The Pocket Watch

Clutched in his clammy palm, the perfect circle of a smooth, gold pocket watch went tick tick tick tick while the meaty, red thing in his chest sat still and stagnant, tired and finished. The little girl leaned down and placed a hand on his mud-smudged cheek, her fingers getting a taste of what it was to touch an American man, to touch him by choice. His skin was cool and pocked and white against her fingertips, which lingered on his cheek before she dragged them to his chin to unclip his helmet and remove it from his head. She slid it off and his head went smack on the hard ground, which made her flinch, but he did not seem to care. His hair was yellow, and she ran her fingers through it to see if it felt any different than hers, jet black and silky and sweaty, but when she felt that his was sweaty too, and filled with the same lice that crawled through hers, she withdrew her hand and narrowed her eyes, analyzing the man’s face, his eyes blank and blue, so different from hers, which were black as night.

A boom exploded in the distance, and she fell to her knees in surprise and fear, collapsing on top of the man, but he did not clutch her, did not hold her close like her father used to do when they heard those terrible noises, but the man just lay there, indifferent to the little girl on top of him. Her head was on his chest, which was silent and hard, his body encased in that green and brown splotched uniform, and she quickly struggled to her feet, her cheeks reddening before she realized completely that there was no one there to see. She turned her head toward the sound, which echoed through the forest, and through the cracks of sky between the trees she could see the smoke, thick and gray, expanding and encroaching on the blazing yellow sun.

The tick tick ticking reached her little ears, a strong, even rhythm resounding through her head as the sound of the explosion began to fade. She knelt by his side to get closer, and when she saw that the source of the sound was the thing in his hand, she pried his fingers open to reveal the pocket watch, the most circular object she had ever seen in her life. It was smooth as she ran her fingers over it, removing the coat of dirt to expose its shining golden varnish, so mesmerizing and beautiful her eyes widened in awe. There was a tiny curvy "1942" etched in the metal, and she remembered suddenly that her father had once told her he had been born in 1942.

The little girl glanced to the right then to the left then over her shoulder, and when she saw that there was no one there, she tightened her grip on the watch and hopped to her feet and began to run through the woods toward the big rotting tree. It was the familiar landmark that would lead her back to her mother, but when she reached it, her heart pounding in her chest, going thum thum thum thum, she paused and looked up at the sky, which slowly grew darker and darker with smog and ash and night.

Spinning on her heels, she turned and scampered back to where the American man lay, and she knelt once again next to him, placing her free hand over his face, her thumb and forefinger gently touching the silky skin beneath his yellow eyebrows. Then she looked at his face, quiet and still as if he were asleep. She leaned down, placing her ear on her chest, remembering the silence she had heard when she had fallen on top of him, and she closed her eyes and listened. There was no movement; he was absolutely still, but she could hear the tick tick of the pocket watch, and for a moment she let herself believe that it was the sound of his heart, pumping just like hers did, thum thum thum, in her chest.