General Fiction posted March 14, 2022

This work has reached the exceptional level
Double edge

Wrung Red

by John Ciarmello

Putin's Special Operation Contest Winner 

The basin water reddened as a Ukrainian woman wrung blood from a tattered cloth. A man's hand reached up and squeezed the bend in her arm.

"Please, you can't let me die."

She placed his arm back at his side and wrapped his forehead wound with bandages.

"What's your name?" he asked her in Ukrainian.

She froze in place for a few seconds.

"How will it help you to know my name?"

The man's expression went blank, and his stare became distant.

"I have a wife and fifteen-month-old twins at home." His voice monotoned.
"I'm sure you must have a husband and children of your own."

She got up from his bedside and emptied the bloodied basin. Then, refilled it with fresh water. Her thoughts of this man, suddenly reeled between a deranged empathy for him, and his unwelcome mention of their commonalities.

She laid a cold cloth across his fevered brow and put a reassuring hand on his forearm.
Then, the man's battered torso twisted upward as he fought for breath. His coughed-up blood flowed over his lip and onto his chin. She put her hand on his forehead and gently pushed his head back onto the pillow.

He closed his fingers around both her wrists.

"Thank you for this. I don't know why you tend to me after all that has happened."

She patted the blood from his chin, and again she wrung the red from the tattered cloth.

Cluster bombs exploded in the distance. They were far enough away this time not to shake the building, but near enough to sound as though children had lit a string of firecrackers a few blocks away. As far as the latter went, she knew better. The continual bombardments and destruction built around this mad man's alleged special operations; all plunged deep into her heart with the claw of a hammer.

"My daughter," he muttered. "She's so beautiful - my wife - she phoned me yesterday on their birthdays to tell me my son had said his first word - she said, she thinks it was Dada..." He coughed and held his side. "Isn't that something! He said, Dada!"

She moved his blood matted hair to one side and replaced the cold rag on his forehead.

"I don't know what I'm doing here. I'm a nineteen-year-old boy in a Russian uniform. I'm afraid. I am always afraid."

She held his hands and stared through a frame of blown out glass. The sights of the smoldering rubble of structures and streets paralyzed her for a moment. She listened as the man pulled in his last breath and let it go. Absorbed in a desensitized reality her eyes fell upon the stillness of his face, and she told him.

"My daughter and son, they were beautiful too."

Putin's Special Operation
Contest Winner


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