Lands are divided by borders, some obvious, others not. Whether lines on a map or cracks in the earth, borders separate. Add war into this equation, and ours was wider than most.
She stood waiting with the others, wearing the same desperate expression they all wore. Families removed from each other. Children unstitched from their parents. Soulmates lost to limbo.
They lifted the rope at the agreed upon time, Lissette and the other refugees pouring forth like an unblocked drain. How could the bridge hold them? But it did. It was their replacing the rope that made us both cry.
She had no status, no place in this world. She barely had a life. Then again, neither did I.
We met one Easter morning and had married by tea in an unorthodox ceremony involving a stray cat who fussed our feet like catnip. It then peed on the floor. We laughed like hyenas. The pastor didn’t. The next day became our anniversary, and the next, and the next. Not a great legacy but something. We all must have something.
We left the city for the coast on an empty bus, a move in direct opposition to the latest trends, and got off at the last stop because the driver made us. He smiled as he did so like a man in the know.
We found a tiny house with a bed, a toilet, a door, and a view. This was all we required. This and each other.
It began soon after.
She forgot my name by Halloween and my face by Christmas. My voice went last. Perhaps it reassured her? A somnambulist by day, worse still by night, she wandered. I wandered with her when I could. It was only a matter of time.
New Year’s Day. I found her mangled body upon the rocky shore. She’d stepped from the cliffs as though them our lawn, whilst the sea fret tickled her eyelids and vindictive gulls egged her on. I was sad, but not inconsolable.
I buried her deeper than I ought, marking her grave with a simple cross of two bound sticks. There, I scratched the message: To My beloved Wife.
Later, when malicious gossip made the pastor aware of my situation, he visited one gloomy afternoon.
“It’s untitled, anonymous!” he exclaimed.
“What is?” I replied.
“Her grave, man. Her grave!”
“As was she.”
“Because she had no name?” he ventured, calming at my obvious heartbreak.
There were towers of cockeyed proportions springing from the ground at spasmodic intervals. Where the sun caught them sharpest, they glinted like stained glass windows, a most unnatural woodland. They swamped even the once-great mountains as if them just undulations.
Animals had taken advantage of this place, making squalid homes for no other reason than having nowhere else to live. A molehill shone with its tin dome. An owl’s oil drum echoed.
This was the world humanity had gifted them, our legacy to Mother Earth, obscure cathedrals of dumped filth. At least they no longer had us to deal with.
Author’s note: After seeing all the mindless bombs and destruction of late, I have decided to post this story as I can’t bear to send it out for print. As Marvin Gaye once said: ‘Whats’s going on.’
This colossal loss compounds at every turn. There is no hope. We have no hope. There never was hope.
As I sit and stare from my window like a moth bemused by a star, searching without finding, dreaming without knowing what of, the world around me crumples. This rock for a heart weighs heavy. The unending guilt, more.
Today I rouse myself from bed and endeavour to do. The question remains, do what?
A green shoot sprouts from a pot on my kitchen window. I neither placed it there nor remember my wife or daughter having done so either. Still, logic dictates they must have. Perhaps I am tireder than I thought. This newborn holds my attention as though liquid gold. New life, who’d have thought it! The tiny one strives to reach the jaundiced light abstracting the sky. I admire its gumption, if not its sense. Nevertheless, it is to this I turn my unwavering attention.
Three days later, I am sitting in the same chair, wearing the same fierce frown of determination, just from a fuzzier face. The shoot is now a stem. This stem is jade green.
There is a flaw to my latter statement. I have always believed plants a lush emerald until they flower. Grass carpets the world in emerald. Trees umbrella these carpets with protective shade, also emerald green, though their shade is not. Even the languid kelp fields swaying beneath the waves suffuse the deep in emerald green. So why is my shoot jade?
I have a purpose. Mother Nature, life, has granted me a meaning. I am almost complete.
I have shaved and bathed, for I feel today is the day. When I take the long walk from my bedroom to the back of the house and the chair set centrally in my kitchen, the one I have sat upon for three weeks in patient repose, I expect my flower to have bloomed. I race when a measured approach would better suit my condition.
The kitchen is gone, the only room they have exterminated.
It is not the loss of bricks and mortar, not the invasion, nor even the fact my home will soon collapse atop its amputated limb, but losing my little flower which chills. Losing an unanswered question, a hope.
I weep, as I have since the war began. I will never know what jade might have bloomed, or if it might have replaced the real jade, my Jade. This world has taken another step towards monochrome.
Disasters happen, my grandfather claimed. This was in the years long before his own. He’d wag his finger and frown like a grumpy goat, and I’d laugh and giggle regardless. Take it seriously, he’d mutter. You’ll thank me one day, he’d say. Of course, I didn’t, couldn’t, not when everything seemed so far away.
Now, as disaster looms and I struggle to raise my head, my own grandchildren filtering around me like ground coffee a percolator, I wish I had. It’s not so I’d know, but so I’d know what to say.
I’m a lucky fella when it comes to having work published and rarely say anything about it, but this magazine deserves recognition. For anybody interested in Gothic Fiction, Love Letters to Poe is a beautifully constructed online magazine dedicated to its titular writer. With stories to read and a podcast to listen to (Yes, I’m on it reading my story, though I’m not quite sure how that happened) and even merchandise to purchase, it really is a sensory treat.
We mere mortals may only put our own twists on Poe’s particular stylings, but I like to think the results are good. Sara Crocoll Smith, the magazine’s editor, has an eye for a story and there’s plenty to choose from. I’m thrilled to appear in the latest issue fresh out for Christmas and am leading the magazine off. I hope you enjoy.
My story, The Human in Me – By Richard M. Ankers, concerns a fellow who having replaced his dead wife with something else realises he may have got more than he bargained for.
Please find below a link to the Love Letters to Poe Podcast. Here you’ll find a selection of stories read by their writers and available for saving/subscribing in most good Podcast apps etcetera.
PS. To one and all if I don’t see you before, please have a lovely and safe Christmas. This year’s going to be very different to normal but I hope you can still enjoy it.
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