It was dark. He stumbled and fell to his knees—throwing his hand to the ground to steady himself—and felt flesh. His hand was wet. He raised his hand to his nose. It was blood.
He stood up and ran. It didn’t matter where, even across enemy lines, just far away from the unnamed body he touched.
But he made it back to familiar grounds.
“Lee, we thought you were gone,” a dirty and bloodied man said.
“I know, I thought I was gone too,” Lee said weakly.
“You don’t look good, where are you wounded?” Ralph asked. “I don’t think I am hurt.”
“Are you sure?”
There was an explosion nearby. It shook the ground, and the men grabbed each other to keep from falling.
“Better get back, they’re coming closer,” Ralph said.
I am doing fine. I can’t tell you where I am, but we’ve been doing a lot of fighting. Many of the men hope the war will be over in a couple months, but I am not so sure. The weather is very cold, and most days it snows a little, but not too much. And then it will warm up and the fields will turn to mud, but overnight it will freeze again.
How is the farm doing? Don’t overwork yourself, I don’t want to find you worn out when I come home. I suppose it is cold and snowing back in Iowa now too. Remember the big snowdrifts there were last year? It is amazing how the wind can blow snow into all those shapes. I think of you when it snows, because I remember the first time it snowed on the farm, when we were together. It was on Thanksgiving, we had the turkey roasting in the oven. I came in from feeding the cows and said it was snowing. I told you the dressing and the pies could wait—you needed to see the snow. So I took you outside, in your pretty plaid dress and apron, no coat or hat. We stood together, catching snowflakes with our fingers until we were numb with cold. Then I kissed you and carried you inside…
She lifted the paper up to her face. It even smelled like Lee. It was a good letter. He sounded good—as good as a man can be in the midst of war.
Margie picked up a piece of paper, found a pencil, and sat down at the kitchen table. Where would she start? What would she say? There was so much—yet so little. So many thoughts to share, but so little that was truly significant. Would she tell him about the night after he left? Would it worry him? Was there a reason to tell him?
The farm is doing well. Your father comes over nearly every day to make sure all is in order. Avery is taking good care of the animals, and it is good to have him here.
The first night after you left, I was all alone. I told Avery he didn’t have to come, because he had chores to do at your father’s farm, and it would have been dark by the time he was done. The house feels empty when you are not there. Even when you’re outside working, and I am inside, it feels like you’re there beside me. But that night, I was alone. I never realized how quiet it is in the country. In the city there is never silence, always noise on the streets, even in the middle of the night. Your farm is quiet though. There was not even a wind. Just silence. I couldn’t go to sleep. I am used to hearing you breathe beside me, but that night there was nothing. It frightened me, I couldn’t think or calm myself. So I walked around the house, up the stairs, down the stairs, around the kitchen, around our bedroom, around the parlor…over and over. Eventually I suppose I went back to bed, for I remember waking up early in the morning—and you were not there. For a moment I panicked, wondering what had happened. But then I remembered. You had gone away. And I was afraid. I didn’t want to get up. I wanted to cover myself up, fall asleep, and never wake up.
Lee, you brought me out to this strange place, to this lonely and forsaken land—and then you left. I never left the city before I married you. That was my home, and I don’t know what to do here without you. I just hope that whatever you’re doing is worth it, and please come home soon.
Margie paused and looked over her letter. It wouldn’t do, it would upset Lee too much. She tore it into slips, and brushed the shreds into her cupped hand, crunching her fingers around the paper to form a tight ball. She threw the remains of the letter across the kitchen floor, and it landed in the garbage can. Time to start over, she thought, and picked up her pencil again.
The farm is doing well. Your father comes over often to check up on things. And Avery is very helpful, he does most of the work.
We had our first snowfall a few days ago. It was beautiful. Yes, I remember last Thanksgiving. That’s why the gravy was burnt—I was outside too long…but it was worth it. We don’t do things like that in the city…somebody might see us, and there would be rumors around town within hours. People would talk, they are too dignified and proper to stand out in the snow like we did.
Your parents invited me to come to their house for Thanksgiving. I haven’t decided yet if I will go. They are very nice, although I think I’d rather spend the day alone. But I don’t want to offend them. They are trying to make me part of the family, and I think it is hard because I am not one of you. But they are trying, for your sake.
Remember that old oak tree, out in front of the house? A couple nights ago it fell down. I think because of the snow, and the wind. We’ll probably leave it until spring because it is getting too cold to deal with it now.
Frieda still misses you, she stands out in the lane, looking towards the road, and barks for you. And she won’t let me feed her either, only Avery can. But at least I can coax her inside when it gets cold, she is getting too old to be out in the dark winter nights.
Lee, I miss you so much. It seems selfish that I would wish you home when you are fighting for our country, but I can’t help it. Please come home soon. I love you.
She saw them coming down the lane and ran upstairs to brush her hair and make herself presentable, wiping the remains of tears from her cheeks.
There was a quiet knock at the door.
Margie hesitated, and then pulled it open.
“Hello, come in,” she said, hoping she sounded brave.
“We didn’t mean to disturb you, but…” Eva glanced at her husband.
“That’s fine,” Margie said. “Nothing much happening around here anyways. I think Avery is out in the barn.”
“I’ll go out and help him,” Wilson said, “and leave the ladies to chat.”
There was silence for a few moments after he closed the door.
“Can you come sit down?” Margie finally asked. “And can I get you any tea?”
“Oh, yes, thank you.”
“Let me put the water on, just a moment.”
Eva wandered into the room and sat down. Margie soon followed her.
“How are things going at your place?” she asked.
There was another pause.
“Margie, I wanted to come over and talk to you,” Eva finally said. “I hope you aren’t offended. But I realized that this must be a lonely place for you now. I haven’t exactly welcomed you, and I am sorry. We’re just not used to strangers around here. But you love Lee—I can tell—and I know how you must feel, now that he is gone. I’ve been worried for you lately, it isn’t good for you to be alone like this. I know, I look out my window at night and see lights still on here—you’re not sleeping. We both miss him, but you’re hurting yourself by fretting so much, and keeping it all inside.”
Margie was silent, unsure of what to say.
Eva took her hand and held it gently.
“We both love him, and that will never change. It wasn’t easy for me—to give him up to you. I didn’t know you, and yet you are closer to him than I ever was. That hurts.
“I was always afraid I might lose him, Lee is so independent. That’s why we aren’t living here. Wilson wanted Lee to have the farm, but Lee wanted to do it his own way, and not have anyone tell him what to do. So Wilson and I moved down the road, just far enough to make Lee happy. There was a girl, Josie, from town, and I wanted Lee to marry her. She was sensible, and just like us, a strong girl. But he refused. So he went away to the city. I knew he would come back with someone else, and I was afraid. It was hard, seeing him come back, with his heart still in the city with you. We’re simple folk out here, and it was all so strange, the way he went away, and came back in love, but with no girl. We weren’t used to that, out here when a man wanted to marry, he just got married. But he wrote letters for months to you; we couldn’t understand him. But I suppose you are not all that different from us. And you love him. And we both want him home again.”
“I didn’t know what to think of the people out here either, you are all very different from what I am used to. It does get lonely, there is no one to talk to. I can’t seem to make friends with any of the other neighbors. So I just stay here, on this big piece of land, waiting for Lee. I am sorry though—I did take your place. I took Lee away from you.”
“No, you didn’t, he was gone already. It isn’t your fault. It is just the way he was. I couldn’t keep him tied to me forever.”
The front door opened.
“We’re back,” Wilson said.
Eva was silent.
“Come on in here,” Margie said. “I’ll get you some tea to warm you up.”
Wilson and Avery came and sat down.
“Got all the chores done,” Avery said. “Lee better thank his little brother when he gets back, for all the work I’ve done,” he laughed.
“And we better thank Lee for what he’s doing for our country,” Eva added.
The wind was sharp. His boots sank deep in icy mud. They’d been walking for miles, all day and late into the night. His body was numb, and yet throbbed with pain.
And this was only the beginning.