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17 Words

by dharker 

Posted: 27 October 2010
Word Count: 666

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“Regret to announce that your husband Cpl William Harman has been killed in action. Letter to follow.”

Jim, the old postmaster, had delivered the telegram personally, and now stood, wringing his cap, at the door.

“Edith, I’m so very sorry… if there’s anything Mary or I can do…” He left the words hanging and turning slowly, trudged away, carrying all the cares of the world on his shoulders..

Edith felt herself slowly sink to the floor. Time, like her heart, slowed to a crawl and her breath came in snatched waves. Emptiness poured into her soul, wave upon wave of inky uncertainty and grief. And yet no tears.

A gifted craftsman, Bill had built the house by the lake as a surprise for her. She had thought, in common with every young couple starting out, that they would live in town with his parents. She was therefore more than a little bemused when, after the wedding, he and she had driven the cart containing her trousseau out of town and towards the lake.

“Excited?” He had asked.

“About as excited as any girl could be!” she replied, then giggled as Rosy, her elderly cat, snored loudly in her lap despite their jolting, rattling progress along the forest trail.

Finally the cart turned a corner and they drew to a halt outside the most gorgeous new home looking out onto the lake. Dappled sunlight, filtering through the trees, danced on the veranda as Bill climbed down from the cart. Offering his hand, she took it and climbed down onto the cart step, his strong hands then grasped her waist and lifted her to the ground.

Bill took Edith by the hand and led her across to the front door. He took the key theatrically from his pocket, unlocked the door, pushed it open, then stooped and lifted her into his arms.

“I love you!” He whispered as he carried her across the threshold.

“My dear?” The parson’s question woke her from her reverie, “I’ve come to offer my condolences and God’s guidance”

“Not now!” Her response, regrettably, had been too sharp and too rude, but just now she did not want to speak, nor exchange pleasantries. Seeming to understand he turned to walk away, “When you’re ready then… God be with you…”

She remembered when less than a year after their marriage, on August 5th 1914, Bill had received the call to war. Then the nights sitting alone on the veranda, watching the stars and stroking Rosy; wondering why, with all their supposed intelligence, man should fight man. Eagerly she would devour the paucity of news of the war, then shared the sadness when young Arthur was reported missing. She joined the local knitting circle, making countless balaclavas, scarves and fingerless gloves for the men folk. She worried constantly and each night in their bed she prayed for Bill as she clutched his pillow to her breast.

Then one day a parcel arrived, the first post she had ever received in her life.

“Miss! It’s … It’s a parcel for you! An’ it’s all the way from France!” the boy breathlessly announced as he thrust it towards her.

She put down the washing basket she had been carrying and wiped her hands on her apron. Blowing a loose strand of hair from her face, she took the parcel and smiled at the eager young lad. He stood, mouth agape, waiting to see what had come from the other end of the world to their small community.

Recognising Bill’s hand, she slipped the knotted string, tore open the paper and opened the box. She dipped her hand inside and out into the sunlight rose the most wondrous glittering figurine in glass – “Lalique 1914” stamped on the base.

“Blimey Miss! It’s an angel!”

Now this, her second postal delivery. She read the telegram again. 17 words. Just 17 words to sum up her husband, her lover, her soul mate, her very life.

And at last the tears came…

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Comments by other Members

tusker at 15:09 on 27 October 2010  Report this post
This a a lovely tale of love and loss, David. Particularly apt for the comming Remembrance Day.

I felt I was back there. Loved the little details of her home, her actions. Typical woman of that era, hard working, keeping feelings to herself. As my Gran used to say, 'Cry inside not out.'

One nit, though others might not agree, is the mention of Arthur. It threw me a bit as I thought I'd missed a character.


dharker at 15:21 on 27 October 2010  Report this post
Thanks Jennifer!
I thought, in a small community, everyone should/would have a name and be known... I thought that the use of "young Arthur" would suggest he was a minor character in the community. Point taken though and lesson learnt! Many thanks!

Desormais at 16:41 on 27 October 2010  Report this post
This of course relates to a previous work of yours - I'd be interested to know how you intend to use the combined works.

It was beautifully written, with some lovely touches.

Blowing a loose strand of hair from her face

I liked this, totally unnecessary in the context of the piece but adding so much texture to the work.

then stooped and lifted Edith’s legs from the deck.

I've still got a problem with this line though. I just get the weirdest picture in my mind.

Nice work Dave, well done.

dharker at 17:01 on 27 October 2010  Report this post
LOL! Improvement made... I really should remember your wierdest picture Sandra! Yes this is a prequel to The Payment, and is the story of the ghostly couple. Weirdly I'd started thinking about this already! Spooky eh!

I'm not sure where this will go... I'm thinking it might develop it into a short story what do you think?

Thanks for your comments!


tusker at 17:05 on 27 October 2010  Report this post
I think it could develop, David.

Like Sandra, I remember the other flash. If you do develop it, I'd be happy to read it and make a few suggestions are needed.


dharker at 17:12 on 27 October 2010  Report this post
Thanks Jennifer and Sandra!
My initial thoughts are that I develop Bill's war story and the connection back to the present day Kate and Bill. I leave Edith's story here and use Bill's story to bridge the two? I then leave it at the revelation that finished The Payment...

Do you think that would work? Or would that be too disjointed? I guess this is where my inexperience comes to the fore! Any comments and/or advice from anyone would be gratefully received.



Cholero at 20:13 on 27 October 2010  Report this post
Very poignant title.

You have a real feel for getting a story told, and I felt the characters, even the minor ones, as very real people.

Good portrait of the MC.

Could it be that in her shock at receiving the awful news she drops/knocks and breaks the statue...?

dharker at 20:16 on 27 October 2010  Report this post
Genius idea Pete! I'll work that into the short story I think.... I'm on the word limit for this challenge
Thank You!

Elbowsnitch at 06:44 on 28 October 2010  Report this post
Dave, I love the interweaving of past and present in this story - very skilfully done, with subtle touches.

It's natural that she should remember all the good times - but don't all married couples also have problems or at least things to be negotiated in their relationship? If you're writing a longer story, you might keep this in mind, just to give the story added depth...

A beautifully written flash.


dharker at 07:17 on 28 October 2010  Report this post
Many thanks Frances for the great feedback! You make a very good point and yes I will most certainly develop a more "rounded" relationship. I think this will probably develop from Bill's story - we males have a much more pragmatic view on relationships! LOL!
At this moment in time I feel Edith is lost in her grief and focusses on the things he brought to her life and that she will miss... the house he built for her, his strong arms and his gentle touch, the feel of his body against hers in their shared bed. Am I on the right lines here?

Elbowsnitch at 11:27 on 28 October 2010  Report this post
Dave, yes i think you're on the right lines, especially since she's in the throes of grief - but women can also have complex feelings about relationships, you know! Also, it occurs to me that when grieving, it's very common to regret your own past behaviour, to wish you'd done some things differently, been nicer, etc - a possibility for the longer story?


Catkin at 13:30 on 28 October 2010  Report this post
Lovely flash - beautifully done!

I'm not sure about weaving this and the other one together, to be honest. I think I'd have to see it done before I had an opinion. My worry would be that by moving into the present, you could lose the power and immediacy of the story set in the past - but as I say, I don't really know. It's just a feeling. Sometimes I think that sort of switching between past and present can work better in a novel than in a short story, where there is a lot more time and space to establish both worlds.

dharker at 14:42 on 28 October 2010  Report this post
Thank you Catkin!

I'm going to give it a go.... but will keep the two flashes separate. Like you I have my concerns about the story "flow", but nothing ventured nothing gained - and I'm in this as a learning experience. I would value your opinion when I have the story completed.

There is certainly the story of Bill to be told, but whether this is in a flash or as a short story...

I have to say I like 17 words as it stands... may have added a couple of words here and there but in essence it's as I want it to be.


Bunbry at 12:03 on 30 October 2010  Report this post
This is nice Dave, the title is lovely. The only line I would change is the 'Cor Blimey Miss' as this sounds a bit comic. But that aside great!


Jubbly at 17:59 on 30 October 2010  Report this post
Hi Dave, what a lovely tale and so sad. People were so stoic then and in the next war. Loved the last line. Well done.


crowspark at 22:50 on 30 October 2010  Report this post
This pushes all the right buttons Dave, is skilfully done and bang on the word count.

You have received some excellent advice and I'm glad to see those legs have been put back where they belong ;

I like the way a figure of an angel replaces God's guidance in due time.

Lovely flash.


euclid at 18:29 on 03 November 2011  Report this post
Nice one, Dave

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