I wrote this piece over 3 years ago, using the picture below as a prompt. As usual, I had no idea what the story would turn out to be when I began. I sat waiting and open … I listened … and typed! (And we edited it a little lol.) Even now it still amazes me that we humans can create stories, music, art, sculpture (etc.) from simply being willing to tune in and listen.
We hope you enjoy it.
OUR SECRET WORLD
We used to come here often, Margaret and me. She liked listening to the birds perched in the branches around us, watching the colours of the sky deepen as dusk stole the last light of the day. We would sit in this clearing and I would listen as she put that vast imagination to work, filling my senses with her stories about the creatures living in the undergrowth, and the families they cared for. Her quiet words became a rich commentary on the rustlings we heard nearby as they scurried and squeaked and settled for the night.
It was our own secret world, that summer, one where I could protect her from the pressures of her family and offer her some respite: her mother’s shrill demands for Margaret to work faster; her father’s gruff bark of admonishment when he discovered a crease in his shirt. Her brothers were never home, never expected to be. But Margaret was young, strong, fiercely loyal, and keenly aware of her duty. An hour with me every Friday afternoon was the best I could hope for, until she was old enough to marry.
And then the war came. I left Margaret behind, took my place in the trenches. In the chaos of noise and the horror of battle, I held her in my heart, determined to find my way home to her.
Finally, I have found a way to return. She is here, on the bench in our sanctuary. She looks older, tired and pale. New lines have been sketched upon her face. The telegram did that, I suspect. A fist clenches around my heart and I could weep for the pain she has suffered. Her lips are moving, as though she is telling someone a story, but I do not think she has the heart for it anymore. It is like she is replaying a memory, hearing an echo of the man she loved and lost.
And then she looks up, directly at me. She sees me, and she grips the bench, and I hobble toward her.
“They told me you were dead,” she whispers. “They told me you were dead.”
I reach her then, and half-fall to the bench, drawing her close.
“Badly injured,” I say as I hold her face in my palms. “And captured. But I made it out.”
“What did they do to you?” she murmurs, her fingers tracing the crisscross of scars on my face.
“It is over,” I tell her. “It does not matter now. I am home.”
Today, our life begins.
Story copyright Joanna Gawn