Ice crystals zig-zag their way haphazardly across the cracked window, their fine, lace-like tentacles spreading ever outwards, multiplying, clinging on despite the smoothness of the surface. Wafts of cold, midnight air steal through every chink, hurrying on up the staircase, slipping under bedroom doors, nipping at noses and ears and peeping-out toes.
At dawn, Millie squats on the painted step under the wrap of her mother’s warm arms. Broken windows can remain unrepaired for a month or two longer, surely? At Christmas, the war will be over and fathers will return to carry their sons and daughters up those staircases to warm beds and soft goodnights.
The men of the village have gathered, standing loose-limbed and expectant, snorting and stamping their feet, the steam rising from their heated bodies like cattle in the fields. They have answered the call to arms. The young men are excited, shielded by their ignorance.
Young children dance around their fathers, older brothers, cousins and uncles, all soldiers now, flag waving with gusto as dogs join the fun, racing through legs, barking and jumping and grinning their dog grins. The rag tag remnants of the village brass band moisten their morning lips to see the men off to war in style. Sweethearts huddle together to weep silently on each others’ shoulders, dabbing their tears on scented handkerchiefs, savouring last night’s private goodbyes.
There may be sun later but it will not shine on these soldiers, not here anyway; the light of foreign shores awaits them. As dawn gives way to the day, the bellow of the Sergeant Major galvanises the troops into ranks and moments later the rhythmic crash and creak of their still new boots echoes down that lightening tunnel as, proudly, stiffly, chests out, shoulders back, they march away to a steady drum beat without a backward glance.
They are going to war, to return who knows when, if at all. Going to war. Just three simple words that embody excitement, fear, a quickening of the pulse in the hearts of young men, many who have yet to venture outside their own village, taste the sea, suffer loss.
The older men have seen war; the work of the bullet and the bayonet and the barbed wire. And yet they go. They must. Already, Millie senses the shadow of her father’s absence, like the tender pain of scuffed skin on her knees, feels her mother’s sorrow, her fear and anxiety, even as she seeks her comfort, tastes a tear dropped from her cheek and sees the redness in her eye.
Families yearn for the hail of their man’s returning voice, as that first hour becomes a day, a week and for some, a lifetime. Left behind, they long for the chance to cut his bread, pour his beer, plump his pillow, warm his slippers by the fire and sleep soundly once more, knowing he is home and safe.
Time enough then to mend the broken pane.
Ken has been writing for most of his life but only turned to short stories and flash fiction in his 60s after almost a lifetime in education and training as a teacher, headteacher, teacher trainer, school governor trainer and consultant for children educated at home. He is still on the steep learning curve in his writing. He likes to read his work to an audience, usually just one “captive” listener/wife at home but larger audiences have also heard his voice. Low lighting, beer and a convivial atmosphere are Ken’s favourite settings. His subject matter and style varies from the nostalgic to the weird and wonderful world of magical realism. He loves descriptive writing and probably uses too many adjectives.
Ken writes regularly for a US based site called the Fictionwritersgroup.com where he has posted upwards of thirty short stories. Each submitted story is critiqued and then judged by his fellow writers and on six occasions his stories have won first place. Three of his first flash fiction pieces were published in the 2018 Worcester Lit Fest Anthology “Sacrifice” and read by him at the launch of the anthology in Worcester.
He has read his work to live audiences in Stroud, at Smokey Joe’s in Cheltenham, Left Bank Talking Tales in Bristol and Worcester. He has been a contributor on Corinium Radio in Cirencester where local writers and authors read and discuss their work. He has also contributed a number of short stories to the Five Valley Sounds where local news and short stories are sent out on memory sticks to people with sight difficulties.
Ken’s only foray into playwriting resulted in a performance of his ten minute “Dry Run” at the Stroud Theatre Festival in 2018. He is also a member of a comedy / improv group The Severn Wonders who have written and performed their own comedy sketches in and around Stroud since 2017.
His short story, “Bobby and Margot” was longlisted for Ink Tears short story competition in 2018.
Cover Image by Free-Photos
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