“No soldier outlives a thousand chances. But every soldier believes in Chance and trusts his luck.”
― Erich Maria Remarque
Jacques would be coming home soon.
The war was over, people said. The enemy was on the run, they cheered. It was only a matter of time before the official surrender, everyone knew.
Emilie didn’t quite understand all this, but she still listened. When sitting at the dinner table with her parents and their friends, she listened. Children must be seen and not heard, she knew, but there were no restrictions on her own ears. There was a lot of talk about places with strange names and angry people making bad decisions and the soldiers. This is the part where Emilie listened the hardest, because her brother, Jacques, was a soldier, and he had been gone a long time. She had only been seven when he’d left; what would he think of her now, a nearly grown-up girl of ten? He would undoubtedly be very impressed, especially since she had listened so well and knew many things about the war.
The war was now ending, and Jacques would come home and tell them all about it from his side. From being up close and in the action and being brave and strong. All the soldiers were brave and strong, of course, but Emilie secretly knew Jacques was the bravest and the strongest.
Some of his friends had returned early, bearing bandages and scars, and looking older and sadder. One was even missing an arm. He was the saddest and didn’t ask Emilie to come over to help him play cards anymore. Momma said the war had hurt him more than taking away his arm. All of Jacques’s friends acted differently when Emilie’s family had talked to them. They had all been split up, they said. They had seen so many things, they whispered. No, they didn’t know how Jacques was, they shook their heads.
The last letter from Emilie’s brother was from a few weeks ago, and he had seemed optimistic. This is why Emilie knew Jacques was the bravest of his friends. He was still her always-smiling brother, ready with a silly joke or to pull on her curly hair. He wouldn’t come home sad.
Emilie was thinking about all these things when she went to bed, and the last thing she saw before she went to sleep was a drawing she had taped on her ceiling. It was of a bird that Jacques had seen while on patrol, a bird that didn’t live in their country. Emilie thought it was the prettiest bird in the world.
She woke up a few hours later, suddenly and sharply. It still looked dark outside, but she could hear the birds in the tree outside her window. Disoriented, she tried to figure out what had woken her. It was too early for school.
Then she heard a deep voice rumbling from downstairs. Emilie clutched her blankets tightly. She did not know this voice. Her father had a light, friendly tone, and her mother’s was bright and almost chirpy, especially when she was happy. Listening hard now, Emilie could hear their voices, too, and she relaxed a little. The deep voice spoke again, and the rumble pressed against her ears.
Why was this unfamiliar voice in her home? Who did it belong to? Curiosity burned in her chest, and she slid out of bed and out her bedroom door. She paused at the top of the stairs, listening again. The deep voice was still indistinguishable, but she heard Poppa say, “Jacques” and “war.” Momma said something, too, but it was too soft for Emilie to hear. Too sad.
Something dark and slithery replaced the curiosity in her heart, and Emilie suddenly wanted to go back to bed. To pretend this was a dream. But one foot after another, she slowly went down the stairs. She peered into the kitchen through the slightly ajar door.
The deep voice belonged to a tall man. He was wearing a military uniform, one that looked like Jacques’s, but it had a lot more medals and symbols on it. His hat was in his hands, and there were gray streaks in his close-cut hair. His skin was even darker than hers, and his face was the saddest that Emilie had ever seen.
Momma was crying. Poppa was, too.
The tall man looked at Emilie, who felt very cold and empty and didn’t even feel nervous when the man beckoned her to come into the kitchen.
Her parents looked surprised that Emilie was there, and then Momma began to sob harder. She grabbed Emilie close to herself and clutched her so hard that Emilie could barely breathe. But Emilie hardly noticed. She was too focused on the letter in the tall man’s hand, a letter that had a military symbol on it. It was half open, and Emilie could read only a part of it:
“We regret to inform you . . . ”
Prompt is from Tumblr, link HERE!
I just showed my sister Schindler’s List, so this subject has been on my mind for a few days. I don’t know when or where this story takes place, but it’s (sadly) universal enough that it could be anywhere or anywhen. I’m sure I’ve gotten a few details wrong, either way.
Let us all always remember the brave women and men who give their time and their lives for their countries.