By Darcy Moline
We journalists enjoy a
kind of invulnerability in war.
We feel as if we wear a magic
cloak that protects us not only from bullets whizzing past,
missing us because we are invisible to them but also from the
enmity of the combatants. One had only to show the camera and their
faces would light up, and they'd murmur, "Yes, come closer. Tell my
story . . . mine." When even the businesslike vendors of death
welcome you as if to a bridal banquet, you feel you can go anywhere and
Of course Ernie Pyle was killed at the front in the World
War. We all know about him, but he's like our patron saint, our holy
martyr. Have you ever seen the old clip of his last piece of film, with
the camera spinning as he fell, its impersonal eye lying askew at last,
looking at nothing? A dead man's eye. My own eyes were wet as I
And there are others who have died. We know their names
and stories. In Korea. In Nam. Yes, and Pearl. But those were
aberrations; we ourselves led charmed lives.
Or did, until we came
Teddy and Paul were the first. They'd gone out together rather
early in the morning, probably with nothing much on their minds but
black coffee and pastry. There's an open air market in a district just
beyond the main square where two old women used to sell some rather nice
fruit tarts a kind of strudel pastry filled with apricot paste.
I'd liked it myself; a deliciously flaky crust with a sweet, chewy
center. One had to get there early, or it was all gone.
morning, there were other things going down in the square besides
pastries. They ran right into some kind of gathering where there was a
lot of shouting and raised fists. And of course Paul was lugging his
little over-the-shoulder, so he hoisted it up and turned its bright,
impersonal eye on them all. Within half a minute they were all
Ted, when we saw him that night at the hospital, was
not very clear about it, but I ga at day.
I hung around downstairs for
a while, but it was stuffy from their dammed cigarette smoke, and
finally, just for something to do, I went down to the darkroom in the
cellar to develop some stills.
While I was there, I heard some firing,
but it was not very loud. I don't know why it wouldn't have sounded
louder, down there. I don't know why they never came down and found me.
It was logical they would have. But they never even tried the door.
suppose I thought the gunfire was in the street. And I had gotten
interested in what I was doing. Also, in a darkroom, you know, the red
light is sacred. One never opens a door when one is in the dark, lest
one expose the film and ruin it.
But at last I was done, and I came
out and found them.
All dead. Even the pretty young Brit, fallen half
out of his chair, blood on his blonde-white mustache, blood on the paper
in his typewriter.
All killed but me.
Not a mark on me. Unscathed.
Unharmed. Untouched. A real Flying Dutchman.
Of course, they closed
down all the offices after that, and the only ones who come here now are
transients. Nobody's permanent.
Having nobody to go
home to, I stayed. Because I keep coming back to the same thought again
and again: Was it the flower in my pocket or am I one of the safe
ones? Because you know, it's funny, but I do feel safe now. Nothing
can hurt me, ever again.