“Grandpa, you have been looking at that box all day, the nurses are starting to get worried.”
Looking up at the teenage girl with blond curly hair, the old man adjusts the cords surrounding him and sits up in his blue nightgown. The man passes over the box to the girl, revealing a bundle of letters with a single old brown string around them, holding them together.
‘Caroline, would you mind maybe reading the first one to me? They are ordered by date.’
Confused but intrigued, young Caroline gently pulls at the brown string as it unfolds effortlessly. Her hands open the old thin paper envelope and pull out the first of only four letters.
June 4th 1918
To my dearest love,
Father fell ill with the flu last week. Some dark spots have appeared on his face. Mother wants to treat him with the others in the hospital, but father won’t go. he insists he’s fine, mother doesn’t believe him for a second.
I keep revisiting the day we met in your father’s shop, it was so perfect. You asked me out to the fields, I was overwhelmed with joy. I remember frolicking around under the white oak tree surrounded miles and miles of green grass. When the day was done, you walked me home and I got to feel the warm embrace of your soft lips against mine, under the dim porch light. I miss the simple pleasures of necking. I miss deeply you my love.
“We were only 16 when we first met, but we were 16 and madly in love.”
Caroline put the letter down to engage in what her grandpa had to say. Was this the story of how her grandparents met? No. it couldn’t be. Even though she had never met her grandmother she was sure her name want Dorothy. But, maybe it was?
“When my father was offered, an irresistible job offer in Germany, he had to take it. When I first heard the news, I was furious, I was going to be living away from Dorothy, but I came to realise there was nothing I could do. So, we moved away. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Would you read the next letter please?’
Caroline nodded sympathetically, picking up the next letter.
July 15th 1918
Today I witnessed a young man go to heaven. He held my hand as he went, it was comforting to know he was no longer in pain, but he passed the pain onto those that knew and loved him. Something inside me has shifted. It shifted the moment his heart stopped beating.
I got your telegram! I’m counting down the days until your arrival.
The weeks that followed our rendezvous were splendid. I can’t wait for more picnics in the field and I was thinking we could go to the pictures on our last night together. It will be the same again, like nothing has changed when you come visit. I love you my darling.
“Something had changed. We had spent too much time apart. Living away from one another was difficult.”
Caroline just sat full of questions. Where was this going? Who is Dorothy? Why now?
“I met your grandmother in my time over in Germany. At the time we were just friends, but unfortunately Dorothy didn’t see it that way when she heard news. From here things began to only get worse. We both said things we didn’t mean.” As he spoke his face turned pale, and his breathing became deeper. Gesturing towards the letters he added “read the next.”
Caroline did as her grandpa asked, eagerly opening the next letter.
July 30th 1918
To dear Robert,
Father died last night. Mother has locked herself up in their room refusing to leave his side. I worry she will never leave willingly.
I know you’re lonely in Germany but I thought our love was stronger? I am unsure of how to feel, things are already so bad here. Were we naïve to believe we could be together? Did you mean what you said? Did you really only agree to go out with me out of pity? Is it because you felt bad for me? Because I don’t have friends? I still love you, I will always love you, is that enough?
Caroline looked up, her grandpa’s face was now colourless and weak. Fighting back the pain, he smiled and whispered under his breath,
‘Our own heaven.’
As soon as he said those words nurses filled the room shouting at one another. The piercing sound of the heart monitor was all drowned out by one excruciatingly painful thought, Robert was dead. Dead with those last three words.
August 8th 1918
My own faith has been drowned out in a flood of my own tears and sorrow. Everything has been dull and lifeless since you left. I, myself, have gotten the flu. There is just too much pain, too much sadness, I can no longer bare it. It’s as if things have gotten so bad that I’m numb to the pain, to everything. The only feeling I have left is pain. I can’t, its, it’s just too much. I will not be taken the same way my father was, with no choice or control. So, I must go. This is my goodbye letter. I’m to be buried under the white oak tree, in the fields, where we planned to live in our own heaven.
I’m sorry, we will be together after death my love.
One week later
Caroline knelt down on the grass with the shade of an old white oak tree in front of her, darkening her face. In amongst flowers she carefully placed a box with an old brown string around it keeping it from falling apart. On either side of the box were two grave stones, one of a young girl who took her own life and the other an old man who died of old age.
By Charli Lloyd