Ok, so I spent the morning tweaking this chapter a little bit here and there. Thanks to you for your input, Megan and Laura — it’s so nice being able to make changes before turning it in to Ms. Gaines! I think it’s a little stronger and more believable now, but I’m not sure. Obviously, it still needs work, particularly the part with Rosamund (could still use a bit more believability). After all, you never really finish, you just run out of time…and that’s doubly true with writing. What I’m shocked at is the length of this chapter. I’ve been cranking out 1000-1200 words per chapter…well, this one is close to half that length again. Whether this is a good thing or not remains to be seen. =D And finally, that wasn’t too self-depreciating, now, was it? Say you’re proud of me?
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.” She swallowed hard. “I’ve one more row left to do. But the radishes are ready for you to water, I think.” Elinor scooped out a tiny grave and dropped in three dead peas.
The second of February the last letters came, both in one packet.
“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), 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…”
The ink was blurred and the paper warped and wavy, like it had been written during a light rain. But there had been no rain at El Agheila that month.
A tear slipped into the dirt and glittered there like the dream she held so close. Elinor watched it slowly melt into the earth until all that was left was a dark, damp reminder of love. And then she buried it with the peas.
Sometimes it seemed so very strange…like the world was made of the glorious golden sunlight and the ache was just tarnish.
But the tarnish goes so deep. It goes deeper with every letter that does not come. God, You know how long I can keep going like this, not knowing…but I don’t.
Elinor thrust her finger into the soil and dropped in another set of shriveled seeds, and when Jack and Polly disappeared inside she turned to Rosamund, trying to control the desperateness in her voice.
“Mum, I was wondering…could I ask you something?”
“You just did,” Rosamund bantered over the handle of her shovel with a buoyant, girlish laugh.
“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 seventeen when we were married, and he was just nineteen. When you came, Mrs. Belmont used to tease us that we were a family of three babies.” Rosamund laughed softly, seriously. “Do you know, Elinor, when he died, I had been married half of my life?”
She pulled off her left glove, revolving the ring on her finger and reading the lifetime that was gone in the scratches in the gold.
“I tried so hard not to let you see…tried not to let you know how much I was hurting.” The tears came slowly at first, but they gathered strength like the tide. “It still hurts, Elinor…and I still wonder what God was thinking…”
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, “even Paul doubted and prayed for God to take away his thorns.” She sat up and wiped her eyes with her handkerchief. “‘And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ I was so weak, Elinor – I am so weak – and 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.” Rosamund closed her eyes and sighed. “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 fading waves of sunlight that washed over them and were quiet together.
“Elinor!” shouted Derek from the open window. “Somebody is calling for you on the telephone.”
The tarnish goes so deep.
The picture is just for fun, one that I didn’t include in the Roses, Rings and Rusty Nails post. I don’t usually like to include pictures since it seems a little cheesy to “illustrate” a more mature story, but this one seemed to fit and I figured if I posted at the end it would be more like a bonus picture not an illustration, even though it does tie in to the chapter. Sort of. This ring is titanium, not gold, but it’s in black and white so you can’t tell and honestly it doesn’t matter that much…