17 Words

by David Harker

“Regret to announce that your husband Cpl William Harman has been killed in action. Letter to follow.”

Jim, the old postmaster, had delivered the telegram personally, and now stood, wringing his cap, at the door.

“Edith, I’m so very sorry… if there’s anything Mary or I can do…” He left the words hanging and turning slowly, trudged away, carrying all the cares of the world on his shoulders..

Edith felt herself slowly sink to the floor. Time, like her heart, slowed to a crawl and her breath came in snatched waves. Emptiness poured into her soul, wave upon wave of inky uncertainty and grief. And yet no tears.

A gifted craftsman, Bill had built the house by the lake as a surprise for her. She had thought, in common with every young couple starting out, that they would live in town with his parents. She was therefore more than a little bemused when, after the wedding, he and she had driven the cart containing her trousseau out of town and towards the lake.

“Excited?” He had asked.

“About as excited as any girl could be!” she replied, then giggled as Rosy, her elderly cat, snored loudly in her lap despite their jolting, rattling progress along the forest trail.

Finally the cart turned a corner and they drew to a halt outside the most gorgeous new home looking out onto the lake. Dappled sunlight, filtering through the trees, danced on the veranda as Bill climbed down from the cart. Offering his hand, she took it and climbed down onto the cart step, his strong hands then grasped her waist and lifted her to the ground.

Bill took Edith by the hand and led her across to the front door. He took the key theatrically from his pocket, unlocked the door, pushed it open, then stooped and lifted her into his arms.

“I love you!” He whispered as he carried her across the threshold.

“My dear?” The parson’s question woke her from her reverie, “I’ve come to offer my condolences and God’s guidance”

“Not now!” Her response, regrettably, had been too sharp and too rude, but just now she did not want to speak, nor exchange pleasantries. Seeming to understand he turned to walk away, “When you’re ready then… God be with you…”

She remembered when less than a year after their marriage, on August 5th 1914, Bill had received the call to war. Then the nights sitting alone on the veranda, watching the stars and stroking Rosy; wondering why, with all their supposed intelligence, man should fight man. Eagerly she would devour the paucity of news of the war, then shared the sadness when young Arthur was reported missing. She joined the local knitting circle, making countless balaclavas, scarves and fingerless gloves for the men folk. She worried constantly and each night in their bed she prayed for Bill as she clutched his pillow to her breast.

Then one day a parcel arrived, the first post she had ever received in her life.

“Miss! It’s … It’s a parcel for you! An’ it’s all the way from France!” the boy breathlessly announced as he thrust it towards her.

She put down the washing basket she had been carrying and wiped her hands on her apron. Blowing a loose strand of hair from her face, she took the parcel and smiled at the eager young lad. He stood, mouth agape, waiting to see what had come from the other end of the world to their small community.

Recognising Bill’s hand, she slipped the knotted string, tore open the paper and opened the box. She dipped her hand inside and out into the sunlight rose the most wondrous glittering figurine in glass – “Lalique 1914” stamped on the base.

“Blimey Miss! It’s an angel!”

Now this, her second postal delivery. She read the telegram again. 17 words. Just 17 words to sum up her husband, her lover, her soul mate, her very life.

And at last the tears came…

David Harker lives in part of a 17th century watermill in the middle of rural South Shropshire. His loves are writing, nature and landscape photography.

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  1. #1 by Sandra on March 27, 2011 - 8:12 am

    An excellent flash, Dave. Some great scene-setting moments. Well done.

    Sandra Crook

  2. #2 by Jennifer walmsley on March 27, 2011 - 8:30 am

    A lovely story. I could see it all and feel her grief. Wonderful and touching ending.

  3. #3 by S de Assaf on March 27, 2011 - 9:15 am

    Beautiful, delicate – but sadly nothing ever changes. Women must weep while men go to war.

  4. #4 by John Ritchie on March 27, 2011 - 7:16 pm

    Encapsulates the true tragedy of war the loss and the waste. A fine piece of writing.

    John

  5. #5 by nicky on March 28, 2011 - 8:32 am

    perfect Dave, really really good, will be waiting for more !

  6. #6 by fiona campbell on April 1, 2011 - 9:29 pm

    brought tears to my eyes, excellent writing.

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