He cracked two eggs on the edge of the pan,
with the butter already bubbling underneath.
He covered the rest of the pan with bacon,
the grease made it slide from side to side

In practiced motions he finds time to think,
his mind retracts, like a turtle sucked in
to its shell. His wrinkled hand reaches
for a spatula, and he gently traces

the edge of the egg, becoming white
nearly glowing to life in the pan. The difference
between fate and coincidence, he thinks,
is only a word. That this egg should crack

instead of hatch. That his wife should die
in childbirth, and his daughter should die
as a child. The final act of a drunk behind
the wheel. The two pictures float into his mind

on the invisible smells of breakfast.
He looks back at the kitchen table, forgetting
for a moment, that nobody sits there.
His empty house, his quiet life, is pregnant

with the past. He turns off the gas, and fills
his nostrils with the scent as he stares out
into the dawn. He has escaped death
for another day. He wonders if it is fate

that he should be the last guardian of so many
moments shared. Before breakfast his mind had covered
the remnants of his family, he paced around
the house caressing the furniture. He unpacked

the winter clothes of his wife and daughter,
hung them in their closets, and muttered
about the cold. Now he eats his breakfast,
staring out the window, as the sun breaks

the ice from the yellow grass. He took his
wife to the ballet once, he sees the children
walking to school, he watches them walk
on their toes, across the stage, a small girl

jumps, her legs spread into the waiting arms
of a handsome boy, the performance goes
on for some minutes, before the dancers
are swallowed by the closing door
of a school bus. He raises his arms,

to applaud and makes a comment
to his wife. When he turns from the window
the room is empty, he shakes his head.
Hoping the long stretch of days behind

had rolled out away from the question,
toward something more solid. He sees
his life as a slow march along a bright
carpet wrapping itself around

the circumference of the Earth, between
a tunnel of darkness and a tunnel of light.
He is bound to those days between deaths
longing to hold onto the days before death.
He lives now only, as a caretaker of memory.

"The Long March" is a short novel, or novella, by William Styron. It was his second work to be published, and is a rather spare, brief work.

The book is seemingly semiautobiographical, since it deals with a reserve Marine Corps officer recalled to duty for the Korean War, a situation that William Styron did find himself in. The book is set over a period of a few days, when a commanding officer, Colonel Culver, thinks that the reserve troops have lost their discipline, and need to have it reinforced through a 36 mile forced march. The narrator and his close friend, Mannix (an officer with a cynical view of the military) undertake the march. Mannix, although in opposition to the Colonel and what he stands for, internalizes the pressure to succeed, and ends up injuring himself, and facing a court martial, due to his behavior on the march.

William Styron was a great novelist, but his body of work was fairly small, with this book being one of five novels he wrote. I would say it does not qualify as one of the pillars of his greatness, although it is a good book in its own right. The book is somewhat lyrical, containing long paragraphs of the narrators subjective impressions, and containing a small amount of dialog and direct character development. The book only has three real characters, the Colonel, Mannix, and the somewhat passive narrator. William Styron's fiction and social views were often very oriented towards activism, so I assume this work must have some sort of agenda, but I can not tell what it is. That it is somehow a statement against militarism or the idea of hierarchy is an obvious background, but it does not seem to make a statement against either in any sort of articulated form. The Colonel is not portrayed as a Pattonesque bully, or as an uncaring bureaucrat, his motivations for the extreme forced march are never fully explained. Instead, the entire work seems to be just an impressionistic exploration of a slice of the emotions that the main chracters on the march go through.

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