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Methought I Heard A Voice Cry
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Methought I Heard A Voice Cry
Two soldiers struggle with the fact that one is greater than a million.
Deborah S Wang
The author will be a freshman at UC Berkeley August. The author currently resides in Ohio. The author refers to herself pompously in the third person and will one day list the names of her future twelve cats on the inside of a novel jacket.
AUTHOR'S E-MAIL ADDRESS
Methought I Heard A Voice Cry
Deborah S Wang
Methought I Heard a Voice Cry
"Look at it this way," she offered. "You didn't have to knife her. You didn't have to touch her. It could have been so much worse."
If she meant to comfort him, and Cawley could not be sure of her intent, then she failed. But if she meant to make a point then she did not fail: he was nauseated to find that he agreed with her, but agree with her he did. It could have been so much worse than the simple leveling of his hand, the detached tightening of one finger. The distance from which he had met her eyes could have been a violent struggle of his hands on her flesh, her blood on his hands, and yes, it could have been so much worse, but that uncomforting fact did not, and could not, banish her face from the backs of his eyelids.
Outside was an almost intolerably bright day. The light that glared around the edges of their tent flap hurt Cawley's eyes; he regretted looking towards it every time the sound of boots or voices passed by. Mallory set down two nines and looked to him.
"Oh." Cawley ran his hand over a day's stubble and wiped the sweat onto his fatigues before drawing from the deck. He studied his cards emotionlessly. "I've got nothing."
Mallory drew. Her dark eyes passed over her hand before flicking up in an umpteenth attempt to catch his. He did not quite look at her. "The report's all filed," she told him. "You've got nothing to worry about."
Of course he had nothing to worry about. Mallory was meticulous in all things. Mallory had gone back into that room with the bloodied gun of a shah's soldier and placed it in her cold, dead hand. She would do it for him, she'd said. It was the least she could do, she'd said.
"I know." One more ten. He discarded it.
"You did the right thing," said Mallory without looking up from her hand. She shook her head. "I couldn't do it."
She would not sound so rueful, Cawley knew, if she had been in that room with the gunshot. But he said nothing and waited to hear the old argument that had seen him in that room in the first place: that so long as the shah's blood lived, the shah's blood would rule; that so long as the shah's blood ruled, the nation would forever slave under its yoke. He knew it. He knew it to be true, and that was why he had not stopped her when she had walked in to execute the youngest daughter, and that was why he had obeyed her when she'd come back out, shaking, and said she couldn't do it, that she looked like her sister and she couldn't do it but he had to; he had to.
"I shouldn't have."
He had not meant to say it; he had not known the words were in his throat, but they were out, rasped like sandpaper and scraping just as harsh between them. Mallory looked slowly up from her hand. Her cards hit facedown on the table with a sticky, humid sound.
"Yes, you should have," she exclaimed in a low, quiet voice. Cawley kept staring at his cards and didn't look at her. "Michael, do you know how many prisoners they were killing every day? Do you know how many women they were raping - you saved - you saved, I don't know - a hundred lives! Or it could have been more, or it could have been less; it doesn't matter!
"You killed someone to save everyone else, and what the hell is wrong with that? You want to talk about wrong; I'll tell you what's wrong: what's wrong is that we're too fucking squeamish to kill someone with a Goddamn face. We can't save a few Goddamn lives because it just makes us too fucking uncomfortable; that's what's fucking wrong. You did the right thing. Don't you ever believe differently."
Cawley licked his lips and swallowed around a dry tongue. He hated himself because he couldn't argue with her. Six million Jews died in the Holocaust, two million Cambodians in the killing fields, eight-hundred thousand poor bastards in Rwanda, but none of them merited one single tear. None of them haunted him as she did, because it was her pale face that had stared into his; her shattered knee that he had seen twisted upon the brilliant mosaic; her helpless body that he had shot where it leant against the wall.
There had been no infinite silence of an empty room between him and those millions of people. They had caused no torturous burn in his arm as he'd aimed the sidearm and held it there. Their eyes had not pleaded with his, their gasps had not mixed with his before he had silenced them forever with one, two, three squeezes of his finger.
"Yeah," he said dully.
Mallory slowly picked up her hand again. She was calmer now. "I've got nothing," she said after a moment. A mosquito buzzed.
"Michael?" She reached across the table to touch the back of his hand; he shifted away so that he could draw. Mallory withdrew in silence. Cawley felt her watching him as he pretended to look at his cards. "I wish I'd done it," she said softly after a moment. "I wish I'd been strong enough."
Cawley took a breath. "No, you don't."
"Yeah, I do." Mallory stared down at the dull tabletop, torn and tattered in places to expose a thin layer of white stuffing. She shook her head, disgusted with herself. "I mean...I knew what I had to do, and I knew why, but I decided I was just too damn important to suck it up. And then I had to make you do it, and here I am, and I didn't do anyone any fucking favors. Jesus."
Suddenly it was too much to even be in the seat across from her. Cawley stood and threw down his hand. "You can still sleep at night," he told her before walking out into the blazing sunlight, never quite looking at her again.
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© 2005 Deborah S Wang
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