof and slaps the still hot steel onto the horn of the hoof, and a great cloud of brown, pungent smoke hisses up as the steel burns its way into the horn.

The horse looks on disinterestedly, stirring not a jot, and the farrier lifts the shoe from the hoof and plunges it back into the bucket until it cools.

A hand darts into the pouch in the front of his heavy leather apron, and suddenly the farrier has six long hand-made nails in his mouth, jutting like fangs. The shoe is back on its fresh-burned bed, and the hammer is raised, a lighter one now, and falls in quick blows on the heads of the nails as they are shot one two three four five six straight as arrows and into the hoof, holding the steel to the foot. The tips of the nails protrude through the sloping side of the hoof, and the farrier reaches for the pliers and neatly snips off the ends.

Then again the hand darts to the pouch and a rasp appears, a rasp as sharp as an adze, which slices and grinds at the edges of the hoof until the farrier, with one last careful look to check that all is well, lowers the hoof and straightens his back slowly. One more done, fourteen thousand more before he’s due to retire.

God, the memory of that place is so clear, even after nearly fifty years. Anyway, that was where Monsieur K worked, and had worked for half his adult life.

And on that second afternoon in Lyon, Jean visited him there. He stopped on the way and bought a twist of tobacco wrapped in a corner torn from the page of a newspaper, and walked along the crescent of the farriers hall and looked in through the arches as he walked, until he saw Monsieur K with his shoulder tucked into the haunches of a big black mare, dealing with the left front hoof.

Jean stopped in the archway and waited, waited until Monsieur K had finished, or until Monsieur K spotted him and could take a break. He watched, fascinated and slightly revolted by the noise and the fire and the smoke and smells and the driving of the nails into the feet of the horses, and he hoped he could find something else rather than farriering.

Mind you, he was ready for it if it came to that. He just hoped that it would be something else.

Monsieur K finally raised his head, moved it from side to side as he checked his handiwork, and dropped the hoof from between his legs. The big horse snuffled loudly, and shook her head in the way those big horses have, and Monsieur K ran his hand down her flank and gave a gentle pat to the horse, an action which conveyed long habit and clear affection.

He nodded briefly to Jean, who was leaning against the pillar of the archway, and went to the horse’s head and unhitched her, walking her back slowly to the bay at the rear of the hall where the waiting horses were tethered. With another slap to her rump, he untied the next horse, a smaller bay mare, and waited patiently as she backed out from the waiting line and turned to follow him.

Monsieur K tied the smaller mare to the iron ring protruding from the stonework of the pillar, and fussed with the small net of hay that would engage her attention during the shoeing, and filled the little stone trough that stood there from a waiting bucket . Then he moved towards the light in the archway and towards Jean, giving him a nod of acknowledgement. Jean nudged himself away from the pillar and stood waiting for him, his hand in his pocket fingering the present of tobacco in his pocket.

‘Ça va?’ Jean asked, and Monsieur K grunted his assent: things were going well. He looked down as Jean took the tobacco from his pocket, and the ends of his bushy moustache seemed to move slightly apart as his mouth, hidden by the hair, spread into a smile.

Jean passed the twist of newspaper containing the tobacco to him without comment, and Monsieur K grunted again, and patted his pocket, his breast pocket, as though unsure where his pipe might be. It was always there in his breast pocket, bowl upwards, or in his mouth, so the patting action was clearly one of convention rather than of necessity. He slid his hand under the heavy leather of the apron and withdrew the pipe with the air of a conjuror. He sat on a chair beside the pillar opposite the horse, and prepared the tobacco.

The Sergeant

Sergeant Donetti was Italian by birth, and so had not had an easy time of it in the German Army.

His mother had had him christened Mikki, which had not particularly helped, either. Mind you, the name was not, in those days, quite the subject of ridicule that it would be nowadays. But it didn’t help.

Mikki Donetti walked down off the road and into the ditch. On the roadway above he left the two boy soldiers, both crying now that they could see what had been done in the dark and the cold of the night when they had been left by themselves to cope with the difficult natives of a captured land.

There was an ambulance, and there were the dogs, growling and carrying on and quite enjoying the fuss. There were reinforcements from Sarreguemines, eager to rush about and make a noise, eager, actually, to shoot someone if the opportunity presented itself, because they had never suffered the opportunity before.

So Mikki Donetti left the roadway and went down into the ditch beside the road, into the darkness and away from the fuss, and when he reached the mud and the muck at the bottom of the ditch he pulled his torch from the back of his belt, the torch with the light set at an angle and the switch that always gave trouble. He held it for a while, but didn’t flick the switch over.

Ahead he could see the shadow that he guessed was the wire, and he moved quietly towards it, wondering if, in fact, they had got away. It would have been either this ditch or the one on the other side of the road. It always was one or the other.

When he reached the wire he stopped and listened, and he could hear the deep breathing of your Great Grandfather and your Great Grandmother. He could see very little, but he knew they were flat in the mud at the bottom of the trench, and he moved his right hand slowly across his body until he felt the flap of his holster. He pulled the flap free of the brass button, the strong polished leather resisting. Then he grasped the butt of the Luger and pulled it from the holster. With his left hand he cocked the weapon.

Sergeant Donetti had served for many years in a variety of armies, and he felt very little for the citizens that his armies crushed. They cared little for him: why should he care for them?

And it was always so, that the armies in which he served were maintained to subjugate the citizens. Either that or to subjugate new colonies. Anyway, it was nothing to him. Why would it be?

Mikki Donetti flicked the switch of his torch, and the light leaped out and showed the two faces, eyes wide, under the wire. Both had their hands up over their heads, grasping the wire. Blood showed redly on their hands and on their faces, and shreds of black material clinging to the wires where they had passed betrayed their paths. Slowly, Donetti raise his pistol and pointed it full at the face of the girl. He took up the pressure on the trigger.

He had seen much, Donetti had, and for amusement he pulled the torch back so that they could see the pistol pointed at the girl, wondering, with a part of his mind that he was not altogether proud of, what they would think of it.

For a moment none of the three moved. Then the girl deliberately moved her bloody hands to her throat and undid the top button of her gown. She didn’t blink, didn’t smile, didn’t cry out, didn’t shudder. It was as though she knew precisely what she had to do. The first button slipped from the button-hole, and her fingers moved down to the next, and to the next. Donetti watched, frozen, as she slipped each button free and pulled the cloth of her gown to one side, her eyes never moving from his though he knew she couldn’t see his face. The pistol barrel was rock steady in his hand, and pointed full at her face the whole while.

In half a minute she had exposed her right breast to him. The wire was heavy, and the points of the barbs pressed into her flesh. She ignored them and ran her hands over the mounds, her bloody fingers spread so that the nipple, hardened and pointed like an acorn, flipped forward into the space between each finger as her hand moved cross her breast. Her face never changed. Her eyes were like points of diamond-reflected light in the brightness of the torch. Donetti froze.

Her left had moved to the collar of her gown and the material there, too was parted and pulled aside, and her hand moved over the second breast as the other had over the first. Her face never changed through all of this, and your Great Grandfather lay silent and unmoving next to her, though he must have been aware of what she was doing.

Donetti was aware, only too aware, of what she was doing. He didn’t object. He had only to tighten his finger and she would be gone, and the man, too, in an instant if he chose it. But the moment of choosing was not yet upon him, and he watched with growing excitement as the girl looked straight at him and toyed with her breasts with feigned arousal for his excitement. His barrel still rock-steady.

After a moment she stopped toying with her body, and rested. Not one of them moved, and after a few seconds she moved her hands up over her head and grasped the wire ahead of her, and pulled herself toward her hands, wriggling her body backwards until she moved a little towards freedom. Her gown was still open, and the barbs scratched her breasts, and in the light of the torch he could see the thin lines of blood oozing. Steadily, she raised her hands again and wriggled onwards, her eyes unflinching.

In a minute, not much more, her upper body was free of the wire, and she drew herself up onto her arms and dragged her legs free, too. Donetti followed her movements with the torch, the pistol still tracing the movements of her face. He was sweating a little now, and his heart was racing. The pistol, though, was steady.

Your Great Grandfather was still lying in the mud, under the wire. His head was thrown back, watching, mesmerized. He knew, as his brand new wife did, that they were probably dead, that it was unthinkable that they would survive. He could hear the heavy breathing from the shadow behind the pistol, and he lay still, wondering how his bride knew what to do.

Slowly, your Great Grandmother made a rising motion, her eyes questioning. The sergeant did nothing for a moment, then with an almost imperceptible motion of the pistol, he signalled to her that she could stand. Smoothly, she rose to her feet. Her back was saturated, her hair clung to the nape of her neck. Her gown was snagged in a hundred places, little torn tongues of material hanging down where the barbs had grasped the material. The front of her gown was open at the top, and her left breast protruded, the skin striped with oozing scratches.

Conscious of the finger already tight on the trigger of the pistol, your Great Grandmother, a girl of impeccable modesty according to her family, well, most of them, anyway, though her older brothers could have told a thing or two, your Great Grandmother moved her hands to the highest of the fastened buttons and released it. Her hands moved downwards and released the next button, too, and then the next.

And your Great Grandfather, who had not yet had his chance to fuck her even though he had married her just that morning, lay in the mud and the slime beside her, held under the wire by the pistol barrel pointed still at her face, and watched as she opened her clothes and let the shadow with the gun see her body. His cock was engorged and his heart was beating as loudly as the sergeant’s, and he began to wonder if they might not, after all, survive. Or maybe she would, anyway.

Even then, he wished her good luck.

Of course they survived. How could they be your Great Grandparents if they hadn’t?

I don’t really care if you don’t understand. You will when you are grown enough to have felt these things for yourself. But you should know. I want you to know.

Your Great Grandmother undid all the buttons of her gown and undid the cords that supported her ballooning underwear, and the Sergeant looked at her, and for a moment or two he wondered how he could get to her to do something really exciting for him, but he had a wife at home in a little village in the very north of Germany, and a daughter only half this girl’s age, and he knew that he should not. He let her stand for a moment with her body open to him, lowered his torch so it was centered on her cunt, or rather her mound because of course he couldn’t see anything else, and held it there. It was too much.

Mikki Donetti flicked the switch of the torch and the darkness flooded in on them. He wanted to turn away immediately, but his eyes had been blinded by the light, and he would have to wait a while. His pistol hand dropped beside him and his shoulders slumped. How could he have done that? Easily, he answered himself in loathing: men always do that sort of thing. He was, unfortunately, right.

It was odd, being there in the dark like that. It seemed as though there was absolute silence there in the ditch beside the wire that cut one part of France from the remainder, though in fact the noise from the road above was greater now than it had been before, just after the shooting. Truck engines, steel-clad boots, shouts in the darkness. In the distance, probably in the village, dogs barking. But by the wire it seemed silent, as though all three of them were focused on just one thing: the sergeant, and his decision to release them. They could each hear the other two breathing, your Great Grandmother’s the rasping breath of someone in high excitement; your Great Grandfather’s the quiet, deep breathing of someone who has expected to die but who might now live a little longer; and Mikki’s, the breathing of someone who has witnessed something that he will remember like a black and white movie strip for the rest of his life.

It took half a minute or so for the Sergeant’s vision to return, and he turned and moved off as soon as could see. Your Great Grandfather watched him cautiously from beneath the wire, and then began to pull himself backwards towards his bride, who had bent and begun fastening the buttons of her gown.

When she had finished she turned to the wire and lifted the bottom edge to help your Great Grandfather get out from under the tangle more quickly, and as he emerged, pupa-like, she held him tightly and helped him to stand. She wasn’t at all sure how he would react to her: she knew that men were funny about things like that, that a man could just as likely fly into a jealous rage as he could be thankful that her action had saved both their lives.

Your Great Grandfather dragged himself out from under the wire, and smiled at her shyly in the darkness. Then he took both her shoulders in his hands and pulled her towards him, pleased that she had shown both courage and resourcefulness, to say nothing of understanding the German’s mind. He hoped that she would demonstrate equal good sense by never mentioning the event again.

So that’s the stories of your grandparents. The beginnings of the stories, anyway. Are you shocked? Yes, I can see you are. As I said before, don’t tell your mother I told you about it. You don’t know much about women yet, but you'll discover that they prefer to believe that everything is like a fairy story.

I can tell you, life isn’t like that.

Did you like this story? Or did you hate it? Or perhaps something in between? Well, you can let me know what you thought... email me at micheldignand@gmail.com

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