Three Soldiers

I woke as one usually does—as it was early March, and I lived in a drafty apartment, cold and with a full bladder and a need to empty it.

I flopped a foot out of my bed and placed it against the frigid hardwood. Well, to be precise, it was parquet. I lived in a brown six-story building with elevators that rattled, and when I traveled in one, I feared I would become lodged between the third and fourth floors. It was a place where students living on loans lived—and it was a shared two-bedroom apartment with another student where we split the rent and other bills, occasionally a pizza, but otherwise, we seldom interacted with each other.   

I didn’t turn the light switch on in my bedroom. I don’t need to after I’ve lived somewhere for some time as I can generally navigate my way from one room, half-asleep, and in darkness to the bathroom.  

I opened my bedroom door, crossed the hallway, and placed one foot inside the bathroom. In the mirror, something caught my eye, and I wondered whether my roommate was playing some practical joke on me.

This thought was brief. There, in the plastic tub, stood a young man with grey eyes, wearing a uniform with a divisional insignia on the upper arm and a service cap on his head. His hands rested by his sides. He spoke no words. Instead, his eyes full of pride stared at me, and I stared at his reflection through the mirror.  

I shifted. My mouth was parched, and my heart raced. I blinked a few times and hoped he would disappear. Then I turned my head to look directly into the eyes of the soldier and maybe to ask him what he wanted and why he was here.

But when I turned to face the phantom in the bathtub, he was no longer there.  

I sucked in a breath and stared into the mirror again.

This time the reflection was someone I thought I knew. Maybe it was some photo I saw as a child of a man in his twenties, dressed in a WWII uniform that I recognized. But, then again, perhaps that wasn’t it—because it was his smile too, I remembered on an older face when I was much younger. His jaw was set, and a thin smile crossed his lips, an expression that reassured me everything would be alright.  

I didn’t hesitate. I spun around to face the soldier, annoyed at the hallucinations that never said anything. There was no one to ask, though. The ghost was gone.   

My eyes drifted across the cheap, grey (but in daylight, white) shower curtain and across the tiled, chipped, ceramic floor. I didn’t want to do it—still, I did it anyway.

Dark eyes stared at me. I kept my eyes on the reflection in the mirror. There was sadness that flowed from this shadow. I can’t tell you how I know this because I can’t really explain it myself. Was it the way his eyes shone? Or was it because his mouth was nothing more than a line? Or if it was just the way he stood there in a white tank top, dog tags glimmered around his neck, and in cargo pants and with a gaze that rested on me.  

I placed a hand on the light switch and flicked the light on, and then, I searched the mirror and the bathtub and hunted for ghosts. But it was only me who stood there and stared at an empty bathtub.

I rubbed a hand to my forehead. What had happened? Was I sleep-walking? Had I dreamed the whole thing? Or had I done too many late nights working on third-year papers?  Or was it stress?

I used the washroom, quick as I could, went back to my room, and switched the lights on. I slept fitfully as I rolled back and forth and wondered if I had lost my mind or if three ghosts really had visited me.

When I woke the next day, something felt off. So, I made some calls and then made one more to the only person I’d ever known to have fought in a war.  

My paternal grandfather was a soldier for Greece during WWII. As a child, grandpa told me stories about how he’d been caught by German soldiers a few times and escaped and how he’d spent time at a prisoner camp. When I placed my call, my grandfather had suffered a few strokes but had recovered, and from what I knew, he was alright.  

I called and spoke to my uncle and grandmother and claimed it was only a quick call to say, “Hi,” and asked if my grandpa was, “Okay?”

I don’t remember what was said, but when I hung up, I was relieved because there was no need to worry.

Two days later, I received an email that said grandpa was sick. I don’t recall if my uncle said he’d had another stroke or if there was something else wrong.  What I do remember is this—three weeks later, my grandfather was dead.

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