Curled like a tadpole in the confines of the ball turret, he slips into his mind and enters the first nautilus ring of memory.
He sees a potting shed littered with terra cotta fragments, soft loam, and quietly rotting tomato vines. It is fall now, and the place hasn't been used for nearly a month, not that his mother was ever much of a gardener - she prefers the career of a socialite, and complains constantly about this heathen life in the country. His father yells whenever she embarks on a new tirade, and his mother drinks something out of a square-cut glass bottle that looks as though it were pilfered from Oz, and then everything is still again. For a while.
He watches himself enter the shed, gawky and fair. Tears have made a paisley pattern of sorts in the skim of blood on his pale cheek, and the skin about his eye looks like an oval of wet blotter paper rife with plum-colored ink. He purloins a splinter of stake from the tomato ruins, and in his rage and helplessness, assaults the spiracles of a nearby snail until it shrivels and twists and finally goes still.
He shivers and casts the splinter as far away from him as he possibly can.
In the second ring of memory, she stands inside the skeleton of a charred house. She is still, and calm, and clearly more than a little numb, though the clenched spirals of her tiny hands indicate at least some awareness of calamity. He cautiously walks behind her and places a hand upon her delicate shoulder. He can see the pale blue veins of her neck pulsing. They are oddly beautiful.
At a loss for what to say - and he never was a man of many words - he rummages awkwardly in his left pocket. A familiar curve graces his fingertips, and he fingers the brittle snail shell as he whispers inaudibly, "I don't want anything to hurt ever again."
The next week, the German planes return, and he stands beside her hospital bed as the woman quietly fades away.
The man in the ball turret is crying, but no one can see, and with a wave of revulsion, he flings his hands away from the trigger mechanisms of the twin .50 caliber machine guns.
"We can make life however we want it to be," he says quietly to himself.
They flush his carcass from the B-17 in the evening like gourmands scraping the meat out of a particularly recalcitrant piece of escargot. A snail shell rolls out of his hand in the process, and someone steps on it. Its fragile whorls smear like chalk on the runway. Life goes on.