Stay Awake

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He’s awake when I push the screen back. He has blood on his gear, blood on his clothes, blood on his face, but he’s awake, and he smiles at me. “Didn’t want to sleep through this,” he tells me, and I understand. We’re only a few miles from the front lines, not far enough to completely deaden the noise of the fighting, the thunder of the mortars. With what he’s seen, I doubt he’ll ever sleep properly again.

We talk while I stitch up his shoulder. He’s from North Dakota, he tells me, on a farm near the state line. I’m from New York state, and my father grew up on a farm. He tells me he’d rather be plowing, or hunting on his family’s land. I’ve never been hunting, so I ask him about it. His eyes are glazed with pain, even with the anesthetic, but he tells me about the trips he and his brothers took in the fall. I listen and try to piece the flesh on his shoulder back together.

Neither of us belongs here. Sometimes I’m not sure why I came, except I know that if I didn’t, there would be no one to ask him about his hunting trips or keep him awake when he’d really rather not fall asleep. I stay longer than I meant to, but the relief in his eyes makes the extra time worth it. I think he might be ready to close his eyes when I finally leave.

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