A shot of light penetrated the curtains and illuminated the candle lit front room before reconciling me with darkness. I counted eight seconds before a resonating grumble ripped through the sky. I was muttering to myself about how miserable the walk to work would be tomorrow after tonight’s deluge when I heard something. Something that sent icy tendrils up my spine and into my scalp.
The screeching tyres of a motorcycle tore through the sound of the cascading rain. I froze. Raspy breaths slivered out of me as my heart hammered my ribs. My muscles lapsed and the book fell to the floor with a thud that seemed to echo through my mind.
I stumbled over to the window and parted the curtains. My eyes could not perforate the darkness that had washed over the road; the houses; the people that also peeked through a small gap in the curtain. People who were, like me, watching to see where the boy on the motorcycle would stop. I knew all too well that we were all nervously waiting to see who would face the finger of death, whilst praying that it would not be for us.
One beam of yellow light tore through the darkness and rain. The light was getting brighter. The roar of the engine was getting louder. Without realising it, I held my breath. Over and over again, I wished that the boy would not stop by my house. I wanted him to carry on down the road and destroy someone else's life. I sound selfish, but I was so scared.
The light was so close now. So bright in the absence of the moon. I was staring at the light at the end of the tunnel. I was staring at death. And then the engine spluttered and died. Outside my door.
I saw the figure of a boy who was not yet a man. He jumped off his bike and walked towards my house. He disappeared from view for a moment, but then three knocks reverberated through the room. I did not move. Another three knocks.
I peeled myself away from the window and let the curtain hide me from the sympathetic but relieved faces that stared through the night. They could sleep tonight. I couldn't.
Trembling, I unlocked the front door and met the innocent eyes of Death's servant. Solemnly, the boy slipped his hand inside his jacket and brought out a telegram. He extended it towards me. I did not take it.
“I am sorry, Miss, I truly am,” the boy said and he really did look sincere. “But I've got to deliver more telegrams before the sun comes up.”
More telegrams. More people whose lives would be destroyed.
My hand shook as I took the telegram. The boy gave me a nod before jogging back to his bike and gunning the engine. He could not get away fast enough.
I shut the door and leant against it. Slowly, I slid down the wood until I hit the well-worn rug. Through my tears, I saw the three most haunting words that anyone can read concerning someone they love: Killed In Action. The other words blurred together and didn't mean anything to me. I didn't care about how deeply distressed they were about informing me of my husband's death. I didn't care! To them, Private Eric Lawrence was just a number that made up the army, but to me... He was my husband. The man I loved.
And he was gone. He was dead.
Numb, I crawled to the dead fireplace and lay there. I rested my head on the stone grate and ignored how cold it was. For the first time, I noticed the pattern on the carpet, the small sign of damp in the corner of the ceiling, the slight tear in the upholstery of the armchair.
Somehow, I managed to work up enough strength to drag myself upstairs to bed. I suffocated myself with Eric's pillow, inhaling his faint, lingering scent of petroleum and leather. I pulled the pillow away from my face and stared up at the ceiling. Then remembered.