Matthew remembers her as being beautiful.
He saw her smiles on the faces of the immigrants to his land and heard her laugh echoing in their voices.
Sometimes he still thinks he can hear her laughter in the winds, although muffled by artillery and harried commands. He thinks of the trenches gouged into her ravaged lands and the lines around her mouth. He crawls through the muck, mud trapping his feet and seeping into the fabric of his uniform, peeling away skin, trying to find glimpses of the green of her eyes in the brown landscape.
Matthew sees her sometimes, dressed as a nurse, tending to the wounded and almost dead. These are her lands and they bend for her, allowing her to be everywhere and there, in a moment. She arrives in medical tents, approaches the men and touches their scarred faces, standing still and trying to ease away the slow creep of asphyxiation among the writhing men, smiling sadly when they grab her hand, trying to see one last thing with swollen eyes.
One time she looked up at him, complexion wrecked by the advance of gas across her fields, eyes shadowed, and limp hair tied back with a black scrap of fabric.
Belgium had smiled at him, wane and sorrowful.
She is still beautiful and Matthew aches and holds his gun close because that’s all he can do. At least now he knows how to shoot.
He knows he can’t die. He’s not afraid of death. But he tries very hard to stay alive.
He does not want their first conversation to arise from death.
(When poppies blossom in those same ravaged fields and her cheeks carry some of that same glow, Matthew approaches her quietly. He pretends not to see her tears but presses his handkerchief into her hand. It’s a little faded and dirty, but she wrings it between her hands and takes a shuddering breath as Matthew leaves. She watches the straight line of his back.
They need time. And Matthew’s words can wait.)
Easter bunnies and eggs.