My first major piece written for last years end of year assignment. It has no title… but I suppose it should have one.
Frank sat in silence underneath the towering red maple tree. He felt as if he had been waiting for hours. Looking down at his watch, he was surprised at how late it was already. Overhead the sun had sunk beneath the horizon, leaving threads of golden light lingering where it once sat. The sky was a gradient of orange and purple haze that Frank had never seen before, or at least wasn’t too familiar with. He struggled to remember the last sunset he had seen that was as beautiful as this, or even the sunset of the previous night. His memory was not all that it used to be, but he just put that down to the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that came after the war. One thing Frank would never forget though, was this spot. Underneath this very tree, on top of this very hill, was the memory of the night he first told Sarah that he loved her. It was the happiest moment of his life when she said the same. He leant back against the rough trunk, keeping his eyes fixated on the beautiful view that lay ahead. The hills lay like a patchwork blanket of green and brown, made even more varied by the shadows of the final passing clouds. Looking down once more at his watch, Frank noticed a small yellow flower blooming beside him. He reached out for it, separating it from it’s grasp in the earth, and lifting it up to his face that was etched with fine lines. Wrinkling his nose, he took a deep breath in and let the aroma fill his nostrils. Frank thought back to the times Sarah and he strolled through the forests on the walks that they would so often partake in together.
In the forest, the sky would vanish almost completely, much like their worries. Only a few fragments of blue could break through the canopy of leaves that towered overhead — like scattered pieces of an impossible jigsaw puzzle. The air was always rich with the damp smell of leaves and loam. The squelching of mud underneath their boots bought such pleasure to their ears. They were planting their footprints; their memories, in the land, and there they would stay forever. Routine bought great comfort to Frank; he liked things to stay the same. Sarah was all he felt that he needed in his life. And so long as she was there with him, everything would be alright. As they walked, Frank would often look over at Sarah for no other reason than just to take in her beauty. Sarah’s eyes first captured Frank’s heart — he may have a bad memory, but ask Frank to describe Sarah’s eyes and he could go on for hours. Her eyes were like sunlight shining through whiskey; like the rich leaves that lay resting underneath a crumbling oak tree in Autumn. Sarah had always made a fuss when Frank told her how beautiful her eyes were. Sarah had told Frank on multiple occasions that she had always wanted blue eyes. “But blue isn’t the colour of the eyes I fell for.” Frank would respond whenever she complained. And even trying her utmost, Sarah could not argue with this. It usually just caused her to smile, which formed slight wrinkles around her eyes and Frank knew that despite her protests, her smile was genuine.
A whistling wind broke Frank out of his peaceful memory. The sun had disappeared completely now, and the moon had taken its rightful place in the night sky. Adjusting his eyes to the darkness, Frank looked around. It was too dark to make out much, and he began to feel confused. How did he get here again? Looking down at his hand, he noticed the now crumpled flower in his clenched fist. A tear drop rolled down his cheek; he wasn’t quite sure why. Frank pulled his coat tighter around his shivering body, and grasped onto his wooden cane which lay beside him. “A man so young shouldn’t have to have a cane” he thought to himself. “But war does that to a man.” A howl came from somewhere in the near distance, causing a shiver to run down Franks spine. He fiddled with his watch. The hands had not moved — not even the second hand. It could not be broken already though — Sarah had bought it for him only last year for his twenty fifth birthday. He wondered where she could be. They had always said that this was their spot, the place where they would always find each other. Sarah would come sooner or later, he knew it. He would just have to wait a while longer. The chirping of crickets filled his ears, and he lay his head back against the crooked trunk, letting his eyes succumb to their tiredness.
On her twenty first birthday, Frank had proposed to Sarah. It had been a simple proposal — just how Frank liked things to be. And of course, he proposed under their tree. He had arranged to meet Sarah there one evening in the summer, which sparked no suspicion because it was not anything out of the ordinary. The most Sarah might have expected was a birthday cake, and maybe a small present. It had become habit for both — sneaking out of their parents’ houses and past the soldiers — so they felt no fear doing so. Frank had arrived first of course, an hour before they had arranged to meet. It was quite a struggle up the hill with a heavy backpack on his back, a picnic mat under one arm and the cake balancing on the other. It was also nearing dusk, so Frank had to be extra careful not to trip over any tree roots or rabbit holes. But it was worth it. The look on Sarah’s face when Frank had dropped down to one knee was something he would never forget. Tears welled up in her eyes and his breathe was taken away when she cried “yes”.
Frank remembered a certain time, soon after their engagement, that the Air Raid Siren had rattled through the night just as they had arrived at their tree. He remembered the fear and sorrow in Sarah’s face as they swiftly parted — even love wasn’t adequate reason to stay out whilst there was an Air Raid. Despite all the difficulties war presented, they made it work. Even in the darkest of times, where death scattered the streets and fear constantly blanketed the city, their tree had remained steadfast throughout, not even a branch had been broken. Frank and Sarah had each other, and not even the War could change that. Until Frank enlisted.
Frank couldn’t understand the point of war. Yes, there was conflict that had to be resolved, but why this way? Why does blood have to be shed just to sort out differences? He just didn’t understand. But then, no one really understood. As soon as Frank was enrolled in the Armed Forces, he was just a number; a body. About as important as a pawn in a game of chess. He was just one grain of sand on an entire beach. Frank and his fellow soldiers had obeyed every order so far — march, shoot, eat, sleep. It became routine for them and eventually a blanket of numbness enveloped more and more each day.
That was until the day that they captured a hostage that was no older than about 12. And of course, Frank had been the one in charge of the young lad. He had been ordered to hold a gun against the boys head for the entire time he was alive — and Frank wasn’t sure how long that would be. The boy had at first cowered in the corner of the dimly lit room they had been stationed in, his eyes shut tight. But Frank’s corporal had dragged him by the hair to the center of the room, and thrown him to his knees. Most of Frank’s humanity and emotion had been replaced by fear and anger implemented by war, but in this room, at this time, Frank actually felt neither of those. He felt sadness and empathy; even guilt. What would Sarah think of him? Imagine the look on her face had she been standing next to him. He imagined Sarah’s gentle hands reaching out, loosing his grip and taking the gun from him, tears streaming down her face. He imagined her holding the gun to her own head, finger over the trigger. For a moment there would be silence, and then…
Frank startled himself awake, not sure if it was from the daydream or because of a noise from behind. Quiet but fast paced footsteps came running up from behind him. Sarah was finally here! As he turned, a bright light momentarily blinded him, causing the cataracts in his eyes to hurt. He squinted past the light, searching for the recognisable figure of Sarah, but instead looked into the eyes of a young girl, perhaps ten years old, sending an innocent smile his way.
Running up to Frank, the little girl called out, “Grandpa! Nana is looking for you!” collapsing down beside the old man, beaming.
Frank looked at her in confusion. “Surely she must be one of the children from the city,” he thought, though it was quite late for her to be out. Her mother would not be very happy.
“I can’t leave sweetheart, I’m waiting for my beautiful wife, Sarah. It’s our fourth wedding anniversary today, and I have a wonderful gift for her.”
He pulled out a small blue box from his coat pocket, and gently rubbed it. The little girl studied Frank with a look he couldn’t quite place. Distress? Confusion? It was vaguely familiar to the look Sarah had given him when she had told him of her father’s death. The look of loss. But before he could place it, a voice came from behind him.
“Frank? Is that you?”
Turning, Frank saw an old woman hobbling towards him looking rather concerned. She held a blanket in one arms, clutching it tightly, and a walking cane in the other. Frank smiled at her.
“Have you seen my wife?”
The old woman took a step closer to Frank, tears welling up in her eyes. “Frank?”
“She’s the love of my life. We always meet here, so I have to wait for her.” Frank insisted, facing forward again. The old women sat down quietly beside him, wrapping the blanket around his shoulders, noticing he was shivering.
“May I wait with you then?”
“Tell me about her, will you?” she asked quietly.
Frank looked towards the view he shared with his love so long ago whilst tears ran down Sarah’s aged face.
“Her eyes are like sunlight shining through whiskey…” he started.
And there they sat together. Sarah had found Frank, but Frank was still — and always would be — waiting for Sarah.