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The Beaches of Normandy

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War-children 1465430c

Have you ever awakened at 3 am, screaming at the top of your lungs and ripping your vocal chords to shreds? Have you ever had the same recurring dream torment you in your sleep, making you rock and sway from side to side in a stressed and strained slumber? Have you looked at a tired, sweaty face in the mirror with heavy, purple bags dragging your eyes down, to match your mood in the aftermath of the dreaded imagination storm?

Kenneth Harrington is an 89 year old man, who currently resides at the Craddockstown nursing home, for the elderly. He seems to have unleashed himself from the dark grasping grips of a dreaded family curse.

This particular man has lived a very eventful life, which has been affected particularly badly by tragedy. He served as a foot soldier for the British Army in World War 2, stationed in France. His army corps, the I Corps, was stationed near the Normandy city of Caen. They were to be a significant factor, in the turning of the war in favour of the allies, and Kenneth himself fought in Operation Overlord alongside American and Canadian troops.

His experiences in France were eventful to say the least, and not for good reasons. His incident as a war veteran has seen him turn into a campaigner for peace and have made him very politically active. As he gazes out the window on a hazy, blue skied dawn, the nurses can only think about how withdrawn he has been from the other residences lately. One of the older nurses, Mrs. Murphy, enters the room.

The room itself is something very typical that you would find, from a single bedroom within a nursing room. It was tiny, but had everything a man of his age needed. Cheesy, flowery blanket and light pink pillow and sheets on a small single bed. A small set of shiny, oak drawers positioned nicely beside it, on top of a squeaky linen floor, trying its best to represent small planks of wood. The room was painted a crispy, mint green, which collided beautifully with the brown, linen “wood”.

A wrinkled, crimson, leather armchair sat comfortably in the corner of the room beside the window. In the middle strip of the room, a small wardrobe stood guard on the right wall, facing a wooden dressing table, with a mirror just above it. The left hand side of the shelf contained everyday items such as a comb, a few books, a bottle of water and other assorted items not worth remembering. A small, straw, overflowing wastebasket lay hidden under the table, which needed to be emptied out.

On the other side of the shelf, you can see his colourful army medals and badges, and pictures of his family, most of which are black & white and brown, while there are also a few modern coloured pictures. All photos are neatly framed.

“Hello Mr. Harrington!” Ms. Murphy greeted him with a cheery smile. “How are you feeling today?”

Her short, dark grey hair was tied up in a bun, which sat upon her cheery, plump red face. Just like the rest of the staff, she smiled with pride in her pale green uniform as she tried to brighten the day of Kenneth. Kenneth acknowledged her efforts with a small solemn grin, but this did nothing to affect his rancid mood.

“Don’t forget, that I have booked an appointment for you to see Mrs. Wejerowska, a local councillor, for today at 1 pm.” She said to him. Kenneth threw his eyes up to heaven while squinting a little, as his play-pretend grin turned into an open-mouthed reaction of confusion and attempted remembrance. His mouth then opened slightly wider and his head jolted north a little as he suddenly remembered.

They had previously met briefly a few days ago, to discuss his traumatic nightmare, which he had recurring to him during the 50s and the early 60s. She agreed to discuss this fully and thoroughly with him a few days later however, as she had an unusually very busy schedule. At last now though, the day had finally arrived. The terrible recurring nightmare had tormented poor Kenneth in the past when he was only a young man. He had received psychological treatment for it and eventually the dreams stopped.

Kenneth lived a happy life after that. He met a woman named Mary when he was in his late thirties, whom he married and raised 8 healthy children. He was now beginning to lose count of the amount of grandchildren that he had. Unfortunately for him however, Mary had lost her battle with lung cancer in 2001. Twenty cigarettes a day for around 50 years had really taken its affect on her. Her tongue swelled up and for the last few months of her life she remained in horrible unbearable pain. The poor woman couldn’t even stop then, despite what the awful addiction had reduced her to.

Kenneth had been a resident here since 2008. It was 5 years ago that both his youngest son, Barry, and his wife, Caroline, had agreed that he was no longer suited to taking care of himself. This thought had occurred after a long line of phone calls early that year, as Kenneth became old, frail and struggled to perform everyday tasks. They had an adolescent son, by the name of Ethan, and the last thing they needed was to be constantly driving up to Kenneth and spoon feeding him with everything. At first he opposed, saying he would “rather rot in prison” but has eventually gotten used to it here, and it is regarded as one of the best nursing homes in the country.

After a small lunch of bread rolls, soup and mashed banana, Kenneth strolled down the long hallway of the home, relying on his walking stick for balance for his miniature journey. The halls were a pale orange with a navy and orange checkered carpet. Kenneth thought about how repulsive it looked in his eyes, compared to the nicer design of the rooms, just as he had arrived to his own. He slowly creaked open the door and peered in, to find that Mrs. Wejerowska has already sat down in his chair, and is furiously taking down notes in a large black notepad.

“Mr. Harrington!” she says in a loud, yet welcoming voice, “My name is Emili Wejerowska, you probably remember me from a few days ago! Please, take a seat over there!” She pointed the chair at his desk as she approaches a fold up chair which Kenneth had never seen before.

She spoke in an Americanized, Eastern European accent. She had medium length bleach blonde hair which brushed off the tips of her shoulder. She styled a perky, perfectly straight fringe on her forehead and had shiny white teeth which clashed with cute, large, red lips. For somebody who was allegedly in their thirties, she certainly looked wonderful for her age.

She set up a recorder on the desk and readied her notebook on her lap. She took a pen from the inside of her mossy green blazer. When she was finished setting up, she crossed her legs and looked up smiling at Kenneth. He had an obvious false look of confidence on his face, which screamed that he was disguising any sort of trepidation that he had tried his very best to bury at the back of his mind.

“So tell me, Mr. Harrington, when did you first start having this dream?” She asked, in a soothing tone, which indicated that he could trust her.

Kenneth swallowed the lump in throat as he prepared so spit out something he considered far worse.

“I first had back in 1951, if I correctly re-call. Back then I had it once every few months, maybe? I saw it as more of an annoyance than anything. However, as the years went on, I began to have it more frequently, up until that dreaded month of March 1963, when it came to me every single night.”

Emili quickly etched down some notes, writing with her scratchy blue pen. “Please continue.” She asked.

“The mental pain of that dream had become too much, so one night, in a desperate attempt, I went down to the kitchen and took out a packet of Paracetamol.” He told her, with the ball in his throat returning once more. “I took an entire packet of those tablets. I felt the world around me fade away as I heard the same cries that I do in that damned dream. The only thing keeping me through it all was the thought that it would all soon be over.”

“How did you pull through?” she asked with a look of shock on her face.

“The Paracetamol had sent me into a coma for a few days.” he replied oddly quickly. “While I was in that coma, the dream had repeated through my head, and there was absolutely nothing to do about it. I had become a slave to my own personal demons.”

Emili scribbled down some more writing.

“Kenneth.” She said, gazing into his shattered eyes as he relived the memory which tore his life apart, “I know this is difficult for you, but I need you to tell me what happened in that dream.”

Kenneth fixed his eyes still at the ground keeping the same pose on his face as he had done so throughout the interview. Emili continued to look at him throughout this piercing silence. “I am ready when you are,” she reassured him one last time.

Kenneth continued to remain motionless for a few seconds, before he started speaking in a quiet tone. “It starts out with me taking cover on the same beach I was on during D-Day, taking part in Operation Overlord.” He paused once more and for the first time had made eye contact with Emili’s exotic green eyes.

“At first I see nothing, but can hear everything. The sound of gunfire, the sound of grenades, the sound of clinking as bullets hit the helmets and armour of my fellow soldiers. I can also hear the sounds of the enemy dying, but we’re not enemies, our countries are. You can hear every vivid sound that I had heard on that horrible day. You can hear the thuds as young, brainwashed youths are transformed into lifeless bags of flesh in armour.

“And then, I open my eyes.

“All the soldiers, are children. They are children as young as 6 and 7, in armour, uniform and helmets, holding guns and throwing grenades at each other. There are children marching off of the boats and running into cover. It’s like a lawless, monstrous playground. I look at my little legs, my little arms and I cry out words in my little innocent voice as I raise my gun and shoot with my little hands and fingers. You can see the children screaming like passionate full grown soldiers, only to turn into sudden cold, pale, bloodied little bodies. Every time I saw a child die in my dream, a little white coffin with his tiny little corpse inside would burn itself into my brain in a blinding white flash.

“I look to my left, and I see a little boy getting shot. The bullet doesn’t leave a clean little hole however. You can see his tiny chest get ripped open, with ribs now poking out of chest as he falls to the sandy ground, wide eyed and colour-drained. Two more children rush over to pick him up by the arms

“I then look to my right, and I see my brother. He’s holding his head in his hands and squinting his eyes in what looks like ferocious pain. He has a look of mass confusion underneath all of the pain, as though he couldn’t quite take it all in. We exchange those childish eyes, where we can communicate without even speaking. I like to refer to it as sibling language.”

Emili was quiet the entire time that Kenneth was talking, frequently taking notes and looking back up at him in awe. She had never heard such a gruelling tale from anybody in her entire life, and she was fascinated as to how Kenneth had lived on triumphantly through these experiences. Kenneth gave her one glaring look, as she straightened up her face and perked her pen at the ready.

“And then all hell broke loose.

“The entire ocean and sky turn black as all the other children, apart from me and my brother, turned completely white with black outlines. Both me and my brother are now 21 years of age each. The beach and hills in the horizon all remain the same colour. Everything freezes as a dark green grenade comes flying in behind the sandbags we are hiding behind. A grenade as green as these walls. A grenade as green as your jacket. A grenade as green as your eyes. I see my brother’s eyes grow as wide as the impending explosion from the frightening weapon. I stare at it with utter fear, still entirely unsure as to what exactly is going on, as I catch sight my brother dive on it from the corner of my eye

“All I can do is look on in revulsion as I selfishly think to myself that I’m glad it wasn’t me. I can see tears stream from my brother’s eyes who was now staring at me, smiling. He knew that I was going to go home alright, and that he had saved my life. My mind could not produce a sadness great enough to cope with what had happened. It had been at that moment that I realised war had not taught me how to die for my country, but had only taught me that lives and limbs get torn apart, as the young and sweet die without vain for the elderly and the bitter.

“The ticker expires. The bang rings my ears. Blood and bone everywhere. Chunks of skin everywhere. Tattered uniform everywhere.”

Tears poured from Kenneth’s eyes like a passionate waterfall in remembrance of his brother’s courageous act. Emili turned off the recorder and squeezed Kenneth’s hand tightly and smiled at his courage, at the ability to tell her everything he had encountered. He looked up at her through his bloodshot, teary eyes and squeezed her hand back even harder, smiling while doing so.

“Every family member of mine who has went to war, has died. A great Uncle had died during the Easter Rising, another Uncle had died in the war of independence, I’ve heard stories passed down by my ancestors of them dying defending their country during revolution. Then of course there’s my brother. I seem to be the lucky one. The one that got a second chance. The sole survivor.

“Just last week, I had the exact same dream, Emili, only this time, I wasn’t on a beach in Normandy, I was in a desert, and the shooting was occurring from a house and there was sand and desert rock everywhere. I thought that I had finally left it behind, Emili, I thought that it had gone.”

Emili stayed with Kenneth for what was a 5 minute silence. Kenneth enjoyed her company and was glad that he had somebody to spill it all out to. He sat there feeling relieved that the terrible memory, which had subsided after his coma and briefly returned, had finally been put to rest, had finally been at ease and that he could finally be comfortable living with it, rather than just have it ferment at the back of his head like sour, gone off milk.

As they both sat in silence, Ms. Murphy cracked open the door with a gloomy look on her face.

“May I speak with you for a second, Emili?” she asked.

“Of course.” Emili replied.

Emili looked back at Kenneth, seeking approval to the nurse’s request.

“Go ahead.” he encouraged, and with that, she stood up slowly and walked out the door.

Kenneth sat there reflecting, not quite believing that he had told someone who was pretty much a stranger everything he had been through. He looked around his room one more time, feeling positive and feeling confident.

The door opened once more and Caroline and Barry entered the room. Barry’s face had sunken like a submarine on the ocean floor and Caroline’s face was uncontrollably sobbing into his shoulder. Kenneth got up, completely bewildered and undoubtedly concerned, as to what the issue was. He spoke with a monotonous tone and struggled to properly make out his words

“We got a phone call this morning from the British Armed Forces. There has been an incident in Afghanistan. Ethan and his battalion came under heavy fire from the Taliban during a raid. It’s not good news.”



Written by CrashingCymbal
Content is available under CC-BY-SA

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