We Should Never Have Left

A woman on Omaha Beach looks out at ruined ships used in the D-Day storming of Normandy, France. Photograph by David Seymour, 1947

There had been monsters in the water, her father told her, and storms that shook the boat. Her mother told her when she was older, after she was born in the belly of one of the great ironclads that had carried them away, that she was born from a belly, inside a belly. When she was an infant, it was not a rocking her mother sought to create, but a stillness. The storms saw to that, or the beastly things that looked half crab, half jellyfish that rose from the deep and plucked sailors and soldiers from the deck like they were snacks at a buffet.

“We should never have left.”

What a thing to tell a child. What a refrain, wrapped in a requiem, hidden in a dirge and set to the clickbeat of fancy shoes in a funeral march.

We should never have left.

We’re sorry.

Click click. Thump thump.

She stood looking out at the wrecked ironclads. They hadn’t hesitated, but had run the boats up on the shoals and clambered out. They’d kissed the dirt. Safe. They were safe.

She shivered there on the beach. It was cold early, too early for wool rations to knit at least a scarf for herself.

Thump thump went the factories behind her, the endless lines, the endless clocks and punch cards and check lists and watching eyes.

There was no approval. At best you were ignored.

Waves whispered. Behind her the factories thumped and coughed and hacked black, black curses into the pure blue sky. But the waves, like the ships rusting there, were iron.

A whistle blew behind her and she flinched. Five minutes to get back and punch her card, not a second more. Each second was a consequence. This second was bread, that one was water.

She shook her head and looked at the ships.

“They might as well be our gravestones. You’re right, mother. You’re right father. You should never have left.”