You will get the news soon enough, but by some kind hand of God and one enemy soldier, you will hear it from me first. I have been shot down and am now behind enemy lines. Now don’t be scared. I am injured, yes, but not mortally – even my spirits are lifted as this letter is being lifted: right over the walls by the very man who brought me down.
You see, the flight was cloudy, and I became disoriented. Before I knew what had happened, I’d been hit. The man who did it followed me as I made an emergency landing. I wish I’d known then it was an enemy airfield. They are so hospitable they wouldn’t hear of me leaving!
I told him of our recent marriage, and will wonders never cease, Lottie, it touched his German heart and he promised to drop this note in a canister over our lines. Of course I cannot be sure he will do so, but he doesn’t seem a jolly, joking sort of fellow.
Lottie, I do not know how long I will be here, but I am going to stubbornly refuse to admit any sort of defeat as of yet. You of all people know the depths of my stubbornness! Didn’t I wear you down with it only last year after all of those marriage proposals? See. I am always right and good.
My hand shakes, only from weariness and not from injuries, I assure you, and it is getting very dark so I must take advantage of my enemy friend before he changes his mind. I beg you not to fuss and worry – I may be free before you even open this letter.
Royal Flying Corps Bombing Pilot
2nd/5th Yorkshire Regiment
Jack picked up the dirty toy from the beneath the chain link fencing where it was caught. One wing was broken, the jagged metal edge was weapon sharp, and both the tiny propellers were gone – though you could see where they had once attached. It was a replica of a Sopwith Camel, a WW1 fighter plane, but Jack, being only seven, didn’t know that. He only knew it was a found treasure in a boring school yard, filled with purple plastic climbing equipment that he was quickly outgrowing (he’d conquered them all in every possible combination), and swings that some big kid had looped over the support beam, leaving them too high up to access. The school was right across the street from Jack’s house so he came here often.
Jack held up the plane and eyed it critically. It definitely wasn’t the greatest toy ever; dirty and broken and he usually preferred cars in his pursuit of all things vehicular, but it was something new and unexpected in his day.
He gripped it in his dirty fist, and then more carefully handled it between his thumb with the Band Aid and his grubby index finger. He made a zooming noise between his teeth – a practiced and fairly decent noise of a jet engine plane. Not historically accurate to a Sopwith Camel, but good enough for a seven year old.
I hadn’t dared hoped, or even asked, but my enemy friend has said he will allow another missive to you. I confess to wondering, when I’m lying awake at night thinking and dreaming of you, if he is only being cruel in a twisted, prankster sort of way, but I do not think that he is. Well, whatever the case, I will continue to write as if I know for certain that this will reach you.
What are you doing, I wonder? Are you entertaining those noisy, fussy neighbors of ours again? You should tell them to leave you be. Especially with your brave and handsome soldier gone missing in action! What? You don’t find that funny? Come now, Lottie, don’t be too serious. I don’t want your smile to be out of practice and unused when I arrive home.
I am being held with a young man you would like very much, my dear. He is the opposite of your husband: while I neglected to tally many of my years in order to enlist in this cause, he tacked on several of his own to do the same. So here we sit, two misfits: one in the midst of his forties but claiming to be 36, and one 14 year old boy, insisting he is 18. What a pair of little liars we make, don’t we?
I’d say all in all, Henry – my little friend – is holding up better than I, your strapping, courageous spouse. While I complain mightily of this, that, and the other thing, he is always going on about the beautiful countryside (which we cannot even see) and how lucky we are to be alive. I tell him frequently that he is ruining my sorrowful slump with his plucky optimism, but evidently he was not raised to respect his elders, and gush on he does.
I will test the word of my captor now, and bid you a fond farewell. I love you, my wife.
It’s me again – I hope you aren’t receiving so many love letters from the front lines that you must rack your pretty brain for some memory of me! As you can see by my silly words, all is well enough here. Time goes by very slowly and that is the worst part. I have no news of anything in the outside world at all, so I content myself and pass the time by learning German. It’s a rather creative, but vocally exhausting, language. Why couldn’t I be held by the French and come home speaking like one of those romantic poets you love so much? And smelling of wine and bread? Ah well! Love me you must, I distinctly remember you promising to do so.
Once again, my enemy friend has told me he will see this note is put inside a canister and dropped over the lines. It is now my fear that I have no soldier friends out there for which to retrieve it. Perhaps these canisters and letters are simply piling up in a trench somewhere, left in the rain and the mud and the blood. Henry – you remember Henry, don’t you, dear? – tells me not to dwell on thoughts like that, and then he pats my hand as if I am the child, not he. I glare at him like the overbearing grizzly you know me to be, but it has no effect on him. I suspect you and I should not have children, Lottie. I do think they would walk all over me.
I do not know the date anymore.
Jack’s Band Aid was filled with sand from the playground but luckily the wound underneath had never been serious to begin with.
He pulled off the bandage and smoothed it out. It was a Captain America Band Aid, his favorite of all the superheroes. It had just enough tackiness left to barely cling to the Sopwith Camel, so Jack pressed it into and around the busted wing. At least it wouldn’t stab him now and his mom wouldn’t make him throw it away.
Jack lifted the toy over his head and ran with it. The wind he made as he sprinted lifted his hair off the nape of his neck and felt good on his face in the hot sun. He imagined being inside the plane, flying high above the city.
You must be shocked and filled with renewed hope to hear from me again. By now you must have been informed not only of my missing and presumed dead status from the War Office, but it has likely been so long you have despaired of ever seeing these notes again. You see, my enemy friend left for a very long time. I had no warning of it myself, or I would have mentioned the fact to you. I think I may have said before that I have no concept of time here in this place, but Henry assures me it has been over a year, perhaps as long as one and a half. It feels like twenty. I have a Rip Van Winkle beard that you would run screaming from, my dear heart!
Now my enemy friend is returned, and it was with my heart in my mouth that I begged him to deliver this note.
So, all is well, little Lottie. I am not dead yet – no, and you had better not marry the first returning soldier you see! I recall you threatening me with that very thing if I were to be as reckless as to get myself killed, and as I recall I promised to haunt you myself if you ever did so. I am coming back, and guns and bayonets and soldiers and planes and hell itself won’t stand in my way.
My beautiful wife,
This letter … this letter I do not know that I will send by way of our mysteriously kind captor. I am feeling melancholy and out of sorts today, and I know you don’t need words of despair to blacken your day, which must already be full of sadness. Henry has been ill, too ill even to play cards with me or tell me funny stories, and without his joyful outlook on our lot, I have fallen into my sullen, boy-like ways. I’m like a pouting child, Lottie, I am, and though it annoys me to no end, I cannot pull myself out of this slump.
If only I could have a letter from you! It would be all I need. I wish our enemy friend would venture out to merry old England and knock at your door. He’d wait patiently, his hat in his hand, sipping your terribly made tea (or have you practiced the art like you said you would, my little vixen?) and refusing to make conversation, while you penned me a lovely note. You’d spray it with that delicious perfume you know I like, and kiss it with your perfect mouth. I am getting lost in daydreams now. It’s where I live.
I think of you all the time. Every hour, every minute I think of only you. Without the memories of us and the ones I’d like to make together when I’m home, I’d just give up. I’d lie down quietly, next to Henry, who sounds as though he is dying, and I would just … cease to be. That would be so much easier and faster than this painstakingly sluggish existence. I fear I will die here.
Jack showed his mother the plane with some apprehension. He had covered the razor sharp metal edge with the bandage, but she was a stickler for dangerous objects. Yesterday, she’d shouted at him for using a butter knife the wrong way and it wasn’t even sharp. So, Jack cradled the plane in his hand just so, hoping she saw what he saw: a cool new toy, instead of an unsafe and unsanitary hunk of metal.
“I found it,” he said, proudly. “Guess it got left here by somebody.”
“Well, it’s broken,” his mom replied, practically. “They might have left it on purpose.” She eyed it with some curiosity, but didn’t take it out of Jack’s hand to inspect it more closely. Jack was relieved, and grinned wider.
“That means I can keep it, right?” He made some more airplane noise with his mouth and zoomed it over his mother’s head as she sat on the bench. She put her hand over her hair to shield it from falling dirt or debris. “No one else is even here, so it’s mine now.”
“I don’t really think it’s worth keeping. It’s broken, honey. You have that remote control airplane at home you got for your birthday, remember?”
“Yeah. But I don’t like that one.”
“Well, there are plenty of boys who would like it. Maybe I’ll just give it to the Salvation Army then.” She spoke slowly and deliberately, in a way Jack knew well.
“Okay.” Jack shrugged. He raced off, with his Sopwith Camel, towards the slides.
Read the rest of Dear Lottie: