"Oh my sons," she said, her voice velvet. Bullets streaked by, criss-crossing over her head as she rose from the ocean, between the amphibious troop deployment vehicles. Men yelled frantically, and grenades boomed, blasting up cones of sand and liberated parts of men. "Oh my sons." Her ample lips did not move, but were slightly parted enough to frame a glint of ivory. She was naked except for a film of seawater glistening on her timelessly young skin. Her blonde hair was impossibly thick and long, interwoven with tendrils of seaweed and decorated by tiny living mollusks.
She walked effortless through the surf, shining in the sun, towards two figures lying in the sand. Their skin and fatigues were stained dark crimson. One man lay with his cheek and eye in the surf-soaked grit. He bled from the throat and could not move from there down. The other man was bleeding from his thigh and arm and left ear. They both saw the woman emerging from the sea.
"Oh my sons," she repeated silently.
"Get down..." whispered the man without the ear, who could still speak though his voice was hoarse. The other man gurgled, his eyes widening. The woman smiled.
"I cannot by harmed," she said. "What is a bullet to me? They are of concern only to mortals." She approached and knelt between them. She cradled the head of the man with the throat wound.
"Who...are you?" asked the other man.
"I am Aphrodite," she said, "although I have many names." She smiled, then leaned down and kissed the man she held. Her mouth came away stained with blood. The blood faded from her lips, as if sucked in, absorbed into the spaces between the cells of her skin. The paralyzed man looked up at her adoringly, calmly.
"Oh my sons," she said. "I cannot take your pain away, but I can give you comfort."
"Are you, are you real?"
"I am more real than you," she said.
"Why are you speaking in my head? Why don't your lips move when you talk?"
"Because I can," she said smiling. Then she parted her lips and spoke. "But if this makes you feel better..."
The man in her hands started to choke. She stroked his matted hair. He looked up at her face lovingly. Tears streamed from his eyes.
"Help him," whispered the other man.
"I cannot," she said, still looking down upon the dying man, with benevolence. He sighed heavily, then stopped breathing. She carefully closed his eyelids, then laid his head back down into the sand.
"Yes, he did," she said. "Did you know him?"
"No," said the man.
"You will always remember his face." She gently brushed the dead man's cheek with the back of her hand. "The warmth leaves him."
"Am I dying?" said the other man.
"If you were, you would know for certain." She turned to face him, and brushed a stray lock of hair from his forehead.
"I thought maybe--"
"That you could only see me because you were dying?" she said.
"Yeah," he said.
"I am not Death," she said. The man looked around at the air surrounding them as if expecting to see someone else.
"You see me, because you need to see me," she said. "The other soldiers would be able to see me too, if they only looked."
"I don't understand."
"You are mortal," she said, smiling silently again. "But you will not die for a long time yet."
"I guess this is my day," he said, chuckling weakly. "I had to meet a goddess the day I'm bleeding all over the place."
"As I said, we can be seen if you only look. You can meet me again any day, if you have love in your mind."
"In my mind?"
"Your heart only pumps blood. It is essential, but it does not allow you to interpret this world you live in. Your mind chooses to love or not love. Choose love. Choose love as much as you can, as often as you can. Choose love when you want to do otherwise. Especially then."
The man stared at her for a moment.
"You don't believe me, do you?"
"It's a little strange."
"If the men who started this war chose love whenever they could, would there be a war?"
"We had no choice--"
"No, but your side didn't start it," she said, getting up. The sand grains fell from the skin on her legs as if statically repelled. "You don't have to believe me. Just try it." She smiled broadly, as bullets arced and looped their trajectories around her body. "A medic will be along shortly. Goodbye."
With hand raised, she blew him a kiss, then turned, and walked towards the dunes. As she did, she became two, then four, then eight, and so on. Her selves departed in both directions along beach, and up the grassy embankment towards the enemy machine gun nests. Each of them found a fallen man, crouching or kneeling, or sitting beside him, and looking down beatifically.
"Here's one!" said a soldier approaching. He carried a medic's kit. "How'ya doing buddy? Nice day for a war, isn't it?" The medic smiled as he quickly unpacked gauze.
"Yeah...I guess," said the wounded man. He looked around at the other fallen soldiers, but the woman was gone. "Hey, did you happen to see a..."
"See a what?" asked the medic. He dabbed at the man's ear wound.
"I just...had a conversation with Aphrodite..." The man grimaced. "You must think I'm delirious."
The medic laughed.
"Nope," he said. "I've seen her too. Just don't tell anyone back home. They'll think you're nuts."
"Yeah. You just get yourself home in one piece, okay? Then you get yourself a good woman. Treat her well. Love her. Adore her if you possibly can. All that good stuff, you hear? And pass it along."
"Wow," said the wounded man.
"Yup. She is in every woman. You'll be just fine," said the medic. He motioned to two other soldier who bore a stretcher. Then he winked at the man, before moving along to the next man lying in the sand.