Your big toe on your left foot is itchy.
You look up at the grey sky of early dawn and close your eyes as the rain washes your face. You decide to concentrate on the rain and not on the itch, since you can’t take your boot off right now.
Your pal Charlie is telling the joke about the Irishman and the mule. You’ve heard him tell the story a million times before, but you laugh along with the rest of the guys. You open your eyes and look around the crowded boat. Behind you, you hear Fred talking to his buddy, telling him how this type of weather might play hell with the new plants. Fred’s a farmer and the weather is always on his mind. You hear his buddy asking questions about the planting, about the yield, about anything except what’s going on right now.
Charlie sticks his elbow into you. “What?’’ you yell. He takes off his helmut and cups his ear - who knew being in a small boat would be so loud? “What is it?” you say again. He points over the grey edge of the craft to the waves cresting around you.
“Do ya think it’ll be real cold?” he asks.
“I’d think,” you say, “it’s not exactly beach weather.” He nods. “True enough,” he says, “but look around. It’s a sight.”
You raise your hand over your eyes and squint as you can just make out the silhouettes of the other ships appearing through the dim light and rain. You run your tongue over your dry lips and taste the salt from the spray.
“I reckon this weather might be a blessing,” Charlie yells into your ear, “they’ll never suspect we’d be dumb enough to do this today.”
You raise your eyebrows in agreement as you say “Let’s hope.” Charlie gives another quick glance at the churning whitecaps.
“I hate cold water,” he says, “back home, I was always the last one into the lake. I had to take it slow, you know?”
You nod. “Well, yeah,” you say, “cold water can be scary to a kid.”
Someone behind you taps your shoulder. You turn around. “Cold water ain’t goin’ to be his biggest worry today,” he says.
“Nope,” you say, turning back to see the faint outline of a shore appearing on the horizon. “Nope,” you repeat to yourself, “not today.”
Today is June 6, 1944.
I wrote this yesterday, the 66th anniversary of D-Day.
The title is from Shakepeare's Henry V - the St. Crispan's Day speech:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,