The Burden

Last week you got a little taste of my poetry.  This week your going to get to sample one of my short stories.

The Burden

            Rose sat in the kitchen enjoying a rare moment of peace.  Her mother slept soundly upstairs and Rose was left alone.  She looked out of the window and was overjoyed by what she saw.  It was a robin.  Finally, spring had arrived!  The dreary winter had dragged on and on, but, at last, spring!  Rose felt a fleeting moment of joy as she watched the little red-breasted robin.  It hopped around on the ground digging for materials with which to build its new summer home.  A blade of grass, no, not strong enough.  A leaf, that is the wrong shape.  A stick, too big and heavy.  A twig, perfect!  Rose unknowingly allowed a small smile to creep on to her face.  It was the first minuscule amount of happiness that she had felt in a year.  But, to Rose, that year had been the longest she’d ever known; it seemed to encompass her whole life.  Her brother, Tommy, had been called up to war.  Rose and her mother had been left alone, to fend for themselves, since her father . . .

Knock, Knock, Knock.  Rose jumped; she was startled out of her tranquil world.  She wasn’t expecting visitors today.  She went to the door and opened it.  There stood a soldier.  She didn’t think she’d ever seen him before, although she might not have remembered him if she had.  She received many visits from unknown soldiers these days.  Most of them were on furlough and had no place to go; all they knew was they wanted to get out of camp.  Often they were in need of a meal and a place to sleep.  Initially Rose turned them away.  What else could she do?  She was alone.  But as time passed, and more and more came, Rose both lost and gained her gumption. She started cautiously sharing her meals with a few of them.  Gradually she decided to set up places in the living room for them to sleep.  These were men serving their country, Rose didn’t have the heart to turn them away.  She thought of her brother at a camp somewhere, looking for a place of refuge.  Maybe somewhere, some other kind-hearted lady would provide Tommy with the small comforts of home that Rose tried to give to these visiting soldiers.   However, this particular soldier did not act as if he was looking for a place to stay.  Maybe he only needed directions.  Still Rose was intrigued.

Although he was tall, and his uniform fit him well, he was not particularly handsome.  His hair and eyes were both a dull shade of brown, and he had no especially defining facial features.  As Rose examined him she realized that his demeanor was different from that of the lost soldiers who usually came to the door asking for directions or a place to stay.  This particular soldier seemed to be on a mission and acted as though meeting Rose at the door was one of the final steps of that mission.

“I have a telegram for Mrs. Richardson,” said the soldier to Rose.  Rose’s head began to flood with thoughts, mostly fears, of what the telegram contained.  In the midst of war, telegrams never brought good news.

“I’m Miss Richardson.  I’m afraid my mother is unable to come to the door right now, but I’ll see that she gets this,” Rose responded, taking the telegram gingerly from the soldier, as if it would explode right there in her hands.

“Will do.  Have a nice day, Miss,” he said with an air of completion.  Rose looked at the deadly envelope she held in her hand, then she shook her self.  What was wrong with her?  It didn’t have to contain bad news.  Still, Rose could not help thinking of her younger brother Tommy.  He was out fighting in the thick of it all.  Oh, how she longed and feared to open the telegram.  But it wasn’t for her.  It was for her mother.  Then it dawned on Rose.  What if the telegram did contain the news that she feared?  What if her brother had been killed?  Her mother was very ill and weak.  This kind of news could mean the worst for her.  Rose’s mother had not been fully well since her father died last year.  Additionally, her mother had come down with pneumonia several weeks ago; and, although the doctor had done everything he could for her, she just kept getting worse and worse.  Rose did not believe that she was going to get better.  It was likely that she had only held on this long so that she could see her little boy come marching home.  Oh, if only Rose’s father were here.  He would know just what to do.  He had been a coal miner, but was killed when the cave he was working in unexpectedly collapsed.  Only about half the men had survived.  What was Rose to do?  Should she open the telegram? What was right? What was wrong?  Enough!  She opened it.

 

THE SECRETARY OF WAR DESIRES ME TO EXPRESS HIS DEEP

REGRET THAT YOUR SON FIRST LIEUTENANT TIMOTHY H

RICHARDSON DIED WHILE PERFORMING HIS DUTIES IN THE

SERVICE OF HIS COUNTRY HIS BODY WILL BE SENT TO YOU

AS SOON AS WE ARE ABLE TO MAKE ARRANGEMENTS.

J A ULIO GENERAL

Rose took a step back.  She was trying not to cry.  Although she was more than half expecting this news, it was still a hard blow.  Just then, Rose heard her mother calling, “Rose?  Rose dear?  Could you come upstairs for a moment?  I need your help.”  Rose headed upstairs.  She was so preoccupied with the news about Tommy that she didn’t notice how strained her mother’s voice sounded.  Rose walked into her mother’s room.  There she lay, wide-eyed, pale, with cold sweat beads all across her forehead.  “Rose dear, could you please hand me that glass of water?” gasped her mother.

“Mother, can’t you reach it?” asked a now very concerned Rose.

“I’m just too weak. Please Rose, I’m terribly thirsty.”

“Of course, here you are mother,” handing the glass to her mother.

“Could you help me lift my head, I just feel so, so……”

“Mother? Mother?!”

Rose rushed to her mother’s side, lifting her head to help her drink.  After she finally got her head up, her mother drank and drank, until the glass was completely drained.  “Would you like some more?” asked Rose.  “No, no thank you Rose. Just sit here with me for a bit.”

“Mother you’re so much worse.  I think I should call the doctor.”

“No. Rose, I don’t think there’s anything the doctor can do for me.  Please, just sit.  I want to talk to you.”

“Alright mother, if that’s what you want,” said Rose.  But she was thinking about her brother as she answered her mother.  Should she tell her mother?  Rose knew this could be her last chance, but did she really want to make her mother’s last moments so unhappy and filled with pain?

“Rose dear,” said her mother reaching out her hand to stroke Rose’s long dark hair.  “I wanted to tell you how proud I am of you.  You are so strong; the way you’ve stuck by me these last couple weeks.  I love you so much.  I wish your brother was here so I could tell him the same.  I tried to wait for him, but I just can’t.  So, Rose, I must ask one last thing of you my brave girl.  Please wait for your brother, Rose.  Tell him how much I love him.  How much I love you both.”

“Mother, there is something I must tell you about Tommy.  Mother? Mother!”

Her mother’s eyes had rolled back, and her head had dropped.  She was gasping for air and holding Rose’s hand in a crushing grip.  She couldn’t breath!  What was Rose to do?  She needed to think, but she didn’t have time.  She had to act now.  Then suddenly her mother’s grip loosened and, although she was propped up on her pillow, she began to slump forward.  Rose looked at her mother, shook her, and called her name, but there was no response.  As the reality of what had just happened hit Rose, the weight of all the hardships she had suffered seemed to crush her very soul.  Rose cried and cried until she had no more tears.  When she had finally finished, she began to think about what she was to do.

Rose had to take care of her mother and make arrangements for a funeral.  Her mother would want to be buried in the backyard with Papa, and then it dawned on her.  She was alone, completely alone.  Her father, mother, and younger brother were all dead.  Where was she to go?  She had no one to turn to.  What was she to do?  Rose was completely lost.  She wasn’t strong the way her brother was.  Her brother . . . she had never told her mother about Tommy.  Her mother had died thinking that Tommy and Rose had each other, that they wouldn’t be alone.  She wanted Tommy to know how proud of him she was and how much she loved him.  Rose was supposed to tell him that, but it was too late.   It was too late for everything.  The weight of Rose’s guilt came bearing down upon her.  She now found new tears to shed.  These came from deep inside her heavy heart.

 

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