by Posy Stoller
A crane pecked at the tower.
Soldiers scrambled, pulling strings of dynamite wrapped in butcher paper, pushing grimy wheelbarrows, unfolding dusty tarps, securing nets.
Soldiers shouted to be heard over soldiers who shouted to be heard.
It was raining sharp slices of metal onto the Champ de Mars. Sometimes they landed in the wheelbarrows where they belonged.
The wheelbarrows were labeled: PARIS – FER.
Full wheelbarrows were brought to a boxcar labeled: PARIS – GUERRE. Underneath that label in smaller letters FER POUR LE RECYCLAGE had been added in orange paint.
The boxcar was made of tin and held together with iron nails.
Full wheelbarrows were emptied alongside door hinges, drain pipes, window frames, hammer heads, and a green glass bottle with a paper label that read, 1000 mg Powdered Iron
For the Treatment of Chlorosis.
Albert Faucher wondered if the bottle had been put there by an idiot or someone trying to be funny. He crossed the boxcar to retrieve it.
Albert sank deeper into the debris with each step. He didn’t notice. He was thinking about the person who put the bottle in the car: A traitor. Shouldn’t be here.
Albert brought the bottle to the Sergeant on the green ornamental wrought-iron bench. He took a seat on the Sergeant’s left.
Albert and Sergeant Winfield Moore were taking a break. The Sergeant was trying not to fall asleep. He hadn’t slept for two days. Albert was holding the glass bottle with one hand and shielding his eyes from the sun with the other. A red sun was setting. It came down with the tower. Albert’s heart swelled with pride.
“The tower took two years to build, sir.”
“Two years to raise and two months to raze.” The Sergeant’s voice sounded like bullets.
In two months, the Sergeant would be dishonorably discharged.
“It was useless.” Bullets.
“A big, ugly thing.” Bullets.
Albert was reminded of his mother. He thought of a poster in her classroom.
There was a rusty picture frame in the boxcar. It had orange splotches as if it were infected. The Sergeant had seen a man like that: all rusty.
A piece of iron screeched against another piece of iron on its way down. Both pieces landed with a clank in front of Albert and the Sergeant.
The crane bobbed up and down like a novelty drinking toy. Albert and the Sergeant bobbed up and down to dodge the falling metal. They had gotten good at this. They didn’t notice themselves doing it.
“Faucher. I have to tell you something.”
Albert flinched. He exaggerated the motion. It was always the more experienced soldiers who flinched. Every time Albert flinched, the Sergeant would say, “Albert! Are you going wacko?”
“Here it is: I haven’t slept for five days. I lie awake and I just think about this damn thing. I feel like I’m dying. I think I’m going to lie awake until I die.”
“Do you think about women?”
The Sergeant wasn’t smiling. “You really are going wacko. Is there a brain underneath that helmet? Right left all the way to la cantine.”
“I think about America. I think about New York. Have you ever seen New York?”
“No sir. But that’s where you put the Statue of Liberty.”
“First to go.”
“Don’t worry. She wasn’t pretty. She made a million bullets. A million and some change.”
A soldier lit the wick of a stick of dynamite. The blasting cap blew up. An iron rain came down.
The Sergeant flinched. It was always the experienced soldiers who flinched. “I’m going wacko. It’s because I haven’t slept for five days.”
The Sergeant saw the green glass bottle in Albert’s grubby hand. Albert’s nails were cracked. They were thin and concave. He was developing chlorosis.
The Sergeant stared at the bottle. He couldn’t look away. “That sure is funny.”
Albert didn’t reply. He was thinking about the ungrateful Americans who took down the Statue of Liberty. It was a gift.
A crane swept in and landed heavily on the tower.
“Something on your mind, Faucher?”
“I was thinking about where we’ll be after this. When the tower is down and our deployment is up.”
The Sergeant frowned. “Montenegro. Hopefully.”
Albert was happy to hear this. He hoped for Montenegro. It was supposed to be warm. Sergeant Albert would be in Montenegro and Winfield Moore would be in a welfare office in New York where it was raining real rain.
About the Author:
Posy Stoller draws her inspiration from history, particularly the Russian Revolution and the American Civil War. She likes to write plays, poems, and things that make people laugh. Posy holds a Guinness World Record for wearing a sticker on her forehead for two years. She currently lives in La Jolla, California.