Sometimes I think they did it deliberately, these nations, started this war just to separate you and me. Sometimes I think they all did, these strange cowards who’ll follow me into battle.
That’s unfair, after all I don’t know them – for all my bitter mind knows they could have their own Dearest waiting for them at home, poring over the letters they write, waiting for that next train to bring them home.
Do you read them, these letters? Do you still remember me?
No, maybe it doesn’t matter whether you do, for lying here, alone, I remember you. I remember the touch of your lips against my neck and the feel of your hand running down my thigh.
As I lie here and remember the weight of your head in my lap, my body filling with the warmth of that hot summer day. The day before the draft. The day before they found us, do you remember it?
No, it was three years ago now, you may have blocked it out entirely – along with me. Sadly, I can never forget, well, not so sadly sometimes.
I must cut this short, for what shall my men think if they see me writing so intimately to…well...to you.
I woke to the dream again last night, the same dream that seems to wake me every night, screaming so loud that the other men can’t help but wake to the sound as well. They loathe me now more than ever, and they’re right, they should loathe me for never was such a more loathsome creature born from mother’s womb than I.
Shall I tell you of the dream? I have never hesitated to tell you of the other dreams I’ve had over the course of our courtship – if we even dare to call it that at all. But I hesitate with this one, for it is so terrible and so blood chilling that even the thought of you, of your chest, your warm breath against my ear and the fluttering of eyelashes yellow as corn against your cheeks, cannot bring me comfort this night. For you feature prominently in the dream to begin with, and I think in the end that’s what makes it terrifying.
The dream always begins the same, I’m back home and the war is over. I’m standing in the middle of the field, my face raised to the sun’s rays with my eyes closed in the bliss of the moment. Then I feel the warm breath on my shoulder, and I can sense a pair of arms wind around my middle and I know that it is you, but I do not wish to open my eyes to see for real.
I do not know whether I’m scared to see that it’s a lie, that I’m not home at all and the arms around me are not yours, or simply too delirious with joy at the feel of you pressed against my back once again. Either way I don’t even open my eyes when you begin to kiss my neck, or twirl your fingers through my hair, grown to its proper length as it was before the war. I feel like laughing as behind me I can feel your hand inching lower, inching towards my lower half that swells with anticipation.
I want you, my Dearest. Want you more than I want the very air we breathe or the very food we eat. I turn then and with my eyes still firmly closed I take you by the shoulders and press you down onto the grass beneath us – I can feel you, squirming beneath me. But oh, my love, how I do not care, I want you and I want you now. I want to take you and make you mine. How I wished then, in the dream that is, that when I took you, you would swell with my seed, carry my child and belong to only me. Such foolish thinking, as if the almighty would ever grant me a child, whether by your belly or the natural order.
But somehow, I knew this was a dream, and I believed it could happen. Or I did until you began to scream, scream my name not in the heat and delights of your passion but in terror…as if…as if I was hurting you. I opened my eyes then and for the first time I actually looked down at you.
But you weren’t there, not the real you – all that was left was your body, pale and ghostlike to the touch. There was blood everywhere and even as I could feel myself come within you, I knew that you were dead.
I knew that you had always been dead and these letters I write you are nothing but a fantasy.
The dream goes on I think, I think there are gunshots in the distance, and I think the sky grows black with smoke but all throughout I stay there, leaning over you, gazing down at your face like it is the last face I will ever see.
And maybe it is; it certainly will be if any of these letters are ever intercepted by my commanding officers.
I know that you must be trying to forget me entirely, otherwise I am certain you would have written back by now – but that’s alright, my Dearest, for I can remember for the both of us.
Forever Yours in this world and the next
Do you remember the lake, the soft whistling of the trees as you sat there, your forearms coated thick with mud as you dug the weeds from out of it? Do you remember how sweat glistened down your beautiful neck, running down your back until it quite ruined the old working blouse you were wearing. No, maybe you scored that part from your memory, it’s not a vital fact considering what came next – but I remember every part of that day.
Surely you must remember the shadow that fell over you then, that blocked the rays of the sun from your lovely back and made you shiver all the slightest from its loss. I remember the look on your face, you were angry, you were tired from your work in my father’s fields and…and you were the most gorgeous sight I had seen all day. It took you a moment, slow as you were in the heat to realise who stood over you now, that I wasn’t just some stupid boy from the next house over barring your way with his soft cooing. You are so beautiful I feel that must have been a common occurrence for you before I came along, men and women must have stopped in the street as you walked by to stare in awe at the beauty before them.
I remember how your face changed, how it grew deferential, how you tried to bow and show respect to the next master of the house, but you were still covered in mud, your feet impeccably wet from wading into the river to fetch your sister’s lost toy that day. I didn’t know that at the time of course and foolishly, my love, I laughed at you. I loathe the memory of your face growing red that day, my Dearest, not with anger as I would witness many times…before the draft and the war, but with shame. I had shamed you, you who was surely the living embodiment of God’s grace – I, a mere mortal had done this to a creature like you, I was unworthy to stand in your shadow that day. I was unworthy even to look upon your face. I regret it now, you must know how I regret it, and I pray you did not accept my apologies that day merely because I was the lord, and you merely my servant.
For you must know by now that to my eyes and thought and tongue, you will never be anything mere.
But perhaps you do not know, perhaps I have failed you and that is why you do not write to me now. I promise, my sweet one, when this dratted war is through we shall be together again, and I will make it my duty every day to show…to show you that you’re worth more to me than the very house we shall make our lives in. My father is gone, and there is no one who would stand between us now, no one but time.
I think of you every day, your picture gives me hope of a safe return, please write to me and tell me you think of me as well or I shall surely go mad.
I don’t know when I shall write to you again, for we have received our final orders to march on the frontlines of the Germans. I don’t know why they’re doing this, the only logical reason I can think of is to have me killed. Though why I do not know for they could not have found…that is to say they could not know…I am lost and I do not think I shall ever come back.
Though you have never written back to tell me so I know that somewhere deep within the hard shell you must show to the world, that you love me. You must love me for why, why would we have done such things and tempted god’s wrath if we did not…I’m sorry my mind tends to wander to such morbid thoughts these days and I can’t help but dwell on them.
I love you.
I love you.
By all the saints I love you.
If man and church were to allow it, I would take you as my spouse on the chapel steps for all the world to see and behold, for this war has ruined the lives of many beyond us, and surely a sight of such joy is fair reward for all we as a people have lost.
I love you, and even though I cannot risk sending this letter even with a trusted underling, I must content myself with the knowledge that somewhere deep within your own heart, you did love me too once.
I love you.
But I shan’t be coming home, I shouldn’t think, and I won’t see you waste your days away for me. A lonesome existence that would be, sitting on that hill overseeing the lake where we first met as children, looking down at the train station, waiting for me to come home…to come back to you. They won’t ever tell you what happened to me, maybe they’ll send a letter to my mother, but she won’t know to tell you, not really.
She probably won’t tell anyone, maybe one day you’ll be cleaning something or mending something, and you’ll hear her crying, and you’ll think that you don’t know why.
But we both know you do, don’t we my love?
We both know why the mother of this brave Soldier is crying, and it’s nothing to do with his choice of lover.
So, I’m telling you this now, though I can never risk sending this letter, that I love you and that I release you. Get out of that house, become bigger than that backwards little village, travel, see everything that I wish I could and move past me. Move past the love that we once shared all those years ago now before they found us, before they separated us, before they shipped me off to this war and left you home alone – with nothing to do but wait for my letter.
I love you and I’m telling you that you are better than that. Move on, go somewhere hot and exciting and find a lover with a hypnotic accent and looser morals than I. Be happy, my Dearest one, for one day when this is all over and you’ve lived your life to the fullest, I will be there waiting for you at the holy gates of St. Peter – ready and eager to hear every last detail of that extraordinary life you’ll have.
I have to go, I’m in the trench tonight and it’s beginning to rain, my ink is already starting to run.
Goodnight, My Dearest one.
Have a good life and perhaps I shall do the same, for whatever is left of it.
Forever yours in this world and the next
I haven’t sent you the last letter I wrote, for you no longer need to hear such words and there was no time to send it safely when you did. We were given orders to march on the front lines, go over the foxhole and well…and end the war, at least for our platoon, and I’m sad to say we did that.
We went over the lines, I made my men go over the lines – they didn’t want to go, they knew we were being sent to our deaths at the hands of men who would never even read our names in the paper over their Sunday tea. But I made them, because those were the orders I had been given, and I thought I didn’t have a choice. I did though, I did have a choice – I could have been a man, I could have sent you your letter, I could have let them find me and send me away… then the men would have been given a new leader, a better leader. But it seems I am a coward at heart and I remained where I was, and I followed my orders like a good little soldier.
They’re gone now, all those men who I lead over the safety of our foxhole, every last one of them dead, everyone’s gone now – except me, I’m still here of course, God has never been so kind to me. I cannot say they were good men, those fools I lead into the fray; but they were brave when it came right down to it, and not a man in my squad even tried to run, though I would not have hindered them if they had.
I’m going to write the letters to their families myself, as soon as I am well enough to sit at my desk again. You see I didn’t die, but I did get shot – in the back, I’m not even sure how that happened since the enemy’s gunfire was coming from the front. I took that bullet right in the spine and went down like the coward I am, everyone else went on, and everyone else was shot down before the end of the night.
I’m not entirely sure how I survived, for the pain made me black out for large chunks of the night after that; perhaps the Germans thought me dead and didn’t bother sending someone round to confirm it. All I am sure of is one minute I was lying face down on the battlefield, the night growing even darker around me and the next there was sunlight flittering through the window next to my hospital bed.
The medics say my spine is damaged, that I may never walk again – isn’t that funny, you always teased me that I could never run to save my shirt and I now I can’t even walk. They won’t be sending me back to the war now, not even the British army is desperate enough to take a cripple over an able man. Jokes on them, for I have always been a cripple in some form or other, now it is merely in body as well.
Still there is some good news in all this terror and misery, they’re sending me home. Back to the village, back to the house and back to you.
Think of me kindly, Dearest One, for I shall soon be in your arms again – if you’ll even have me anymore. Ha, look at me so remorseful I depress the nurses, but perhaps I shall grow joyful once again within your company.
Eagerly awaiting your reply and Forever yours
I’m writing to you from the train; I’m coming home, home to you and your lips, home to the orchards and strawberry patches at the height of summer. Home to our frozen lake and clinging to you as we skate along its side, praying we don’t both fall over instead of just clumsy me.
I’m going home, Christ Above, I’m even looking forward to seeing my mother’s face again – she’s going to be so happy, for a while at least. Until I tell her the truth that is, that I can’t marry the girls she’d prefer me to marry, that I can’t marry anyone she would like me to marry at all, for you see I love you, my Dearest one.
I know I’ve told you I’d do this many times before – that I would finally tell my mother about us and be done with the charade once and for all – and you have always talked me out of it, told me what foolishness it was. That the difference between the world within my head and the one we actually live in is quite sizable indeed, and I know were you here now that you would probably say the same thing– that I am a fool who puts us both in danger just to serve my own whim of fancy. But you must understand my Dearest, it is no whim of fancy that I perform now, I have thought about this long and hard waiting for your reply in the hospital – which never came, by the way. I’m trying to be understanding so much as I can my Dearest, but I simply cannot conceive of the reason which you would ignore all of my beseeches of love and affection and leave me alone on the battlefield with nary a word from you to hold against my breast at night.
I’m sad – nearly horrified to say that I’m angry, angry at you. I love you, I’ve told you so many times before within my letters but you never write back, you never even reply to tell me to stop writing them. And don’t try to tell me it's just because you didn’t receive them, for I have always heard confirmation from my sources when they arrived at your mother’s house. Has your feeling for me grown so depleted that you cannot even pick up a pen to tell me to fuck off?
I do not mean to speak so harshly to you, who is Dearest of all in my heart, but as I sit here writing this letter I find myself in much pain. I am always in pain now, and I do not think that will change even with your presence, my Dearest one.
The thought of years of this agony scares me, scares me beyond the thought of comprehension – it is only the picture of your face within my mind’s eye that gives me hope that my life perhaps, won’t be so unbearable from now on.
So, I shall end this letter before my temper gets the best of me again and I end up saying things to you that I can never take back, even were you never to read them at all. Besides, I can see the tops of my father’s old oak trees rising over the hill, so I know my journey shall be at an end soon and I shall come home to you at last.
Yours until the day we both depart this world to the next
The house – stuffed as it is at the bottom of this loud bustling village – is smaller than the soldier remembers it. A lot less pleasant to look at as well, the thatch is dangling off the roof and the white paint of the bricks is peeling off to reveal the dull grey underneath.
Had it always been so? Had it merely been his love for the inhabitant that had made this cottage seem so idyllic? And now that he was back and in constant pain, he was not quite so blind anymore. No…no it couldn’t be, for his Dearest was a diligent worker with a high sense of pride, surely…yes, surely, they would never have let it grow so disreputable looking unless their heart had grown too heavy to work.
What a fool he’d been, of course he hadn’t been forgotten. To think all this time, he had begun to convince himself that…no, no, it didn’t matter now, he was home and that was all that he needed anymore.
‘Wait for me round the bend in the road,’ he told his Valet – who had been annoyingly clingy since he had come back from the war. True, he may have come back in a chair but despite what his mother seemed to believe, he was not going to kill himself the second he was left unsupervised.
‘Sir, do you really think that wise…’ began the old servant giving his master’s destination a disapproving glower.
‘Just do it, or go back up to the house, I don’t care either way.’
The soldier was left alone for the first time since he’d returned, alone to wheel himself down the rugged little path of that cottage. Alone to reach its door, and alone to ram his knuckles against the faded wood of that door.
From within the cottage he heard then a frantic sound, the thumping of feet and the banging of pots and pans, and that faded red door was flung open in a fit of something that could be called nothing less but joyful, eager, longing.
A girl, long golden hair and full hips hidden under a plain, polka-dotted dress, looked out and all around her in a fit of frenzied panic – and then those eyes, those deep blue eyes that were so familiar to him he could trace them in his sleep, looked down upon him at last, and the smile fell. He was a disappointment, he was not whom she had been expecting.
‘Miss Smithson,’ from deep within the recessions of his failing memory he tried to pick out a first name, for he was certain he had been provided with one once, many years ago.
‘Olivia.’ She grew still at the sound of her proper name and no longer seemed quite so disappointed with him anymore.
‘Yes,’ said the girl expectedly.
‘I’m looking for your brother.’
And that small smile, so like his it was almost painful to see, dropped and her body physically drooped.
‘I’m sorry, they didn’t tell you, but my brother isn’t here anymore. He was drafted into service not so long after yourself.’
‘Oh,’ said the soldier. ‘Well, do you know when he’ll be coming…’ he would have said “back”, but the look on her face was enough to see the pointlessness of that word.
‘A year and a half ago he was killed in action over in Europe, I’m sorry, Sir…did you know my brother well?’
‘No,’ said the soldier. ‘No, not very well at all.’
He did not stay for tea, which was good because the girl clearly had none to offer, instead he left her standing at that door. He left her looking after him as he wheeled himself back up that path and down the road. But he did not go back to his waiting valet, instead he took a sharp turn down to the lake that should have only just had its first winter frost.
And for the rest of that long cold day the soldier sat there, in front of that lake where they had first met, trying not to think of anything at all – certainly not golden hair against tanned skin, or the warm breath of that voice in his ear telling him to come forward just an inch, just an inch and they might see each other again.
No, the soldier didn’t think of that at all.