Past Lives: 1918: Dolphins

Nathalie watches the water. Britain is somewhere past the horizon, and so is a new name – but that’s for tomorrow.  As the boat cruises towards its destination,  she leans on the deck’s railing, a hand under her chin, and surveys the ocean.

Funny, she almost misses the sound of the shells. She feels terrible for thinking it, but at leas she knew where she was, who she was, when she heard them back in Ypres. Now she feels utterly adrift, her mind and her body at sea. She will adapt – she always does – but while she’s Nathalie, she allows herself to think of what she’s lost.

While she’s Nathalie, she allows herself to mourn Paul, the nervous Welsh youth who was handed a gun by his nation and told to go and get himself killed. He could be alive, but she knows from the hollow feeling in her chest that he isn’t. Another friend left behind her.

She should feel relieved, she supposes, that she has come out of this one alive, but instead she simply feels… bored. Another war, yet another country sending its children to the guns or the swords… They call it the Great War, the war to end all wars – almost makes it sound noble, doesn’t it, not mud and blood and deaf men trampling corpses. She has seen too many wars to believe them. She knows war, and she knows men, and the one is the other and the other is the one. She slides her hand down her face in exasperation; it comes away black-streaked from grime and long-abandoned makeup. She licks her lips and tastes dust. She’s gathering it, becoming a relic, and it’ll consume her if she stops moving.

While she’s Nathalie, she watches the sea change, and leaves it behind her.

Nathalie dies as she steps onto dry land, and Helen walks onwards.

This old world will never change the way it’s been
And all the ways of war won’t change it back again
I’ve been out searchin’ for the dolphins in the sea
Ah, but sometimes I wonder, do you ever think of me 

This old world will never change

– “Dolphins”, Fred Neil


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