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.High-flying bombers droned above, a steady two-way stream moving into and returning from their target.It occurred to Turner that he might be walking into a slaughter.But everyone was going that way, and he could think of no alternative.Their route was taking them well to the right of the cloud, to the east of Dunkirk, toward the Belgian border.“Bray Dunes,” he said, remembering the name from the map.Nettle said, “I like the sound of those.”They passed men who could barely walk for their blisters.Some were barefoot.A soldier with a bloody chest wound reclined in an ancient pram pushed by his mates.A sergeant was leading a cart horse over the back of which was draped an officer, unconscious or dead, his feet and wrists secured by ropes.Some troops were on bicycles, most walked in twos or threes.A dispatch rider from the Highland Light Infantry came by on a Harley-Davidson.His bloodied legs dangled uselessly, and his pillion passenger, who had heavily bandaged arms, was working the foot pedals.All along the way were discarded greatcoats, left there by men too hot to carry them.Turner had already talked the corporals out of leaving theirs.They had been going for an hour when they heard behind them a rhythmic thudding, like the ticking of a gigantic clock.They turned to look back.At first sight it seemed that an enormous horizontal door was flying up the road toward them.It was a platoon of Welsh Guards in good order, rifles at the slope, led by a second lieutenant.They came by at a forced march, their gaze fixed forward, their arms swinging high.The stragglers stood aside to let them through.These were cynical times, but no one risked a catcall.The show of discipline and cohesion was shaming.It was a relief when the Guards had pounded out of sight and the rest could resume their introspective trudging.The sights were familiar, the inventory was the same, but now there was more of everything; vehicles, bomb craters, detritus.There were more bodies.He walked across the land until he caught the taste of the sea, carried across the flat, marshy fields on a freshening breeze.The one-way flow of people with a single purpose, the constant self-important traffic in the air, the extravagant cloud advertising their destination, suggested to his tired but overactive mind some long-forgotten childhood treat, a carnival or sports event on which they were all converging.There was a memory that he could not place, of being carried on his father’s shoulders, up a hill toward a great attraction, toward the source of a huge excitement.He would like those shoulders now.His missing father had left few memories.A knotted neck scarf, a certain smell, the vaguest outline of a brooding, irritable presence.Did he avoid serving in the Great War, or did he die somewhere near here under another name? Perhaps he survived.Grace was certain he was too cowardly, too shifty, to join up, but she had her own reason to be bitter.Nearly every man here had a father who remembered northern France, or was buried in it.He wanted such a father, dead or alive.Long ago, before the war, before Wandsworth, he used to revel in his freedom to make his own life, devise his own story with only the distant help of Jack Tallis.Now he understood how conceited a delusion this was.Rootless, therefore futile.He wanted a father, and for the same reason, he wanted to be a father.It was common enough, to see so much death and want a child.Common, therefore human, and he wanted it all the more.When the wounded were screaming, you dreamed of sharing a little house somewhere, of an ordinary life, a family line, connection.All around him men were walking silently with their thoughts, reforming their lives, making resolutions.If I ever get out of this lot.They could never be counted, the dreamed-up children, mentally conceived on the walk into Dunkirk, and later made flesh.He would find Cecilia.Her address was on the letter in his pocket, next to the poem.In the deserts of the heart/Let the healing fountain start.He would find his father too.They were supposed to be good at tracking down missing persons, the Salvation Army.A perfect name.He would track down his father, or his dead father’s story—either way, he would become his father’s son.They walked all afternoon until at last, a mile ahead, where gray and yellow smoke billowed up from surrounding fields, they saw the bridge across the Bergues-Furnes canal.All the way in now, not a farmhouse or barn was left standing.As well as smoke, a miasma of rotting meat drifted toward them—more slaughtered cavalry horses, hundreds of them, in a heap in a field.Not far from them was a smoldering mountain of uniforms and blankets.A beefy lance corporal with a sledgehammer was smashing typewriters and mimeograph machines.Two ambulances were parked at the side of the road, their back doors open.From inside came the groans and shouts of wounded men [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]