Soren A. Gauger is a Canadian who has lived for over a decade in Krakow, Poland. He has published two books of short fiction (Hymns to Millionaires via Twisted Spoon Press, and Quatre Regards sur l'Enfant Jesus with Ravenna Press) and translations of Polish writers (including Jerzy Ficowski, Bruno Jasieński and Wojciech Jagielski), as well as several dozen essays, stories, poems, and translations in journals in Europe and North America (including the Chicago Review, Capilano Review, Contrary, Asymptote, American Book Review).The General's Dream
a story | excerpt
I have been studying your faces, he began, and I have noted the troublesome symptoms of melancholy. Let’s not deny it, let’s rather stare it straight in the eye and ask ourselves what it means. Now in my experience – and I have experienced such wondrous and terrifying things – a soldier feels this melancholy when he begins to doubt the reality of his situation, even the hand before his face. I expect that will sound a mite confusing. Let’s ask ourselves: What in the blazes is this thing reality? Jefferies?
No? Allow me to tell you, then, said the General, lighting a match on his holster and putting it to his cigarette, for as a young man he preferred cigarettes.
A baker, let’s call him Smith. He goes to work and makes five hundred loaves of bread, washes his hands and closes up shop, and he calls that reality. A father buys his little daughter a puppy because he likes to make her smile, and he believes that there he has reality. A young man kisses a pretty girl – here the General grinned and all the soldiers followed suit – invites her back home, and thinks to himself, yes, this is the stuff of reality. And in a small sense, they are all correct, or it is better to say – they are not utterly mistaken. But let us take that baker, that father, those lovers, even the puppy dog, and drop bombs on their buildings, their workplaces, station enemy soldiers between their houses, and their reality shows itself to be very flimsy, a frilly curtain thrown over the world. And yet, what if we want a reality that is as hard as nails and stone, the kind of reality that can’t just be tossed aside from one day to the next, that stands behind every stroll in the park, every champagne toast to the new year. Hard as the soles of your boots. He stomped a boot to reinforce the impression. That’s what soldier’s reality is made of.
In times of relative peace our sense of this can start to slip, and it is natural that we can start to perceive things inside-out. We may even start to wish that things are not what they are – but the soldier’s reality is always the last to fall.