I know the War Office will have contacted you by now (I also know receiving communication from them must fill you with anxious trepidation: I am so sorry to be the cause of that), and you will have been told that I am back where I should be. Safe and returned to duty.
They tell me I spent several days recovering at the hands of a beautiful war nurse (I am only kidding and testing if you are paying attention. In truth, she was shaped like an elephant and had a thicker mustache than I) but knowing the war to be coming a close, I chose to finish my post rather than come home to you just yet. I hope you aren’t angry, though you know how are adorable I find you when you are angry.
I have been transferred to the Rifle Brigade 10th Battalion BEF for now. I think they are leery of giving me a plane since I rather annihilated the last one. Being on the ground is no place for me though: I march through the mud and muck with stomping feet and scowl at everyone I see.
I have Henry with me – I’m sure you’ve been worried about him and the state of his health. I tell him he’s my little leech, but in truth, I am really the barnacle and he is the treasure. I have become very attached to him and his pleasant sunny outlook on things, and without him I think I would succumb to the old man’s disease of bitterness and senility and start shouting about peace and quiet.
One nice thing about being back in the trenches is the parcels the boys get. Tins of peaches and veal pies, pineapple, chocolates, sweets … if you were to send a roast chicken, it would not be amiss and I would be the most popular boy on the playground.
It is more action down here on the ground than I am accustomed to (being shot down notwithstanding). Yesterday a shell burst quite close to me, wounding several and killing one buddy I had been talking with only moments before, and I didn’t realize in the chaos how close I had come to being blown to bits myself until I took off my helmet some time after: it had a piece of shrapnel rip right through it! An inch and a half long at least, but no damage to my superior cranium did occur, you’ll be happy to know.
Just a quick note. Up in the air again – where I should be! The only better thing would be if I were flying home to you.
“Come on down, honey! Five minute warning, okay?” Jack’s mom shielded her eyes from the sun as she peered upwards at Jack. He was perched in a tree, his airplane toy nestled perfectly in a branch, as he flicked ants to their deaths, one by one. “What are you doing up there, anyway?”
“Fighting the enemies!” Jack called down. He made some shooting noises as he flicked. “There’s like a billion ants up here, Mom!”
“They’re going to get in your clothes!”
“Nuh uh. I’m faster than they are.” Jack grabbed the Soptwith Camel and used it to run over a tiny black ant. “Pew pew pew!” he mimicked the sound of a gun, imagining a soldier hanging out of the plane, shooting at the ants. “Take that! Pew! Surrender!”
His mom rolled her eyes and went back to her bench. “Three minute warning!” she called, as she sat down and flipped open her phone.
Jack ignored her and went back to climbing, the toy gripped between his teeth as he went higher in the tree. The plane tasted like metal and dirt and he kept his tongue curled so his taste buds didn’t get more than they bargained for.
His mom would definitely draw the line at putting such a thing in his mouth, so he glanced back at the bench to make sure she wasn’t watching. She wasn’t. She was texting or playing a game, he wasn’t sure which, but either way it worked in Jack’s favor.
He scrambled higher.
Sick of dropping bombs, sick of endless war, missing you. Spirits sink as I soar higher.
Look for me in the sky when you look up. Someday I’ll be there.
Jack was as high as he could climb now. It was a plum tree: a rich, deep purple color. The top branches weren’t especially sturdy, and they were drooping with the weight of the plums. He took one more step up. His mom noticed: she was gesturing impatiently for him to return to earth, but he was enjoying the scenery too much.
“I can see our house, Mom!” he shouted, in excitement.
“We should be IN our house, young man,” she shouted back. She put her hands on her hips and pushed her sunglasses up on her head in order to show him her serious face. She meant business. Jack gulped.
“Just a few more minutes, Mommy?” he called down, in his most respectful and polite tone of voice.
“Jacky, I have sauce on the stove! I told you we only had an hour to spend here. You can come back tomorrow.”
“Can you go home and stir the sauce and I’ll come right home in like … like, ten minutes? You can time me!” he cajoled. The timing game was usually something his mom used on him, not the other way around, but Jack was curious: maybe she’d fall for it the way he always did.
Jack had never walked the distance alone before. It was only three houses down though, so he thought he had a pretty decent chance. He clapped his hands together in a pleading sort of begging gesticulation. He wobbled in the branches and gripped with his toes. If she noticed he was barefoot things would not go well for him. He mentally commanded himself not to glance over at the top of the slide where he had left his shoes.
Jack’s mom bit her lip and sighed. “Ten minutes? You promise? Because I WILL time you. And if you aren’t walking through the door in exactly ten minutes we will not come back here for a whole week, do you understand me, young man?”
“I have my watch!” Jack answered, holding up his arm. It was a plastic, digital watch and it wasn’t set to the right time, but he could still tell when his ten minutes were up. He did some mental math. “At 4:33 I will be home, I promise!”
His mom still didn’t look too comfortable with the idea. She looked around the park, then down the street at their white, two story house. “Okay, okay. 4:33. Do not get distracted, buddy, or you’re grounded!”
He watched his mom leave with a big grin on his face. “YES!” Jack pumped his fist in the air, wobbled, found his balance again, and watched helplessly as his Sopwith Camel tumbled to the ground below.
It fell gracefully, in spite of its broken wing and missing propellers, and for a moment, just a moment, Jack thought it would lift again and catch flight. That, airborne, it would swoop upwards again and fly right back to him.
He was wrong. It fell to the ground hard and Jack got a sickening feeling in his gut as he lowered himself through the branches of the tree, his grubby toes curling over the smooth knots of wood. He worried the broken plane was beyond help now.
I’ve been grounded for a time, due to my cough. It is not nearly as bad as Henry’s was, back in our prisoner days, so for that I’m thankful. It’s from the gasses, and nearly everyone has the same hacking habit I do. It could certainly be worse: the hospitals are crammed with every injury you could imagine (not that you’d want to). Today I watched as they cut away the khakis of a soldier and his leg wounds were gaping open and filled with lice.
Yesterday I read of my own death which made me laugh heartily. I assure you, in case this exaggeration of my demise reaches you too, that I am alive and kicking still.
Don’t believe everything you read.
Spirits here in the military hospital are grim. Oh, it’s not as though we sit around bemoaning our fates, it’s just that most came in as boys, and are leaving (those of us lucky enough to leave at all) as men. But not brave, strong men: men with diseased lungs and half a limb apiece, and full of memories we’d just as soon forget. Not the kind of men we wanted to be.
At the start of all this, Lottie, it was like we were advancing in a football game! We all had a great time: keen even, as my American friends would describe it. We’d cut down our enemies and holler as we did so. It seemed a game. Now no one wants to play anymore.
I am well enough to leave the hospital again. Up to the skies once more – up, up, and away! Don’t forget to look up. Someday soon I will fly home to you.
Read the rest of Dear Lottie: