The Visitor, A Short Story

I wrote this story a few years ago and it still resonates with me.  Since it takes place during the onset of war, I thought it appropriate to have up today, Remembrance Day.  The young soldier is admiring the enigmatic Churchill and hoping in some small way, he too can become brave and heroic in the face of imminent war.  Lest We Forget….

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I watched as the plane landed with a thunderous roar, the engines coming to an abrupt halt as if the pilot had simply turned the switch to the ‘off’ position.  I stood with my back hard against the biting wind, wondering if I should prepare a salute or simply stand at attention.  I waited for some direction from my superior officer, but none came.  I believe the shock of the arrival and the excitement of having such a prolific visitor come adrift upon our rocky shores had sent us all into a wave of silent awe.

It was November 1942.  The world was engulfed in the biggest conflict known to man, the classic battle between good and evil personified by the leaders of European nations struggling to define the world on their own terms, ignoring the plight and suffering of those they plundered into despair.  Leaders who were so enmeshed in their own agendas they took no notice of the people being tortured and beaten or of children being left to die on the streets with explosions and gunfire rattling their souls, shattering lives and dreams without a second thought.   Our little part of the world seemed so distant and removed from such gross atrocities against humanity, save the work our army was doing to assist our allies.  Our shores were vulnerable and England knew the possibility of oncoming attacks, sending reinforcements to protect our rocky cliffs by setting up battlements to keep constant watch over our ocean.  I say ‘our ocean’ as if we, the country of Newfoundland, could even suggest possessing such a thing.  This living, breathing entity entrusted to us by God to forever protect and nurture, and in return permission to fish her open blue waters.  She bestowed food in abundance to feed our families, nourish a growing country and sustain our people through long harsh winters, all the while, the stars beckoning fishermen to take to their boats and sail beneath their watchful gazes, enrapturing them in the ocean’s song of freedom and peace. The salty water blowing upon our land giving weight to the wet laundry strung out to dry on the tenuous lines, the gale force winds blowing it skyward.  Salt we could taste upon our lips, and feel the sting in our eyes after waiting and watching for our husbands, fathers, brothers and uncles to return home from months at sea.  Our lives hung in limbo, much like the laundry blowing haphazardly across the blue horizon. We were left to protect our waters, land and people with nothing more than a few strong men and the good sense God had granted us to outlast the evil dictators who were waging war against England.  We watched as our men and women departed for lands far out reaching our own, with the ever present knowledge that they may never return.  We applauded their bravery, mocked the suggestions of indignant retreats and prayed for their eventual safe return to Newfoundland’s humble embrace.

The wind blew out like a blast from God as I blindly stood, tears streaming down my face with my hands frozen by my side.  The Botwood air base was abuzz with excitement, people milling about in the cold waiting for the slightest chance of catching a glimpse of his surly expression, most likely with a lit cigar firmly planted between his teeth as ashes trailed his every step.  This was the man who held the fate of England in his hands although promising years of struggle and grief, he never wavered in his belief that we could withstand the loss of lives brought upon us by Hitler’s egocentric views that embraced the inane and contemptible.

The entire world watched as England waged war against the tyranny of this dictator. The population poured passionate and all-encompassing faith into a beloved and respected Prime Minister, believing he could lead the world to victory over the malevolent force spreading across Europe.   I was excited by the prospect of meeting the leader of almighty England, but nervous he may look upon me as subservient.  His stellar military career had ignited my own aspirations of service, however I knew that I was not his equal.  His brilliance was far beyond my capacities and I was quickly daunted by the challenges of such a life during this tumultuous time. It was as if people knew this was an era of change and historic will; nations rose together in allegiance to restore peace, hope and the conviction that all people should live without having to witness death and destruction in their backyards. It was a time where the future seemed uncertain, the constant news of battles and resulting casualties the topic of every radio broadcast, but when he took to the airwaves, we rose in unison to hope the end of such senseless slaughter would soon be upon us.  I recalled hearing the warnings from the Prime Minister years before this terrible outbreak regarding Hitler’s rampant greed for superiority and his assembling of armies in the name of ‘white supremacy’.  Although he was politely ignored, Churchill could see Europe’s demise propelling forward and he was prepared to rally a nation to stand tall and fight.  His inspiring words sprang intense patriotism that only war time mentality could comprehend, and years later as he took his seat as Prime Minister, he became England’s savior as well as our guide into the dark abyss of war.

I watched in wonder as the man of whom I had been inspired emerged from the plane, the propellers slowing as the engines died.  He stood, his long trench billowing about his ankles and lit his cigar surreptitiously beside the plane’s engines.  I smiled as I watched, seeing the horrified looks from my superiors at Churchill’s disregard for such trivialities as an impending explosion from a lighter in proximity to the plane’s fuselage.  They hurriedly escorted him away from the danger zone and into a path leading directly to where I was standing.  The smile must have still been securely glued upon my face as he approached and smiled back at me.  His hat had almost succumbed to a violent gust of wind and he forcefully replaced it upon his head.  He looked me up and down as if inspecting my presence in such a desolate and isolated place and said loudly, “Hello, Sergeant!  So, how do you like it up here in Newfoundland?”  I was momentarily stunned staring into his bright blue eyes and the energy and warmth behind them tempted a reply from my gaping frozen lips. “Fine, sir” I sputtered, “I like it fine.”

Swimming in the Past

I wasn’t going to post any creative writing junk on this site, but I had nothing else to say right now since everything is crazy and people are crazy and you’re out of order and I’m out of order and the vending machine is fucking out of order!!!  So, here is an excerpt of a story I have been working on. It’s a bit flowery, or something.    Read it.  Breathe it.  Live it. Lament the end of summer.  Send cookies. 

KJ

 

I can hear the rustle of the reeds outside my bedroom window.  The warm breeze sends them into a hazy dance of bent bodies and extended arms.  The darkness signals night, but I am too restless to sleep.  I snuggle deeper under the bedclothes in search of comfort, my eyelids becoming heavier every inch I delve.  I listen intently to the reeds, their music lulling me into a gentle song I know will eventually be my undoing.  I try to stare up at the beamed ceiling, its dark cedar creating ominous shapes in the dark, but my eyelids flutter in protest. I turn to look at my bedroom door, painted a faded white and chipping from the summer humidity and the daily lake- watered towels drooping from atop the corner. 

 The little cottage creaks with adult noises outside my door.  The wooden floorboards heavy with grown-up steps making their way to the glassed porch to watch the night sky turn a deeper twilight as the stars reflection bounce upon the lake water or the television declare an evening news program to be concluding for the night.  I imagine they are sitting together on the little settee, having their late night drink thankful the kids are finally tired and tucked in for the night.  I long to join them, my bare feet padding along the floorboards and snuggling in between them, my head resting on her shoulder, but I dare not move.  I know they will not be upset as much as they would be worried.  Are you sick? They would ask.  Do you have a headache? They would be concerned.  My fair skinned body out in the summer sun all day; in the rolling waves tumbling atop the inflated inner tube my brothers and I pranced and jumped day after day.  Sunstroke, they would think.  Fever, they would fear.  Sunburn, they would lament.  But no, even in the days when sunscreen was unheard of, they took expert care that my fair skin would not burn hidden furtively under a cotton t-shirt, and my face shaded under a sunhat placed securely on my strawberry blond head.  I remained sheltered from swarming mosquitoes, my little body hidden inside the concave of his jacket as we ran along the dusty path during a dusk evening. Saved from myself as I was shuffled hurriedly indoors following an invitation to a young skunk by a singing of ‘here, kitty, kitty, kitty’. 

Fast forward thirty years and I wish I could go back to those long hot summer days.  We would walk bare foot along the stones to the path leading us to the dilapidated shed where the bikes were stowed away.  We would run down to Lake Ontario, our bathing suits clinging to our bodies, the frigid water sending us into tides of joy and near hypothermia, blissfully unaware of any temperatures cooler than the hot sun beating down upon our necks or the dripping ice cream cones we slurped in an afternoon meant for laundry.  I remember being embarrassed that I had been stripped down to my underwear at the local laundry mat waiting for our clothes to wash, but treated to an air hockey game and ice cream at the local variety store as if to make up for the public display of my flowery pink underwear.  That was an Ontario summer.  Full of water, sand, sun and cool nights with the reeds outside my bedroom window singing me to sleep in the little cottage that held all of us tightly in its embrace for a few short precious weeks.     

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