The child sat in her white crocheted lace dress, hugging her knees tight. It was spring. Dew on the grass and coating the flower buds all around her. The sun was warm, but not warm enough to burn her pale, soft skin. She was perched atop a rectangular, flat stone and all around her were bright red flowers and white butterflies, flitting from bud to bud. She liked to sit and eat the petals on the flowers when she was in the field alone, like she’d seen her mother do, even if they were bitter and made her sleepy. She had often wondered if the men they said slept in this field had come here like she did, just to think and breathe and relax. It scared her a little to think that she might get buried by the rocks like they had if she kept coming here. That’s what her brother told her. She knew it was dangerous to be alone out here, but she liked to be. Her mother always insisted that she bring her older brother if she were to go out, but she liked to revel in this field by herself.
It felt right to run and skip and dance and spin until her little feet were tired and sore and she couldn’t breathe. It delighted her. It made her feel light, like a little butterfly fluttering around in the sky. After she was out of breath and exhausted she would flop down on a slab of stone and soak up the heat that radiated from its core. Her golden hair fanned across the white gray rock and her blue eyes roamed over the heavens, watching clouds shift and change. The white marshallow puffs floated along becoming lions, then babies, then the poppies that shook in the breeze around her.
The sun rose in the sky and she couldn’t look straight up any longer. She closed her eyes and felt her eyelashes turn heavy. Eventually, she didn’t want to fight any longer and she floated off to sleep.
She woke up only a few minutes later, but something was very very different about where she was. All around her were men in costumes. Some wore helmets and some wore wool hats. All wore boots and carried guns. They were all just standing, swaying, and there was a slight hum in the air surrounding them. She turned around and there was one standing there, directly behind her. She jumped back a little, freightened, but he smiled at her; a comforting smile that told her he wasn’t going to hurt her. He looked familiar, in fact. She squinted her eyes really tight and thought hard, the sleepiness was making it tough to concentrate on him. She finally broke out of the sleepy spell and her eyes opened wide. She ran to the man and grabbed his waist, hugging him tight. It was her daddy, her pa.
She knew it wasn’t really him though. Sometimes the petals did this to her, too. But she just hugged him and hugged him and didn’t let go. She felt his hands run through her hair and pat her back. He pushed her back and sat down on his knees so that he could wrap his arms around her. She buried her face in the crook of his neck, feeling the scruff of his fluffy beard on her cheek. She felt his breath rush by her and then she heard him whisper, in his deep rumbling voice, “wakker word, mijn lieve.”
She wanted to ask him why but her face was hot and her eyes began to leak. She just buried her face back into his dirty suit. He repeated it, “wakker word, mijn lieve.” She shook her head.
Her body began to shake back and forth. Then the phrase became more emphatic. Then her pa took her shoulders and began to shake her. Back and forth, back and forth all the while repeating the words: “wakker word, mijn lieve.”
She closed her eyes hard, squeezing them shut as tight as she could. She wanted to stay here and keep the warmth of her pa with her, but all of a sudden her eyes snapped open and she saw, not her pa’s face above her, staring into her eyes, but her brother’s.
His forehead was creased and his eyes had that annoyed look in them that told her Moeder wanted her home, now. She looked at the sky behind his ruddy face and saw that the sun had left it’s peak among the clouds. It sat at the horizon, hugging it’s knees to its chest, trying not to leave the sky.
She stood up and brushed herself off while her brother stood staring down at the stone she’d been laying on, his arms crossed and his legs apart. She knew what the stone said, knew why he stood in that defensive way, even if she couldn’t read the lines etched into it. She had their shape memorized: she’d traced the ridges countless times and could redraw them in a pile of soft dirt if she wanted. Eventually, her brother turned around and together they walked home, side by side, past the stones and through the poppies, out of Flanders field.
This post originally was published on my first-ish blog Random Ramblings. As I mentioned with the “Throwback Thursdays” series, I am trying to move everything to this blog. The original post date was 3 February, 2011. This little story is based off of the poem by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields.”