This short story is written in response to an assignment that I had to create on the University of Iowa’s creative writing course, a free course that is running for 6 weeks. We are studying the works of American poet and war correspondent Walt Whitman, who created beautiful poetry that dealt with the mass mechanised deaths of the soldiers in the American Civil War.
I chose to enrol on the course as part of my research methods for the last book in my saga A Celtic Trilogy, which leads up the WW1. The themes of the course are Death, Destruction, Imagery of War and Tragedy.
The image is of my hometown beach in Wales, not a war zone by any means, but I love the sweeping force of the clouds in the sky, and the moody feel of the beach.
Deirdra pulled the kitchen drawer open, pushing aside the candles and matches to grab at the lead pushed into the back recesses. Another Monday morning and it was her turn to take the dog out ….again. She glanced at the sky through the French windows. Grey clouds scurried past, with the hint of a blue sky in the corner of the window frame. A splatter of rain decided to fall at that moment and she groaned as her clean windows became smudged. Pulling at a roll of kitchen paper she wiped at a dirty patch where Bobby had rubbed his pink Labrador nose and left paw prints on the tiles. A clattering of paws on her tiles pronounced the arrival of the culprit – straight out of Amber’s room.
‘Trying to get her up, boy? She will sleep ’til noon, no doubt.’ Deirdra clipped the lead to the dog’s collar and walked past the room on her right. The door was ajar, and she could see a mound of underwear on the floor by the door. Peeping round the door, a mound in the centre of a flowered bedspread and a gentle snoring sound confirmed what she already knew. She closed the door and headed down the hallway, past the sounds of snoring coming from the door to the left.
Nick’s face flashed before her eyes as she took her coat off the coat hook and wrapped the pale blue duffel around her, doing up the toggles as she brushed a piece of hair away from her eyes. The way he smiled, the way his hair flopped over his face, the warm hugs and smiles were still clear in her mind.She could almost smell the lemony aftershave he used to wear.
She tried not to think about the mood swings, tucking them away in her mind.They had been happy once, hadn’t they?
The reflection in the hallway mirror stared back at her – a middle aged woman, once the life and soul of any college party, now with dark circles under her eyes. Hair that once fell soft and shiny past her shoulders, styled in the latest fashion, was now held back by a pink hair-tie that she’d found in Amber’s bedroom – a miraculous occurrence in itself.
Outside, the gate clanged shut behind her as she made her way across the road, barely looking out for traffic. There was no need to, as the boarded up doorways and windows confirmed.No one came down this street any more, certainly not any cars, that’s for sure.
She walked briskly, avoiding the potholes in the pavement, and the empty coke cans dumped into the gutter, mixed with the remains of crisp packets and bottles of beer. A mound of rotting newspapers were dumped up ahead, just outside the corner shop, now closed. Pity nobody thought to tell the delivery man.The ropes that held the bundle had been neatly cut with a knife, and the top layers blew in the breeze. She caught her breath anxiously and looked around. A sheet of newspaper blew towards her and she glanced at the back page headlines.
Bomb blast kills 2 soldiers; 32 civilians.
Bobby pulled on his lead, so suddenly that she fell against the barbed wire fence. Behind it, the grass was nearly a foot high, overgrown and desolate. A rabbit ran through the grass then stopped suddenly, nose twitching, ears up in the air. Bobby barked frantically, now pulling furiously. A sudden cry alerted her, and she pushed at the barbed wire, squeezing into the gap it made. Walking through the overgrown weeds and rusted barbed wires she stopped in front of a familiar sight. Once a hub of activity, the white washed building was now crumbling and decayed. Graffiti was now a feature of the walls, where once there’d been a grand house, the finest in the area. Now it stood like an ancient monument, macabre in its former glory.
She pushed onward, searching for the sound. It came again, nearer this time. Bobby sniffed around her, his tail in the air, his body already covered in burrs.
‘There there,’ she soothed, spotting the dog crouched in the corner of the courtyard. His face was in shadows under a cap and his arms were wrapped around his bony knees, exposed in dirty shorts. She crouched down in front of him.’Come with me, you won’t be harmed. I know of a safe house.’
His eyes were huge, luminous. From this angle she could see the backyard of the house. She straightened holding the boy in her arms. She shuddered, ghosts of the past seeping through to her soul.
Up ahead, the rubble that was once the house sat on an overgrown lawn. The centre of the roof had been bombed. Weeds had already crept through the holes in the walls where there had been windows, once, a long time ago.
She could barely remember at time before the Destruction.
Holding the boy in her arms, she picked her way back the through the weeds, carefully avoiding the mounds in the earth.
Just one step and it was all over.
Bobby stayed by her side, and for that she was grateful. The fence seemed further away, or the load too heavy.
Weeks, months, years, melded into one until she barely remembered life before Destruction.
The sign on the fence had fallen, but the words were etched in her mind, had been forever.
Trespassers prohibited, August 2150.
She barely remembered a time before Destruction.