Last Man To Die (1)
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Capa rushed up the stairs of a fashionable building. He was hoping he could find a vantage point from which to get a shot of crouching infantryman in the street below. They were clearing out the last vestiges of resistance in Leipzig. German artillery had just bombed the Zeppelin Bridge, but it was a futile gesture. The US 2nd Infantry Division was making steady progress through the battle-scared city. Someone told Capa there was a machine gun unit up on a fourth floor balcony. If he was quick, he could still see it in action. He had no trouble finding the apartment. All he had to do was follow the machine gun’s metallic song. Capa entered a large and beautifully furnished living room. Its parquet floor gleamed like satin. Through the open double doors of the balcony Capa saw a young corporal reloading the machine gun. As he swung around to aim his weapon down toward the street, a single crack made his head snap back. He fell backward and hit the floor with a thud. His body straddled the balcony and the living room’s bright parquet.

Capa watched the man as if he was expecting him to get up and tell everyone he was fine. His comrades had taken control of the gun and were spraying the street below as they cursed and looked back at their fallen mate. The corporal did not move. Capa edged closer, aimed his camera, shot. He noticed a thin, red rivulet emerge from underneath the corporal’s outstretched right arm. The source was a black hole in the middle of the man’s forehead. Capa got on his stomach, no more than three feet away from where the blood had begun its slow passage across the floor. He shot again, then again. As the rivulet became thicker it divided into two streams. Capa was now using up film as quickly as the machine gun was using ammunition. He already imagined the sequence as it would look in a photo spread.


Rosario showed the photograph of his bleeding body everywhere. “There I was,” he would say to some guy he’d met in a bar on Hallsted or Cicero, “April 18, 1945, the day they nailed me.”

Usually the guy in the bar stared at the photo, shaking his head in disbelief. But soon he would catch on. The man’s face would shift from wavering attentiveness to something close to fear. The last time this happened, Rosario, normally mild-mannered, became annoyed.

“You realize what I’m saying?” he said, his face very close to the other man’s. He could smell the man’s breath. It reminded him of his father’s boozy, maundering personality.

“I guess so, but it’s hard to figure out, okay?”

“What’s so hard to figure out?” Rosario’s chin jutted.

“You’re telling me you have a photo, taken by some famous war photographer, of your own death nine years ago. Right? That’s you, slumped backwards like that. Look’s like you, for damned sure. I can see it in the nose and forehead. You have kind of a baby face, no offense, right? Your head’s propped up against the door at a bad angle. Looks like it would hurt your neck. Course, if you were dead, you wouldn’t have felt it, right? And there’s blood gushing out in a stream along the floor. And it looks like a nice floor, too. I do a little carpentry, so I notice this kind of thing. And there’s an expensive looking rug not far from you. You were on a balcony of this building, and your body fell back from outside into the room.”

“You been listening. Good for you. And it was a gray day. You can tell if you look through the bars of the balcony. See?”

He brought the photo up to the man’s eyes. “Damp, too. Bone-chilling German fog. An ice pick in the heart. You can almost feel it from looking at the shot, can’t you?”

“I don’t know. You got to be pulling my leg. Or you’re a ghost, or I had better stop hitting the bottle. Jesus, what are you really telling me?”

“Now don’t get so upset there. Here, I’ll buy us a round. Let me show you the entire magazine spread.” He unfolded several pages of a glossy illustrated magazine. “See the headline? The picture of the last man to die. That’s yours truly. Last GI to die on the European front.”

When the two men left the bar several hours later they embraced in a beery hug. Rosario said, “see ya ‘round,” and the man said, “I hope you get what you want.”

“I’m determined,” said Rosario.


He staggered along for several blocks before turning onto Northridge Avenue, where he stayed in a small room rented out by the week. It was three in the morning, still early to return home compared to previous evenings. Two nights ago he had clattered up the outside stairway to his second-story room when the sun was coming up.

This time his head was spinning more than usual. His neck throbbed as if the arteries inside were about to burst. His first try to grasp the bannister failed and he toppled onto a gravel driveway next to the gray shingle house. He stood up, took the bannister with both hands. He began a cautious step-by-step march up the stairs. Everything went well until the seventh step, which evaded him.

Next thing he was looking up at the milkman’s concerned expression. Behind the man’s shoulder, a bleached blue sky.


“Mr. DeMuri, I can’t allow you to stay in the room anymore if you’re going to come home so late. And this morning? The last straw. I don’t want to see a drunken man sprawled out on my driveway when the sun comes up. And my Morty is a light sleeper. He’s heard you every night. And when he’s awake, I’m awake. You know how that goes. I’ll have to ask you to leave when the week is out.”

Rosario nodded as he touched his hand to his forehead. He sat at the top of the stairway wearing a t-shirt and trousers and smoking a cigarette. Mrs. Pribyl stood below on the driveway. She leaned down, pulled a weed from the small flowerbed, looked up at Rosario.

“You pay your week’s rent in advance, and we appreciate that. And you seem like a nice enough guy. But we just can’t have you coming back like that. The neighbors don’t like it either.”

“Why didn’t your husband come talk to me?” said Rosario, putting his cigarette out on the wooden landing.

“What do you mean?”

“He sent a woman to have a man-to-man talk.”

Mrs. Pribyl lowered her head, buried her hands in the pockets of her blue and yellow apron.

“Sorry, Mrs. Pribyl. Look, I got no complaints. Your place is nice and orderly. I’ve just had some problems. You know how it goes. I won’t cause you any more trouble. And anyway, I’m ready to shove off in a few days. I’m headed to New York City.”

Fifteen minutes later, Rosario left for the bars. It was four in the afternoon.


“I don’t know about you,” said Fiona Matushek....Continue Reading

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