Annalise walks up the stairs, her old bones creaking with age. The air seems crisp, clean, and filled with hope, a new start as spring cleaning begins. She steps into the attic, its familiar layout calming. She reaches to pull down a binder when she knocks loose an old cardboard shoebox. Startled, she stares at it for a few seconds, trying to recall where it had come from. Putting the binder aside, she bends down and picks up the box. She opens it tentatively, when there, lies a faded valentine, once a vivid red, it was now a pale pink, almost golden.
A beautiful sundress on a hanger, yellow and feminine. A girl in the mirror, freckled, pulls her curls up and away from her neck, pinning it up into a french twist. Pretty? Maybe. If only she had the money for some rouge. A quarter till 4. 15 minutes until he’s there. She slips on the dress and buckles the white kitten heels her parents got her for her 17th birthday, which seems as if years had passed since, but was only a mere month earlier. The doorbell chimes, alerting her of his arrival.
Annalise, gathers the box and its contents, and heads down to her front parlor, where she knows her glasses and a big comfy chair wait, the large window allowing the sunlight to brighten the room. When she settles, she reopens the box, picks up the valentine, where underneath, lies a dried and brown rose.
One glance in the mirror tells her she is as ready as she’s going to be. She grabs the small clutch that she borrowed from her mother and trots down the stairs. If she’s fast enough, they can leave before her parents confront them. When she makes it to the door, she takes a second to tuck a stray curl behind her ear, smooth her hands over the dress, and take a final breath. Hand on the knob. A broad silhouette against the stained glass. A twist of the wrist, and she pulls the door open. There he is, just as she expected, but still surprising, nonetheless. He grins, and offers his arm.
A ticket, just the stub left from a movie.
The movie was really just a blur, besides how could she focus when he was sitting right there, his laugh consuming when one of the characters trips. Now, at the diner, he talks about his dreams of being a father, and starting his own business. What he doesn’t talk about is the looming draft, that could crush those dreams in a second. He can tell me he’s scared, I am too. Pushing that thought away she sips her shake, and tells him about how her younger sister had thrown a fit over pants the night before, and he chuckles at her imitation of the tantrum.
A wisp of a thought. The night hadn’t ended well.
Midway through her story, he stops laughing, stops smiling altogether. At first she thinks she must have said something wrong, but he isn’t even looking at her, he is looking past her shoulder. She has to look, but she doesn’t want to draw attention to them if the person were to see her turn, obviously the person isn’t someone he wants to be seeing.
A single grimace at this memory. Outside the house, a faraway dog barks. Annalise keeps reliving the night anyways. Tries to forget his parents when they had walked into the diner, and had saw them together. How they had made a scene. How they called her trash. How they had forbid him from seeing her. How after that night, the desperation kept her awake at night and stole her focus during the day.
The white ceiling above her, it could use a coat of paint. But who has money for that anyways? Sleep wasn’t coming, and she knows that school, regardless of the amount of sleep, will come. *tpt* She startles at the sudden sound in the quiet. *tpt*......... the sound, she realizes, is coming from the window. Him! Her bed creaks under the sudden shift in her weight. The springs groaning. She pulls up the window as quick as she dares.
A single leaf falls off the maple outside that scratches her bedroom window upstairs.
Sneaking back in was harder than sneaking out was. She waits until she’s back under the covers before she lets herself cry. He’s been drafted. He’s going to war.
A silk handkerchief, the folds deeply creased. She pulls it out of the box. As she lifts her hand, a necklace slips out, having been tucked within the hankie for years. Tarnished silver. The pendant etched with a small iris, her favorite flower.
So many people. Bumping, shouting, and bustling before that final bus leaves. The bus he’ll take. She was scared she wouldn’t catch him. Wouldn’t get to say goodbye. But her fears weren’t something to worry about, as there he was, saying goodbye to his parents. She waits, and then he finally sees her, a small touch of a smile on his face, as if he had a secret. When he reaches her, he pulls her away from his parents view, in case they were to look over towards him. He gives her one tender kiss and presses a thick envelope into her hand. He squeezes her in a firm but gentle hug. One last kiss on her forehead and he’s gone. No. Wait.
Envelope missing, thrown away years ago. The paper crinkly, like dried leaves, but yellow.
Annalise, it wrote, our departure grim, and our chances slim, but I was going to marry you, had this not happened. I still will, if I make it. If I don’t, move on. Fall in love again, make yourself a life. LIVE.
Arms deep in dishwater. Footsteps pounding on the wooden porch, murmurs pushing past the walls. A pause. 3 knocks. Open door. 2 officers. 2 solemn faces. Yet another letter, this one with an army emblem. They are sorry for her loss, they share their condolences. They say he fought bravely, got shot in battle. That he died 3 days later in the medic ward of infection.
She died that day, she remembers.
Snow, biting at his toes. Waiting for the attack to cease. A comrade goes down, shot in the chest. He tries to stop the blood, to keep a man he has called his friend from sinking past return. He rips off the jacket soaked in blood, only to replace it with his own, uses scraps against the wound. A sharp pain emerges in his stomach, making his scream. The snow becomes bliss, a numbness to the pain.
A dog tag on a tarnished chain. Dented and some words worn away. This necklace was once around his neck.
Something, maybe it was the pounding in his head, or the shouting beside him, woke him up. Slowly he opens his eyes. And the light. The light burns into his head, making him want to escape back into the blackness. Agonizingly, he turns his head towards the clammer that was going on around the bed beside him. My comrade. And there, in fact is the body of his friend, the one who got shot on the chest. Dead, they keep saying. Time of death was only 7 minutes ago.
Being sent home, mixed up identities, go surprise your family. The last few weeks had been a mess of words, of murmurs. But, here he was in his town. Only 16 months ago had he left. A lifetime. But he isn’t waiting any longer. He had already hidden this long. Scared of what she would think. Her. She is all he can think about. He can only imagine what she will say when she see’s him there, not dead as the Army had told her.
Her house, always charming in its age, didn’t look as charming as before. The flowers that she planted, gone. The windows, not as clear. The stairs cried its familiar creak as he took them two at a time up her porch. He knocks. He waits. And of all people, her father is the one who answers the door. He looks at him in shock. She’s gone, and went up north.
He stops briefly at his house, to get non-militia clothing, and to hug his mother and father goodbye. Despite their protests, he leaves.
It came in handy, things learned in war, on how to track someone down. They worked in pairs, but he spied for the camps when not in combat. He found her, sure enough, up north. A pretty little house, quaint and happy, like she had always dreamed of.
One last breath, one pause. He goes, before he loses his courage, and knocks a rapid 5 times. It isn’t her that comes to the door, but a man slightly older than himself. The man wonders aloud. Questions asked, questions answered. Tension and anger become apparent. The man, is her husband.
Annaliese, gets up, decides quickly before she can talk herself out of it. Moves towards the parlor, where her departed husband enjoyed a lot of his free time. Reading, tinkering with a radio, or sipping on some coffee while listening to records. The air is stale, as no one had entered since he died 7 months ago, and smelled faintly of him still, his musk, mixed with swirls of his cologne and the smoke of his rare cigar. The writing desk, had needed to be sorted years ago, but she had never touched it, Albert had liked it a certain way. Tentatively she opens it, dust flying as she does so. She puts pens in a drawer, capping them when their lid was off. She takes the few journals laying open and dusts them off, and lines back of the cabinet with them, spines aligned just so. One journal, on instincts makes her gut wrench. It was Albert’s goal journal. He updated it daily with small tasks and when he felt inspired he would put a big task on it for the far future. Scared, as if she might break the spine, she opens it. Tucked into two blank pages is a siff bundle of paper. She unfolds and turns it over.
Our sweet Annaliese, she is as stunning as ever. As my regrets become apparent the closer I come to my death, I realise that I could never have made my own wife happy. When we first met, she had been so sad, broken over your death those many years ago, and I was quick to promise her a life, with kids and a home to call hers. And she wanted that, but she wanted it with you. The truth is, I was selfish, and I guess I still am. I was so in love with her. When you came home, not dead, I couldn’t bear the thought of telling her alive, scared she would have left me. And she would have to. She never loved me, not like she loved you. I was just a person to pass the time, even when she was grieving on the inside, she stayed strong. Then our children were born, one by one, and she got better. She cares for me, but its out of respect more than anything.
My one wish is that once I die from this cancer, is that you will love her, make up for all those years I hid you from her, and that you take care of her.
Albert H. Farrant
A letter unsent. This was to Victor. The dead man she loved, tried to forget. Tried to mask the pain he had caused by dying. Not dead. Alive. If she had known...