The Convalescent Soldier

By Chris Haven

The convalescent soldier has a nasty throat wound. It is patched twice a day with strips of cloth initially sterile but which upon contact weep copper. This man has heard his caretakers speak around his cot, loudly, that he is lucky to be alive. For the first time he realizes the gamble of being alive.

There is a girl waiting for him, or he supposes she waits.

He doesn’t really know how long he’s been in this state, or how his wound is coming along. Because it is a deep laceration, and because it is on his throat, he cannot see it. They have tried holding mirrors but he mustn’t move his head to see, to prevent reopening the wound. Not a camera in existence could show him precisely what’s wrong with him.

He has come to terms with this fact: to him, the nature of his wound is vague; only those around him can truly know the severity of what ails him. The man also suffers from a malaise. This could be the work of the wound, but he feels he has been susceptible before, even when otherwise healthy.

He has begun to associate the physical wound—which everyone else can see but him—with the internal despair—which no one else can see save for him. This is a man who enjoys irony and he would laugh at this irony, but such movement would pull the stitches from his wound.

He is handsome and gentle and one of the nurses there knows of the girl who waits for him and so she treats him with a love not her own. “Here,” she says, “Let me read you a letter from your girl.” It is possible the nurse has written the letter herself. He appreciates her care, and loves her back with a love not his own. He does think of the girl often but he knows that she cannot save him. He is not sure whose love she loves him with.

But maybe this proxy love can save him, or his desire to be free from his wounds, or his fear of what might happen when he’s no longer wounded, or when it appears to others that he’s no longer wounded, yet very much still is.

The sound of gunfire rattles the tent and he feels it shudder the strips of cloth binding his neck.

Truth be told, he doesn’t have faith in any of those things, including the gunfire, but he does have some faith in stitches, one part being sewn to another, and the strength of two things grown together. It’s his wounds, in the end, that he has the most faith in, the nasty throat wound stitched to his malaise, growing together where no one has a good enough view to see or feel either one, and he lies there waiting for them to merge, trying desperately not to laugh in this his new church, and it’s so hard to heal a wound once it’s become sacred.

Chris Haven’s prose appears in Electric Literature, trampset, Fractured Lit, Cincinnati Review miCRo, and Kenyon Review. One of his stories is listed in Best American Short Stories 2020. His debut collection of short stories, Nesting Habits of Flightless Birds, was published by Tailwinds Press, and Bone Seeker, a collection of poems, was published by NYQ Books. He teaches writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.

Artwork by Lesley C. Weston (Digital pen and ink)

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