The women who lived on Darter Court were scared of things. That's not to say they walked around in fear, with their eyes darting around suspiciously, as if expecting a monster to jump out of the bushes at any moment. No, they had normal fears, like everybody else. Middle-aged Mrs. Bennett down the street was afraid of mice, and would jump up on the nearest piece of furniture at the sight of one; newly married Mary Anne Baker across the street was afraid of lightning, and couldn't be left alone whenever there was a storm cloud approaching; fifteen year old Alice Walker who lived next door was afraid of spiders, and whenever she saw one she would run out of the room screaming "Spider! Spider! Kill it!"
All the other women on the street had fears as well. Normal, everyday fears, like snakes or falling. Even with all these different fears, all of the women on Darter Court had one fear that they all shared: the man from Western Union.
He rode by promptly 1:30 pm. every day. So every day, a few minutes before he was scheduled to show up, all of the women on the street would walk outside their houses. They would stand on their porches in a straight line, like soldiers lining up for an inspection. They would stand straight and rigid, holding their breath as the man rode by on his bicycle, hoping that he wouldn't stop in front of their house.
One odd thing about Darter Court was that all the women on the street had someone close to them fighting in the war. Mrs. Bennett's son was fighting in the war, so was Mary Anne Baker's husband, and so was Alice Walker's older brother. All of the other women on the street had men fighting in the war too, as was seen by the line of blue stars hanging in the windows of the houses that lined Darter Court. They were all very worried, but proud of their men. The women often liked to joke that they were the most patriotic street in all of America.
I was no different than these women; my husband was off in some European country, fighting the enemy. He got his letter to be called into service only two days after we were married, and it had been a year since I had seen him, so I always stood with the other women of the street every day on my porch. This particular day was no different. It was precisely 1:25 pm., so I grabbed a broom and walked out onto the porch to sweep it off while I waited. It needed to be swept off because of the storm last night.
Winds had whipped around, sending debris and loose leaves swirling around the street. Rain had poured down from the clouds, and drowned the lawns on the street, leaving the potholes in the street filled with rainwater. Thunder and lightning had crashed from all around, with louds booms resonating through the houses and rattling the windows. A layer of leaves had flown from the trees and had been swept up onto my porch, and I hadn't had time to sweep it away last night or this morning since I had to spend the night with Mary Anne, calming her down and assuring her that her house was too low to the ground to be struck by lightning.
As I swept the leaves off the wooden boards and into the grass, I spotted the Western Union worker pedaling down the street, heading towards us. I could see the ever-present frown on his face, mixed with a look of sadness in his eyes. Sometimes I felt bad for him. He was the bearer of bad news, and people often held him in contempt because of it. He was often thought of along the same lines as the Grim Reaper, and I knew his job must be hard. How could you go up to a mother, a sister, a wife, or daughter, and tell them that someone they loved had died in the war? At least two gold stars were hung in the windows on our street, signaling that someone in their family had died in the war.
I looked to my left and right and saw the other women standing on their porches, their heads and eyes following the Western Union worker as he pedaled down the street. Suddenly, he started to slow down, and I heard Alice from next door let out a noise that sounded like a small whimper…but he didn't stop at her house.
My eyes widened in fear when his bike came to a sudden halt in front of my house. I started shaking my head, refusing to believe the worst. He hopped off his bike and leaned it against the white picket fence before unlatching the lock and strolling up to me.
"Mrs. Katherine Jefferson?" he asked, and I nodded numbly. He handed me a yellow, folded up telegram. I quickly ripped it open and scanned the contents of the letter.
"THE SECRETARY OF WAR DESIRES ME TO EXPRESS HIS DEEP REGRET THAT YOUR HUSBAND PRIVATE FIRST CLASS WILLIAM H. JEFFERSON HAS BEEN REPORTED MISSING IN ACTION SINCE ONE MARCH OVER GERMANY IF FURTHER DETAILS OR OTHER INFORMATION ARE RECEIVED YOU WILL BE PROMPTLY NOTIFIED.
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL"
"'Missing In Action'," I repeated, a glimmer of hope welling up inside of me, "that's means he's still alive."
The West Union worked took his cap off and shook his head gravely. "Not always, ma'am."
I narrowed my eyes at him. "My William is not dead. Missing in action just means that he hasn't been found yet, but they'll find him. He's not dead!" I snapped at him. I knew deep down that I shouldn't be mad at him, but I didn't want anyone crushing my hope, especially since it was the only thing I had to hold on to. The worker looked taken aback.
"Didn't say he was, ma'am. I was merely saying-" he started to say, but I didn't let him finish.
"Yeah, well I don't need that kind of negativity here. William will come back to me, I know it," I said before walking back inside and slamming the door. I leaned back against the wooden door and took a deep, ragged breath. Then, with a small whimper, I sank to the floor and started to cry.
There was a knock on my door, and I jumped, startled. I stood up from my position on the floor and turned around to look out the peephole in the door. It was dark out now, and I hadn't moved once from my position on the floor. Exactly how long had I been lying there?
When I saw my friend Nikki standing there, I hastily wiped my tears away from my eyes and smoothed my hair down, trying to make myself look presentable. I took a deep, calming breath. When I opened the door I had a pleasant smile on my face, but Nikki only gave me a small, sad frown when she saw me.
"Oh, darling, I heard what happened. I'm so sorry," she said, stepping forward and wrapping her arms around me in a hug. I hugged her back, but when she pulled away I shook my head and did my best to make my smile bigger.
"Don't be, I know Will is still alive. He's not dead; he's only missing in action. That's not the same thing. He probably just got separated from his men and I bet he's making his way back to them right now. I just know I'll get another telegram any day now, telling me that he's been found and is alive," I said, but I knew it was more to convince myself than her. She didn't look convinced. Her eyes only shone with sadness and sympathy, and I hated seeing it there. I didn't want sympathy or comfort, I only wanted someone to tell me that I was right—that I was correct to keep holding onto that hope that he was still alive. I only wanted somebody to believe me.
Nikki opened her mouth like she was going to say something, but then she paused before closing her mouth. After a few seconds of long silence, she finally gave me a small smile and nodded.
I could tell she didn't believe me, but she knew that doubt wasn't what I needed to hear right now. With a teary-eyed smile I leaned forward and hugged her close again. She was a good friend.
One Year Later…
I stood on my front porch, gazing up every few seconds anxiously as I waited for the Western Union worker to turn around the corner and start down Darter Court. My hands began to knot faster when I saw his bicycle appear at the corner and pedal—too slowly, in my opinion—down the street.
It seemed strange to both look forward to, and dread, when I saw him. The anticipation was for the possibility that he brought news that Will was still alive. The dread was for the possibility that he brought news that they had found him dead.
I held my breath along with the other women who had lined up on their porches, but the worked passed by all our houses and turned onto the next street.
"Katie, please don't take this the wrong way, but I think it's time you put a gold star up in your window," I heard Nikki say from her seat in the rocker on the porch. I spun around to glare at her.
"And betray Will like that? What's he going to think when he comes home and finds a gold star in the window? He'll think that I've given up on him!" I exclaimed. Nikki set down her book and walked over to me, putting both her hands on my shoulders and staring into my eyes.
"Katie, I've been watching you sulk around your house for the past year, unable to do much of anything. He's been gone for one year now. Don't you think news would have come by now if he was still alive? He would have found someone by now and he would have contacted you. You have to face the facts and put on a brave face. Acceptance is the first step in moving on, and William would want you to move on and enjoy life again, even if he's no longer in it," she said. I only looked away, studying the grooves in the wooden boards on the porch. Nikki had spent the last year living with me, since I had no other family members to lean on during this difficult time.
I felt tears well up in my eyes when I realized that she was right. I had to let go. I had to let his memory rest in peace and try to put the pieces of my life—and heart—back together.
"Alright," I finally said, holding back tears. "Let's go get a gold star flag."
Nikki stood behind me as I pulled the curtain of my front room window back, revealing the white flag with the small blue star in the middle I had hung there two years ago. I reached forward and took it down, feeling my heart break into two as I placed it on the couch arm and put up a white flag with a gold star in its place. I could only star at that gold star for a few seconds. Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned around to see Nikki smiling at me.
"You should be proud of him."
"I am, but I would take him being home over being able to hang up a gold star any day," I said. Her smile lessened, and she nodded somberly.
"Everyone would, darling."
I took a deep breath and pulled the curtain closed. "Well, I'm going to go get my purse and head to the store. We need some more food."
"Alright, I'll just stay here," she said as she plopped back down on the couch. I went to my room and grabbed my purse, stuffing some money in it before slinging it around my shoulder. I made sure I had my keys in there before heading to the front door. I opened the door and jumped in surprise when I saw someone standing just inside the doorway, hand raised as if they were just about to knock.
"How may I help you…?" I started to ask, but I felt my voice fade away when I looked up at the man's face and recognized him. My hands flew to my mouth and I let out a scream as I stumbled back.
The man standing on my porch looked a little banged up. With a long piece of white gauze wrapped around his head, a few cuts and bruises scattered across his chin and throat, and his arm in a sling, he looked like he had been through something awful, but that wasn't what made me scream. The strangest part was that he was a very healthy-looking, and very much alive, William.
I don't wanna hear anyone complain about the grammatical correctness of the letter in the story, because it was taken from an actual letter that Western Union delivered to a family during World War 2, with just the name and the position of the man changed to fit my story.