Breaking the Treaty

News from the front is never good. The young lieutenant stands before him, his eyes old and weary, his uniform neat and clean enough but ragged and patched, his hands swathed with bandages. “Report,” he says, his eyes busy with the papers before him, maps and supply reports.

“Fighting has broken out again, sir,” says the lieutenant. His voice is deep. It is bigger than the body it thrums from, bigger than the room. “Along the northern border.”

“How serious is it?”

“Just sorties, sir, nothing serious yet. They’re testing us, sir.”

He shakes a cigarette out, offers one to the young lieutenant, who takes it gratefully and tucks it into his breast pocket. “You may smoke here, if you wish,” he says.

The lieutenant hesitates. “Perhaps… thank you, sir, I prefer to save it, until… They are so hard to come by in the trenches, I, I wouldn’t feel right, sir.”

He is touched. “Here, take the pack.”

“I couldn’t, sir, honestly I couldn’t.”

“Take it, go on.”

The young man reaches for the cigarettes; his eyes roll back in his head and he collapses. The bandages on his hands are red and wet-looking.