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Thursday 7 November 2019

A GRAIN OF SAND

A short story for Remembrance Day...


    As the train drew to a halt, Daniel slung his
kit-bag across his back and strapped it securely into
place. Then leaning heavily on his crutches, he hauled
himself up onto his solitary left foot and limped out
onto the platform.
    A peculiar sensation of timelessness swept over
him, as he stood gazing at those old red-brick walls
dotted with advertising posters for "Pears Soap" and
"Bournville Cocoa". And there, just beneath the apex
of the highest gable, was the clock.
    It's black Roman numerals stood out starkly against
the white face, and for some unknown reason it irritated
Daniel. Yet, he continued to stare at it as though
mesmerized, fighting the sudden crazy impulse to climb
up onto the roof and stop those hands from moving forever
onward. How he longed to wrench them backwards.
Two-and-a-half years backwards, to that December night
in 1942, the last time he'd been here...


What a night that had been! Jeanette had clung to him
as if her very life depended on it. And even
after he'd boarded the train along with all the other
men who were enlisting that day, she'd still clung on to
his hands through the open train window.
And as the train had begun to move off she'd walked alongside,
still gripping his hands so tightly that it hurt, with
tears streaming down her smooth round cheeks and dampening
her soft dark curls.
    "I love you," she'd cried out, "Come back and marry
me, Danny!"
    A moment later, her tiny slender figure had been
swept away in a tidal wave of sobbing wives,
mothers and girlfriends.
    Daniel would never forget her last words. In fact,
if he hadn't had his Jeanette to come home to, he felt sure
he would never have made it through those terrible days
and nights on the battlefield. But although it had been a
living hell for them all - knowing that any single moment
could be their last - Daniel, at least, had managed to
hang onto his sanity. And all because of Jeanette.
He'd owed it to her to survive because she'd depended
on him.
    And survived he had. Even lived through that final
blow!

    It had been a sweltering August day, and they'd
all been tired, hungry and depressed. The Jerries had
them surrounded, and out there in the desert there had
been nowhere left to run. Then the Sergeant had spotted
two high sand dunes and ordered them to lie face down
between them.
How that sand had burned them through their clothing!
    They had looked all set to escape, but then Archie
Cummings had suddenly cracked and gone berserk. Before
anyone else had realised what was happening, he had jumped
up and run out into the open, screaming obscenities at
the approaching enemy tanks.
    They had open-fired, blasting him a good six feet
into the air, as a fountain of blood spurted out of a
gaping hole in his back.
    The next thing Daniel knew, there was a massive
explosion and he had been showered by the shattered
remains of his mates flying at him from all directions
imaginable.
    Too terrified to move, he had just continued to
lay there, face down in the rapidly reddening sand - in
spite of a mouthful of blood that made him feel sick
and threatened to choke him.
    The silence that followed had been almost harder
to bear than the thunderous blast itself.
    When Daniel had eventually dared to turn his head
and open his eyes, he had been horrified to see a severed
leg lying right beside him. It had taken him a full ten
minutes for the awful realisation to dawn.
It was his own!

 
 "You alright, lad?"
    Daniel jumped and spun round to face the station
porter. The old man's eyes were full of pity. That
was more than he could take.
Ever since that blast he had seen it in too many pairs
of eyes. He wanted to scream at the old man, I don't want 
your pity. Just leave me alone!
But he smiled politely and replied, "Yes, I'm fine thanks.
Just thinking." Then he limped away and disappeared
through the station building and out into the road.
    The sun beat down mercilessly on Daniel as he made
his way slowly down the narrow side lane towards "The
Pines".
    Dear God, he prayed silently, Please let her be
there!
    He realised he had been reported missing and presumed
dead, and now all he could do was live in hope. But he
wasn't going to expect too much. After all, the sight of
such a broken apology of a man could well put her off
him for good.

    Daniel shook from head to toe as he paused in the
shade of the two tall pine trees which stood on either
side of the white spotless gate. The sight of that tiny
whitewashed cottage brought the past rushing back
to him in a tide of pent-up emotion. He could have cried.
He longed, yet feared, to see Jeanette again after so long.
To feel her arms around him, to see the love light up
her eyes.
    But the possibility that she might find him repulsive
was a phobia so strong that he almost turned and walked
away. But something in the depths of his Soul
forced him on. You've come this far, you can't turn
back now!

    Daniel opened the gate and walked slowly up the
flagstone path between the flower beds. To the right
of the front door a window stood wide open, and through
it came the gentle notes of music from a wireless.
    A tiny muscle twitched uncontrollably at the left
corner of Daniel's mouth as he approached the door.
    He took a deep breath, lifted the heavy brass
knocker, then let it fall.
    The resulting BANG almost deafened him, reverberating
around inside his head until he felt faint. And just for
a moment he could have sworn he was still laying face down
in the blood-soaked Algerian desert.

The door swung open and Jeanette's mother stood
there, staring at him in disbelief.
    "Aren't you going to ask me in, Olive?" Daniel
asked, not knowing what else to say.
    By way of a reply, she crushed him to her ample
bosom, almost squeezing the breath out of him. Then
she drew back and looked at him, while blinking back the tears.
    "Oh Danny, what a miracle! We all thought you
were..." she broke off, biting her lip.
    "You thought I was dead," he finished for her, and
she shivered.
    "Come on in and I'll make a pot of tea," she said
as though he'd never been away, and taking his arm
she led him inside.

    In the dingy little kitchen at the back of the
house, Olive drew up a chair to the unlit fireside and
Daniel sat down.
    "You haven't changed I see," he said, smiling, as
she filled a kettle. "Tea always was your cure for everything."
    The kettle on, she came across and sat facing him.
    "You've grown so thin, lad. What you need is some
of my stew and dumplings inside you. What happened to
your leg - oh I'm sorry! How tactless of me to ask that!"
she added quickly when she saw a dark shadow flit across
his gaunt features.
    "Courtesy of the bloody Jerry bomb that wiped out
our entire troop, save the sergeant and myself. The doctors
told us we were lucky to be alive."
    "Yes. And thank God!"
    The kettle boiled and Olive went to fill the teapot.
    Daniel gazed thoughtfully at her back for a moment,
carefully choosing his words.
    Then he swallowed hard and began, "Olive, you know
why I've come, don't you. Do you think she'll still
want me when she sees what I've become? Am I fooling
myself to believe she could still love a cripple?
I realise I'm no longer the healthy twenty-one-year-old
she knew, but I've never stopped loving her. I never
will. Do you know, if it hadn't been for Jeanette, I'd
never have survived that blast? Only my love for her
pulled me through."
    Daniel knew something was wrong the moment he saw
the sadness in Olive's eyes.
    "Jeanette was married last April," she said gently.
"I'm so sorry, Danny. Truly I am."
    She reached out to hug him, but he stood up abruptly
and shoved her aside.
    "Don't touch me. I don't want any of your bloody
pity. Not your's nor anyone else's. God, why couldn't
I have been blown to bits like the rest of them? I
might as well have been, because I'm already in hell
now anyway!"
    Unable to bear his anguish, he slumped down onto
the kitchen floor, great sobs of hopelessness echoing up
the chimney, as his heart finally broke.
    Olive knelt down on the kitchen floor beside him,
her own silent tears dripping down her apron, and for
the second time she held out her arms to him.
    This time he clung to her fiercely, his fingers
digging into the soft flesh of her back, until exhaustion
deadened his agony and he fell asleep.

    Daniel woke sometime later, still in Olive's arms
with his head resting on her shoulder. In spite of a
painful crick in his neck, he lifted his head and looked
up into Olive's face. She was looking at him, but she
didn't say anything, just smiled sadly.
    Daniel quickly snatched his eyes away from hers,
deeply ashamed of his earlier outburst. He struggled
up onto his crutches, picked up his kit bag, and began
to make for the door.
    Olive followed, frowning.
    "What are you going to do, Danny?" she asked.
    "Get the hell out of your lives and leave you in peace,
what else?" he replied, almost sarcastically.
He still kept his back to her in an effort to conceal
what he was feeling.
    As he opened the front door, she touched him lightly
on the shoulder.
    "Please stay a while longer. Don't leave like this.
Come back inside and I'll make another pot of tea."
    He turned round and looked her straight in the
eyes. "Tea won't cure this disease, Olive," he replied
in a choked whisper. And it wasn't until he was down the
path and out of the gate that he heard the door click to.

    Daniel wandered aimlessly down to the far end of
the narrow dusty lane, and finally stopped to rest at
the iron bridge which spanned the river.
    Leaning on it's railings, he stared down deep into
the swirling, gushing torrent below. It seemed to reflect
his own pointless existence, forever driven along by the
winds of fate.
    Suddenly a car backfired loudly, just up the lane
behind him. Daniel instinctively threw himself onto
the ground, covering his head with his hands.
    "Damn the Jerries!" he cursed, shaking with fear.
Then, with a strength he didn't know he possessed, Daniel
gripped the railings and hauled himself up onto his foot
in a cold sweat. He looked over the edge.
    Beneath a scorching sun, the grey sand was swirling
and flying around in front of him.
    Another bloody sand storm, he thought, but at least 
it will hide me from these murderous bastards!
    He was only mildly curious as to what railings were
doing in the middle of the desert, as he scrambled over
them.
    With heart pounding, Daniel threw himself into
the dense sand. But he was drowning in blood. He could
taste it and smell it. It filled his lungs. He was
choking.
    Loud, muffled voices drifted to him from somewhere
high above, followed by a splash beside him. Then a
pair of arms were reaching out for him.
    But, NO! The Jerries were too late. They'd never
get him now. Not here in this red desert. Here, he
could hide for all eternity and never be found.
    He was just a minute grain of sand. And it would
take them forever to discover exactly which one.
    

37 comments:

  1. Hypnotized, I keep fighting to stop reading what you write, but I can't ... It's good to read your writings that make "those hands move" on the phone screen forever ...
    Many kisses for you sweet Ygraine!

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    1. Aww, you are so sweet, Doug...my most heartfelt thanks!๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š

      Sending you many kisses back!

      Delete
  2. Beautiful, I love the title especially, A Grain of Sand is a great one, very intriguing!☺

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    1. Oh thank you so much, Natalia...I am so happy you enjoyed!!๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š

      Hugs ❤❤❤

      Delete
  3. Heartbreaking.
    And what a painful way to realise that we are indeed grains of sand.
    Beautifully written as always. And sadly a painful truth for too many.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much!๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š
      Yes, I wanted to highlight just a fraction of the trauma that those poor men suffered...

      Love and hugs ❤❤❤

      Delete
  4. Such a sad story. Yet very beautiful. Impossible to keep my eyes from it until the end. You are a very skillful writer.

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    1. Oh you are so kind, Ana...thank you so much!๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š

      Big Hugs ❤❤❤

      Delete
  5. Not every story...not every hero can have a happy ending.
    My heart breaks for Daniel who's heartbreak also destroyed his mind. "Not all is fair in love and war"...so true for Daniel.
    Beautifully written my dearest Ygraine!

    Big Hugs and Much Love ❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dearest Jan, oh thank you so much...๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š

      Lots of love and hugs ❤❤❤❤❤❤❤

      Delete
  6. Wonderful writing. A sad story so well told..
    Enjoyed.

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    1. So happy you enjoyed, Anthony...and my heartfelt thanks!!๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š

      Delete
  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Thank you so much...my sincerest appreciation!๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š

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  8. Una storia molto bella, ma anche triste.
    Buona domenica.

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    1. Thank you, Giancarlo...so much!๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š
      Have a super day!

      Hugs xxx

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  9. Replies
    1. Aww...thank you so much, Sakuranko!!๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š

      Hugs xxx

      Delete
  10. from this story I can conclude that life is full of struggle despite many obstacles and obstacles that must be passed

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    1. Yes, the aftermath of war...never easy, is it!
      Many thanks, Ibrahim.๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š

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  11. This was quite heart-breaking, but your wonderful writing held me from beginning to end.

    My good wishes.

    All the best Jan

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    1. Oh you are so kind, Jan...thank you...so much!๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š

      Have a fabulous day!

      Hugs xxx

      Delete
  12. Un post muy interesante! Es un placer leerte! Feliz dรญa! ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ‚๐Ÿงก

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    1. Oh thank you, Carolina...my heartfelt thanks!๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š

      Have a super day!

      Hugs xxx

      Delete
  13. So happy you enjoyed! Thank you so much ๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š xxx

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  14. if you may know, what education you are living right now, I see that your writing is truly amazing

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  15. Todo es estupendo ! El post genial! Buenas noches! ๐Ÿงก๐Ÿงก๐Ÿงก

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    Replies
    1. My heartfelt thanks, Carolina...I so appreciate that!๐Ÿ˜Š

      Big Hugs ❤❤❤

      Delete
  16. Thank you, my Friend! ๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š

    Wishing you a super weekend...

    Hugs xxx

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  17. Oh Ygraine...You took my breath away...his pain, his loss, his desperation...the true Face of War, a masterpiece you wrote, less we forget

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    Replies
    1. Oh WOW...that is so kind!
      My heartfelt thanks ❤❤❤

      Delete
  18. this captivate my soul deeply dear Ygraine
    i don't have guts to praise your talent believe me but what you are capable to do is outstanding !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    this story made me cry badly !

    i can feel this is written with blood of soul !

    the title given to it is divine and absolutely suited

    i wish someday you will publish your book with such wonderful poetry and i will read it :)
    never saw such depth and strength in expressions ,AMAZING!

    ReplyDelete

Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment on my posts.
I really appreciate hearing your opinions...:)