When she heard his sonorous voice, her knees crumpled. She had to sit. He told her he had something to say. He couldn’t do it by phone. She said yes, she would be there. It had been such a long time. All the things you need to say to someone you no longer see; that had previously crowded her mind, had escaped – she knew she wouldn’t go.
The day came and she spent the morning in bed, watching the world out of her upstairs window. It was a cold dull day; the breeze was blowing rubbish down her street. A lone crisp packet tumbled out of control down the pavement and out of her view. Her net curtains were a screen between her and the world.
Then, without thinking, she was pulling on clothes. It was only as she crossed the road outside of her flat, her body stiff against the wind that it occurred to her she had something important to say to him too. She had been waiting to say it for years.
On the street she was surrounded by concrete-grey and the dull roar from the mid-morning traffic. Huge portly clouds rumbled, threatening the streets below: a promise of a storm, as droplets of rain fell away from rounded dark bellies that hung heavy in the heavens. Strands of her greying hair escaped from the loosely tied bun, and as her hunched form hobbled down the street, her troubled mind drifted. People bustled past her but her eyes didn’t see. Her mind wandered, not realising she had come out of her flat with her bedroom slippers on; she almost glided in urgency on the smooth pavement. And while her feet pushed her on, her milky-blue eyes revealed her missing in action – she remembered every detail.
It was an Indian summer. He was beautiful then, charismatic. His warm summer hair shone as his piercing blue eyes glittered mischievously. He’d smile at her and, as if his warmth was contagious, she’d feel his golden glow touch the deepest part of her stomach as butterflies erupted sending her body shuddering in triumphant tremors.
It didn’t take much to convince her. In those days death could come at any time, but with his suggestion they’d be together forever in some glorious tale of romance, love and loss. They were taking control from the enemy. Even thinking about it made her bristle with excitement. Surrounded by chaos: the black, white and murky grey roared at them in anger: how dare they love! Furious, flaming red splashed at their feet and smeared those who were close, but could not touch them: they were invincible. While death and destruction whirled around them, they stood firm, hand in hand in perfect harmony.
It was all romantically, blissfully real.
…until he looked at her expectantly.
Blinded with tears, a wobbling picture shimmered while memories flooded her mind as icy fingers gripped her tightening chest. She drew her brown coat close around her frame, feigning to feel any warmth it offered – she remembered every detail.
Her heart had skipped a beat as he held her hand – cool smooth fingers wrapped protectively around hers. Her hand sweated.
In her mind she saw his smile. She didn’t see anything or anyone else – it was just him. The tones of his laughter floated on the breeze like music as he threw his head back exposing that neck. White light streamed from the sun behind him crowning him in God-like glory. The sunflowers bowed in his presence as the wind whispered lovingly, caressing his glossy hair. Everything loved him, and she fell in line.
They both signed up for the adventure. Men, women and boys pretending to be older than what they were: all signed up. It was a chance to be heroes, her chance for glory and adventure with him…A memory flashed: blood red, and she grimaced at the scene – she remembered every detail.
Chaos ensued. Screams and shouts filled her ears and gun-fire peppered the ground at her feet, ripping up the soil. Her saucer-like eyes saw all. The steel-grey metallic bird in a smoke filled sky, swastika clearly labelled on the tail. Gone was the serene blue of the heavens, replaced by a stark flat white. Black smoke billowed; undulating and snaking from a vanishing point. It was as if it was building up to some unimaginable height before transforming into some diabolical genie, erupting from the lacerated land.
‘Thuwp… thwup… thwup … thwup… thwup…’
Artificial wind whipped up her fair hair and her eyes squinted protectively. Bodies lay strewn on the cold hard summer ground. Through the smoke and the burning flames she saw snippets of fighting; heard the shouts of men; smelled charred flesh and could taste the coppery tang of blood in the air. Soldiers hung dangerously out of the sides of the metal bird, furiously firing in front of a backdrop of burning buildings. Flashes of light jerked from the noses of rifles in an artificially slowed state as she stared on bewildered. Pushed out the way, she sprawled on the ground grazing her knees on sharp rubble and bits of shrapnel. They stung as bits of soil stuck in her torn and bleeding flesh. The earth where she had stood erupted, throwing a soldier (the one who had pushed her out of the way) forward – she lay there, watching with wide eyes.
No time to scream. Sounds were muffled as her ears rang from the explosion.
A hand thudded dead nearby, bloody and jagged. The wrist bone shattered exposing stark white encompassed by raw red. Scanning the confusion, her frantic eyes searched for him. Among the running soldiers; the shouts and the bodies; the smoke and the flames; she saw him running towards her.
His once glowing golden hair was dirty and messy. His face was smeared with black and dull red, his gun clasped tightly under his right arm. The green on his fatigues were not as bright as she remembered. They looked more of a washed out green – faded, perhaps a light grey. Why hadn’t she noticed that before? The scene played out as a film, slow, deliberate with close-ups of intricate details. The blue of his bulging eyes were sharp as the black pupils stretched too wide. His animated mouth urgently formed words she couldn’t hear through the constant muffled ringing.
Scrambling to his feet he returned fire running while towards her, his dishevelled hair flapping furiously as he ran, his face contorted with fury and pain. A throbbing purple vein protruded from his temple as a bead of sweat trickled down his cheek leaving a clear pale track. Her rhythmical heart pounded in her ears as his steps fell in line with the beat. She blinked a slow backdrop of red warmth. At that moment, sympathy welled up inside her and her heart sank as she wondered how his mother was feeling.
He ran past.
She lay on the grass watching the soles of his black boots disappearing. Mud flew up in his wake. She involuntarily blinked, blank, numb.
Her soaking feet cold, ached as she doggedly turned the corner. Slippers were no protection. It wasn’t far, but she hadn’t been there in years and she was old now.
She tried to forget him every day. She didn’t want to hear from him, until he had called. She didn’t want to see him, until the day arrived. She didn’t want to speak to him, until it was time.
A car horn brought her back to the present. The crash of metal on metal splintered the air as tyres skidded in surface water. Angry voices swore. Car insurance quotes and jingles penetrated her mind. ‘Shopping for insurance deals?’
She had broken their deal. What would she say to him after all these years? What could she say? ‘Sorry’ was on her lips, but the word was burnt ash in her mouth and laced with anger.
The rain gave her new skin, dampening her smouldering sparks.
Lightning seared across the sky, transporting her back to that field where he burned with beauty, eclipsing the sun. And she sealed the pact. She didn’t really understand, didn’t expect him to go through with it. But he did. On that summer day, with the sun shining as it did, and him glowing as he did – she would’ve agreed to anything.
The rain fell in heavy drops now, drenching her frail form – making good on its promise.
Shuddering, suddenly she was back on the battle field. All their friends were dead: time to make good on the promise. He had come back for her… he had pulled her up from the dirt. He had come to save her. She could see it in the black of his eyes; they were hopeless, pitiful, scared and searching for their exit.
In the mine he saw their chance, and with one look, she knew. It was time, but she didn’t know it would be like this.
Grasping her hand, he took a deep breath and momentarily closed his eyes to prepare himself. On opening them, she saw that he was ready. They were a steely blue: cold, calm and determined. Clasping her hand tightly in his, their eyes met. His head nodded slightly in affirmation and they walked… together.
A split second before they stepped, her eyes flickered. She loosened her grip. Releasing his cool hand as quick as Judas kiss, her small fingers slipped from his grasp and she turned and bolted… while he stepped into his future.
Searing pain flashed up her leg and ran straight to her brain. She didn’t look back as the explosion turned everything white hot. Colours faded to nothing, sounds vanished, her pain was gone, and the world she knew faded to white.
He was a veteran now. The blast literally took his face and his legs. Dr Adams said he was lucky. She was even luckier.
She tried to visit him a couple of times, but couldn’t bare his face, couldn’t meet those eyes, knowing what he would ask.
She was a silly girl then, enlisting for adventure. It was a time for change, women could change things, do things, and she was going to be one of those women who changed the world. She would enter a whirlwind adventure with the man she loved. They’d both be heroes. What better place to start than in the war against the greatest evil ever faced?
She was a naive girl. He was an experienced soldier. He should never have asked.
The rain grew heavier.
Her body stiff against the wind. She pulled, out of habit, her coat around her frame as her aged milky-blue eyes scanned the familiar field.
The sunflowers bowed in the wet wind and she saw. His cap covered his burned and blistered skin; a scarf covered his face. His neck healed hard, lumpy and thick.
He turned in his chair to face her. Guilt seeped off her in droves. ‘Sorry’ bubbled up in her throat, but anger and pride forced it back down.
She would hear what he had to say first.