(a historical short story by Isha GK)
. . . We regret to inform you that soldier Donald James Woods of the 29th infantry sacrificed his life for his country in Normandy, France on the sixth of June, 1944 . . .
Those were just scratches on a thick paper and Mary's hand shook as her mind transformed them into words. Her lips quivered and tears threatened to stream down her face. This was not possible. How could it be? Donald was strong. Donald was brave. Donald would never leave her alone. Donald could not die like this!
He had said he wouldn't. He had told her so clearly: "I'll come back, Mary, I promise. I always do, don't I?" He had grinned cockily, in true Donald fashion, and hugged her.
She remembered that day like yesterday. He had told her that he was scheduled to leave that evening and she had made him his favourite dessert, too. Mary had opened up their mother's diary and gone over the recipe at least five times to ensure that she didn't mess up.
In the end, she had messed up. Mary had never been the best at cooking—Donald had always been better—but she had hoped that at least once she'd prepare an acceptable meal for her brother on the occasion of him leaving the country to defend it. However, fate seemed to have deserted her.
The meal had been bland and Mary had been disappointed with herself. Then she had gone to see him off and he'd promised her, he'd promised her that he would come back. "You won't get rid of me so soon, sis," he had joked. But there Mary was, two weeks after that night, and she wished she could go back in time and stop herself from believing those words.
There was that slight hope in her, of course. Maybe Donald was still alive out there...maybe they'd just mistaken someone else from him. That had to be it. Her Donald, her big brother Donald Woods could not be dead. Donald couldn't have left her!
Yet those words, so starkly typewritten on that paper, they told Mary otherwise. Soldier Donald James Woods of the 29th infantry sacrificed his life for his country…she didn't know what was scarier to accept – the fact that she would never see Donald again, or the fact that Mary was well and truly on her own now. Ever since their parents had died in a bombing in the second year of the War, it had been just the two siblings. Mary Woods, seventeen, and Donald Woods, nineteen. Orphaned as the War raged. Together through it all.
Donald had loathed the Germans night and day and he had, on the eve of his twenty-first birthday, decided to avenge the death of parents. He had taken a resolve and enlisted against Mary's wishes while she studied nursing at the local hospital.
Her brother had been accepted to training and had eventually made his way into the army. The trips out of the city had then started and Mary had found herself praying every single day for his safe return. She went through days at the hospital in the company of a bunch of gossiping fellow nurses-to-be. She had eventually received the appropriate qualifications to leave the small hospital and go to a bigger, more respectable one in central London. Donald came back every couple of weeks and stayed for a few days before leaving again. The two had finally adjusted into a schedule when the letter had arrived and Mary suddenly found herself lonelier than ever.
Donald was no more…her Donald, her big brother, was no more. The same person who had guided her through all the darkness in her life—he was no more. Donald was no more.
Mary felt herself go weak in the knees and clutched the chair besides her. She would never see him again…
In those moments, Mary could feel memories rush before her very eyes. She recalled Donald in them: she saw his warm brown eyes, his broad face and his long nose. She remembered details about him that should have been insignificant but weren't: his favourite subject at school (History); his grin every time Mary said she was going to cook. Donald's childhood secret place by the nursery on the neighbouring street; his comforting presence whenever his kith or kin needed him.
Except now. Donald wasn't here now…
Mary breathed heavily, trying to compose herself. She wanted to cry, alright. Mary knew she did. She wanted to let out all the sadness and self-pity and she wanted to remember every bit of Donald while her tears washed everything away. Mary wanted to recall what it was like to wish the darkness away in the saltiness of water that came from her eyes.
Donald wouldn't have wanted her to cry, though. What would he have wanted? Donald would have wanted her to stay strong and move on. How in this damaged world could Mary move on? She couldn't cry; she owed that much to her brother. But she wouldn't move on—instead, she would follow in his footsteps.
The next day, Mary approached her superior at the hospital with her mind made up. "Yes? Yes, what is it that you want?" the bespectacled woman asked Mary. The young nurse took a deep breath and a moment later she said, "Ma'am, are the army currently recruiting nurses?"
a/n: Hey, I actually wrote this for school so please please tell me what you thought. If you have a suggestion for title then please tell me that too! :)
- Isha GK