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"She always found time to write the letters."
She always found time to write the letters.
In the storm cellar when the first of the bombs began falling. She sat as small as possible between the wall and crates of provisions. She had saved a slip of paper: the label from the tin of peaches she had been readying for lunch. She smoothed it out over the cap of her indrawn knee and rolled the stub of her pencil between thumb and forefinger.
You were right, she wrote.
Over and over and over so that when the bombs stopped, hours later, her slip of paper was so smudged and layered that it could hardly be read at all.
They took refuge in the mountains. It was cold and dreary and she learned more of men and women in those months than she had ever wished to know. They watched the world burn around them and did as they always did: they worked, they survived, and when Deidre had finished hauling wood and tending to the fire and the babies and Old Man Daniels and his roaming hands--
I'm sorry, she wrote.
She wrote between the lines of her mama's prayer book. And by then she had learned and she kept her writing small and neat for want of paper.
The last of the troops left during the dying days of winter. The people came down from the mountains: slow and wary with jittery muscles and unblinking eyes. They found ruins where their homes had been and knew that curses were a fool's recourse. As they had done before the war, as they would do in the years long after the war ended, they went about their business with hammers and saws and helping hands.
I think this will be a fine year, she wrote.
She wrote along the edges of the soldier's 'zine that she had found stuffed into a crack along the kitchen wall. She wondered whether Zoe would have understood the jokes printed there any better than she did.
It was a year before they found another preacher. They set about building the new church and pieced together their old Sunday best suits and cooked for days. Set up long tables groaning with food, told the children to be on their best behaviour and fussed at the ragged bits along cuffs and elbows and knees. Deidre twitched at her skirt and twittered with all the other girls when Tommy O'Hara led the preacher to his flock.
His name is Laurence, she wrote.
She had bought a notebook the first week such frivolities began trickling back into their lives. She filled an entire page.
Daddy was thrown from his horse. He didn't get better. He got older and more tired with every passing day. He moved slower, talked slower, looked at things that no one else could see. Called Deidre Zoe more and more often and she pretended not to cry at the disappointment in his voice. Stopped straightening her hair and spoke with short sentences but still wasn't Zoe.
Damn you, she wrote.
Wrote so hard that she tore through pages upon pages and scarred the rest.
She went to the picnic with Laurence. Tried her best not to gloat on his arm. His amused look told her that he had her all figured out. Ate ice cream out of bowls and sat side by side on a grassy slope as they watched people live. Stretched out in sunshine and happiness and their hands were sticky, fingers twisted with fingers.
I think you'd like him, she wrote.
Took a paper clip from her desk drawer. Smiled at the black and white picture as she clipped it into place.
Rode out to the creek a week before the wedding. Settled down between the roots of a surviving tree and looked out over the water. Remembered bare feet and laughter and how Zoe's entire face had moved when she really smiled. Rubbed at the ring she wore and wasn't half so happy as she might have been.
I miss you, she wrote.
Laurence had given her delicate blue stationery with her name printed across the top. He knew how often she wrote.
Held her baby boy for the first time: so small, so beautiful, unreal and the most real thing she'd ever known. Beamed at Laurence and mama and daddy until her jaws ached. Body still sore and mind whirling too fast for her weariness to touch, she sat beneath her covers with a sheet of lined paper over the book pressed against her legs.
There's someone I think you'd like to meet, she wrote.
She folded the paper through the middle, a crisp, clean line. Put it on the night stand beneath a picture frame and turned off the light.
Daddy died old beyond his years. Closed her eyes and listened to Laurence's deep voice and mama's quite sobs. Tried to ignore the rustle of clothing and the scratchy shift of throats. Touched the curls laying damp at her neck and felt anger curl in her gut.
Grow up, she wrote.
Wrote fast and furious, jagged angles and barely closed loops. Nearly screamed when Pete knocked over his glass of milk and soaked her paper clean through, nothing left but wet blue smears.
She sat on her bedroom floor. Searching hands beneath her bed and found the wooden box. Pulled it free and rubbed at dust that wasn't there with the hem of her shirt. Hooked her nails beneath the lid and pulled. Dusts motes a sudden explosion, highlighted by window-framed sunlight as she opened the box.
Please, she had written.
Come home, she had written.
I love you, she had written.
She put the letters with all the rest. Closed the lid and put the box away.