The Landmines Up Near Sapper Hill Sing
by Santino Prinzi
The day before we’d finished our stint de-mining the Falklands, Yousef lost his legs.
He knew the dangers, we all did, and it weren’t as if he were taking risks. We all had experience of clearance projects like these, heard the stories, seen appendages blown to mist or found a few miles off. But this was Yousef’s legs. Yousef’s. The kindest heart in the group. S’way it always goes, though.
Six months after our stint de-mining the Falklands, Yousef and I are drinking in the Globe Tavern. Union Jacks and Falkland flags blazon the pub like a rash, bulging from the ceiling like stomachs. Slot machines whirr with an enthusiasm at odds with the punters. Some guy shoots pool, the clack of the balls making Yousef watch, making him flinch slightly. He used to play before. Pretty good too.
“I’ll play again soon,” he says, knowing my thoughts. “I’ll find a way to play when I’m used to this chair.”
“Wan’ another beer? I’m buying.”
The beer pump is shaped like a saxophone. So tacky, but also not. Today’s dead. There’s a chill outside that ain’t shifting.
Up near Sapper Hill we tread along carefully mapped lines, not caring for the mud. We’re each holding a corner of the square metal detector. Reminds me of a giant frame waiting to be filled. It should tell us where the mines are, where the thousands hide, Argentinian and British. The mines don’t care who they maim, they know no better. I take a look around the barren field, knowing this place must’ve been beautiful before, that birds must’ve flown and sung joy.
I hear the detonation, and I don’t see the man I’ve quietly loved all these years.
I set Yousef’s beer on one of those coasters that soak up the condensation, those coasters you pick the colour off once it’s damp. He gulps half of it down without a breath.
“Steady on fella.”
He wipes his unshaven face on his fleece sleeve.
“I wouldn’t change anything, you know,” he glares at me, like he needs me to say something I can’t. “We used to say it all the time, didn’t we? Every time we found one and sorted it out, that’s a life we’ve saved. Didn’t we used to say that, Glynn?”
“We did,” I say, and we both drink deep.
Santino Prinzi is a Co-Director of National Flash Fiction Day in the UK, a Consulting Editor for New Flash Fiction Review, and is one of the founding organisers of the annual Flash Fiction Festival. His flash fiction pamphlet, There’s Something Macrocosmic About All of This (2018), is available from V-Press.
Image detail from photograph by Apcbg, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Audio read by the author.