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“You’re mother was a wonderful woman. She won’t be forgotten.”
“I know” I muttered softly whilst continuing to admire the beauty of the countryside surrounding the grand Victorian building that I called home. I pictured my mother ambling across the grounds in silence, simply content to be lapping up the natural splendour of her land, listening to the effortlessly pitch-perfect song of the birds darting across the pristine blue sky. I saw her tilt her face towards the sun, its rays warming her skin, causing a gentle smile to spread across her lips. I imagined her career free contagious laugh contort her ribs in response to her beloved sheep dog, Bella, bounding across the field towards her playfully, whilst the breeze wrecked havoc with her perfect hairstyle misplacing strands.
I blinked twice, the joyful image dissipating and leaving me hollow. I recollected myself quickly, minding my manners in consideration to my role as a guest within the household. I cleared throat and swiped the back of my hand across my pale cheek, swiftly catching a lone tear which threatened to sabotage my careful composure. Attempting to conceal my bereavement, grief and utter devastation, as I knew my mother would have, I turned my back upon the window, choosing instead to face the elderly women with whom I was conversing. “Thank you, I don’t believe that I could ever repay you for your kindness” my utterly heartfelt words told of their sincerity. The woman smiled kindly, her aged face full of unwavering sympathy. “I must ask you again my dear, are you quite certain that you wish to remain at home? You’re awfully young to be living alone in such an enormous home; I fear that you are bound to experience loneliness.” She paused for a moment, “and… what with my boys both being away, I can’t say that I wouldn’t enjoy the company”. Her piercing blue eyes brimmed with tears at the mention of her absent sons, consequently wrenching my heart as I thought of the extent at which I missed my own father. I couldn’t face the prospect of loosing another parent so soon, surely I was to young to be an orphan?
I shook my head regretfully. “I must continue as if everything were normal. I’m petrified that I may not succeed in coping if I do not” I admitted. “Besides, I’m not alone, I have Bessie; she’s always been far more than a house keeper to me as you very well know.” “Very well.” I opened my mouth ready to thank Mrs Stanbury and to assure her that I would continue to visit her frequently, as my mother once did. However, my grateful speech was halted by the resonating sound of a terrific explosion followed by the vivid ignition of the sky. Mrs Stanbury gasped, drawing in a sharp breath. I followed her gaze out of the large, curtain framed window to witness a single fighter plane plummet nose first and collide with a luscious green field, a mere hundred metres from my home.
I sprinted the entire distance from Mrs Stanbury’s tiny cottage to the wreckage, closing it in a matter of minutes. I arrived at the flaming collision site, sweating uncontrollably and gasping desperately for breath, to find a horrifying image. A young man, of a similar age to myself lay unconscious within the remains of the fighter plane. Flames were licking ferociously further up the wing, inching closer to the man by the second, aching to steal his future from him. Without contemplating the risk that I was about to undertake I clambered into the cockpit, choking on the thick smoke engulfing the area. I grasped hold of the soldier’s arm, wrenching it over my shoulder, and attempted to abandon the burning vessel. The dead weight of his body limited y movement extensively. I was seized entirely by a spasm of violent coughing. I gritted my teeth and put all of my strength into hauling the muscular body from the burning wreckage.
I pounded relentlessly, screaming repeatedly “BESSIE, BESSIE!”. The housekeeper flung open the large wooden door, a look of sheer terror plastered across her face. Her alarm did not cease as she cast her eyes upon my blackened face alongside the limp and lifeless body I had in tow. “Help me quickly undress him before I call the doctor, he’s badly injured” I wheezed. My lungs felt are though they had been torched whilst my throat likened sandpaper. “But miss….” Bessie protested bewilderedly as she cast upon the swastika branded upon the soldier’s uniform. “He’s German.” “I know. Now will you hurry and do as I tell you! Under no circumstances am I going to allow him to die!” I replied with a fierce determination.
The doctor arrived a couple of hours later, extremely eager to do whatever he could to aid what he believed to be a British soldier. He found that the German had sustained a broken leg and arm, alongside minor head wounds. However, he concluded, much to my relief, that the soldier would make a full recovery. For the next week or so I sat beside my patient’s bed whilst he slipped in and out of consciousness, frequently reading him my favourite poems by WB Yeats or short passages that I selected from my weathered copy of “Wuthering Heights”. Occasionally I chose to sit with him whilst he slept meanwhile attempting to imagine the horrific images that visibly tormented him in the form of nightmares, causing him to scream out in terror. I would wipe the sweat from his forehead and caress his hair, softly lulling him to sleep with a tune my mother once sang to me.
“Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!” I read. “My mother always said she had wished my Father were a little more like Heathcliff, a little more passionate perhaps…” I smiled at the arbitrary memory. “Do you miss her?” I looked up from the novel startled by the sudden sound of a heavy accented voice to find my German soldier wide awake and staring at me intently. His deep brown eyes held me rendered in his gaze. I was startled by his attractiveness and overwhelmed by the surge of joy that washed over me at prospect of learning all I could about the handsome stranger that had somehow crashed violently into my life and consumed it almost entirely.
A few days later we sat opposite each other sharing the dinner that Bessie had reluctantly prepared for us; she disapproved of Friedrich’s presence within our household as she knew of the consequences that would arise if others were to discover that I were entertaining the enemy. But I refused to act upon her harsh warnings, it matter little to me of his nationality as he had added a purpose to life at a time when I felt as if it were meaningless. Friedrich made me forget; he ceased my grief and replaced it with something new entirely, a newfound appreciation of living. “Your locket, the one you wear beneath your shirt, I looked inside it the first day that you arrived here” I paused guiltily, waiting for any hint of disapproval to cross his face but his expression remained intact. “You’re mother and sister, they’re beautiful.” I waited for Friedrich to elaborate and tell me about the family that he had worrying about him at home. When he failed to do so I probed him for information “tell me about them?” I requested. He placed his knife and fork down on the table beside his plate and looked at me for a long time without saying anything. His eyes told of endless pain and sorrow and I immediately wished that I had not broached the subject.
“They’re dead” he began before continuing. “My sister, Elisabeth, she was twelve years old when they killed her.” His eyes grew angry. “She was out horse riding alone one day when she was six; we lived on a farm and she spent every waking moment with the animals. Whilst she was out riding that day her beloved horse was spooked and so he flung her from his back. She was paralysed from the waist down. Elisabeth continued with her life, she never felt sorry for herself; she refused to let her disability affect her. But then one day six years later we received a knock on the door. It was the Nazis. They said they wished to help my sister, that they had developed a treatment for her paralysis. She didn’t want to go with the men, she sobbed, petrified as they led her away. I never saw her again. I should never have let her go with them, it was my fault. I should have protected her. My mother felt the same way and so two months later she committed suicide.” Friedrich raised his hardened eyes to mine. His expression softened when he noticed the entourage of tears flooding down my cheeks, provoked the tale of his loss. I was enraged by the story. He reached across the table and held my face in his hands slowly bringing his face to mine, kissing away my tears.
And so just like that I betrayed my country by falling in love with a German.
I rushed to the lavatory reaching it just as my stomach heaved, ridding itself of its contents entirely. Friedrich pushed my hair from my face cradling my body as I whimpered softly. “What will I tell people? They’re bound to notice. Nobody can know that you’re living here; they’ll take you from me. I can’t loose you. I can’t live without you.” I murmured into his muscular chest. “I will never leave you, do you understand Annie? Never.”
It was seven months later that my world finally shattered into tiny irreparable fragments. He arrived home completely unexpected on a cold day in December. I was sitting by the fire knitting, my head rested on Freidrich’s lap as he read the newspaper, solemnly learning of another area of Britain which had been totally obliterated. Our peaceful serenity did not last long, however, as we were startled and mildly alarmed to hear a vehicle approaching our home, its wheels crunching the gravel beneath them noisily. I rose my position tiredly and crossed to the room to peer out of the window in the hope of identifying our visitor. I simply stood there staring in utter shock as I attempted to register his return. I looked over his figure to find that I recognised him little. Whilst he had once been slightly overweight he was now mere skin and bones. His previously clean shaven face was adorned with an unkempt beard. The biggest alteration in his appearance was evident; he had returned with only one leg. He looked up at me as if sensing my gaze upon him, his image radiated fragility and weakness. Yet his eyes bore into mine with a violent fury that filled me with indescribable fear.
“Father” I greeted him nervously as I opened the door. He said nothing but immediately directed his gaze down to my swollen stomach. I instinctively and somewhat protectively placed my hand upon my belly. “So it’s true.” He spat at me. “I refused to believe the villagers when they told me that my daughter, my beloved daughter, was carrying a bastard child. You can imagine then how I felt when I was informed that the father of you’re disgusting offspring was a dirty Fritz.” His icy words seeped venom, sending a shiver down my spine. The volume of his voice began to rise, “I have spent the past two years fighting day in day out for our country, fighting so that you would have the future you deserved. I have watched my friends die in front of me, endless bodies mowed down by onslaughts of bullets. I’ve made sacrifices that you can’t even begin to imagine. And all this time, all this time, my narcissistic daughter has been housing the enemy. Well I’ll tell you this girl; you’re no daughter of mine. You repulse me.” He screamed in my face, rage rattling his entire being. “Where is he?” “I SAID WHERE IS HE ANNIE?” he shoved past me and came face to face with Friedrich who had silently been watching our reunion. I saw my father reach into his pocket and retrieve a small black object. I had only seconds to react. “NOOO!” I yelled hysterically as I flung myself in front of Friedrich. At that precise moment my father clicked the trigger of his revolver and embedded a single bullet just above my heart. The world plunged into darkness.