Yellow Flowers

by Phil Mitchell

Our unit entered the town on a warm, clear spring day. Most of the gray stone shops lining the street bore the pockmarks of the combat that had preceded our arrival. Many were but skeletons of their former selves, with shattered windows looking upon the street with blank, unseeing eyes. The town had been cleared. The street was quiet now.Our sergeant called us to a halt. "Drop your packs and smoke if you got ‘em." The street gradually filled with sound as the men removed their equipment and engaged in subdued conversations.

I saw Harvey remove his pack, light a cigarette and sit on the walk next to a planter filled with yellow flowers. Spring flowers calling forth memories of home always gave me a lift. These provided an especially welcome spot of color on this otherwise drab street. I wondered about that. There they were, a show of color and life in defiance of war.

I laid back against my pack, and relaxed. "It feels good to get off my feet," I said.

Harvey took a long drag on his cigarette, rifle resting in his lap. "Yeah, all this way. Not seeing a damn thing is boring."

"What do you wanta see?"

"Some Germans." His hand stroked the rifle. "We’re here to fight and haven’t even fired a shot."

"That’s fine with me." I didn’t share Harvey’s impatience. "They can keep us in reserve until it’s all over as far as I’m concerned."

Harvey eyed me. "Not me." He inhaled and slowly blew a smoke ring. "Look at B Company. They got lucky," he said, indicating the scarred buildings with a wave of his hand. "Caught up with the German rear guard here and cleaned out the town."

"Not lucky for those who won’t come back." I wondered about Harvey. How could he feel so invincible? Being a crack shot does not assure invulnerability.

I heard a shuffle of feet and saw our sergeant pick up his pack. "Saddle up," he called.

Harvey stubbed his cigarette, shouldered his pack and rifle. "I really want some action before--" And then, Death spoke to Harvey — in one ear and out the other.

I watched him fall. Then I saw those yellow flowers, now red, beneath Harvey’s head.

—Phil Mitchell served in the infantry in World War II, then attended Stanford University and returned to military life with an engineering degree and Air Force commission. On retiring from the Air Force, he worked in industry on electronic and simulation systems projects. Several of his stories have won awards and publication in local literary anthologies. Two of his pieces have also been included in Readers Break anthologies of short stories and poetry published by Pine Grove Press, New York.


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