Reminiscing

A short story about an old woman telling us the story of how she came to love and loose the one man she cared for.

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1. Chapter one

 We were just south of the war but heading northwards in the year, I lived with my mother, a dated seamstress, and my father, a giant of a man whose working hands were old and rustic like the stale bread we devoured in the times of rationing. Summer was in full bloom. My brother Stew assisted my uncle in running the town pub and we spent many a night dancing between the tables with every folk there. I’d just turned sixteen in the April and now I was older, I was truly thankful for the light warm nights that stretched ahead of me.

 It was one night in early August when a dashing fellow strutted in, he was broad and masculine, just shy of 6ft 1, dressed in the usual farmer’s boy attire but not the hat. No. You could see his slightly curled hair all tangled on his forehead. The way the dark locks made his giant blue eyes stand out dragged me towards him. It was like magnets, I just couldn’t repel him.  

 “I’ll have one of those too.” His voice had a slight accent, I always remember thinking he was here for work and he had a large family somewhere west and we could visit there sometime and maybe go walk by the sea. Stew handed him a drink and he took a swig, and then slammed it down on the dusty bar, his head tilted slightly to the right, and that’s when our eyes met for the first time.

 He gave me a quick nod and the edges of his perfectly plump lips tweaked upwards and made the most beautiful smile I’d ever seen. I stood up straighter, and lifted my chin, my heart went crazy and my stomach was spinning, my head was an utter mess, but, I had to look calm. The outside had to be totally contrasting to the inside. I walked over, one careful foot after the other, my knees were growing weaker and weaker and...

 The sky was so picturesque. Each twinkling little star reflected right into my eyes. There was a breeze, but I didn’t shudder, it was warm and comfortable, like the blanket my mother kept at the bottom of her bed. I lifted myself from the cool ground and I started to tumble and spin and the stars were getting closer and I could feel everything begin to blur and nothing made sense, my eyes watered, my head felt huge and then it all stopped.

“Are you ok there? You had a nasty looking fall. I stopped the bleeding, but there’s a bit in your hairline.” He gently brushed his hand along my head and smiled right at me; he picked up my hand and placed it on the cut. I laughed, so embarrassed yet so happy he was by my side and he made me feel so calm and peaceful, he was like a drug.

“Thankyou, erm, what is your name sorry?” The wind blew again, this time colder and more forceful.

“Harry,” He removed his jacket and wrapped it around my shoulders, “here, you must be freezing.” I let him wrap me up and he kept one arm around me. I sank into it and just laid there. I could have stayed there all night, just watching the stars and telling eachother stories of our childhood, and our family and our ambitions.

 “My mother had me at 16, I’ve never met my father, and he got her pregnant and left because he didn’t want to clear up the mess he made. Me and mother lived with my grandparents, but they died when I was young and my poor mother bless her couldn’t handle everything. She had to sell the house and get a job with one of the rich families in town and she lived in the basement with some other servants. I was taken to my mother’s sister’s house, where I lived with her four children and her husband. I left a year ago, as soon as I turned 16 I packed my bags and hit the road. Now I’m here. I work on one of the farms and one day I’ll save up enough money to buy a small house for me and my mother, and maybe a pretty wife who I can start a family with. I’d be the man I always needed in my life, I’d be a father.” He was wonderful. Everything about him mesmerised me. How I go on about it must make it sound like a fairytale, when really, we were propped up against the murky wall of the post office, the unforgettable stench of smoke spiralling around us.

 He became quite a regular in the pub, I hoped it was because of me, but he was such a likeable character many took to him. We talked and then he’d ask me to dance and everyday it was just a little bit better than the night before.

 September was swift to arrive and it was the 1st in no time, my brother’s birthday, and his 20th to be exact. I remember being woken up to shouting. It was cold that day, a bitter drag in the air. There was a steady patter of raindrops, they were something to concentrate on whilst I tried to stop myself from screaming because I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing.

 “I’m 20 now! I can go if I want, it’s our country, and we have a duty!” I could hear mother mumble something back but it was hard to hear through the tears and choking.

 “I don’t care how old you are, you are my son and you’re going to do what I say!” Father was aggressive and his stamping foot made the whole house shake, I thought they were going to fight. Loud cursing voices began shouting over eachother, the words breaking down the walls.

 The door slammed. The shouting stopped. I followed my suspicions and headed downstairs.

“Mother?” She saw me looking upon her, heavy tears filling the frames of her eyes until they exploded and crawled down her flushed cheeks. “Where’s Stew, and Father? Why are they shouting at eachother?”

 “War.” She said simply, and left the house with her shopping basket. The front door flung open and my angered father trudged in.

 “If you see your brother, you tell him he is not to sign up! He has a family to support and I can’t work forever!”

 I didn’t see my brother. I tried, oh I tried. I looked everywhere, but no one had seen him. I must have run the length of the village a hundred times that day. Maybe he got lost in all the people who flooded to sign up. Maybe they deported him straight away. I never got told how the process worked. Men wouldn’t reminisce about the war for a long time, and when they decided it was ok, no one wanted to hear to it.

 “Hazel, it’s what he wanted. You can’t punish yourself anymore.” I spent a lot of time with Harry when Stew left. My father didn’t want to be around us much and mother was sick with panic and dread. Harry became the only sane person left, I myself wasn’t normal anymore.

 “But if I checked for a little longer, I could have stopped him!” The cool rounded pebble I’d be fiddling with for the last ten minutes left my land and skimmed the water.

 “He didn’t want to be found. You could never have talked him out of it. Hazel?” He went unusually quiet, dropping his head as he slouched back into the grassy bank.

 “Yes?”

“I’m going too.” He could have said anything else, but not that. No. I couldn’t cope with two.

“Harry, no! Please, just stay. You can’t go!” I clung onto him, begging him through the tears. But just like Stew, he was stubborn about his choice. There was nothing I could say or do. I just had to hope he made it out the other side.

 It was early February when Harry left, late April when we got the news about Stew.

 Mother cried for weeks, she wouldn’t leave her bed. She thought that God was punishing her, like it was all her fault. Father just worked, then he drank, and then he worked. He assumed he was the one being punished, for getting angry with him and not saying goodbye properly. As for me, when the men came to tell us about Stews passing, they said they retrieved a letter from his uniform, written on the front was my name. It took me days to read it. I just carried it around and picked at the envelope before deciding I just couldn’t do it. I wish I had read it sooner.

Hazel,

I wish I had listened to Father. I wish that I didn’t hide from you when you came looking. I’m on the front soon, going over the top. I can’t tell you what it feels like. I never planned on writing. I must be honest. You don’t want to know what it’s like here, if I were at home, I wouldn’t either. But the thing is, a few months ago some new men came down. There was a familiar face in the crowd. Harry, Harry Chester, and he spoke about you. A lot. I was grateful to him as he seemed to be a brother to you whilst I was gone. The thing is he made it clear that he intended to be anything but a brother. “I’ll marry her one day Stew! I will! When we go home, we’ll have a service in the church, then go back to the pub and have the best party the village has seen! Then we’ll buy that house I told her I’d buy one day, and we’ll grow old together.” I just laughed at him when he said it. But I too wanted him to marry you, I approved.

 I told you earlier I never planned on writing, however now I must. Harry came from a place far away from our village, and when he registered, he wrote down the town he grew up in, not ours. That’s why you won’t have received the news.

 They found his body Hazel. He’s gone. I don’t know what happened, but he died an honourable death, he died a hero. I’m sorry I had to tell you.

I love you.

Stew

I struggle to read the writing nowadays. My wrinkled eyelids fold over my eyes and the glasses propped on my nose don’t do much help. I keep the letter close to me, though always out of sight, but never out of mind. After learning that Harry wanted to marry me, I could never quite move on. That doesn’t mean to say I led a boring loveless life, in fact, it was a beautiful one. I never had children of my own; instead I adopted many, and worked with the church and other small organisations to open an orphanage. Some might say it was the loss of loved ones that influenced me, others just thought I was kind natured. But it was Harry’s story that made me realise how important it is to have proper care so you can become a better person in later life. I made it my life’s mission to search for his mother, and when I finally found her, she welcomed me with open arms. Though on her death bed she was still so full of life, it broke her heart to think of Harry. For a few months I visited regularly, but she passed away later on. I guess her life on earth could never compare to the one she’d live in heaven, finally she’d see her son again. It almost made me wish I could visit heaven and say hello for myself. Sometimes I wonder what life would be like if he never left, where we’d live, who we’d be, but there was never any reason in speculating, because it was never going to be reality, it would always just be an old woman reminiscing. 

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