Friday, 31 January 2014

Short Story: VE Day

by Verity Summers

VE Day. The war was over. We had returned home, welcomed by cheers. It was the greatest feeling. "Well done!" "Welcome back!" "The war's over!" The same phrases echoed through the crowd; cheering, crying, hugging. Every person faded into a great crowd; every returning soldier stood as one, as they had at war.  I felt as if I was floating, high on a cloud, somewhere else entirely.
Every house was empty that day, everyone was out - in the streets, the parks, the bars. We were all desperate for a strong pint and a good meal, stumbling into the nearest door. "Alright lads?!" The man behind the bar called, "Drinks on the house today, especially for you lot!" He smiled, nodding in the direction of our khaki green uniformed selves, standing against the backdrop of a sea of faces and beams of sunlight spilling through the open door behind us. Cheers radiated throughout the crowd once more at that, and people flooded into the room with the doorway framing the beautiful shades of the washed out blue sky that had made a timely appearance. On the best day anyone had had in years. The day we had all been waiting for, for so long.
I was surrounded by men, reunited with loved ones. There was a young man standing near my right side, arms round the necks of an older man and woman - his parents, perhaps. Tears were in their eyes, relieved at the sight of their son returning home. His head was buried in their two shoulders so irretrievably that I couldn't even glimpse his expression, although I should think it was one of relief, sorrow, joy, and pure juvenility; he looked no more than twenty after all - joined us in the latter stages of our fight presumably. There was another man - older this time, though - kneeling down by the bar, numerous arms around his torso also. His children. They couldn't have been more than about three, five and six years of age, as their mother stood proudly, tears in her eyes, behind them, waiting to hold her husband in her arms again - something she thought she might never have been able to do again the last time she saw him, his back turned as he walked away years previously.
This was one of the times when the same thought struck me again, having had the realisation a hundred times previously: we were lucky to be alive, to have returned home. Not everyone made it back. There were people all over the country - our country - that weren't holding their loved ones as so many were around me. They were clutching at jumpers, pictures, anything that had been left behind of the deceased. Those that were now gone but who would never be forgotten.
We would remember them.

I continued to search around the faces of people in the bar, for the khaki uniforms that would inevitably be surrounded by people, colours, smiles, laughs. My eyes fell upon another sight. I had seen parents hugging their son - an adult in his own right, but simply a child when he left, and still a child, to them, when he returned; their baby boy. I had seen a father clutching at his children, their precious forms that he was relieved were still intact, in reach of his scarred, trembling hands. I turned and saw a barman surrounded by smiling faces; memories of the past six years were forgotten for a little while; there was pure happiness at the prospect of the lifetimes ahead of each and every person in that room. Drinks were being handed out one after the other, not for any specific individuals, but for everyone -   anyone - wanting to celebrate the best day. There'd be no way of telling who any drink was for or how many people truly had been out drinking, celebrating, rejoicing. There were so many, too many to count. The sense of community was ever present.

And the sense of relief, and love, was similarly encompassing as I witnessed a pair - a man and a woman - held in an emotional embrace in the far corner of the room. She was sobbing, arms around the man's neck and his resting around her hips. Beams of light illuminated the dust mites floating in the air, the simplicity and beauty of the moment encapsulated in the glint of light that caught my eye as it struck the diamond ring meticulously placed on the fourth finger of her left hand. There were relatives, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, children, reunited all around me. Romances renewed, resumed, and - much like for that fresh faced couple in the darkened corner of the bar, revealed to the eyes of others only by shimmers of light falling through a dusted, muddied small window, contrasted magnificently with the gleam of the woman's freshly placed engagement ring - only truly just beginning. No better time to commit to a life with a loved one than when life has just begun again. 

The merriment continued throughout the large, high ceilinged room. The wooden support beams gave the room such character, I felt as though I truly was home again. And then I realised, the faces of my loved ones were nowhere to be found. They weren't the greatest supporters of social drinking, but one would have thought they'd make the journey out today... As I considered my thoughts, a few men, arm in arm with mothers, lovers and daughters were walking toward the exit, and so I decided to follow them out. I raised an arm to the patrons left behind, as did the men departing alongside me, which was met with a loud cheer as a final welcome home, a thank you, a goodbye. I smiled and started for home, ten or so minutes away.
I tried the door of the family home - it was open; my family were at home. My expression brightened as I thought of returning to my family, my friends and my life. Rounding the corner of the hallway and walking through the small entrance to the living room, I saw them all there: my mother, father, three sisters and even my extended family consisting of aunts, uncles and cousins from far and wide. I felt cold, but I was beaming with joy, elated to see so much of family. They had travelled so far to see me home safely. I sighed happily. I had made it.

I looked at my family, expectantly; I waited for their expressions to match mine, walking into the centre of the room between where half of them sat on the right hand couch, and half on the left of the room. But then I saw it - the actual looks on their faces. "It almost feels as though he's still here with us; I could swear he's standing right in front of me now. But that's just not possible." My girlfriend spoke, "How would that ever be possible?" She was holding my jumper - her favourite one of mine, she said, because it always smelled like me. Tears ran down her face, following previous tracks that had fallen in the same direction, for what might have been days. She looked over at my mother, father, sisters, at everyone in the room. Each expression was similarly downtrodden and depressed, even my father's - a man of few emotions, and even fewer tears. "I wish that were possible..." My mother spoke, and my sisters nodded, solemnly. Eyes fell to the ground as she verbalised one phrase. It hit me hard, just as I supposed it had hit everyone I loved when they had heard it, read it, for the first time - whenever that had been.
"But my son - my John - is dead."

And with that I fell, in the middle of my living room - or wherever I truly was. I was glad I felt as though I was there, even if I wasn't - at home. I always thought - if I ever died - then I'd like to be at home, surrounded by my family. And that's where I felt I was, when it hit me, and I finally fell down. Dead. In every sense of the word.

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