It wasn’t the mud, the stench, or even the corpses that got to him. It was the rats. No matter how many you killed, more would spill out of the sludge underfoot, tearing into the dead as if Hell had come north.
Standing in a fetid stew eight inches deep, blood, bodies and spent bullets sloshed and swirled over his boots. But whatever lie decomposing under his boots was preferable to that which lurked over the top.
Funny, that. The sky above was a robin’s egg blue, the same hue he remembered from autumn’s evening sky over Harvard Yard not so many years ago. Evening papers. Pipe smoke. Brandy.
Yet, only the promise of a quick, impersonal death outside of this trench kept him planted down here among his pallid companions. In the scrum-space between thinking and dreaming, shards of old poems gleamed like glazed glass in an apothecary shop, inertia spawning iambic pentameter.
“I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats / And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain / Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats / And mocked by hopeless longing to regain.” – Siegfried Sassoon
Ancient Odysseus could inform on this particular point, the whole show was the getting back to Home, where the runs scored, recorded for all time in those mottled ledgers. Pinch-running for McLean, sacrificed to second, then Matty driving him in, his only run scored in the Series. Matty shutting the door on the Athletics in the bottom of the tenth, winning that second game, three-nil. Stepping on home plate for Matty was all that mattered that afternoon.God, how he missed those boys. Just five years ago, almost to the day. McGraw’s Gang. Drop that bunch in the Argonne, this whole, tired affair would long ago have ended. Matty and the Doughboys – 1, the Kaiser – 0. Another shutout. He grabbed a handful of thick mud from the trench wall, and smiled silently.
The whistle would soon wreck the reverie, as over the top they’d go, each man marked in advance by a German machine-gunner, himself frozen to the bone. Last letters pinned inside coat pockets, but for him, a scribbled scorecard, his last will and testament, evidence that his run did once count.
Now all was flashing muzzles, cries and blood. Men tumbling over the wire and into ravines running red, now into the marshes, no longer marching, but tumbling ass over teat as the shells exploded all around, Eddie Grant, commissioned a captain back on Long Island, the last officer standing, directing his men onward into the thicket, never hearing the final blast that separated him from his men, from his Giants, from his Harvard Law School chums, forever.
Third baseman Eddie Grant, leaving it all on the field, going home once more.