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Historical Fiction Drama

This story contains sensitive content

Trigger Warnings: War/grief

      Catherine McKee stood outside the busy and nearly flooded train depot, anxiously waiting for the Rock Island Line to bring her husband home. Fortunately, her trench coat and matching hat kept her new Lane Bryant dress dry and her hairdo frizz-free; after all, she wanted to look her best for her soldier boy’s return home.  

    It had been six long months since she last saw William and although the time they had spent together was cherished - it was short and sweet, bittersweet in fact, because his leave home was just long enough to attend her parents’ funeral. At least I didn’t have to say goodbye to mama and daddy alone, she thought, wiping both tear and rain drops from her rouged cheeks.  She looked down at her Ked pumps; planted in the same spot they had been six months before and thirteen months before that.

    Although the air was cold and damp, it wasn’t enough to cool the hot flash that came over body or calm the gnawing sensation festering in her queasy stomach. Calm down gal. This will be the last time you’ll be standing here. Because this time, your soldier boy’s coming home to stay!

    Catherine noticed a boy in his teens weaving in and out of the crowd. He was dressed in overalls and a flat tweed cap, carrying a knapsack on his back.       

    “Extra, extra, read all about it!”  the boy yelled, stopping directly in front of Catherine. He pulled a rolled-up newspaper out from his sack. “Just fifteen cents, ma’am,” he said, tipping his cap with the paper. Catherine opened her coin purse and pinched a dime, then nickel and gave the coins to the boy in exchange for the soggy newspaper.   He tipped his cap with another one from his sack and disappeared into the crowd but his words… “Extra, extra……,” still echoed throughout.

   Catherine rolled the rubber band off the NEW YORK NEWS, exposing the date: November 11, 1918, and the headlines…WAR IS OVER!

  A sudden, frigid gust of wind blew the paper out of her hand, sent it sailing over the tracks, leaving her chilled to the bone. She fastened the last button of her double-breasted trench coat and secured her hat with the hairpin still clinging to a single gold curl.

      Something sparkly caught Catherine’s eye.  It was the train’s headlights coming around the bend. She could hear its whistle. Won’t be long now, she thought, allowing the tears she’d held on to throughout the war finally flow.  

     Although grief and loss had taken their toll, she must prepare herself quickly because her soldier boy was almost home.  She reached inside her coat and pulled out the envelope containing the telegram. “Lies, all lies,” she cried, angrily cramming the papers back inside her coat. The closer the train got, the more audible her cry became.

     “Here you go, hon,” said a woman with salt and pepper hair standing beside her dangling a neatly pressed handkerchief in her stylish gloved hand. “Go on, you can have it; this one’s mine,” the woman said, waving a wrinkled handkerchief in her other gloved one.

     “Thank you,” Catherine said, taking the pristine hankie and dabbing her eyes with it. “You know, after my parents died, I told myself that I wasn’t going to cry anymore.”

    “Oh, I’m so sorry. How’d they pass? Accident?” the woman asked. Catherine shook her head.,

  “No, Spanish flu.”

  “How awful. So, are those tears of sadness for your parents still, or happy tears to see a family member?”

   “Oh, these tears, are just for my husband, William,” Catherine said, blotting her eyes with the damp handkerchief. 

  “How long has it been since you last saw him?”  asked the inquisitive stranger.

   “Six months-one week- two days,” Catherine answered, pausing to look at the big clock on the depot tower. “And - four hours.”

     Catherine didn’t mean to stare, but there was something about the well-dressed woman that reminded her of her mother, Elizabeth. Perhaps it was the way she wore her black and silver hair or maybe it was the feathered hat perched upon her head.  Kinda looks like the hat mama was buried in.  She watched the woman dab at her puffy eyes with her hankie. “What about your tears: happy ones for your husband’s return home?”  she asked.

   “No, my husband, Jacob, was killed last year,” the woman snapped. “Damn war’s a widowmaker, you know?”

    “Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to pry. I’ve a tendency to become quite the chatterbox, especially when I’m stressed,” Catherine said.

     “It’s alright, hon. I’m sorry if I was rude. It’s just that this is so hard…....” said the woman, sobbing in her handkerchief. “Actually, these tears are for my only child, my son, Private First Class, Jacob Reynolds, II.”   

       Catherine, restraining the impulse to physically comfort the stranger, quickly realized that introductions were in order. “My name is Catherine McKee. It’s nice to meet youuu?”

     “Verna, Verna Reynolds. But my friends call me Vern,” the lady said, shaking Catherine’s bare hand with her gloved one.

      A loud DING-DING-DING and a grinding SQUEAL broke up the ladies’ conversation as the Rock Island Line came to an abrupted stop in front of them. The crowd started pushing and shoving. “Well, Verna, I mean, Vern, looks like it won’t be long now!” Catherine said loudly and within seconds, the ladies were separated by hundreds of returning soldiers and their families.

     Catherine, suffering from claustrophobia as well as denial, had difficulty with crowds and began to hyperventilate, as usual. I’ll just let William come find me, she thought, fanning herself with her handkerchief. She spotted Verna’s feathered cap bobbing above the crowd and found it strangely comforting as well as amusing.

     However, it wasn’t long before the atmosphere and crowd’s demeanor changed. Perhaps it was the sudden, solemn sight of three hearses pulling in and parking near the tracks. A spotlight illuminated a military officer, who stepped upon a platform with a makeshift podium.  A large American flag was lowered to half-mask. Hung across two poles was a banner with big letters reading…ARMISTICE DECLARED TODAY - November 11, 1918, WAR ENDS!  After several unsuccessful attempts on the foghorn, the officer finally managed to get the attention of the emotionally charged crowd… 

     “Attention, Attention, please! I’m Lieutenant Johnathon Benard. I’m sorry to disrupt the joyful reunions of our service personnel who were fortunate to be returning home to their families. It is with gratitude that we welcome our service men and women home today for it is truly a day to celebrate,” the Lieutenant said, pointing to the banner. “Because WAR IS OVER!” he yelled. Cheers and applause filled the depot for several minutes without ceasing, then he continued his speech. “But unfortunately…” he paused to regain composure before carrying on…  “It is with great sadness that not all our platoon made it home to their families alive. We want to take this time to show our respect and honor to three fallen heroes and their survivors today. These three soldiers have sacrificed their lives so we can celebrate freedom and peace. They have paid the ultimate price so that we can be free. And, we want to honor their survivors here today for they too have made great sacrifices as well. And, with that being said, if I call your name, please come forward…

   “Mrs. Adam Caldwell.”    Catherine watched as two soldiers assisted a gray-haired woman using a cane onto the platform, where she was seated in a chair. A lady wearing a white pinafore with a red cross on her chest as well as her white hat placed a box of tissues in the older woman’s lap. The lieutenant continued...

    “Mrs. Jacob Reynolds.” Catherine immediately recognized the name as that of her new acquaintance. She scanned the crowd, finally spotting the ‘feather’ soaring toward the Lieutenant. “Oh, how sad,” Catherine whispered to herself. She wanted to run to her new friend, but before she could, military personnel rushed in to assist Mrs. Reynolds onto the platform where she was seated in the chair next to Mrs. Caldwell. The lieutenant continued…

    “The third and last name is: Mrs. William McKey.” 

     Catherine, holding on to denial a little longer, mimicked the crowd by looking around hoping someone, anyone would step forward to take her place, but no one did. Forced to face her own denial and grief, she began to gently push her way through the crowd and toward the front where she made eye contact with Verna. Just as she started to step up onto the platform, she stopped... My legs feel like limp noodles, she thought, her body collapsing in the arms of two military officers who essentially carried her the rest of the way and sat her in the chair next to Verna; the jostling, caused the envelope that was tucked inside of her coat to fall out and land at her feet. Using her new Ked pump, she kicked it as far as she could, the envelope landing at her friend’s foot. Verna leaned over, picked it up, and tried to hand it to Catherine, but she shunned it away. “I don’t want it!  Lies, all lies!”

    Verna didn’t have to open the envelope to know what the telegram inside said; after all, she received one just like; actually two. One when her husband was killed the year before. The last one, just a few days, notifying her of her son’s death. But this one was addressed to Catherine:

     Dear Mrs. William McKey, we regret to inform you that your husband, William Jefferson McKey was killed in combat on November 2, 1918.    His remains…

    “Oh honey,” Verna said, wrapping her arm around Catherine’s thin shoulders. “I’m so sorry.”

   “Don’t be, Vern, like I said, that’s a pack of lies,” Catherine said, knocking the telegram on the floor and stomping it with her pump. “My William’s not gone. Because if he were, I’d know it. I’d feel it!”

         Everyone watched in sadness as three pine boxes were loaded into nearby hearses. The soldiers, standing at attention, saluted their fallen heroes.

      Lieutenant Benard handed the women their loved one’s dog tags and continued his speech, but his words went unheard amidst the cries of the broken-hearted women seated – except for Catherine who sat calmly, quietly, and stoically staring at the aluminum disc in her hand - then she smiled.                                              

           Verna leaned over Catherine’s shoulder. “Are you alright?”

          “Oh yes, I’m just fine,” Catherine said.

           “Honey, the sooner you accept that he’s gone, the easier it’ll be on you,” Verna said, kissing her son, Jacob’s I.D tag.

            “But that’s just it, Vern, my William’s not gone,” Catherine said, handing Verna the aluminum tag. “Go on, look at it.”

           Verna pulled her bifocals out of her raincoat pocket, put them on the end of her nose, studied the disc for a few seconds, shrugged, then handed it back to Catherine.  “Looks alright to me.”

          “But it’s not right, Vern. My husband’s name is William Jefferson McKey, initials, WJM. The name on this tag is William Mickey Jefferson, initials WMJ. This belongs to someone’s William, but not mine.”

        “Honey, there were probably several ‘Williams’ that sadly didn’t make it home and somehow just the I.D. tags got mixed up, just an unfortunate mistake, that’s all,” Verna rationalized.

        Suddenly, all attention shifted to the audience where a pretty young brunette wandered aimlessly through the crowd yelling for “Mickey!” Catherine looked at Verna.  “This belongs to her,” she said, holding up the tag.

     Two military officers dressed in high-ranking gear rapidly approached Lieutenant Benard and a hasty conversation ensued. One of the officers pointed to the hysterical brunette in the crowd.

      An ambulance with USAAS on the side pulled up and a soldier on crutches got out. He had a white bandage on his head and on part of his face, and a cast on his leg.  Two ambulance workers assisted him onto the platform.

     “Catherine,” the soldier said, his shimmering blue eyes making eye contact with her.

      “My William!” Catherine screamed. She jumped up and ran to him, almost knocking him off his crutches. “Oh, you’re hurt,” she cried, gently touching the bandage on his head.

      “Yeah, I’m a little banged up, but alive. Can’t say that bout my buddy, Mickey though,” William said, tearfully, looking at one of the hearses.

   “Hold on, just a minute. I have something that doesn’t belong to me,” Catherine said. She approached Lieutenant Bernard, handed him the I.D tag, pointed to the bereaved widow in the crowd, then quickly returned to her husband. “Come, I want to meet my new friend,” she said, assisting William to the chair she had been sitting in.

       “Verna, this is my husband, William. William, this is my new friend, Verna, I mean, Vern,” Catherine said. William shook Verna’s gloved hand.

     “Nice to meet you,” he said.

     “Very nice to meet you,” Verna said, quickly standing to let Catherine take the seat next to her husband. Once seated and once Catherine began to assess her husband’s injuries, she began to cry. But these tears were not just sad ones for the physical, emotional, and mental pain he was in but happy tears of relief that he was alive, and he was home.

     “Don’t cry, baby. The damn war’s over and I’m home to stay,” William said, gingerly hugging his wife.

   “That’s good, cause ….,” Catherine paused midsentence. She unbuttoned the last button on her trench coat, took her husband’s hand, and laid it across her taut belly. William’s eyes grew wider and wetter.

    “Really?” he asked, tears rolling over the bandage on his face. Catherine nodded but remained silent. Verna, being Vern, couldn’t keep from butting in.

    “Catherine, you didn’t tell me you were in the ‘family way.’  Now just how far along are you?” Verna asked in a scolding but loving tone.

   Catherine glanced at Verna, smiled, then looked deep into her soldier boy’s blue eyes…

      “Six months-one week- two days,” she said, pausing to look at the big clock on the depot tower…” And six hours.”

                                                            THE END

June 09, 2023 21:33

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6 comments

Sierra Zuch
20:22 Jun 18, 2023

Awesome!

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Darlene Chaney
14:37 Jun 19, 2023

Thanks!

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Kathleen Hair
19:20 Jun 17, 2023

oi. pullin' on my heart strings like that? thanks for the share.

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Darlene Chaney
23:11 Jun 17, 2023

Thank you 😊

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Kevin Logue
11:24 Jun 17, 2023

Very well set Darlene, I was right there at the train station. Just enough suspense to make you wonder what was going on, the mid point had an air of going supernatural with reference to the dead mother. A nice touch with the last few lines and why she knew the time so well.

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Darlene Chaney
14:21 Jun 17, 2023

Thank you for reading and comment/feedback much appreciated 🙂

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