First of all, let me warn you that pre-chapter ramblings will be ridiculously long this week. Read at your own risk.
The 1343 words that follow this introduction comprise the greatest, most artistic, most beautifully crafted segment of literature that was ever been written by the hand of humankind. This fact is not surprising in the least, seeing as how my kindergarten English teacher predicted that I would become one of the world’s best authors after reading my fifteen-page treatise on PlayDoh’s Republic. Her prediction was confirmed six years later when, at the age of seven, I published the first of my fifty-seven widely-acclaimed novels, Pride and Prejudice, under the pen name of Jane Austen. My other works include Great Expectations, The Lord of the Rings, Little Women, The Screwtape Letters, and my personal favorite, If You Give a Moose a Muffin (published under the pen names Dickens, Tolkein, Alcott, Lewis, and Numeroff, respectively). A Wing and a Prayer, which you now see in part, I consider to be my masterpiece, my life’s greatest pinnacle of achievement, the single, starry song that the fat lady sings. This ninth chapter, in particular, I consider the pies de la resistance of the entire novel. 1343 words, each of them the most beautiful in its own way, in its own setting, like the rarest of gems combined in one dazzling tiara. Words cannot express the gorgeous artistic quality of these words. So you shall just have to read and fall in love for yourself.
Well. In case you hadn’t noticed, that wasn’t the actual intro. You see, I have been informed by two normally-reliable sources that I need to stop my so-called “bashing” of my novel. One of the normally-reliable sources even went so far as to suggest an arrogant, conceited, insanely egotistical intro as a change from my normal, truthful intros. So I obliged them. Are you satisfied now, normally-reliable-sources-that-shall-remain-nameless (*cough*Megan and Talia*cough*)? Was I totally, revoltingly, disgustingly arrogant enough for you? =D
In my defense, and to clarify my true novel-bashing stance, I will say that I do not insist on bashing my writing. I do insist on looking at it from an objective standpoint. And objectively speaking, it’s got some interesting concepts and characters. Some of the descriptions and conversations are pretty good, too. Also objectively speaking, the style has changed dramatically between chapter one and chapter nine and will probably change more between chapter nine and chapter twelve. It’s a little moony and/or boring, it is not as lighthearted as I originally intended, and it’s very disjointed from chapter to chapter. Emotions are good and strong, but can get a bit too strong. And it’s teetering on the verge of the chick-flick category (my brother, if I allowed him to read this story, would inform me that it is not teetering on the verge of chick-flick…that it has most definitely fallen in and drowned. But that’s ok, since he isn’t allowed to read it yet). Objectively speaking.
You’ve got to admit that I’m right! I dare you to tell me (truthfully) that I’m not. =D Besides, I figure if you know what I struggled with particularly for each chapter, it’ll be easier to leave specific feedback. Maybe.
Now, in mortal dread of the wrath of *cough*Talia-and-Megan*cough, I promise that I won’t bash this chapter, lest I get myself into more trouble and have to write another boasting tirade to make up for it. But I would like your opinion. Is it weird to skip all the way from Christmas to spring in the white space between the chapters? ‘Cause in a way it seems odd to me, and in another way it seems to fit the new energy that will hopefully begin to build with this chapter (it’s not quite here yet, but the glimmerings of it are, and I discovered that even just glimmerings are enough to inspire over a thousand words in a single morning, as opposed to two hundred after three hours of staring at a blinking cursor). I had to get to spring somehow and it seemed less awkward to just do one very large jump than several smaller jumps. What do you think?
Aside from that, you will be proud of me when I tell you that I actually thought this chapter went pretty well. Well, I guess that’s obvious, seeing as how it’s only Thursday and here I am posting already! It’s a miracle…and as if that weren’t enough, I even found my new working title today! Incredible.
And, I just found a new favorite book. It’s called War Letters and it’s basically just that…a collection of letters from and to soldiers and nurses in the Civil War, WWs, Cold and Korean Wars, you name it. It also includes some of the back stories behind the letters. I was in tears most of last night. And that book is what inspired the letter excerpts in this chapter.
And now, without further ado, here is chapter nine of The Emptiest Day.
The Emptiest Day: Chapter Nine
“The peas go in this bed, Mum?” She scooped up a handful of soil and let it trickle tenderly through her fingers, wondering what it was that made the black dirt beneath her fingernails feel so wonderful.
“No, I want that bed for the carrots, beets and radishes. The peas…we can put the peas against the house, don’t you think?” called Rosamund from the cellar.
Elinor nodded. Somehow it seemed wrong to interrupt the birds with any unnecessary words, even words that savored so strongly of spring. It was beautiful just to be alive in the cold golden sunshine, to hear the distant waves batter the cliffs and the sound of the wind through baby grass. Anything more was too harsh; too loud.
“Jack, fill those watering cans at the tap. You and Polly can start watering the chard and the lettuce. I do hope that we don’t have more heavy rain – it would wash everything away. It is only March…but it’s nearly April. Do you think we began planting too early, love?” Rosamund emerged from the cellar with a basket of seed potatoes, a sunny expression and a faint limp. Her recovery from the air raid three months ago had been quick and complete, but the accident had left one leg just slightly shorter than the other.
“Mmm,” Elinor answered noncommittally, taking a deep breath for no reason other than smelling the warmth of the dirt.
“My darling, I will not try to describe to you the things I have seen. Someday, perhaps, if the Lord grants I can see you again, but not now. I’ve seen too much horror, too many men’s souls. It’s too real. Darling, I don’t know if I will ever be able to sleep again without hearing the screams, and it frightens me because…”
When the letter began again it had a different date and a different pen.
“Elinor, I want to tell you…I need to ask you something. A man cannot live in a place like this without being changed. Without being changed a lot. Out here all you can do is survive, and I want to know…will you still want me? I love you so much, and I don’t want to hurt you. Sometimes I wonder what I will be like when I go home – if I go home. Will I still be Ethan Hayne, or will I be some scarred shell of him? And then I just need to be sure that whatever happens, that I can come home to you. Will you still have me, dear?”
God knows I will. If we had married before you left, it would have been for better or worse. It would have been for always.
It is for always, Ethan.
“’Scuse me, Elinor…” said Jack, pushing past with a can of water that was nearly as big as he was. “Mum wants me to do the peas, if you’re ready.”
“Not quite, Jack, I’ve one more row left to do. But the radishes are ready for you to water, I think. Thank you.” Elinor scooped out a tiny grave and slipped in three dead peas.
The second of February the last letters came, both in one packet.
“Life here is much the same as ever, and I will not waste precious paper on telling you of it, except that we lost Daniel Quentin last night. I was with him, and, Elinor, it’s a miracle – I heard him confess Jesus just before. Praise God.
“Darling, please…don’t let the other letter that I’ve included in this packet frighten you. It’s just that when you see so much death you know that some things must never go unsaid. God only knows whether you will ever have need of it; but I want you to have it. Just in case.”
When she opened the second letter, a set of sergeant’s stripes fell out.
“God grant that this letter will never be necessary. Mum (I do consider you as dear to me as the mum I never knew would have been), God bless you for all your love and prayers and for the precious gift that you gave me, if only for a time. Derek, if I don’t come back…I’m sorry that I can’t be there for you. I pray for you often; be strong in the Lord and be a man. I leave Elinor in your care, my brother; take care of her and the rest of your family.
“Jack and Polly, I don’t know if you will remember me; but I pray God will keep you clean and strong and pure…so that you will grow up without ever having to see the face of war.
“And Elinor, my love. There are so many things I could wish to say, but really there are only two that matter. I love you. I love you more than I ever knew I was capable of loving. But you must look to the only One who can love you far deeper and more truly than I…it’s hard to imagine that is even possible. I’m sending you the stripes from my shirt, even though it’s against regulations. I always wear my jacket anyway, so no one will know that they are gone. I pray for you with every breath I take, because I never know which will be my last…God bless you, darling…”
She patted the earth softly over the row of shriveled peas and left them to lie dead in the ground until the day that tendrils of new life would come surging through the surface of the deep.
“Mum, I was wondering…could I ask you something?”
“You just did,” Rosamund bantered over the handle of her shovel with an uncharacteristically girlish laugh. Spring was here.
“It’s about Dad…and you.”
The smile faded slightly and for a long time there was nothing but the sound of the children playing hide-and-seek in the chicken coop and the soft call of the sea.
“Mum, did you never…wonder what God was thinking, taking him away?” asked Elinor in a low voice, tracing the muddy spatters that Jack had left on the path with her shoe. “I know it was hard…but you never seemed to doubt, even for a moment.”
Setting down the shovel, Rosamund sat down on the planter box and patted the spot next to her. “Yes. Yes, I wondered. And doubted.” Silence lapped at the conversation like distant waves on the beach. “I was even more scared than you were, El. But I tried so hard not to let any of you see…” Rosamund pulled off her glove and pressed her hand to her mouth with a long, sobbing breath. “…just how much…how much I was hurting. I loved him, Elinor…so much.” And for the first time, she broke down in her daughter’s arms.
Impulsively, Elinor drew her mother’s head onto her shoulder and cradled her and tried to comfort her. “Shhh…I’m sorry…I’m sorry, Mum…” She closed her eyes tightly, trying to find something encouraging to say. But she could find nothing to soothe the heartache that spanned the months and the years and the tears. Only more questions.
“But Elinor,” whispered Rosamund shakily as the storm passed, “I learned that even Paul doubted and prayed for God to take away his trial.” She sat up and their eyes connected over the fading waves of sunlight that washed them. “‘And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ I was so weak, Elinor, and God’s power was perfected in me. That power is what kept me alive. It’s the strength that you saw, and it’s the only reason I can say today that I’m so thankful for it. Even though sometimes it feels like it’s tearing me apart.”
There was nothing else to say, nowhere else to go, so they just sat in the dimming sun and were quiet together. And it was painfully beautiful.
“Elinor!” shouted Derek from the open window. “Somebody is calling for you on the telephone.”
Suddenly the sky went very black.