I am with my company of soldiers. We have been invited to spend a few days oversees, in the home country of our age-old enemy. Do I believe they deal in good faith? Of course not, when have they ever? But my mate, a handsome charming fellow, clearly officer material and one I’d follow to the ends of the earth, dislikes the whole affair. He says “look at how quick we were shipped over here. We arrive, and there’s no ceremony, no fanfare. I am not a man who needs fanfare, you know that, yes?” I nod. “When powers such as us meet” -as I said, he officer is officer material; you do not call the man who invites you over an enemy while you are in his house, even if that is what you are- “there needs to be fanfare, to show the whole deal is in good faith, not to smuggle us in like a whore to a politician’s bedchamber.” But at this point we are passing the officer’s tents and I look over at them in disgust, thinking over what my friend has said. Why did they not demand more? Why are we sitting here, in tents in a muddy field, when we clearly deserve more respect than this? And in the middle of this stands one of the old witches of politics, in her pressed, expensive suite, and her hair bound up like every hair would be shot from being out of line. It is her fault we are here, it’s her fault we are in these conditions.
we salute, my mate and I, hoping to be ignored over the presence of the witch. But the officer looks up, sets his eye on me, and barks my name. “Your assigned to the welfare of Madame. Post begins now.” And he turns back to the old women. To Madame.My friend squeezes my shoulder in sympathy and slips away without a word.
I ease behind Madame and a little to one side, much like I had seen aids do. Eased into a perfect condition to hear her complaints to the officer as it turns out. “What do they think we are, mountain men? We have spent months putting this together, and while yes, I understand the difficulties in moving up the summit, there should not have been this lack of care. Have you heard anything from the department?”
“Not what you requested, Madame, but there has been a schedule released for the next couple of days.” He hands her the piece of paper, and she looks at it with disdain.
“Very well.” She turns away from the officer like he ceased to exist. I find that terrible attention turned to me. She does not say anything for a long moment, simply looks me up and down, assessing, judging. I do not get the impression that she likes what she sees. It is like she can see the young man who very much did not want to be a soldier, who wanted to write or start a family or a million other things that the draft kept him from. I know it makes me weak. And yet, I’ve never felt like a particularly strong man. I feel like a small boy under her gaze.
“Come with me,” is all she says. The phrase is as ominous as it sounds.
I spend the day running, fetching, carrying, never quite fast enough and without end, while Madame inexplicable bounces her grand-niece on her knee.
When she dismisses me, the sun has gone down hours before, and the grand-niece has retired long before even that. Never have I been so jealous of a baby before. As I am about to stumble out of the tent, thinking longingly of my well-worn sleeping bag and ignoring the hole of my stomach, she asks “have you eaten yet?”
It takes all my willpower to hold back the scathing remark on my tongue, that I hadn’t eaten anything all day, and while not completely unusual, this was supposed to be a holiday of sorts, that I had worked hard for this posting. “No, Madame.”
Without a word, she pulls away an inconspicuous cloth on the small table. And what a feast it reveals. No soldiers rations, not in the slightest. There’s fish and lemon and potatoes and three kinds of vegetable and a technicolor of fruit and even a small pastry tucked up on the rim of the plate. It’s a sight to make a man weep. It’s only after I’m mopping up the last of the grease with the potatoes, thinking lustfully of that first bite of pastry, that I look up at Madame. She’s going over documents by candlelight and what I could swear was a small smile playing at the corners of her lips.
The morning, if anything, brings more chaos that the previous day. There is the baby to dress and feed, the schedule to verify, the driver to inform, the breakfast to fetch, my own a peach tossed by one of my fellows, the suit to be pressed. And, with what seems like little fuss, I’m shoving a stroller the in the trunk of a car and we are off.
We arrive at our destination, a building that looks impressive enough, but I am unable to determine it’s function. We trek up stairs, down stair, me carrying the stroller as Madame holds the baby, sit in meetings, peer at workers through glass, and occasionally push the baby, soothing the little girl when she cries. Of everyone involved, the baby’s the only one that eats lunch. I think of the little wrapped package I tucked away in the baby’s bag, and resolve to refrain from unwrapping it until this latest attraction was over with. I suppose I should have payed more attention to whatever they were showing off. I knew my friend would while pretending to look dashingly absorbed in the baby. And yet it was. so. dull. It seemed a good enough reason to stay out of politics simply to avoid event like this.
“Madame,” I call to her when begin to walk between functions. She raises an eyebrow, but I can see the tightness to her eyes. I dig out the package and display the measly little lunch that was hidden away. “I know it’s not much, but…” She smiles and takes half of the sandwich, walking next to me as I push the baby in front of us.
“I am sorry for dragging you into this.” Madame says unexpectedly between bites. “It really is rather dull, isn’t it. I’d rather expected you’d get a couple of good meals out of it.”
“No complaints, Madame.” I say, because that’s simply what you say, even if you’ve been daydreaming of breakfast, or wondering what your mate is complaining about this time and to who.
She smiles at me, as if she knows exactly how bored I am. “I’ll yell at someone about the meals, all the same.”
And then I wake up, remembering I am in fact a twenty-three year old female, recently graduated with an art degree and wondering why the hell I keep dreaming I’m a soldier.