I lost my best friend to war. I'm only twenty years old and my best friend died. That feels like all anyone needs to know about me, because since the day I heard the news, it's consumed everything. I miss him. Never got to tell him how much he meant to me. Never said goodbye. The best I can do is visit the memorial in the park, which I do every night. Always at midnight so I'll be alone surrounded by the dark trees whose branches, like twisted ghoul hands, stretch out towards me.
Tonight I see the shadow of a man, silhouetted by the orange glow of a streetlamp, standing where I normally stand. My instinct is to run. A strange electricity zaps and crackles through my body. He wears a suit and looks a bit like a TV show detective would. I always wear black, living in a never ending funeral.
There's something that pulls me forward. The past couple years, I've been silent mostly because no one wants to hear how I feel, but I long so desperately to share stories of my friend. Would this man understand? Would he feel the same?
His shoulders are hunched over with poor posture, and a chemical scent of cigarette smoke grows stronger as I step closer to him. The sky lights up in the distance with red rapidly flashing like very close and unnatural lightning. This war will never end. I wonder if they’re putting up memorials early because the numbers of those lost will get far too high to remember the names at some point. They claim it’s a series of battles that vaguely connect to cover the fact that this has gone on so long and will never be over. It’s not working.
“Hello,” I say weakly.
He smiles in a way that extends to his eyes, and there is a kindness in it that eases my jitters. His face is handsome with a five o’clock shadow I imagine would grate against my fingertips like sandpaper. I imagine touching my fingers to his cheek, but then flinch from the image of his jaw blown off and neck coated in blood. Guilt eats away at the pit of my stomach. It feels wrong to imagine something so affectionate and sweet while the world collapses around us.
“Anyone special you’re here to see?” I ask.
“My sister. Barbara.”
It stings to hear. I’m an only child, but I always thought a sibling must feel like a half of you.
“What about you?” His voice is deep and slightly raspy. I love the sound of it.
“My best friend, Milo.”
He winces. “That’s rough.”
We stare silently at the flags dancing in the chilling breeze, as the scent of lilacs drifts past our noses.
“We weren’t very close,” he says. “We grew up in a tough situation. Real shit family dynamics. She never let it hold her back. Smart. Obedient. Hardworking. Kind. Real hero too. Volunteer firefighter and one of those police kids whatever they’re called. Enlisted with full patriotic pride as soon as she could. I stupidly always thought that meant things were easier for her. I understand it different now.”
He slides his hands in the pockets of his pants and scrunches into himself a bit. I notice the way the ends of his hair curl and how his ears are adorably large.
“I grew up as invisible as a ghost. Then I met Milo and he could actually see me. We were in our own little world.” Now I don’t know how to face this world without him. I want ours back.
He nods. “Sounds special.”
Loneliness rolls through me like a tidal wave crushing everything in its path and swirling away my air supply. For a moment, I imagine this man and I laughing while eating cheesy fries at the local diner or laying on the grass talking about what shapes the clouds make. The guilt jabs its sharp fangs into me. What’s the point in imagining a future? He’ll die. I’ll die. We’ll probably both end up fighting. No one will even know what it’s for anymore. I doubt they do now. Rich men using the poor as pawns to play their sick game. They say it’s a war of ideas, and that lack of a solid, tangible goal is the issue. I say violence is the weakest way to solve your problems. It’s impulsive, animalistic, easy and completely lacking in solutions. It breeds resentment, not collaboration. Not that I blame the soldiers. What choice do they have? Milo sounded so sure he was doing the right thing at first. Then the letters took a subtle turn. I knew he had doubts in the end.
“I wish he knew how much I cared.”
“He does. Not everything is understood with words.” The man looks sure of this and it helps a little.
My eyes blur. “I was so mad at him for joining this stupid war. I told him it wasn’t worth it.”
“You’re not wrong,” he sighs.
“Usually people are mad at me for talking like that.”
“I suppose it’s a way of coping. Feeling in control.”
I nod. A cherry willow tree's branches dangle above the memorial showering it in pink petals. I never noticed it before. What happened to the dark claws of my memory? Had I mentally missed the season’s change? I’m here every night.
We sit on a bench, silently watching over the marble monument. The air is so cool my teeth chatter, but I enjoy the cold. They say chilly patches in the air are a sign of ghosts, so maybe I shiver from Milo’s ghostly hugs. I miss his hugs. The warmth of them. I imagine embracing the stranger beside me, and for a moment the chill feels less painful. Then I picture his car swerving and tumbling off a cliff into icy water on his way home. I imagine spending my days visiting gravestones and talking to ghosts. Tears trickle down my cheeks.
The man puts his hand on my shoulder.
We continue to sit quietly until the darkness of night fades into the gentle blue glow of morning.
“Well I should be on my way. Until next time ghost girl.” He slaps his hands against his thighs and stands.
A smile breaks through my lips and laughter rolls down my tongue. It’s not that funny, but I haven’t laughed in so long that now he started it, I can’t stop it. It feels like shaking off a bit of weight. There’s no judgment in the smile he gives me.
“Until next time.” That hint this could happen again sparks some embers in my almost extinguished heart. Please make it home safe. Please never go to war.
When he is gone, I walk up to the memorial. I find Milo’s name with my fingertips. I close my eyes and trace each carved letter. I think about the fort we built of branches in the woods when we were kids. The orange salamanders we used to catch crawl around my memory. A smile tugs at my lips and tears dampen my cheeks. The last thing we did together was hike to the top of a mountain and dance around the summit while wild wind whipped our clothing and hair in all directions. I should do that again.
Yellow daffodils and pink tulips line my path home. The cheery colors look beautiful, but I’m stunned to see them. When did they all pop up? Inspired by the floral smells and dashes of color, I take a small detour to a plant nursery. I search through the plants.
“Can I help you?” A short woman with rosy cheeks and long dark gray hair asks.
“Do you have any plants that are really easy to take care of? Like unkillable?”
She smiles. “Oh yes. I have just the one.”
She brings me to a vibrant green plant that stretches up tall. Yellow outlines its edges.
“It’s a snake plant. I honestly don’t think you could kill if you tried. They’re very hearty. I know someone who forgot to water hers for like months and it was fine.”
I hug the plant tightly to my chest as I walk home. I’ll do my best to never let you die.
Pink petals dance in the wind across my field of vision. I shiver from a pocket of cold air. Is it a ghost? Is it Milo supporting this little touch of life I’m carrying into my darkness? I think he would. I know he would.
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.
I love the melancholy tone of the story and how her thoughts interject with the worst. Love, longing, loss, and grief are well written and come across naturally within the story as well as the way you described the environment. I was a bit confused at the transition to the nursery as I thought it was around midnight and she buys a plant. Other than that, well done!
Thank you for reading and the comments! I appreciate it. I'll make that bit a little clearer. I had a line about the passing of time to morning, but I can add more to it so it stands out more. Thank you!
It's a wonderful story :)
A touching story Annalisa!
Hi friend - I really enjoyed reading this one. I've always been a fan of war stories, and I like the way you went about writing this one, going about the aftermath and how it affects people, rather than in the moment, which I'm more used to. I liked your paragraph about the rich using the poor as pawns, and the line 'It breeds resentment, not collaboration.' I thought it was well done. A lot of the imagery you wrote was very nice, and subtle. The cherry blossoms really set the scene. I'm glad to see another story from you. I hope you are ...
Hi! I am doing well. Things have been a bit busy lately with lots of changes, but it's positive. I'm hoping to make some more writing time though. I hope you are doing well! Thank you for reading my story and the nice comments! It means a lot coming from someone who likes the topic and type of story. I was a little nervous about it since it's a tad different for me in a couple of ways, but that also makes it exciting to do too. I really appreciate that. I'm glad that you liked that line. Thanks for letting me know!
Annalisa, your story is powerful and reaches the core of grief. I lost my brother/best friend to war in Iraq. You touched on many of those emotions and thoughts through your well-written words. Memorials can only do so much. And like the one character said, "Not everything is understood with words."
Thank you so much for reading my story and the kind words! I'm glad you thought so. I'm sorry for your loss. It is hard losing someone who means a lot to you. While this story is fiction it is partly inspired by really losing a friend to war in Afghanistan. All losses can be tough and significant, but each one has it's own little unique things too, and I'm glad my efforts to describe some of those came across well and connected. I look forward to reading one of your stories! Thank you for the comments!
A beautifully written story of cynicism, loneliness and a touch of hope in the end. You established a relationship with Milo and with the man in very little words yet it felt right in the situation you created for all of them. Really well done.
Thank you so much! I'm glad to hear that. I appreciate the kind words and that it worked well.
That was a beautiful story, with some sharp writing in particular the inner thoughts. There's a writing style I like from you where your characters seem so vulnerable and open, I like it because you can see what they're feeling clearly. Loved how the snake plant comes around relating from the death of milo in the end too.
Thank you so much! I'm glad you liked it and I appreciate the compliments. I do really like working with the emotions of characters so I'm glad to hear that.
This story is so touching and well written. I really like your use of imagery and the way you can set the scene so nicely, and each sentence fit seamlessly together
Thank you! I really appreciate your taking the time to read it and leave such a nice comment. I'm glad you liked it.
Cheese plants are almost indestructible. I’ve managed to kill everything but cheese plants and cactuses. It was an oddly upbeat ending after a grim story. Plants are supposed to be good for mood. The way the MC is fantasising about their life with the guy they just met is quite funny. The gift and curse of a good imagination.
The interesting thing for me is that I can grow plants outdoors fine, but kill all the indoor ones. My summer vegetable gardens and flowers are fine, but indoor not even cactuses survive me. Only the snake plant, which is why I included it. I can't believe it is going strong after two years. I'm so bad with it.
Once they’re outside I guess nature helps out and the indoor ones are completely reliant on us watering them the right amount and using the right soil. I just binned a load of plants that we had for a while that are skeletons now.