Grave Rain

The cemetery was rather quiet on my annual visit. As I approached with hesitation, the symmetrical gravestones glistened from the freshly fallen rain and the petrichor was the only scent in a vast oval of cut flowers. With each step I took, I could feel the sinking of the earth underneath my feet and the moist squelch of the mud reminding me of the damage being done to my shoes. The space greeted me with a sense of unease. There was a gradual drip of water falling from the overgrown grass that couldn’t be mown around the headstone. Regretfully I made my way forward to his.

Here lies Xavier Jackson, beloved friend, and son, 1927 – 1944. It read like a lie, or maybe it was my inability to believe it. Each visit my heart grew a little weaker. I knew that so many had family members misplaced, and with so many underage soldiers, they hardly could have expected anything less.

A soft tap lands atop my head. Reaching up to feel it I brush past what has long exceeded stubble, lining my face and feel the top of my head. Rough hair complemented by split ends. Time was beginning to show within me. I can only picture the worthless husk of a man who remains within this vessel. Off in the distance, I hear a snap, jolting me back into reality. Spinning my head around to see a woman encased from head to toe in black, shielded from the drizzle of rain by a navy-blue umbrella. Her hand secured a poppy. I resume contemplation of the grave, my lack of sense of truth dawned me.

It was as though the rain was washing away my sins. Abruptly a shelter came over me and the shower which was soaking through my uniform stopped, only to reveal the emotions I had flowing down my face. Looking around I could see the woman standing right next to me, holding out the umbrella like an offering. A smile masking despair on her face. I felt her emptiness channel onto me.

I watched as she collapsed in the mud next to the headstone. This woman looked familiar. I felt as if pain and sorrow within her were similar to my own. As she reached to place the poppy on the stone I watched her arms shake.
She looked up, strong brown eyes staring straight at me. The same lack of worth. As her eyes looked up at me, endless streams of rain and emotion flowing down, my mind was thrown back to the battlefield…

Gunfire blowing through, grenades sending dozens flying. Finally, it was brought to a halt, my men and I stood to move across the plain. Stumbling I fell to the ground only to face a soldier. British I believe, I recognised him from behind the eyepiece of my rifle. He was a man I killed. Blood dripped from the side of his mouth and there was a gaping hole in his chest left from my gun. I saw in his hand a small piece of paper, plucking, left me with a picture. It was a small trinket, about the same size as a playing card, the corners were bent and the image was coated in a thick layer of dust. Though as my thumb whipped away the grime it gradually revealed an image. It was a photo of this soldier with his arm around a young vibrant woman, strong brown eyes and a wide smile across her face, the gloss that coated it reflected the sun back into my line of sight. Reluctantly I gave into the urge to turn it around, only to see the names Xavier and Clover inscribed on the back in a curled cursive. The simple perfection, this sweet young couple. The reality of it all came to life. Though the now pelting rain broke my epiphany. I saw the same strength in this girl who was before me. The remnants of something that was once there, now lost.

I didn’t have the nerve to make a connection with her or the ability as my English was poor, regardless of the fact that I knew she deserved an explanation I couldn’t give it to her. I stood up, continuing to shelter her with the umbrella. She looked at me desperately puzzled as I pulled out a small piece of paper.

In my greatest efforts i handed this card sized paper to her and only said ‘I am sorry, I believe this is yours Clover’ in my strong German accent and broken English. Slowly I placed the umbrella down by her side, and walked forward. Headed towards the exit.
I turned back, and as expected I saw her hunched over the photograph. She glanced up to see me, summoning the strength within her she pulled herself up. First using the headstone as a support but as her legs wobbled and her arms wavered she managed to compose herself. There she stood a woman, dressed in all black, staring directly at me. As she spoke the words echoed through the graveyard the harshness dimmed and she was heard. The words she spoke were simple but everything. He forgives you. The sun just starting to crawl out from behind the clouds glistened off the puddles. The light dancing off the grass droplets and the reflections being shone back at me through her eyes. Innocent a pure, the darkness still there but subtle.

The warmth of the sun turned my sodden uniform into a blanket, and the cemetery perfectly ordinary in its imperfections. The reality of everything gradually sinking in. The men back home, me, we were all following orders. The events of that war were catastrophic, I know that he probably didn’t forgive me for taking him away from the future he might have had. Yet I could finally feel an undeniable sense of relief.

Why

The clank of the footsteps echoed round the hall, in sync with the beating of my heart. All I could hear was the sound of the wind shaking the paper-thin walls that line the orphanage, and the whispers of people in the neighbouring rooms complaining about the rotten food we were served that evening. I, however, was left to listen. Not surprising really, my last roommate was adopted today. She was a petite girl, long, soft blonde hair and blue glistening eyes. Only new to the home, we knew her as Anna, I believe it was short for Annabelle but who knows. She hadn’t yet experienced the cruelty of the world, or she had and she wasn’t old enough to realise it. Always smiling with warm rosy cheeks, she lit up the orphanage. Though she was only here for a month before someone took her away, leaving nothing but a creaking old bed in her absence.

I was the oldest one at the orphanage, and it was clear I wouldn’t be adopted any time soon. I mean being 15 it was highly unlikely. My room resembled that of a jail cell, it was a concrete hole, and in it was two steel framed beds on either side and a small wooden table to complement them. It was lit during the day by a small window which blocked the light with the bars on it. The glass was grotty and stained by the dirt and dust which had formed on it since the last time it was cleaned. (which was probably never)

Since Anna had left, the emptiness of my room only worsened, especially at night. There was no one to make me smile and so there was no reason to do so. The light from the outside hallway shone through the base of my door and reflected shadows of the monsters that lived in my room. Nothing like the monsters I assume children would read about in books with their parents growing up. They weren’t large furry creatures with spikes sticking up off their backs. They were the visualisations of my emotions, presenting themselves in physical form. It was the darkness and the constant presence of them which made them so frightening and persistent. Every night I spent in that room alone, they got bigger, more terrifying and more prominent. The lingering loneliness, the anxiety and fear, everything was brought to light through the darkness of my prison.

They are still out there. I’m sure of it. I remember them, not well, but enough to be able to recognise them if I had to. My mother, she would always look at me with a cold gaze, usually, it was behind the cloud of smoke being created by the cigarette in her hand. As for my father, he was a loser, he would get home late and collapse on the floor. At the time, I thought it was exhaustion from work, well I was five what could you expect. It wasn’t as simple as that unfortunately, I would see him with different women every night. To me, it was normal I guess. Obviously, I didn’t understand then.

No one had ever sung my praises. Never said I was worth it, and to be fair that hasn’t so much changed. Ten years later and I still don’t see the point. The point in attending school day in day out, the point in working hard. Every day I lie about who I am just so I don’t have to see the look of pity in the eyes of the students who attend my school. I don’t have any friends at school, not because I couldn’t make them, but I didn’t see the point. Though when I finally realised it the opportunity had passed.

Most of the people who work at the orphanage don’t care about the children so we look out for each other as much as possible, but no one can always be there. Being the oldest I am left to protect the younger ones, I look out for them as if I was their mother. No one else will. Most of them have lost their parents in accidents, or they never knew them. I’m not sure if it would have been better to have known them and been given up or to have never had the burden and be left wondering. At school, all the students get to go home to their loving parents. They see them every day. They come to school with smiles on their faces. Sometimes not so much real but more a front they put on for the people they surround themselves with. It is interesting watching each day the different expressions that people have and never fails to amaze me when someone’s “Best Friend” doesn’t even realise they are upset.

The alarm rings with a repetitive jab in my ear, each beep like a familiar dagger. Though something was strange, today felt different.

The crack of the gravel underneath my feet as I boarded the bus and the vibrations all channelled the similarity of previous experience. What was it about today, this day, that would change me so drastically.

With the first step off the bus, I could see that something was not right with the school, it was a flood of girls with pink noses and red and blotchy cheeks, something I had only seen on the children in the home when they caught colds. Though the worry and concern behind everyone’s eyes, boys and girls alike was clear as day. Something had happened, the only question was what?

I took my seat at the back of the classroom, a good vision of the entire room. One girl entered, her face worse than the others, not because of the blotches and the pinkness, but more the lack of it. The eyes like a dark pit never ending in the solitude, virtually expressionless throughout the rest of the features. Her blankness showing the pain she was holding back. This girl was always nice to everyone, I don’t think I ever saw her around someone without a smile wide across her face. The entire room was like a movie, I’m not sure if that was because of my small presence or the dramatism of it all. The homeroom teacher entered not long after the girl, rested his hand softly across her back and continued to the centre of the room.

“As I am sure you are all aware, Jessica has suffered a terrible loss, you all need to be there for her during this difficult time.” He spoke with a concealed pain, or a sense of pity, I couldn’t tell at that point. The words disrupted the silence of the class, who were all so caught up in themselves to actually check on her. Each one watching their desks like it is the key to their soul.

As the day progressed everyone just seemed worried about their own little lives, concentrating on how the world for them was ending and not worried about anything other than that. It seems like sometimes people are only concerned with their own selfish little lives. Though finally getting home everything seemed different.

With one step into my room, there was an overwhelming warmth that came at me, I hadn’t had time to put my bag down and grasp the situation before I felt a wetness dampening my shirt. Looking down I could see a river of long brown hair, partly reflecting the beams of light from the window. Up and down it bumped until I realised who it was. Jessica. She looked up at me, huge greenie brown eyes watching me. Gripped from the back by to arms, I could feel the strength of them growing as I pushed away slightly. She was beautiful, tears streaming down her face. She was herself, no masks, not hiding anything from me. Gradually I shifted my grip softly around her arms and lowered her to the concrete ground. Raised one hand and placed it on the back of her head.

I knew everything was going to be hard for her from this point on, but all I could do was pull her in and whisper to her that everything was going to be okay.