The old man tried to wipe the sooty dust from his face, succeeding only in leaving a grey smear across his forehead. I helped him roll his sleeve up his shaking arm. He was nervous, but I didn’t really care. I was in a hurry to get the needle in between explosions. As soon as the walls and shelves lined with blood vials stopped shaking I slid the needle in and taped it down. The old man winced, crimping his already-ancient visage into a hundred crisscrossed lines. He was lucky to look so old; no one could tell the difference between a German and a Pole with a face that looked a hundred. He was a Pole, so maybe he was. Not exactly prime donor material. And after living in this city for the past two weeks, I’m sure he was malnourished and probably anemic. But we needed every pint of blood we could get.
Another shell slammed down somewhere outside, and the free-hanging lightbulbs overhead swung violently, shaking through the billows of dust from upstairs. Leaving a corpsman to pump the old man’s blood, I wiped the sweat from my hands and walked through the thick blankets hung over the shattered doorway to the clinic. The light was blinding. I winced, probably looking much like that old man, and raised a hand. I was standing in the partially-destroyed second story of a brick apartment. It seemed like I was standing inside a huge, gaping mouth. Into the mouth were pouring pairs of medics carrying gurneys. Stepping between the rows of body bags and bustling medics, I walked out of the mouth and down the shifting slope of rubble to the street.
I pulled a cigarette from the carton in my shirt pocket and wound my way through the riven streets, going nowhere in particular. I think I felt it was my duty to remember what we did to that old Pole’s city. I found myself perched on the carcass of a burned-out Sherman. I watched the planes move over the streets like schools of rays in the ocean; slow, ghostly, flying ceaselessly to some unknown destination. I guessed they were on their way to Berlin. Somewhere on the street, I heard the sharp retort of cracking glass.
“Bitte!” came a little voice.
Looking back to earth, I saw a small girl stumbling down the street towards me. She was wearing a coat much too large for her, her feet were bare– and she had been shot. There was a dark bloodstain covering the front of her coat. Swinging down from the tank, I ran to her and scooped her up. I made my way quick as I could back to the clinic. She seemed to be objecting as I climbed the rubble slope back into the apartment. “Got a little girl,” I yelled as I laid her down. One of the medics pulled her coat off as I looked for the bullet wound. To my surprise, there wasn’t one. The girl sat up and repeated the same phrase from when I brought her in. Confused, I looked again at the blood on her coat. It was then that I noticed the gold bars and red band on the arms. It was an officer’s coat.
Abruptly the girl’s face scrunched in confusion and her mouth hung open mid-sentence. “Opa?” she whispered, looking past me.
I turned around, and there was the old man, emerging from the blood bank, still fixing his sleeve. He exclaimed something in Polish and rushed to his granddaughter.