The next day in the morning we left for Milan and arrived forty-eight hours later. It was a bad trip. We were sidetracked for a long time this side of Mestre and children came and peeked in. I got a little boy to go for a bottle of cognac but he came back and said he could only get grappa. I told him to get it and when it came I gave him the change and the man beside me and I got drunk and slept until past Vicenza where I woke up and was very sick on the floor. It did not matter because the man on that side had been very sick on the floor several times before. Afterward I thought I could not stand the thirst and in the yards outside of Verona I called to a soldier who was walking up and down beside the train and he got me a drink of water. I woke Georgetti, the other boy who was drunk, and offered him some water. He said to pour it on his shoulder and went back to sleep. The soldier would not take the penny I offered him and brought me a pulpy orange. I sucked on that and spit out the pith and watched the soldier pass up and down past a freight-car outside and after a while the train gave a jerk and started.
We got into Milan early in the morning and they unloaded us in the freight yard. An ambulance took me to the American hospital. Riding in the ambulance on a stretcher I could not tell what part of town we were passing through but when they unloaded the stretcher I saw a market-place and an open wine shop with a girl sweeping out. They were watering the street and it smelled of the early morning. They put the stretcher down and went in. The porter came out with them. He had gray mustaches, wore a doorman’s cap and was in his shirt sleeves. The stretcher would not go into the elevator and they discussed whether it was better to lift me off the stretcher and go up in the elevator or carry the stretcher up the stairs. I listened to them discussing it. They decided on the elevator. They lifted me from the stretcher. “Go easy,” I said. “Take it softly.”
In the elevator we were crowded and as my legs bent the pain was very bad. “Straighten out the legs,” I said.
“We can’t, Signor Tenente. There isn’t room.” The man who said this had his arm around me and my arm was around his neck. His breath came in my face metallic with garlic and red wine.
“Be gentle,” the other man said.
“Son of a bitch who isn’t gentle!”
“Be gentle I say,” the man with my feet repeated.
I saw the doors of the elevator closed, and the grill shut and the fourth-floor button pushed by the porter. The porter looked worried. The elevator rose slowly.
“Heavy?” I asked the man with the garlic.
“Nothing,” he said. His face was sweating and he grunted. The elevator rose steadily and stopped. The man holding the feet opened the door and stepped out. We were on a balcony. There were several doors with brass knobs. The man carrying the feet pushed a button that rang a bell. We heard it inside the doors. No one came. Then the porter came up the stairs.
“Where are they?” the stretcher-bearers asked.
“I don’t know,” said the porter. “They sleep down stairs.”
The porter rang the bell, then knocked on the door, then he opened the door and went in. When he came back there was an elderly woman wearing glasses with him. Her hair was loose and half-falling and she wore a nurse’s dress.
“I can’t understand,” she said. “I can’t understand Italian.”
“I can speak English,” I said. “They want to put me somewhere.”
“None of the rooms are ready. There isn’t any patient expected.” She tucked at her hair and looked at me near-sightedly.
“Show them any room where they can put me.”
“I don’t know,” she said. “There’s no patient expected. I couldn’t put you in just any room.”
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