Meeting Margaret, Chapter 8

Dear Margie,
I know I will be home soon. We’re almost done beating Germany into the dust. It is such a wonderful feeling, to know that America has won—or will win—and to know that I helped, I am part of it.
I will be home in time to plant the crops this year, I am sure. By then the flowers will be blooming, the grass will be lush and green. We can plant the garden together. And we can put our clean clothes out on the line to dry in the spring breezes. The hens will hatch their chicks and lead them proudly around the barnyard. And we will be there together. Hold on, Margie, don’t give up—we’re almost together now, it won’t be long now.
With all my love, Lee

Margie smiled and pressed the letter to her lips. It was still cold and wintery outside, but she could almost feel spring coming. It won’t be long now, she whispered.

“We’re coming up to another village,” Ralph said.
Lee groaned.
“Not another one—they just slow us down.”
“I’ve heard that we’re going to turn this one into a support base, that should be more interesting.”
They reached the village—it appeared to be mostly deserted.
“Go through and search the houses. Make sure there’s no one left anywhere, not for 10 miles around. We can’t afford spies here,” they were commanded.
Lee, Ralph, and the rest of their group started down the main street of the village. They found an old woman crouched near a flickering fire. She was crazed, and they couldn’t talk any sense into her. She was frightened by the men—she shrunk back from them in terror, and refused to open her mouth, save for screaming unintelligible sounds at them.
The men shrugged and decided to leave her for the time and come back later for her. They divided the town up into sections to cover, Lee and Ralph took the outskirts of it.
“Looks like there’s someone out there,” Ralph said. It was evening, and a light gleamed from the countryside.
“We were told not to leave anybody around here,” Lee replied. “I suppose I should go out there and see,” he sighed.
“Want me to come?”
“No, it probably isn’t anything much, you don’t need to walk out there in the snow and waste your night. I’ll be back soon. Don’t worry.”
Lee trudged towards the light—away from that village that was called Elsteraue.

Margaret had another dream about Nikki. She dreamt that he returned home, only to find Margaret in the village, and the farm overtaken by strange people who refused to accept Nikki as the true owner. He found Margaret and asked her what had happened.
“Those people wanted it, and I didn’t think you would mind. It is just a piece of land—what does that matter? We still have each other,” she said.
He became angry with her—angrier than he had ever been.
“It is just a piece of land?” he shouted. “It is our land, it is where we belong. We’ll wander around without a penny to our name now. We’ll work for other people just to get enough money to survive. We’ll just be beggars, without anything.”
She started crying.
He continued ruthlessly.
“We were known as Nikki and Margaret, with the farm that could make them rich. Now we’re nothing. What do we have now? Nothing. We have each other, but what is that if we have to spend our time finding just enough food for today?”
And Margaret woke up, there was a knock at the door.

He reached the house, it looked deserted save for the candle burning in the window. He knocked at the door.
There was no sound.
So he knocked again.
At last he heard footsteps.
A woman opened the door.
“Yes?” she said cautiously.
Lee said nothing for a moment, but finally gained the courage to speak.
“I am from America, I am a soldier.”
“Yes, I know that,” she said, looking over his clothing.
“The Americans are winning the war. We are taking over Germany.”
She was shocked at these words—what would happen to Nikki if the Americans won?
 “Are you telling the truth? Is this for real?”
 He nodded, and couldn’t help but smile a little.
“Yes, it is true—we have won.”
“You have won—I have lost,” she said bitterly.
There was an awkward silence as Lee realized her position.
“So what are you doing here?”
“We’re claiming the land. You will have to leave, you’ll have to come to town and the commanders will decide what to do with you. We kill most of the people we find or take prisoners—maybe we will let you go,” he added to appease her.
She said nothing.
“Do you have any food here?” he asked.
She nodded grimly.
“And animals?”
She nodded again.
“I am sorry, but we will have to confiscate that. The troops need food, they are starving.”
“I will not leave this land,” she said quietly, but forcefully.
“But I have orders—we don’t want spies, and how do we know you aren’t a Germany spy who will report on us?”
“I will not leave.”
She tried to close the door on him, but in fit of anger he shoved it open again—hitting the woman on the head. 
 “Don’t come in here,” she screamed, but he burst into her home.
They stood looking at each other for a moment. Lee noticed her dark hair was pulled back in a disheveled bun, her strong jaw was set firmly and stubbornly, and her green eyes glared at the intruder.
“My husband is coming back to our farm, and I will not leave,” she said. “What if he comes back and I am not here?”
Her anger broke into sorrow, and she started crying.
“I’ve been waiting here for him, it seems like years and years. We’re going to plant the fields, and grow a garden together, and..and…and raise children. You can’t take this away from me—it is all we have.”
“Margie?” he murmured. “What is going on?”
She was startled to hear his words.
“Who are you? I don’t know you.”

“Margie…Margie…what is this?” he said, as if in a daze.
“How do you know my name? How do you know who I am?”

He looked at her in confusion.
“I don’t know you.”
 “But that’s my name—that’s what my husband called me, Margie. How do you know?”
“I can’t do this…” he cried. “I can’t keep going.”
“What do you know? Do you know Nikki? Tell me how he is,” she continued begging, frightened by what he said.
“What would Margie say? How could I face her and remember what I have done?”
He backed out of the house, as if afraid of the woman.
“Where are you going? Tell me about Nikki, please!” she called after him, falling on her knees and crying into her hands.
Lee stood outside in the snow for a long time, not knowing what to do.
“I have to get out of this, I can’t keep going.”
Lee walked slowly back to the village, hoping that perhaps an idea would come to him, a way to escape.
He realized he would have to say something about the house he visited, who was there, and why he didn’t bring them back.
I’ll tell them it was an old woman, she was nearly dead and I didn’t want to bother dragging her back here, he decided.
He just reached the fringe of the village when he heard strange sounds from behind a building.  Lee followed the noise, to see what it was.
It was an insane man, raving and screaming. He brandished a knife, and waved it around as if it were not a deadly weapon. Lee watched him—unseen—for a moment, and then recklessly accosted the man.
“Who are you?” Lee demanded.
“Karl, but it is not of your business,” the man said.
“What are you doing with that knife?” Lee asked.
“Protecting myself, so I can defend myself if they come again.”
Lee heard footsteps, it was probably Ralph and others coming to see what the commotion was. Lee lunged at the man—they wrestled viciously. And as he heard Ralph approaching, Lee threw his right hand in front of his face to protect himself from the knife aimed for his face. It sliced through his hand instead.
The other soldiers quickly grabbed the man, but it was too late to save Lee, his hand was already mangled.

“There’s no way we can save it, there’s too much infection already,” a doctor said, leaning over Lee. “We’ll have to amputate.”

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