Touch Guide To A War Story
There is a post office where the envelopes are not all the same age.
Some arrived days ago, others have been there for months. The old ones are of a different hue, contain different particles of dust, a larger number of fingerprints.
A Soldier comes into the post office and drops off brandy, an egg, and some loose cigarettes. He scrawls a note, leaves.
There are two piles in the post office. One of empty envelopes. One of letters opened and read by the girl, who comes in, and walks over to the Soldier’s note.
Gunild—(starts the note)
The cigarettes and brandy are for your Aunt, the egg is for you.
Love, the Soldier
Gunild puts the egg in her palm. It feels nice there: the liquid inside its encasement.
She’s hungry, and there is the threat of the shell cracking but she can’t help caressing the thin filament.
Gunild was an egg, briefly.
For giving birth to four children, her mother was awarded the Iron Cross. For six, she would have been given the Silver Cross, except the war started and she failed to produce six.
Her skin against the shell is a strange rubber.
The shell cracks. She whisks the egg with a sterilized nail and the liquid firms.
The first cigarette is in the post office, Gunild almost thirteen.
It leaves a taste on her mouth.
The Aunt from the note comes in and catches her smoking.
She hits her hand so hard that the cigarette falls on the floor. The Aunt stoops down and saves it, brings it to her own lips.
Gunild watches the Aunt smoke.
She is wearing elegant white gloves, and has a very sensual way of closing her lips around the cigarette.
Edith isn’t actually her aunt. “Aunt” is just something people say.
It had made sense to take the finest clothing when they lost the war. Edith wears dark velvet, an ermine wrapped around her neck.
Actually, Edith used to be her father’s mistress.
A little fire to hold in your face.
Gunild watches a man, who somehow still owns a cow, skim the top of the cow’s milk to take her cream.
A knife cuts away rich clots of fat.
The cow watches, too. Recently molested and uninterested.
The man’s sieve captures any remaining fat, leaving only a sallow and tearful substance.
Slow blink—Gunild makes her eyelids come down as incrementally as possible.
“It’s only a matter of time now,” the man said as he touched her hair.
A very old hand next to a young face.
The cow has to stay in the barn at all times. Grazing is no longer safe.
Walking back to the post office she sees from a long way off that the Soldier is smoking by the railroad tracks.
One of those motionless days.
The milk doesn’t weigh a lot but she prefers to hold the pail with both hands.
Her shoulders are inclined and her hair is falling in front of her eyes, wheat-colored and heavy. This is her prettiest posture.
The Soldier tries to play with her by making the sounds of a horse and rocking a piece of wood back and forth.
“Do not treat me like a child!”
She hates it when he does that.
“It’s only a matter of time now.” The Soldier touches her hair.
The tracks were stripped for metal weeks ago. Now they are just rectangles of wood and at a certain distance they disappear into a line.
Gunild knows what is going to happen next.
She knows that the Soldier is going to walk down the tracks, to where the country is ending, and become a rectangle of soil.
They drink and smoke and Gunild stares at the Soldier so she will be able to remember him after he is dead.
Dark hair, blue eyes, long slender hands with dirt under the fingernails.
The Aunt sits on a wooden chair and watches the edge of the country get closer. A line of red and dark smoke.
An older girl is walking towards the post office on the railway tracks.
Torn clothing. Broken seams, and thick layers of dirt. She is pretty. Her hair is blonde and she has malnourished arms.
The edges of her mouth are extended by open sores.
The two in the post office watch the third limp towards the door.
They open it and ask: “Who are you?”
But the girl falls down and doesn’t answer.
“Wash her,” The Aunt tells Gunild.
The new girl’s body is heavy and relenting. Gunild pours water on a sponge and holds it to her chest, blows on it to make it warm.
The girl’s fingers are like upturned roots, attempts at grasping.
Her name when she wakes up is Jutta.
Against her will she was created.
The second cigarette happens after the edge of the country arrived and then went off.
A New Soldier from the other side of the war comes to the post office and calls the women stateless. He kills the first Soldier and starts sleeping in his tent.
Gunild and The Aunt bury all of their silver under a Forelle tree.
While digging, they find hundreds of cartons of cigarettes—“Camels”—and smoke all day long.
Eat the tobacco. Leaves on her teeth.
The Aunt wants Gunild’s father to win the war and keep the country so that they can go to the government office together and buy a marriage license.
She tries to swallow—not yet. Tries to swallow—not yet. She works her jaw like a wheel.
Autumn is eating her away.
The three women are starving. They starve for a few days.
Secret violences are happening. They do not speak about it with each other. Instead, they talk about a nearby cheese factory and wonder if it’s still standing.
Emmentaler cheese—it tastes like a hand that’s recently held cheese.
Gunild moves slowly, the day when she leaves the post office and sneaks down the tracks.
All the old type of men are dead.
The factory is gray and imposing but it is standing and the cheese is only a little rotten.
More of the new type of men show up everyday.
Everything is on fire and the color everywhere is red.
The New Soldier is handsome. He’s younger.
The cheese fills out Gunild’s clothing beautifully. She packs it over her chest and around her thighs when she smuggles it back to the post office.
Hard to hold the unpleasant taste in their mouths.
Don’t speak about such things.
Gunild wants even more body, she packs the cheese around her stomach. She becomes thick, unshapely.
Swallow and let the concavities invite touching.
The New Soldier gives Jutta lipstick as a present. There is dirt pressed into the creases of its webbed silver container.
Red on the mouth: an implicit sex.
Or a gash.
Experiencing sexual desire for the first or second time in a dysfunctional post office.
The New Soldier has taken to guarding the post office at all times. He must have been about seventeen.
Gunild is not allowed to cry.
The Aunt makes curtains out of her evening gown. Black velvet with little white stars.
I don’t want him looking at us.
In a different country, in a country that is still a country, a propaganda campaign about the wartime duty of women to be beautiful is issued.
And Jutta takes the lipstick, rubs the crimson all over her forehead.
Wax and fat spoiled with red.
The knife is important because it keeps the division of cheese fair.
Gunild is very temporary now. The New Soldier never gives her anything.
Not even the knife—the knife just came because it got stuck.
Gray and rusting over.
Gunild got stabbed and the knife stuck.
The ideology in the post office used to be that women should wear plain clothing and no makeup but that was before everything was red and the floor was dirty with dust from The New Soldier’s boots.
The blade is dull and there is something exhausting about the dullness of the blade.
The New Soldier’s horse gets hurt so he shoots it in the head.
There are liquids inside the women that they become very preoccupied with containing.
Jutta’s sick. She smells rotten.
Gunild bites her own hand. Pushes teeth down to make white indentations. She’s seen The New Soldier do this while he watches Jutta.
One of Jutta’s teeth comes out.
The New Soldier puts bread in Jutta’s mouth. Every time Jutta almost dies she is an animal.
Gunild scoops it out. Porous and sallow.
The New Soldier comes inside the post office. He sleeps holding Jutta. His cheek goes on top of her cheek.
When he treats them well, Gunild can think about him as an emergency god.
The Aunt spits on them while they sleep. Whore.
Gunild sucks on her cheeks, pushes saliva to the front of her mouth and drips it on Jutta’s feet.
A putrid white drop.
The Aunt cannot go outside, it’s too dangerous.
No one can ignore the eggs and the problem of their containment.
The Aunt says: A miscarriage sometimes happens when a woman smells meat.
But The New Soldier already shot his horse. They already ate its meat.
Gunild goes out. The New Soldier goes with her too.
They walk very far to a pharmacy with recently repainted signs.
Gunild’s money does not work.
“Put that away.”
He buys the pills as a present and their walk back to the post office begins to feel a little like a date.
Years later this will all be hard to remember.
Gunild and Jutta are admitted to a church, from the post office. The Aunt is gone. Not sure where.
It is one of many churches, unremarkable except for its mosaic roof which has barely been damaged by the bombs. It portrays a group of trout swimming upstream.
The girls have to be disinfected and their hair is shaved off and burned.
“Chastity,” say The Sisters, “true chastity is attained only through a pure body.”
They say to Gunild and Jutta: “Kneel at the altar by day and in the night sleep erect and motionless.” Gunild and Jutta didn’t, though—they dragged a patch of moss in from the forest and slept with their fingers threaded in the matted grass, their hands searching for clovers.
The Sisters refuse to call Gunild by her name.
They call her Mary.
Mary after their Savior’s mother.
When she hears them doing that, she pulls a breast out of her black and white clothing and draws imaginary droplets of milk from her nipple.
Gunild stole a rabbit from The Sisters before they could kill it and eat it.
The women wrap around the animal. They go to sleep without praying.
Jutta says: “Don’t try to love me.” Gunild says: “I never would. I never have.” Jutta: “Good.” Gunild: “I don’t want you.” Jutta: “You could never have me”. Gunild: “I don’t want you. I want to stage you. I want to see you being caressed from a distance, I want to watch you in a hotel room with a mediocre man. From my spot outside your window, I will appraise you. I’d write the language of you coming on to another.” Jutta: “You are sick.” Gunild: “Fine.”
Gunild likes to prick her finger at the base of the crucifix. Blood, just a drop—then to the window, which is reflective, until at a certain time each morning, when it is opaque.
Gunild likes to paint the red on her eyelids, make her cheeks blush and gasp, and her lips suffer.
There is a man pacing around the church with webbed hands and a stupid fat jaw.
His face is obscured by the kind of plastic cone a dog wears to keep from scratching his wounds. Good that his face is obscured, that his thick neck is blocked.
He walks hunched over, looking for the girls. This man is holding a notepad, but doesn’t write. He is the perfect audience.
The city around the church is full of rubble. All the children are tiny bags of water. In the future they could be soldiers. The webbed man walks around with candy.
At an air force bar Gunild is more beautiful than Jesus.
When she is with the men, she feels happy—it’s everything, bliss, perfect instinct, relief—but then, after they fall asleep, that all goes away.
She drinks because she knows that god does not exist.
The bar has little propeller planes and photographs of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The men are rich, they can buy things. They get Gunild to say words in English and laugh at her accent.
Jutta makes an agreement with Gunild about their free time. Together they unwind the black cloth robes, untie the white habits and lift a street stone to hide the outfits until evening prayer.
When Gunild goes to the bar, Jutta goes to the woods.
The pine trees are thin, and so young that their trunks have to be supported by wooden stilts. Processed wood crammed into young bark.
She spends the first few minutes with her hands clasped together, waiting for silence to turn into sound.
Grace is a word she’d like to have happen to her.
And then she rips large chunks of wood infected with rot from the trees.
By rubbing the decaying pieces against her body she can mold their shape.
She makes the wood soft again.
Theadora Walsh is a writer and video artist who makes moving texts, essays, and fragments. She is interested in the physicality of language and the tension between speech and its documentation. Her writing has been published in Gulf Coast, sfmoma Open Space, Apogee, Vol 1 Brooklyn, Unbag and elsewhere.