Toy Soldiers

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August 12th, 2004
Dear Mom and (Dad) Sir,

Sorry I haven’t written in the past few days. They refused to collect and mail anything out since we’ve moved to a new location and I’ve lost all that I’ve written to you. After a few days here, I began to miss home a lot more than I thought. Tomorrow will officially be my second year (here. Tell Sam (I love him and I miss him) that all the guys here are looking forward to meeting him when we come home – if we come home. Things have been a little quieter here, but all the citizens give us hurtful looks. It’s always so burning hot out here and sometimes a guy faints here and there – but we make sure to take care of each other. They said we might be home in time for Christmas; I wouldn’t count on it, though it would be nice. At least I made a lot of close friends here, they’re basically family now.

How’s everything at home? Mom, PLEASE don’t worry! Ask Sir, (if he’s conscious enough to listen to you,) he knows – I’ll be fine. And mom, I promise this won’t be my last

Sorry I had an interruption, lasted about 6 hours I would think, but I’m fine. They’ve already bandaged my arm – it’s not a big deal though, I barely felt anything. Anyways, write back soon.











(Love)










Your son,










John.
___________________________________
Anna set the letter from her son on the small, round, wooden kitchen table. She rested her elbow on the edge of the paper so the wind from the open window won’t blow it away. She then rested her head on her hand, blinking fiercely – choking back tears. By the time the letter arrived, John could’ve been killed and she wouldn’t know. Or he could’ve had to watch one of his ‘family’ members be killed. Either way, it was just as painful.

Anna’s head dropped, and a tear fell directly from her eye onto her nightgown. It was a bluish-white cotton gown with blue and pink flowers that came down to her ankles. Its collar had clear flower-shaped buttons along the edge and it was short sleeved. The cotton soaked up her tear immediately as though it was never shed. Nevertheless, she felt its wetness, its dreariness on her thigh.

She dug her beautifully painted nails into the sides of her knee with her free hand. Anna concentrated all her pain there rather than on the letter – on her heart. As if it were a sign, Anna heard her husband’s footsteps coming closer, letting her know to stop hurting herself. Each step thumping louder with the occasional squeak under the wooden floor as his weight shifted. Knowing she couldn’t let him see her like this, Anna wiped her watery eyes and sat up in the old, cracked, matching wooden chair. Her eyes set on the white swinging door as it flung open.

Sam took two steps into the small, old fashioned kitchen. It was his favorite room in the house, the most comforting. He would watch his mother cook some of the best meals in this kitchen; supposedly that’s where his passion for food came from. It was almost never sad in the kitchen, except for the past two years. Now, the kitchen dreaded with sadness, a gloom lingered in the air. Sam watched his mother play with the edge of her nightgown, almost as if she was nervous and couldn’t stop fidgeting. He gave her a puzzled look.

“Your brother mailed another letter home, it arrived this morning.” She spoke softly and handled her words with care. Each word she spoke was released from her mouth gingerly and cautiously. Sam could tell nothing too bad has happened, but it wasn’t anything good either.

“Can I actually see this one?” Anna almost never let Sam read the letters John sent home; they were just too painful, too explicit, too nerve-wracking for Sam’s age.

Anna sighed; she didn’t know how to say no for the last time. “Sam…”

“Mom! I’m seventeen, and if one day – I want to know what it’s like, what he’s feeling, thinking, writing, from his own words, not from you or dad passing on the information.”

Anna lifted the letter that had stuck onto her elbow and held it cautiously while she contemplated her decision. She skimmed the letter one more time to see if anything would hurt Sam, but she didn’t think he would take offense. “Is your father home?”

“No, he went out. Why?”

“To do what?” She asked accusingly.

“How should I know? What does this have to do with the letter?”

“You should know because it’s reality and we all have to live with him in this household. If your father finds out you read John’s letter, well I don’t know Sam, he might as well kill me himself – as if John’s words weren’t painful enough.”

“I’ll read it right here, you can watch, and I won’t tell dad. Please mom! I promise he won’t find out.”

She slowly passed him the note as if she were sneaking it passed a teacher overlooking the classroom. Sam walked closer to her and held the letter carefully. The paper crinkled and cracked and they glanced at each other and then at the white kitchen door. Sam saw no one was coming, so he began to read. It became overwhelming, John’s words in his own hands, for the first time in two years. “Mom?”

“Hurry up sweetheart,” Anna’s chest felt tight.

“Mom, why did he cross out ‘tell Sam I love him and miss him’?”

“Sam, it’s difficult to explain. Where he’s at, well, it makes it hard to love anybody.”

“How come?”

“Because, you know, once you start to love someone, you begin to care about them and suddenly they’re a part of your everyday. But what if one day they’re gone? And you had to watch them go? He loves you, Sam, but he doesn’t know how to say it.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“I know sweetie,” Anna was confused why he was reassuring her.

“I was talking to John.”

“He’s not here, Sam…”

“I know, but it’s just nicer to pretend sometimes. You should try it.”
****

Before Anna could even begin to worry about what Sam was trying to say, she heard an engine die and a car door slam immediately. She knew this time it was her husband because the squeaks in the car door sounded a little too familiar, and the nauseating feeling in her gut reminded her that it couldn’t have been John. Sam jumped and his face flushed a bright red. It became very hot and sticky in the kitchen; it was no longer a comfortable room. Anna quickly grabbed the letter from Sam before he could react, and whispered to herself not to panic. She folded the letter in half and then again, and placed it neatly in its envelope. She walked to the counter on the opposite side of the kitchen and slipped it into the cutlery drawer.

Sam scattered around the room until his arm flung open the swinging door and he walked into the living room. The kitchen, which was white with shiny wooden furniture, contrasted the living room, which had beige carpeting with matching suede couches. There was one couch facing the television which was vertically in from of Sam when he stepped out of the kitchen.

The living room was very spacious and had a path that led from the front door to the kitchen, behind the couch, without any furniture blocking the way. Jack Roberts stood at the entrance of the house. There were stairs that led up to all the bedrooms and the bathroom, and there were also two small stairs that led into the living room. There were basically no walls, except for the lining of the staircase, and the wall separating the kitchen from the living room.

Jack saw Sam standing in the opposite entrance, starring at him. The only sounds in the room were the white door swinging back and forth, and the front door slamming. Sam didn’t dare to take a breath. His eyes traveled from his father’s face, down to the brown paper bag in his right hand. Jack’s eyes were half closed, and Sam’s eyes refused to blink so that he would not shed the tears dwelling in his eyes. Sam’s lower lip curled in and his chin cringed. He was terrified of his father and felt the numbness creep upwards, through his body, from his toes to his face, which burned red.

“Where is your protection?” Jack asked. His speech was slurred, but Sam was used to it.

“Excuse me?”

“Where is your protection? Out in the battlefield, you would have been shot dead in a minute.” He elaborated.

“That’s true, but I’m at home, standing in my liv—” Before Sam could finish his sentence, Anna flew into the living room and gently placed her hand on his shoulder, cutting him off.

“Next time, he’ll be prepared next time.” She eased.

“There won’t be a next time!” Jack bellowed and he saw Anna’s body shake.

“It’s okay, dad. Mom was my protection this time. I’m safe, can’t you see?”

“Yeah, whatever. But don’t think you can break rules because you have mommy. You refer to me as Sergeant Roberts.” Anna’s head dropped and she turned it towards the corner, ashamed of what has been conversed.

“Where were you?” Sam courageously inquired.

“It’s your father’s business, Sam. Don’t worry about that. Go upstairs and get ready for bed, it’s getting late.” Anna spoke soothingly. She kissed Sam’s head and guided him towards the stairs. Sam was hesitant, but she forced him, hoping that Jack wouldn’t see.

“Are ya’ scared of coming near ya’ own father?”

“No, no sir.” Sam’s voice quivered.

“Go on, then. I’ll see you tomorrow at oh-six-hundred.”

“In the morning?”
Jack, although heavily drunk, was appalled by his son’s inability to comprehend his use of military terms. Sam shook his head, as in disregard of the question, ran across the room and up the stairs, swiping shoulders with his dad, but not exchanging any eye contact. Anna briefly glanced at her husband, afraid to ask the wrong question and aggravate him.

“What are you going to do with Sam tomorrow?”

“’The hell with you, it ain’t none of your business.

Anna’s eyes shot open, yet she managed to keep her mouth from dropping. She was taken aback by his abrupt rudeness and shrewd comment. Even Jack, as drunk as he was, never spoke to her like that before, but he didn’t think twice to apologize. He walked through the living room and passed his wife. He placed his hand on the white swinging door and took one step in, but then Anna spoke once again.

“Excuse me?” She managed to ask as evenly as she could.

Jack swiftly turned back and slapped his wife across her face just enough to redden her cheek. Anna was beside herself and dumbfounded.

“John mail anything home yet?”

“No.”

“Bastard,” Jack snorted.





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