They’re coming over the ridge.
They cut through the haze, the tips of their bayonets flashing in the morning sun. Their
uniforms are blue, but not the blue of the sky on a bright afternoon and not the thick, muddy blue of the river that runs through the state. It’s a dark, crisp blue, cut from heavy starched cloth. Flag blue. Factory blue. A blue that is black in the right light. Crossed with leather straps and gleaming
buttons, they seep onto the field like an ink spill.
We are gray. The gray of old photographs and the gray of the dust gathering on them. Gray of the fog that is fading from the field, the gray of a blown-out flame. Tattered gray.
As they near, we take our positions. The man in front of me drops to his knee, cocks his
rifle, raising it to his eye line. I breathe as the cannon rolls next to me on its heavy creaking wooden wheels. Our captain raises his sword and we await his command.
They near and we hold back until we can see the whites of their eyes, close enough to see how young so many are, how they clutch their rifles awkwardly and their caps slip down over their faces.
‘Ready!’ The captain’s sword glints. ‘Aim!’ He brings it down with precision, cutting through the air. ‘Fire!’
White smoke explodes from the ends of our rifles and we scream, hurdling towards one
another, blue and black bodies in the fog, guns popping as we run through the tall grass. From far away, we must look like a bruise.
A man falls to his knees a few yards in front of me, drops like a stone to the grass. The
others continue past him, stepping over his body and I must keep pushing forward too. This is how it works. This is what we planned.
The crowd cheers, all of our family and friends who have assembled nearby with their video cameras and iPhones snapping photos of our battle. I want to turn to them, to smile at my son who, just a few minutes ago, was wearing my gray jacket, the sleeves dangling past his small white hands. My son who knelt beside me, before the battle began, cradling an invisible rifle and
pretending to shoot. Later, we will picnic in the grass and drink lemonade on checkered blankets.
But, for now, I keep moving, running with precision and dedication into the blue.