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A smile amongst ghosts

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He was distracted from his thoughts by the sound of the bell above the shop door tinkling. A girl with wide green eyes and curly black hair done up entered the shop. She was wearing a dress that matched her hair, though it was hard to tell because of the excess dirt and dust that clung every square inch of it, but then again everything had a layer of dirt on it, and her pigtails were tied in matching blue bows. Drake recalled something the girl, Natalia had said when they had first met.” It’s like a game, see. Make people think they’re seeing one thing when they’re really seeing something else entirely. Make people have to work to discover the truth. If they deserve to see it, they’ll find it.” He wondered if that statement meant her, him, the depression, or just being alone in general.

There was no time to speculate on what truth Natalia was trying to display with this saying of hers. Drake watched her walk right past the shop owner who tried to greet her. This was unlike Nat- she usually enjoyed talking to people, or putting them on edge with her vocabulary if she was in the mood. It was strange encountering a young adult girl who could read at a college level, particularly in their day and age.
Natalia approached Drake without a word, grabbing his arm and pulling her behind a more secluded display of toys trains in the far right corner of the shop.

“Drake,” she whispered. She turned her head towards the door.

Drake knew what Natalia wanted to do. The shop wasn’t very busy- they were in danger of being overheard. He nodded.

They wandered aimlessly for a few minutes, until finally Nat picked up a stuffed black cat off of an enormous pile of stuffed animals.

“Draky, will you buy me this stuffed cat? I left my money at home.”

Drake sighed, as though he got this kind of request frequently “are you serious? No one has money?”

“Come on, please?” Nat begged. “I’ll pay you back when we get home. I promise.”

The rest of the shoppers walked by, barely noticing this exchange. Drake sighed again.

“Well, it’s not that expensive. You’re lucky I had extra money left over in my wallet, you little twerp.”

“Yay!”

“Next time you do that, you’re on your own. Got it?”

“All right. Meanie.”

Drake wondered if 1940 would bring a change for the better or if it would get worse, Drake also wondered if an older brother would respond to that, but he didn’t want to say anything that would make Nat throw an imaginary tantrum in the middle of the store. He brought the cat up to the register, paid for it, and carried it out of the shop.

Drake tried to pay no mind to the many bread lines and people begging for food though it was hard to avoid the cries and pleas without feeling sick to your stomach.

Once the two were away from the store and out of earshot Drake turned to Nat with his arms crossed and breathed in slowly through his nose staring her down “now start talkin’, where in the world did you come across this?” he said taking a fold of her dress between his forefinger and thumb “you certainly didn’t buy it”. She smoothed out her dress and poked his forehead “of course I didn’t it’d be far too expensive, I simply found it” she said before flashing a sly grin. He took her hint and motioned for her to walk “well don’t get used to it, we’re gonna have to sell it” he said with a sigh. “Aww come on I never have a chance to look nice,” she said with a whine in her voice. He raised his voice “well get over it, we have no choice! Either you wear the same normal rags the rest of us got or you look nice and starve!” He lost his anger when he saw the look of sadness on his companion and he placed the cat doll on her shoulder earning a smile from her.

They trekked back to the shared encampment near their work field and Drake started the fire. Nat appeared a minute or so later in more suitable clothes with her stuffed cat in her arms. An impromptu stew was made and the two ate and retreated to their tent and shakily slept letting their parents weary from either work or job hunting eat and sleep in peace. “It’s this” Drake thought “They’re like ghosts now, never really there”. After a shaky sleep the parents’d head off to work or to look for a job and Drake’d go pick crops and Nat’d sort cotton near all day in a monotonous trance similar to the one their parents always had. At the end of their day if they had enough energy they’d head to the park Drake telling Nat stories and they’d play together. The park would have other kids but they’d either be ghosts as Drake called them or too naïve to understand the bleakness of the days. “If it wasn’t for her, I’d be all ghost-like m’self” Drake would tell himself to keep from simply leaving.

There were times when Drake would work late and Natalia would be missing, upon searching for her for what would feel like an eternity he would find her hiding out in the library or schoolhouse with a book in her lap unaware of the terror that had been in his head. Drake followed Nat around whenever possible always scanning for a threat to her and her optimism. His vow was to protect her until the day in which the world was right again; his efforts were in vain.

When the news of Europe going to war reached her she broke and soon lost the glow and optimism she once had. It cut Drake deeper than any blade ever could. He prayed that she would pop back to her old self and exclaim “hey Drake let’s go to the park” or “hey Drake can you tell me a story?” but she didn’t.

Soon she grew ill and weak and Drake himself who had become the optimistic one to hopefully pull her back grew weary and quiet. On a morning in May Nat just didn’t wake up and Drake grew silent, as he had no one to tell his stories to.

In time he wanted to protect that optimism that Nat believed in and later died on the front lines defending their shared ideal to be reunited with Natalia.




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