The Skies Are Not Cloudy All Day This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

August 2, 2011
The Salisbury railway station was full to bursting on the sixth of June, 1940. I collected my school trunk and stood on top of it, trying to see over the mass of people. “Susie!” called my mother, pushing her way through the crowd. “We’re over here!”
“Where’s Simon?” I asked, once we were out of the hissing and clatter.
“Your brother is busy,” said my father. “But you should go and see him later.” I frowned. Simon was a struggling photographer; he was rarely busy.
I shrugged. “Anything else happen?”
“The Rutgers had twins, the bridge by the sandbar washed away, and bacon is on ration,” recited my father. The discussion of local news kept us talking until we were nearly home. I hopped out at the gate and ran the rest of the way, beating the automobile by four seconds.
“Slow down Susie,” my mother said, laughing. “We can’t keep up!”
I said hello to the cat, my room, and the kitchen garden, at which point I decided to go find my brother.
I crossed the river Avon on the little footbridge, waving as a mother swan with eight cygnets floated by. Simon lived above an optician’s shop, up a small staircase in the back. All the way from the hall I could hear him singing a song he had learned in America when he studied art there.
"Home, home on the range
Where the deer and the antelope play
Where seldom is heard
A discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day."
I rolled my eyes and pounded on the door.
Simon opened it a second later, looking harried. “Susie! I thought you were coming home next week.”
“No, this one. Where’s the range?”
“West of Chicago.” he said. “You’ll know it when you see it.”
“I’m sure it’s lovely.” Simon sang that same song all the time. It was so annoying it made me want to bite him. I gritted my teeth against the impulse and tried a real question. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing much.” He opened the door wider and I stepped inside.
The office was neater than usual, Simon’s raincoat hung on its hook rather than on the back of the chair, and there were only two stacks of photos on his desk. I strode over to the window and cranked it open as far as it would go, trying to blow away the chemical smell that hung around the pictures. Simon groaned as a breeze swept all his carefully arranged papers to the floor.
I started picking them up, scanning them as I did so. There was a picture of a uniformed soldier and his new wife, and a shot of a skeletal dead tree with seven magpies perched in it. And… “What are these?” I asked. Then understanding dawned. “They can’t be call-up papers.”
“No,” said my brother. “I enlisted.”
“You did what?” my voice sounded shrill and terrified.
“I enlisted,” he repeated, voice slow as if I was deaf or stupid.
“But why? You love your work.”
“This is more important than me.” He shrugged, seeming to dismiss photography and me in the same gesture.
“Why didn’t you write? I could have used the warning!” I stamped my foot, vaguely aware that I looked like a three-year-old throwing a tantrum.
“You’d think it was a joke. Someone needs to deal with Hitler, Susan.”
“You’re right, I would have thought it was a joke: you usually have more sense than to do something this stupid. And it isn’t your job to deal with the Nazis!” I had to stop then, before my throat closed up too tight for any sound to escape.
“You’re wrong,” he said. “It’s everybody’s job now.”
I threw his papers at him and left the room, slamming the door so hard the open window rattled. I don’t remember running, but I’m certain I did, because I was halfway to the cathedral green before I started to cry.
My friend Christina had cousins in the fighting, and she had told me that, from what they had written, war and Hell sounded very similar. I could not imagine Simon as a soldier; he was my brother, not some faceless warrior. I had to change his mind.
But I couldn’t. In three days we were back at the Salisbury railway station, with the families of half a thousand other soldiers. Simon hugged us, bit his tongue so he wouldn’t have to say goodbye, and disappeared into the khaki throng. We looked for his face at a window, for his hand waving to us from a crowded door. The train became a dark smudge on the horizon as we watched, and then a speck, and then it was gone.

School began again on the third of September, and I was glad for the change. Aside from the obvious, it had been a good summer. I had found a runaway pet turtle in the river and ruined all my skirts from lying on the roof with a book. It had been Jane Eyre, and I fell half in love with Mr. Rochester.
I enjoyed my classes, especially science. We were doing biology that year, and I loved watching things grow. It was good to see Christina and Marie again, too. I loved having friends
On October the fourteenth, at three in the afternoon, a telegram arrived for me.
"Dear Susan, STOP," I read. "I hate to have to tell you this STOP We had a telegram yesterday from London STOP Simon is missing STOP Please return to Salisbury on Monday by the ten o’clock train STOP Your loving mother and father END"
I read it again, hoping it had changed. And again. But the words said the same thing no matter how many times I saw them. Then, in a detached way, as though I were watching someone else, I began systematically shredding the paper.
The train home this time was quiet, the air thick with fog. I stared at the window, at the grayness outside. When I slept, my dreams were gray.
For the fourth time in as many months I stood at the railway station, waiting. This time there were no cheerful helloes, no brave and frightened soldiers. This time my parents were not there to greet me, this time the platform was empty.
I sat on a hard wooden bench with my bag between my feet and waited. The track was bare, the cold air damp and gray. A solitary crow perched on the branch of a tree not far away.
A car slowed, stopped. My father got out. He moved slowly, as though he didn’t want to go where his feet were taking him. I ran toward him, my footsteps making echoes in the silence. I flung my arms around him and he squeezed me so tight I thought my ribs would crack.
His voice was so soft I thought at first that I had imagined it. "He's dead, Susie. He isn't coming home."
I went back to school a week after that. There didn’t seem to be anything else I could do. When I left school three years later, I knew the rooms above the optician’s shop were empty.

The streets were slick with March rain and the daffodils nodded their cheery long-nosed heads in the breeze. It seemed a long time since I’d last seen Simon, four years in July. I leaned against the sodden wood railing of the footbridge and looked down at the river. I knew I should keep going. I had just gotten a job rolling bandages for the Red Cross and would be late for it in just a moment.
But I didn’t move. There was a wheelchair making its solitary way up the road. It reminded me of a fat black beetle, moving slowly over a rock.
The wheelchair made it another half a foot and startled two very wet ravens off a nearby branch. It hit a crack in the pavement and slid backwards again. Dare I go and help? I levered myself up from the railing and started toward the invalid.
Over the pattering of raindrops and the water flowing down the street, I faintly heard another sound.
"Where the air is so pure
The zephyrs so free
The breezes so balmy and light
That I would not exchange
My home on the range
For all of the cities so bright."
I sprinted down the road, leaving the Red Cross behind. I skidded over the wet pavement, feeling as light and cheerful as the springtime daffodils in the gardens.
Because my father had been wrong, so long ago. Simon had come home.

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This article has 3 comments. Post your own now!

ladynovelist said...
Oct. 28, 2011 at 10:40 am
I will read the articles of anyone who comments on this piece.  (I already read yours, ninjadragon.)
ladynovelist said...
Sept. 27, 2011 at 9:06 pm
Whenever you rate my article, could you post a comment?  I want to know how i can fix any problems there may be.  Thanks.
ninjadragon56 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Oct. 5, 2011 at 8:01 pm

I like it, your a good writer, keep it up by all means! 

The feedback i would give to you is that you go a bit to fast. Slow down a bit, show whats she feeling. She sees the telegram, what does she do? what does it feel like? when she runs away from her brother does she feel guilty? you've probably heard this a lot, i know i have, but show, not tell! good work though, i love the story! 

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