Photo by Museums Victoria

“Leave the window open,” Gerald said to Quinn, who had his right hand already on the handle.

“Why, mate? It’s cold.”

“Because I want to hear what the city has to say,” Gerald said, straightened up, and lit a cigarette.

“All right, all right,” Quinn grumbled. “What does the city have to say?”

“Prepare! Prepare!” Gerald said and took a deep drag.

“For what?”

“Can’t you hear it?”

“Hear what, mate? There’re all sorts of sounds. Hear what?” Quinn asked and his voice grew tight.

Gerald took another drag before speaking.

“You’ll need to calm down first. Do you hear the siren?”


“All right, then try to ignore the sound of the rain and listen to the people outside,” Gerald said.

Quinn straightened up reluctantly with his right arm. He then laid his right arm on the edge of the bed and leaned closer to the window, as did Gerald. Their beds groaned. It was already dark outside the hospital, and the treetops could hardly be distinguished from the night sky.

“Can you hear it?” Gerald asked.

“Mate, if you keep talking I can’t,” Quinn said. Then he closed his eyes and listened. “They’re running, ain’t they? . . . running as if . . .”

“Running as if the city is about to be bombed,” Gerald said and looked up to the night sky, waiting for it to turn red.

Quinn swallowed. Then he laid down again, opened his eyes, and stared at the ceiling. Quinn was stocky. He was also as wide as he was tall and now that he had lost his left arm, he appeared even more clunky when he tried to move around. It was a miracle that Quinn fitted into a cockpit at all, but he had been an excellent pilot. He cared about his plane like a sailor about his ship. But when his plane was shot down from the sky over a small village a few days ago there was nothing he could do. He could barely manoeuvre the aircraft and had to make an emergency landing outside the city. When the villagers tried to pull Quinn out of the burning plane, they had to cut off his trapped arm. Fortunately, one of the villagers just happened to have his butcher knife with him.

Gerald finished his cigarette and flipped it out of the window next to his bed. From far away came the sound of a siren. Searchlights and night fighters were roving the night sky looking for enemy aircraft. The lights moved across the clouds like ballet dancers across the stage. He knew that this play of light was a harbinger of death, but he found it very pleasing and unintentionally aesthetic.

“God, I wish I could be put up there, among our brothers and fight. I miss sailing through the sky; I truly miss it. I miss the feeling of the stick between my . . . my hands.”

“I don’t. I thank God every night that I’m still alive,” Gerald said. He was also staring at the ceiling. Both saw different things there.

“You’ve always been a coward,” Quinn mumbled, but Gerald didn’t hear it. A few minutes passed. The sound of the siren stopped but the searchlights were still weaving across the sky. After half an hour they also ceased. Gerald straightened up, lit a candle on his bedside table, and pulled out his diary out of his coat, which lay on the chair next to his bed. His cigarettes fell out of the pocket and landed under Quinn’s bed, but neither of them noticed it.

“It seems like they’ve turned around. No attacks today,” he said.

“No attacks today,” repeated Quinn. He picked up the piece of wood he had been carving for a while. Then the lust to carve left him, and he tried to fall asleep, but he kept thinking about flying and the enemy. Gerald began to write about the things he wanted to write about before the war started. Then he wrote about the things he did not want to write about like the war or his family, and then he began to draw.

The clock struck nine in the evening. A nurse wearing clothes stained with blood walked into their room.

“Is there anything you need?” she asked both of them.

“No,” replied Quinn who still let his eyes slide over the ceiling.

“Have you taken your medication, Mr. Wells,” the nurse asked Quinn.

“Yes, yes.”

“And you, Mr. Hale?” the nurse asked Gerald.

“Yes, thank you for your help, sweetheart.”

The nurse stepped to the window and closed it. “Agh, it’s too cold, you’ll get sick,” she said. Gerald didn’t say anything and let her close it. The room went completely silent, and warmth flowed back into it. The clouds moved on, and the moon lit up the room.

“Isn’t it just unbelievable how the night is,” she said staring out the window like a child. “A few hours ago, everyone thought we were about to be bombed but now . . . this silence!”

Moonlight fell on her face through the window and only now could Gerald see how beautiful she was. Her hair was dirty, blood was all over her clothes, and she smelled of sweat – but she was nonetheless the most beautiful creature his eyes had ever met. He had never seen anything more wonderful in any of his many dreams.



“Will I ever walk again?” Gerald asked. She stepped away from the window, looked to the door, and hesitated. During a fight, a bullet pierced the metal of Gerald’s plane and tore his leg to pieces. Because he couldn’t feel anything in his leg, Gerald thought that he was fine and did not report the injury until he had managed to land his damaged plane and realised that he was unable to get out of the cockpit.

“The doctor said it’s not clear yet. Try not to think of it, Mr. Hale. It won’t do you any good.”

“Please, Gerald’s the name,” he said. The nurse looked at him, nodded, and was about to walk out of the room.


“Yes, Gerald?”

“What’s your name, if I might ask?”

She smiled, pointed towards the moon, and left. As fast as she appeared into their room, she vanished like a falling star.

Ah – Luna, he thought and fell asleep.


The next day, Quinn woke up before Gerald. He had dreamed of flying across the country with his father. The sun was shining, and the birds were singing. He straightened up and picked up Gerald’s diary which he had left open on his bedside table. Quinn flipped through countless diary entries, unfinished letters – most of them addressed by Gerald to himself – and drawings of aeroplane models and landscapes – some were drawn by Gerald while he was flying – until he found a drawing of a woman. Even though the picture was in black and white, Quinn thought he could see that the woman had green eyes. The drawing also emphasised the woman’s curves.

Gerald woke up when the clock struck nine in the morning and disrupted the sound of the singing birds. The sun had warmed the room, and Quinn had already opened the window. People were not running today, and the city was quiet. The hospital was in a remote part of town, and there was a large park right next door which was inhabited by a colony of goldfinches. At this time of the year, they were particularly loud.

“Who’s she?” Quinn asked Gerald and held up the diary.

“The nurse? Her name is Luna.”

“That’s the nurse? Is that really her?”

Gerald nodded and smiled.

“She’s beautiful, really gorgeous. I once knew a Luna – but she was Italian.”

“What does that have to mean?” Gerald asked. “Why did you say it like that?”

“Nothing, nothing,” Quinn said. “It’s just, uhm, an Italian name and she . . . she might be . . .” But he couldn’t finish his sentence. The door opened and the nurse walked into the room. Quinn put the diary under his blanket. Both pilots looked her up and down but in a caring way. She had worked all night and had deep circles under her brown eyes. She hadn’t had a chance to change her clothes, which were still stained with blood, and in her trembling hands she held a tray of medicine and breakfast for the two pilots. Dried blood was under her fingernails. Nonetheless, she was beautiful, they both thought.

“How are you today? What a lovely morning,” she said while walking towards their bedside tables, but her shaking voice gave away what she really thought. There will be no singing and dancing today nor tomorrow. The moon and sun can shine as much as they want, but the faint light in the heart continues to flicker until the war is over and all soldiers have returned home.

“Nurse?” Quinn asked and lifted his chest slightly.

“Yes, Mr. Wells. What can I do for you?”

“Are you Italian?”

“No. W…what makes you think that? Do I look like an Italian woman? Is it my hair?

Is it my – ”

“Your name – Luna. It’s an Italian name.”

As if shot from a pistol, she suddenly began to laugh out loud and her laughter was sweet like blossoms and it was also contagious, so the two pilots began to laugh too. The laughter ached in Quinn’s ribs, but he didn’t mind it at all and welcomed the pain like a Scotsman the morning dew. For a brief moment it was as if the two pilots had injured themselves in a silly stunt.

“My name is Nevaeh,” she said, put the medicine for the two pilots on their bedside tables, and left the room. Her laughter still echoed through the room and had captured the pilots’ minds. Gerald couldn’t get the grin off his face.

“She is truly beautiful,” Quinn said. “And not a Luna,” he added with a chuckle. They both laughed, and Gerald told him about her pointing towards the sky the night before after he asked her for her name.

“You should have seen her, how she stood right there in the moonlight,” Gerald said. “But now I understand. She wasn’t pointing towards the moon – ”

“To what was she pointing, mate?” Quinn asked and took his medicine. “Augh, ghastly.”

Gerald also took his medicine.

“Augh, so ghastly . . . towards the sky; towards heaven. If you spell it backwards then . . .”

“Ah – Nevaeh.”

After two hours the nurse came again, but she had no time for a chat with the pilots. Too many wounded soldiers needed her attention, and she raced from room to room, always friendly and with a smile on her face even if she had to force it. It was a miracle she didn’t collapse, truly a miracle. The two pilots had the hollow room to themselves and never saw what was going on beyond it. But they knew exactly what was happening behind the door in the hallways. They could hear the screams of other wounded soldiers coming through the hallway and cutting through one’s flesh like bullets. One never gets used to the screaming. Through the half-open door, Gerald could see how some nurses demanded to be allowed to go home, to at least change their clothes – but not Nevaeh. Quinn felt the unrest.

“Do they leave the hospital? Does she go too?” Quinn asked.

“Not even in your dream would she leave one alone . . . did I do her justice?” Gerald asked Quinn.

“What? What did you say?”

“Did I do her justice?”

“What you talking about, mate?”

Gerald pointed to the diary which was lying under Quinn’s blanket. “The painting.”

“Ah, yes you did do her justice,” Quinn said. “You’re a good painter. A good painter and a decent pilot. She’s beautiful. The aircraft too.”

“Can I have it back?”

Quinn stood up and handed the diary back to Gerald. He laid down on his bed again and began to continue his work on the piece of wood. It was about to turn into a gull. After a while the knife fell out of his tired hands, and Quinn dozed off. He returned to his former dream. “Father, we need to send this bird back to the taxpayer . . . I can’t hold it anymore, we need to land . . . prepare for ditch!” he muttered to himself.

Then there was the sound of a siren. At first, only Gerald, who had a trained ear, could hear it. It came from far away. Then there came the sound from another siren that was much nearer the hospital. Quinn woke up. Screams everywhere. They could hear people outside dropping all their things and beginning to run away.

“Leave it there, Anna! I’ll buy you a new one. Quick, take my hand!” “But mother – ” “NOW!”

“Prepare!” Quinn said.

Gerald nodded. “A daylight raid. The enemy remains unpredictable.”

“The e-n-e-m-y,” Quinn pressed out of his mouth. “Where are people running to? To the underground stations like in the first war?”

“They locked station entrances during raids last week. I hope they’ll open them now,” Gerald answered.

“Why on earth would they lock the stations”

“A friend of mine, a good friend who works for the City of London Police, told me that they want the stations to be closed to hinder people from simply staying there all the time.”

“But there they’re protected. I would tell my mom to stay there till it’s over. I will when I come out of here.”

“Maybe but financial economy is more important than moral economy. They want people to – ”

“Work. I get it.”

From far away came the sound of an explosion and gunfire. Then the sound of aircraft dashing through the sky and falling bombs and more explosions, this time nearer. The city held its breath and waited. Even the birds had held their breath. Moments were hours. Then the sky went blue and quiet again.

After a few moments, when the birds started singing and dancing again, the pilots could hear how everything went back to normal in the corridors. Screaming and rushing and running and screaming. Quinn stood up and went to the window. Outside he saw all kind of things lying on the ground: apples, bread, broken bottles of milk, paper, a play doll . . .

“Why on earth would someone do that?” Quinn asked. “Children were playing outside. Who would want to kill children?”

“I doubt that parents had let their children outside to play.”

Quinn stood up and began to run the room up and down.

“Mate, I’m going crazy. I need to do something. I need to . . .”

“Calm down,” Gerald said and straightened up. He wanted to stand up and go to Quinn but remembered that his leg was injured. “There’s nothing we can do. At most, we can try not to be a burden on the nurses.”


“Yes, Quinn?”

“Don’t you miss flying? Being above the clouds. Being freed from the rest of the world like in a dream.”

Gerald said nothing and looked down on the ground.

“It hurts me to say it,” Quinn began, “but you were the best in our squadron. You know that, right?”

Gerald nodded. He picked up his diary but the only things that came to his mind that he could paint were dark things, and he did not want to paint them. He put the diary away and laid down again.

“Can I look at it again?”

“Go ahead . . . I wish the sun wouldn’t shine,” Gerald said.

“Why, mate?”

“It should go away. It’s inappropriate; out of place, like laughter at a funeral.”

“I don’t think so,” Quinn said and went over to Gerald who handed him the diary.

“Thanks. And I’m sorry I called you a coward, mate. You’re a pilot who waits for the perfect time to attack. I wish I had your patience,” Quinn said and raced the room up and down a couple of more times. Then he laid down also but rolled around steadily. The sun disappeared, and it began to rain. Someone cleared up the items left behind from the street and threw away the doll, which got wet from the rain.

After a few hours Nevaeh returned with lunch. The pilots straightened up.

“Sorry, that it took so long, but we had so much to do and – ”

“Don’t worry. How are you?” Gerald and Quinn asked almost at the same time. Nevaeh smiled and blushed and gave the pilots their meals: bread and ham.

“If you need anything, call for Mrs. Wood. I’m going home.” Nevaeh said.

“Will you be back soon?”

“For God’s sake, Quinn!” Gerald said and then turned to Nevaeh. “Take as much time as you need, sweetheart. You deserve it!”

Nevaeh blushed again but this time more clearly. She was about to leave when she saw something lying under Quinn’s bed. Nevaeh leaned down and picked up the pack of cigarettes that had fallen out of Gerald’s coat and placed it on Quinn’s bedside table next to a small wooden figure.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“That? Oh, that’s my father’s. My father carved it himself and always took it with him when he was flying,” Quinn said proudly. “He was a pilot in the First War and this little horse was his lucky charm. We had a horse when I was little, but it died before I could ride it.”

“It’s beautiful,” Nevaeh said. “Did you take it with you when you were flying?”

“Yes, I always did. But I guess horses don’t like me that much,” Quinn said and shook his left shoulder. “That’s why I’m making my own luck now.” Quinn held up the piece of wood he was working on.

“An eagle?” she asked.


“You better get going, sweetheart. You need sleep,” Gerald intervened. Nevaeh nodded, said goodbye, and left the room.

“Why did you call her like that, huh? You only call Lizzy ‘sweetheart,’” Quinn said to Gerald as soon as Nevaeh had left the room.

“Nonsense, I call plenty of women ‘sweetheart.’ Don’t make this about Lizzy.”

“If you say so, mate.”

Quinn, who thought that the pack of cigarettes belonged to him, took it, and went to the window. As he was trying to pull a cigarette out from the pack, a small photo fell out. The photo was cut out of a larger one so that it could fit into the pack of cigarettes. It showed Lizzy, Gerald’s wife. She had short hair and a thin figure and looked quite melancholic. Her eyes stared out of a deep cave. Around her shoulders lay Gerald’s arm, but the rest of his body was not in the photo anymore. Quinn studied the picture for a while, pocketed it, and handed the pack of cigarettes back to Gerald. “They’re yours, mate.”

“Keep them. I think I’m going to stop.”


During the day, Mrs. Wood had come a couple of times into their room to check on them but always left quickly. There were too many patients in the hospital. A wave of wounded soldiers were brought and this time also civilians. Among them was a little girl who had lost her mother. Their screams filled the halls of the hospital, but nothing could be done but endure. The two pilots were glad not to be afflicted by great pain, although their wounds were severe.

The sun was long down, and the clock struck nine in the evening. Quinn, who had been thinking a lot on that day, stood up and went to Gerald’s bed to put the pack of cigarettes with the photograph back into Gerald’s coat.


“Yes, m-mate,” Quinn said and stepped back. Gerald turned around and noticed what Quinn had been up to and showed with a quick hand-wave that he did not want them back.

“I wanted to tell you something, Quinn. I also miss flying. I’d rather be up there, in the moment, not thinking about the next one, with nothing but the sky and the enemy in front of me than down here hoping all the time that they will stop screaming. Their screams . . . I even had thoughts about putting an end to their pain just so they would stop with the goddamn screaming. But I couldn’t even if I wanted to. I couldn’t reach them with my leg.”

“Me too. Don’t worry. I think it’s normal, isn’t it?”

“And I’d rather be up there because . . .” Gerald started but then stopped.

“Because what? Tell me, mate.”

“Because I don’t want to go home.”

“But Lizzy is waiting for you there,” Quinn said. He was again at the window smoking and looking out on the street. “They have cleared up the street,” Quinn noted, took a last drag and threw the cigarette away. He went back to his bed.

“I know but I don’t want to go back to Lizzy. You don’t know Lizzy like I do. You only know her from before she . . . before she turned . . . low, you know what I mean?”

“I know,” Quinn said. “My father was low all the time till he died. Never did us any good besides putting food on the table. Mom and I lived alone at home. He was always there but lived elsewhere.”

“Lizzy all of a sudden became so sad. There was nothing I could do to cheer her up. She became a prisoner. A prisoner, yet I felt like I was wearing chains. Then they put me in the army, and I became a pilot,” Gerald said.

“I’m sorry, mate. Maybe it’ll get better. I’m glad they put us in the same squadron.”

“But you won’t tell her, will you?”

“No, mate,” Quinn said. “Lizzie won’t hear a word from me.”

“No, I mean Nevaeh.”

Quinn stood up and went to the window again to smoke another cigarette. He thought long before he answered.

“Lizzy is a fine girl, and she depends on you. This nurse just got into your head, that’s all. Don’t fall in love! Really! Don’t fall in love, mate!”

“Too late. I’m thinking of asking her out after the war. Maybe I can walk then. We could go singing and dancing and do all the things I always wanted to do. Look how brave she is. She’s definitely not afraid of flying. I could fly with her over the steppes of Africa, and we would fly so low that we could see the elephants and all the other animals. I would fly so low that I could stretch my hand out and touch the top of the head of a running giraffe. Wouldn’t that be great?” Gerald asked, more himself than Quinn. “Wouldn’t that be . . .”

The screaming finally stopped all at once. The bomb took the hospital with it into the ground.

About Michael Skaide

24-year-old student of Political Science. Aiming at becoming a screenwriter. Wish me luck, guys!

24-year-old student of Political Science. Aiming at becoming a screenwriter. Wish me luck, guys!

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