by William Hiles
“Oh God Jesus no!” The boy struggled to rise from the crude operating table. Two orderlies held him down. Another pried open his mouth and poured brandy. Poured some on the wound. Eyes rolled to egg shells. A Minie ball forced between crooked teeth.
Dr. Watkins took a pull of the brandy—forcing stillness on a trembling soul—and began to saw.
The boy thrashed and cried in an unknown tongue, though the meaning was clear, and he fainted.
An orderly branded the ragged stump, the tent filling with the stench of burnt meat.
Dr. Watkins nodded and swallowed strength from the bottle, waiting for the next one.
Towards night, after the guns had grown silent and cool, after the sun had set like a bloody yolk behind Seminary Ridge, Dr. Watkins stood beyond the shadow puppets that flitted on the tent walls and faced a lifeless edifice. Farmers’ arms and shopkeepers’ legs. Hands, coarse from hard living, hands soft on a child’s face. Lovers’ fingers, killers’ fists. He stood as an architect, knowing that more work would be done, and this knowing was a thing to stop the world.
He turned in the darkness and walked. Praying for tears. Searching for a merciful bullet.