The typewriter is his enemy. Dick Winters is certain of this because it crawls behind his eyes and slithers into his dreams like a legless metallic elephant. It takes up residence where the krauts should be, leering at him from his desk, staring him down and gutting him without aid of bayonet or gun. The typewriter should be harmless compared to war but instead it’s every bit as frightening. It stalks him, hunts him, shoots at him – and when Dick wakes screaming he laughs to avoid telling Nix about a skyline blotted out by paper.
Dick hates paper.
Tea is good for you. Dick knows this from experience. It makes a body ache less after a long day's work and makes dreaded thoughts such as “Sobel” and “latrine” thinkable. There is no tea in Bastonge - not at his CP at any rate. Up at regiment maybe, but Dick’s not the regiment sort. (Also, the typewriters are up at regiment.) Dick thinks of tea’s subtle flavour and its calming feel; The soft warmth of its colour, and the texture that changed at your will. As the days pass, Dick begins to wonder if tea is real. He wonders, he contemplates, he questions until there comes a point when he’s certain it isn’t. At that moment he forgets what tea is and its non-existence chills him. Now, more than ever, the cold makes him shiver and whimper and rattle. That night despite the warm woolen bundle Nix tries to wrap him in, Dick comes down with the flu. While he sleeps Dick recalls that Galan believed in four humours. When he wakes - half delirious with fever, Dick realizes that Galan was obviously an idiot.
In all his mumbo-jumbo doctoring, Galan forgot about tea.
Righteous men don’t drink. Dick’s heard that for as long as he can remember. But righteous men are pricks. They preach and they proselytize and they shrink back from anything that might dirty their soft lily-white hands. Nix isn’t anyone righteous and he drinks like a fish to prove it. He fights and he works and he sleeps in a foxhole. He has dirt under his nails and hard, calloused hands. Nix isn’t afraid of typewriters and he definitely doesn’t drink tea. No, Nix isn’t a righteous man. At first Dick thinks that’s a good thing, but as the days get colder and alcohol outlasts the memory of tea Dick wonders if Nix is any sort of man at all.
Which doesn’t make sense because what else would he be?
Superstition is a sign of weakness. Dick was taught that one as a boy. So he doesn't shiver, doesn't falter, doesn't weep at the full moon or the thirteenth hour or the D-day graduate West Pointer. He shuffles these omens in his head and deals them round a horse shoe so lobes of his brain can gamble and raise and fold their thoughts against each other in a demented, grotesque sort of poker game. Nix, who notes all the omens and sees all the cards laughs at Jones and, unlike Winters, appears surprised when Jackson dies.
Couldn’t he tell that death was predestined?
There is no cure for evil. Dick always believed this to be common knowledge. Like a cold or a cockroach or the one thought you're not supposed to think, evil abates but is never quite banished. It hounds him. It grips him when he stares down a boy at a crossroads and burrows in when he doesn't have tea. At the slave camp it settles and festers and grows putrid until maggots slither over and around each other to glory in its rot. It infects Liebgott, shocks Nixon, and roils over Winters’ tea-soaked brain like so much spoiled milk. There is no cure for evil, but evil’s rather talented when it comes to the removal of good.
Are they good?
They have won the war. Dick hears this proclaimed in every town they pass. They are invaders, saviours, conquerors. They have won. Dick has seen these phrases written, heard them spoken, felt them whispered in languages he can’t even pretend to comprehend. Comprehension has nothing to do with what’s spoken, with reading or writing or learning. He’s heard them in English as well and he doesn’t understand then either. He doesn’t understand because they mean nothing.
They mean nothing because his men are still dying.
The evil hasn’t really stopped spreading.
This victory means nothing because no wars have actually been won. Liebgott’s soul is still feeding the maggots (who grow and multiply and start to feed on each other till they’re bloated), Dick still can’t get enough tea, and Nix – Lew - Lew Nixon still isn’t human.
It doesn’t make any sense - these thoughts and their accompanying voices but Dick can’t win against them. There’s no beating back the typewriter - there isn’t enough tea in the whole god damned world for that. Lew – Nix – He – Nixon, he never stops drinking. Dick can’t clear those fat pulsating yellow-white maggots off of Liebgott.
So everything murmurs and whimpers and screams from its corner, repeating over and over and over again until Dick finally puts his fist through a table.
But he knew that wouldn’t silence them.
At least he can exorcise one ghost.