The Telegram - Excerpt

It came with the morning post.  Elizabeth knew the time was near.  She had been expecting it for months now, ever since John joined the army.  Still, she couldn't bear to open it.  John was her life.  He was her only son, her only child.  Everything she did revolved around him.  She loved him dearly.  Why did he have to join the army?  His father and grandfather had both been well-respected army officers.  They had both died serving their country.  Now John had gone away, too.  He was part of the United Nations peace-keeping force in the Middle East.  Peace!  Why send an army to keep peace?  Those Arabs knew nothing of peace!  The Israelis were the same.  Their soldiers were only children, but oh, they were seasoned.  Real professionals.  Now John had been sent there to keep the peace among them!

John was a good-looking lad - tall like his father and stocky like his grandfather, a real beast of a boy.  Well, a man really, though only just.  He turned twenty-one today.  He had thick, curly, black hair and blue eyes; and his skin tended to tan rather than freckle.  His mouth was wide and generous, forever smiling.  He had such courage and always faced his battles with a smile.  At least, Elizabeth had always known him to.

 

She stood by the window, thinking back over the past twenty-one years.  First, there was the day they had brought him home from the hospital.  He was such a tiny lad, and it was so long ago.  She seemed to remember that he was even smiling then, at only ten days old.  Of course there were times during his boyhood when tears replaced his smile. Like the day he came off his pony, breaking his arm.  Even then, he had been cheerful during the six weeks his arm was in plaster.  Elizabeth didn't think John knew how to be sad for very long.

 

He turned ten just before they received word his father had died.  Though John cried for a while, he bounced back faster than most to bear the responsibilities of the man in the house.  Perhaps it did not seem fair to him. She may have expected too much of him - yet John shouldered his increased responsibility like a man. He never complained, but was always smiling.  If he ever resented it, he never spoke of it to her.

 

When at sixteen, all his friends were intent on going out and doing their own thing, John never suggested doing likewise.  He seemed to enjoy the company of his mother.  The only thing he ever insisted on doing against her will was to join the Army.  He knew she never wanted him to, but felt it was his duty.  It was as though he could hear the call of the blood of his father and grandfather to take up arms to defend the right.  John felt all men should fight for their country.  He was a man therefore he should fight.  So he enlisted, did his basic training and not long after, was sent to the Middle East.

 

He wrote often, but Elizabeth would receive nothing from him for months.  Then four letters would arrive at once.  They never really told her anything.  She supposed it was because of censorship.  Usually they would contain the same banal comments about the weather, the endless sand, and how tired he was, always ending with, "I love you, John."  It had been four months since she'd heard from him, and now this.

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© 2015 by Phoebe Wilby.