January and February were cold, hard months for the middle class families of Welton. The war had torn young men and fathers from families, and the mothers and sisters of many spent countless hours in factories, producing guns, planes and ammunition for the military. The 'war families' were constantly struggling to afford food, firewood, and clothes for the children. Everyone over seven was working some job, digging trenches and bomb shelters, or handing out enlistment fliers.
Unlike so many of the war families, which were so called because every member of the family was working for the government in some way, the Carters had luck. With only a father, a brother, and a mother, Jun Carter had less to provide for and less they had to give up. She and her mother worked at different factories, her mother working daylight hours and Jun graveyard. The smell of metal, oil, and guns lingered about them no matter what they did, so when they entered the factories the stench was not as pungent as it had been when they were first hired. It had not been a necessity for Jun to begin working for the family to get by when she started to work at night, but it soon became necessary when the telegram came.
Their mother was at work, and Jun was sleeping a few hours before she had to get up and go to work. The youngest of the family, a little fair haired boy who was eleven years old, heard a knock at the door, and against all instruction, opened it, welcoming the uniformed person in. The young boy asked all sorts of questions, but instead of sitting down and answering the queries, the teen-aged boy shuffled and said, "Is your mother home?"
"My mom's at work right now, but I can get my big sister up for you.", The boy jumped up from the couch gleefully, and exited the room to fetch his sibling. Alone for a few moments, the older boy took off his uniform hat and leaned against the door. In another six months, he would be seventeen and drafted. Probably, somebody would take his place as the telegram deliverer and be bringing word back to his folks of his valiant death. Seemed like according to the Army, everyone died a valiant death. Of course, that was just to keep the families from rebelling, more than half of the soldiers killed were killed by sickness, starvation or dehydration, weather conditions, or some screw up by their own people than by enemy soldiers. Then again, all that meant was they didn't have to suffer much farther than that, and only the best of the best met the enemy.
"Who's there?", asked the girl, dressed hastily in a t-shirt and shorts. Her long brown hair was untidy, and she was rubbing her eyes like she had just awoken. All the sleepiness left her face when she saw the visitor's uniform. She stiffened and ordered her younger brother to his room."Howie Brown, right?", she asked in a firm and even voice, "Why are you here?"
"I wish it were otherwise, ma'am, but I am here to deliver some incredibly unfortunate piece of news about our father. He was a strong and brave man, and died saving one of his comrades-", Howie began reciting the usual lies he gave families, but Jun held up a hand and interrupted him,
"Stop it, Howie. You and I both know he didn't get that far. I've listened to that speech a couple times through, and it never changes. If it were anyone but you, I would put up with it—but you, I know you don't enjoy it. Tell me how my father really died."
". . .I'm sorry, I don't know."
". . .That's a shame. Please, leave.", Jun put a hand across her eyes, sighed, and sat down on the old couch that needed recovered, if not replaced. The fourteen year old looked much older than her years, the hard work at the factory had to be exhausting, keeping her too busy for school, and now her father's death was sure to bring more of a burden.
Howie had difficulty saying the next words, "Uh, there is something more. Because your father has, uh, been removed from duty, there is need of a replacement. Your mother is the only one in your house capable of enlisting. I'll leave the enlistment form here."
"She can't go!", Jun stood, anger flooding her body with strength, "She's all we've got! If she goes—OH, if she goes. . .!", Jun was pale and scared, the thought of having no mother to give her guidance on all she had to do was too much. Do it all alone? No! There was no way!
"Is there anything else we can do? Pay a fee?", Jun rushed through all the possible options. She herself couldn't go to the army, she was making half the income, and they were still struggling. So how could they get around this?
"I have to go, miss. . .I'll just leave this here.", Howie left the registration on the coffee table, and walked out of the house into the cold winter evening. As was usual in the winter, the sky was clear and calm. An air of foreboding hung about it, unlike the summer's fury, the spring's complacency, and the fall's anxiety, it warned all the people beneath it of a potent storm and the power it held over them all.
Howie finished his observation of the sky's mood swings, and trudged down the three front steps. How many more deliveries would he have to make like this last one had been? So far, he was robotic, cold, whenever he delivered the sad news that couldn't be ignored. But in Jun's house, he felt that he was at home.
Howie had watched from a distance as Jun worked hard, giving up her dreams for school, for her future, when her family needed her. And he knew, because he had heard the words from her himself, that she had eagerly been awaiting the return of her father. Not only did it mean the return of the hope of graduating high school and college, but it also meant that the family would be whole again. Now, with his own two hands, Howie had ripped out the hope that sustained the family, leaving the girl he so admired in despair.
Surely, she was crying now. All alone, with only a younger brother with her. How horrible this felt! How could he have delivered it?! And then demanded she sacrifice even more for this war! The war took everything away from people, family, hope, life. The army and navy and air force all needed more men and women. There was a whole surplus of able young people and determined parents being schooled and trained and shipped out.
Next year, Howie would be shipped out, be serving his nation, and he would die doing it. Without telling Jun how he felt. How much he admired her, how much her presence, how much watching her work, tirelessly, endlessly, how much all this had sustained him. Decisively, Howie stood up from the porch steps he had sunk down up. He flung open the door, strode over to where Jun sat on the couch, and grabbed her wrists. Shockingly, her face was dry.
All the same, Howie had a mission, and he would carry it out, "Jun, I love you."