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John Calabash sighed dejectedly as he looked out his bedroom window. It was pouring rain outside. It was in the middle of June, and it had been raining for the past three days now. John was disappointed. Rainy days meant staying inside all day and reading, not that he didn’t like reading—in fact, he loved to read—but he also loved to play outside in the warm, dry climate of a usual midsummer’s day in Portsmouth, England. He started his usual morning routine after dragging himself out of bed. He put on a pair of black cotton shorts, and threw on the same blue and black striped woolen sweater he wore the day before. He walked straight across the narrow hallway to the only bathroom in the house. His golden hair was usually straight and touched the top of his eyebrows, but now it was in a state of “bed-head”. He ran his head under the facet and dried it off with the towel hanging next to the bathtub. As John descended the stairs into the living room, he heard the clanking of pots and pans coming from the kitchen. His mother was standing in front of the oven, preparing to cook breakfast.
“Ah, good morning John,” she said, “Have a seat there and I’ll fix you an egg.”
“Okay.”
She broke an egg over the frying pan. John noticed that the high chair was empty. “June still asleep?” he asked. June was his two-year-old baby sister. She had her mother’s dark brown, wavy hair and her father’s dark green eyes.
“Yeah, she had a bad night, so she’s making up for it now. Hand me your plate dear.”
John handed her the plate that was already set out in front of him. He waited for her to set it back down before grabbing two of the biscuits set at the center of the table.
“I used the last of the butter making that egg. If the weather tomorrow is better, I’ll go buy some groceries.” This made his day more disappointing. He scooped his egg into his mouth and swallowed, then stuffed a whole biscuit in his mouth and began chewing in a gloomy fashion.
After breakfast, John went back up into his room and closed his door. Another day of nothing but reading. Hopefully, it wouldn’t rain for the next couple of weeks. He picked up his favorite book and plopped onto his bed. It was The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. His father, Thomas Calabash, had given it to him around two years ago in the early spring of 1938. The book was published on September the year before and was nearly sold out by the end of the winter. His father heard about the rapid success and, knowing how much his son loved to read, bought one for John’s eleventh birthday. John absolutely loved the book and cherished it as his most important possession. The world of Middle-earth and its fantastic inhabitants fascinated him. He followed Bilbo and his party of dwarves in their journey through the dark caves of the murderous goblins and the treacherous forest of Mirkwood, all the way to the Lonely Mountain and Lake-town, where the greedy dragon Smaug dwelled. Often when he played out side he would throw rocks at the tree in his backyard, imagining himself as the grim and noble Bard the Bowman who slew the dragon with his arrows. John opened the book to where he stopped yesterday and began reading.
It was late in the afternoon, and the rain had finally calmed down to a light drizzle. Mary Calabash walked into the living room and turned on the radio. June was asleep in her bedroom and John was in his room reading. A quiet afternoon. She tuned it to the station the speech was being broadcasted on and sat in the chair next to it. It was probably almost over by now.
“There remains, of course, the danger of bombing attacks, which will certainly be made very soon upon us by the bomber forces of the enemy. It is true that the German bomber force is superior in numbers to ours; but we have a very large bomber force also, which we shall use to strike at military targets in Germany without intermission.” It was Winston Churchill delivering his speech to the House of Commons. Mary and many of her neighbors believed he was the man who could lead Britain along with the allied forces to victory from this terrible war.
“What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our—“
Mary turned off the radio. She heard a car stop by her house and then drive away. There was a knock on the door. She hesitantly walked across the room to open the door. She had no idea who could it could possibly be, since she wasn’t expecting anyone today. There was a man in a dark grey trench coat standing on the other side of the door. He took off his fedora hat, revealing his brown close-cropped hair. His face gave an expression of weariness, and his pale blue eyes held a deep sadness, as if they’ve seen things no man should see.
“Are you Mary Calabash?” He asked.
“I am.”
“Tom’s wife?”
“Yes. Who are you? You know Tom?”
The man’s eyes became sadder. “Yes, I fought alongside him back at Calais. The name’s William Terry. You can call me Will though.”
“Calais? So he did go there! Then you… you’re one of the few survivors.” Mary was afraid to ask. “What… what about Tom? Did he…” She didn’t finish the rest.
“I think it’s best if I tell my whole story.” He said. “May I come in?”
John was sitting on the edge of the staircase, secretly listening to the conversation in the living room below. Earlier he heard mother letting someone in, but he didn’t recognize the person’s voice when they were talking in the living room. He heard something about father, and that made him curious.
“It was on the fourth day when we finally lost Calais. We held it as long as we could, and it was just enough time to let the British and French armies get to the other side of the channel. The Jerries had been bombing us nonstop, and we were completely outnumbered to begin with. That day… that day I caught a piece of shrapnel in my arm. There were a few men who were ordered to go back and report that Calais was lost. Tom told me to go with them. I refused, but he insisted.” The man’s voice started to quiver. ”He said I have to survive. He said I have to tell the people at home what happened at Calais. Then… he smiled! He smiled and then ran off into the one of the old buildings before I could say anything… And then… then the bloody Luftwaffe dropped one right on him!”
“No! Oh God, not Tom! Oh…” Mother cried.
“The building… Tom… was gone.” The man’s voice was quiet now. “They put me on one of the trucks, and we headed for Calais Harbor. There were a few brave transports waiting for us there. Then we went across the channel toward home.”
“You’re a liar!” John yelled. He had heard enough. He absolutely adored his father. He was the greatest man John ever knew, and he always wished to be just like him when he grew up. Whenever he was sad, father would always be able to cheer him up. John was devastated when he heard father say he was going to join the war. On the day his father was deployed, John couldn’t stop crying. Right before it was time to say goodbye, his father gave him a big hug and with a grin said, “Smile Johnny, and be strong.” Somehow he managed to smile, and his father said, “That’s a good lad. Take care of your mother and sister,” and then his father was gone. John has been anxiously waiting for his father’s return, and now this stranger comes along and says that his father is dead. Tears were streaming down his face. The sudden noise had shocked both of the adults downstairs.
“Johnny! Oh Johnny, your father…” His mother sobbed.
“No! Mother, why did you let this man in? He’s a liar! Father isn’t…”
The man’s face was full of grief. “You’re Tom’s boy… I’m so sor—“
“Shut up! He isn’t dead! Just get out of here!” John ran to his room upstairs.
“Oh, poor Johnny…” His mother said, still sobbing.
“I think it’s time for me to go. If you ever need anything, I’ll be staying at an inn close by for awhile.”
She didn’t say anything, she was still crying.
“…I’m sorry.” He grabbed his coat and hat and walked out the door.
A month and a half of summer flew by, and the Calabash house was silent. John hardly went outside anymore, and he didn’t read very much after that day. His mother carried on as she did before, albeit at a slower pace. John could hear her crying in her bedroom at night every now and then. John refused to cry. He refused to believe his father was dead.
It was in the late part of August now, and Mary had spent much of the past half of the week cleaning the house. She had just finished vacuuming the living room when she heard someone knock on the door. She opened it and instantly recognized who it was. Will was standing there with the same weary face and solemn eyes.
“Ah Will, it’s been awhile. Please come in,” She said
“Thank you.”
“How’ve you been? Are you still staying in Portsmouth?”
“Actually I’ve been in Droxford staying with my sister for the past couple of weeks. Her husband owns an inn there. I came back because I wanted to ask you to stay with me there.”
“What? Why?” Mary was shocked.
“You haven’t heard? Many people are saying that the Luftwaffe are going attack major cities in the Southern parts of England. This is a major city.”
“They’re coming to attack Portsmouth?”
“Yes, and they could come at any time. They could come here today.” He put some weight on that last word. “That’s why I think we should leave right now. In Droxford it will be much safer. I don’t think they plan on bombing villages in the countryside.”
“Right now? Oh…” Mary was bewildered. “I don’t know…”
John thought he heard mother talking with a familiar voice downstairs, so he went to investigate. When he saw that the voice belonged to the stranger from before, all the anger from the day they first met resurfaced. John was furious. He was furious at the man who claimed his father was dead. He was furious at the war that claimed so many lives, one of them possibly being his father’s. But most of all, he was furious at his mother. Why did she believe this man? Why wasn’t she still willing wait for father? Why did she give up hope so easily? He just couldn’t understand why. The rage must have shown on his face because mother asked what was wrong. “Why are you here?!” John shrieked at the man. “I thought I told you to get out of here! I don’t care if you knew father! You’re nothing but a liar!” June, woken up by this sudden outburst, began crying. John saw through his watery eyes that the man was coming towards him with outstretched arms as if to comfort him.
“Get away from me!” John swung a fist at the man’s chest with all his strength. The man jumped back and barely dodged the attack. “John, stop that,” his mother cried in a shrill voice. John couldn’t think anymore. He wanted to just run away and find his father. He bolted out the front door and ran down the street with as much speed his legs could give him incase the man chased after him. He could hear his mother yelling angry shouts after him, but every shout made his legs run a little bit faster.
The shouts were growing fainter with each stride until, suddenly, he realized that her yelling had become less angry and more frantic and panic stricken. John stopped and turned around to see why she was now screaming. He could see mother on the doorstep holding June with her left arm and pointing towards the sky with her right as if Smaug himself was about to swoop down upon the city. Her face was masked in terror. John’s eyes followed the direction of her trembling finger and saw it. Bombers. There must have been at least fifty of them. The rumble of the Heinkel He 111 engines grew louder and more terrible as they approached from the Southeastern sky. John was dumbstruck by the sight. The Germans were right here at Portsmouth. “Damn it boy, come on! Your mother is already in the cellar!” The man was running up to him. All of a sudden, John heard a huge boom not more than a few hundred feet north of where his house was. He saw clouds of smoke rising up from where the bomb had landed.
“They’re…they’re dropping bombs on us!”
”Come on,” the man shouted over another boom. He grabbed John by the arm and began to pull him back towards the house. John finally snapped out of it and they started towards the house together.
As they were running, John heard another explosion—no, this time he felt it. The sound of the explosion made his ears ring, and he could feel small chunks of dirt hit the back of his calf. As they were coming up to the cellar door at the side of the house, John remembered that his book was still in his room; the book that his father gave to him two years ago. “Ah, oh no,” John cried, “My book! My book is still in the house!” He started running towards the front door when the man caught him by the arm.
“Damn it, what are you doing? Get in the cellar,” the man squeezed his arm so hard John thought it was going to break. “Ow, let go! My book is in there!"
“What? A book?”
“My book! It’s on my dresser!”
For a moment the man just stared at him in disbelief. The boy was willing to die for a damned book. “…Alright, I’ll get your bloody book,” the man grated, “Get inside.”
“What…you’re…what?”
“Go!”
Another boom. “Johnny, come inside.” His mother had opened the cellar door and June was screaming in her arms. The man was already past the corner of the house. John walked dumbly down the cellar steps, still in shock that his home town was being obliterated.
The cellar was no more than ten feet long and seven feet wide. It was empty except for a few small crates placed around the room and a pile of old burlap sacks in the far right corner. The only piece of furniture it had was the small stool near the steps that mother and June now sat on. A single light bulb at the center of the ceiling gave off a dim light, and there was a faint smell of potatoes present. June had grown tired of screaming and switched to a quiet sob. Mother bounced June on her knee and was now asking where Will ran off to. “He went to find the book father gave me,” he answered. Before his mother had a chance to respond, the cellar door flung open. It hadn’t even been over a minute before the man came back; he gently shut the door, walked down the steps to John, and handed him the book without saying a word. He went back and sat on the bottom step, and ran his fingers through his hair once. John wondered if that was what he and father had to go through back at Calais. Probably worse.
They sat there in the silence, listening for when the chaos outside would stop. After awhile, June fell asleep again, exhausted from crying. The muffled booms from outside continued for another ten minutes and then ceased. They waited for another twenty minutes before stepping out into the world again.
The smell of smoke lingered in the air, but most of the fires were already put out by the fire department. A few houses on their street were reduced to rubble, and there was a big hole in the street just a few houses down in the Northwest direction. The town was engulfed in an eerie silence.
“Will…I think I’ll go with you to Droxford,” Mother said after taking the scene in. He answered with a solemn nod. “Johnny, go pack your bags dear.” John silently obeyed. When he reached his room, John realized how exhausted he was. The tension from the events in the past hour had taken its toll on him. He yawned and began to stuff his clothes in the suitcase. He figured they were going to stay at Droxford for at least a month, so he packed as many clothes as he could and threw a few books in the suitcase. The book father gave to him stayed at his side. He lugged the suitcase down the stairs and through the door to his mother’s car. Mother was still busy packing. The man was leaning against the driver’s door, watching John struggle to put the heavy suit case into the trunk.
“Need any help,” he asked.
“No, I’ve got it;” the suit case was in. “What about you? Don’t you have any luggage?”
The man shook his head. “My sister has some of my things there.”
“Oh…” There was an awkward silence.
The man broke it saying, “Hey John, I know you don’t want to believe that your father is dead. And I know that you’re angry. But at some point you’re going to have to accept the truth, no matter how much it hurts. When you do, we’ll all be here for you. Together, we can get through this hell. I just wanted you to know that,” he was silent, waiting for John to reply.
For awhile John couldn’t speak; it took everything he had just to keep the tears from flowing out. Deep down inside he knew that the man—no, Will was telling the truth from the beginning. The sadness in his eyes seemed to reassure him of that. John just refused to accept the bitter truth. He also knew he wasn’t the only one who was devastated by his father’s death. June will never get to know her father. Mother had lost the other half of her life, but she still carried on for the sake of him and June. Will watched his best friend get gunned down, yet he fought to survive so that he could fulfill his friend’s last wishes.
“He was close to you too…I’m sorry…I’m so sorry,” he sobbed.
“Hey don’t worry about it, I forgive you” Will knelt down in front of john. “Your father left a message for you.”
John looked up with questioning eyes.
With a sparkle in his eye, Will gave him a hug, then grinned and said, “Smile Johnny, and be strong.”



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