Was there love once? I have forgotten her.
Was there grief once? Grief yet is mine.
The words stared at her, the italic cursive lettering standing out on the page like a single flower on a vast empty field. The meaning seeped into her, venom of emotions spreading within her veins and awakening her long forgotten spirit. How was it that when she woke up, she only wished to stay asleep? Reluctantly, she turned to the first page of the leather bound black book. The sight of his neat handwriting slicing a hot knife of pain in the pit of her stomach as her eye caught the last words at the bottom of the page: “…our story is one that is worth telling. Write it so that one day, we can look back and relive those moments like it was only yesterday. My love is thine. Always.”
She reached towards the crisp white paper of the page and slowly inhaled its scent. No. There was nothing left. Not one single trace of his aroma. She let out an aching sob, her tears flooding down her bony, pallid face until it reached the page and blended with the black ink of his words.
Seven years had passed and until today, she had never opened that book.
* * *
I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark
And whistled early with the lark.
Silence was as rare as the sunlight in these trenches. Maybe he had gone deaf, he was not sure, but he knows that there is nothing worse than being locked up within your own thoughts as you are further submerged in this cold hollow darkness. Thankfully, he was spared of this as William sat down on the bunk next to his. As always, he smiled warmly at John and waited for him to speak first.
“Anything happening out there we should know about?” John asked.
William avoided John’s stare as he spoke. He looked down at his leather boots and saw that they were coated with dried clumps of cloying mud. Reaching underneath his bunk, he pulled out a brush with thistles growing out in different directions, worn out from being used so often. He carefully started to brush away the mud, from the heel of the boot to the toe, moving at a glacial pace which seemed to calm him.
John understood William’s need to follow his routines. He knew not to question them.
“You know what, I think you did really great out there today. Never seen anyone fire up that machine gun and not miss one target.” John praised him as he patted him gently on the back.
William looked up and gazed at the rough concrete wall behind John; the intricate patterns of dents and bumps scattered upon it suddenly interested him. Then, as if finally processing what John had said, he beamed with delight. It was a rare occurrence for someone to compliment his talent.
John didn’t wait for a response. Picking up his packet of cigarettes he got up to leave. He stopped as he reached the door and turning around, he looked at William as he smiled contently to himself whilst he brushed his boots clean.
With a sad smile he warmly said, “The boots look good Will.”
* * *
O the fading eyes, the grimed face turned bony
Lessening pressure of a hand, shrunk, clammed and stony.
She remembered those nights when she would be awakened by his deafening screams of torture and pain as he writhed on the bed, drenched in cold sweat. Once she had woken him, his eyes were wide and bloodshot; he shook uncontrollably with fear as he gasped for air to soothe his lungs.
She thought it would get better and that once he had adjusted back to the normality of country life outside the battle fields, he could forget about the blaring noises of the machine guns, the thunder of grenades and cannon balls. But this did not happen; it continued to eat away at him, shattering his mind and body as he was vividly reminded of the fleshless bodies lying one on top of another. Innocence and bravery etched deep on each of the soldiers’ faces.
The hell where youth and laughter go.
* * *
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.
The ear-splitting sound of the sharp gunshot echoed outside the empty stillness of the fields as it resembled a single flare of a firework. John quickly got out of his bed and in the midst of doing so he noticed the neatly made bunk next to his. From what he could remember it was not the image of William sprawled on the mud-spattered ground with a fifteen millimetre sized hole on the right temple of his head that sent a shivering spark of electricity down his spine, draining his face of blood. It was the sight of his well-polished boots and precisely folded green uniform that instantly told him William had done it. John thought and believed that William could handle the harsh snipes and remarks made towards him because of his strange behaviours. He thought wrong. William, after all, was only human. And he was simple. The worst thing was that he didn’t feel worthy enough to call himself a soldier.
Looking down at him, he realised that for once, William’s cerulean blue eyes were looking straight at his. The life that was once captured in his face was gone as it now resembled a perfectly carved stone white statue.
“Goodbye Will.” He whispered and with that, he gently closed his eyelids while a swift breeze washed over him. For a moment, John could almost hear the careful rhythm of a brush against the boots.
* * *
Though I have had friends
And a beautiful love
There is one lover I await above all.
His throat burned from the endless shouts and screams. He knew that it wasn’t fair to do this to her, for her to deal with it. Every time he would drift off to sleep, the nightmare began and like a thick rope, the aching pain wrapped around him tightly. He wished it would just leave him alone but it was a scar engraved in the deepest part of his body. It was a disease that would continue to chase and torture until he found peace.
After all these years, he had finally understood William’s need to end it all. He didn’t do it for himself, he did it for others. He thought that a world without him was better off. It would be the best thing to do for Mary, John thought.
She will clutch me with fierce arms
And stab me with a kiss like a wound.
He had told her that he would meet her at the opera house. They were going to go out and celebrate the end of the war after it was finally reported today that it was all over. He had reserved two seats and on hers were seven roses; one for each year that they had been together. With the roses was a leather book in which he had written her a goodbye.
She would wait for him, but this time, there was no coming back.
* * *
When she reached their bedroom, she could smell the faint metallic odour of blood, his limp body in a pool of red. Through the open glass windows, the full moon shone, casting shadows upon his peaceful face, allowing her to see a glimpse of it. Everything was still and quiet but the echoes of her screams.
And cast upon me an unbreakable sleep
Softly for ever
* * *
Was there love once? I have forgotten her?
Was there grief once? Grief yet is mine.
O loved, living, dying, heroic soldier.
All, all my joy, my grief, my love, are thine.
Anna finished reading the poem and carefully closed the leather bound book. She turned towards the direction of her mother on the wooden rocking chair, sewing intently.
“Mama”, she asked hesitantly, “have you forgiven Papa for leaving us?”
Struck by her question, Mary quickly looked up at her daughter’s emerald green eyes. They were just like John’s, piercing and soul-possessing.
With a brief pause, she answered, “Your father was one of the bravest men I knew. He went through so much that I am nothing but proud of him.”
“I wish I could have known him.” Anna whispered.
* * *
That night, Mary laid in bed lost in her maze of thoughts. In the same year, she had lost her brother and her husband all because of the war; a war which not only left wounds, but scars and sorrow. She could only hope that in time these scars would heal and the light of each day would be easier to face.
Tomorrow, she would fill another blank page and write a poem.
Sign up to Wordebite to comment on this story and see other reviews, including editorial advice.
Don’t miss your chance to be published and contribute