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Rated: E · Short Story · Children's · #1636031
This short story won the NAGTY competition on the theme of The Greatest Gift in 2007.
I rubbed sleep out of my eyes and peeled back the bed sheets, sliding my feet into slippers and wrapping myself in my thin robe.

Another knock at the front door.

Yawning, I flicked strands of wiry grey hair out of my eyes and tucked the corkscrew curls behind my ears.

First light was beginning to trickle through the gaps in the blackout curtains. I padded downstairs and touched the cold brass of the door knob. The skin on my knuckles was looking much thinner, the veins more prominent. I was once again reminded of my age. This thought grabbed and pulled at my heart, my whole chest overtaken with an awful sinking feeling.

I was brought back to reality by another thump. The poor man must be getting quite impatient. I turned the door handle and tugged it open, the sunlight blinding for a second, cold wisps of air creeping up my nightgown.

“Good Morning, Mrs. Kyle.”

“And to you, Benjamin. Sorry for keeping you waiting, it’s a struggle just getting down the stairs these days.”

“I understand, ma’am. Package for you.”

“Thank you. I wasn’t expecting anything.”

“Maybe your Tom’s found the time to send you sommat, y’never know.”

“Thank you, Benjamin. Good day.”

I took the package and clicked the door shut.

As I placed it on the kitchen table, the contents slid around inside. The address was scrawled in messy handwriting that I didn’t recognise. I never received mail from anybody. Tom I assumed was too busy fighting battles and spending time with his fellow soldiers to write to me and it didn’t really bother me. I knew he had a life apart from his mother.

As for everybody else, Tom’s father had died years ago, fighting in the Great War. Missing in action. Our son was born 2 weeks later, a final gift from his father. When war broke out again, they called Tom out to fight.

I remember the morning that I said goodbye to him, clinging to him, pressing my face into the stiff, new fabric of his uniform, reluctant to let go. Breathing in the soft smell of my son, musky and sweet, like talcum powder. I remember looking up into his eyes and seeing them glisten with sadness, yet sparkling with thoughts of a new life, a new life away from here, the town he had grown up in. I remember gazing into his handsome young face and seeing his father there, seeing Richard’s twinkle in his eyes. I couldn’t muster a goodbye; I kissed his cheeks and wiped away his tears with my handkerchief. I watched him as he walked along the path and down the road and out of sight. He didn’t look back.

I tore the brown paper away. I peered at the box inside curiously. Carefully I lifted the lid and unfolded the cardboard wings, fingers trembling and clumsy. I looked into the box and felt my scalp shift.

Inside the parcel were several items. The first, a cap, encrusted with mud, dry and crumbling. It sat there in the box, flattened and lifeless. I remember thinking it looked quite lonely, incomplete, lost without its owner.

The second item was a pair of dog tags. The chains had been untidily wrapped around the tags, tangled and knotted in places. They too were coated in mud, thick and dry, smeared so that the name was barely legible.

The third and final item was a cigarette tin, battered and scratched. I took it out and felt the smooth metal against my palms. I gently pulled the lid away and gasped. Inside was a faded photograph of Tom and me. It was taken when we went to Brighton beach one summer when he was about seven. I stared into the face of a younger me, smiling and laughing as I hold my son’s hand, an ice cream scoop sitting precariously on the edge of its cone. Beads of salty water formed in the corner of my eyes and the cold, darkened room blurred and faded. I fell to the floor and wept, the wooden planks rough and dusty with neglect, my back too stiff to bend and sweep the boards.


That night I burned the parcel. I built a bonfire in the back garden, the thick black smoke filling the skies. The orange flames licking at the moon like forked tongues, stars twinkling on a vast purple canvas. I held the photograph in my hand and placed it amid the crackling firewood, watching as the faces melted, merging into one and then slowly crumbling into black ash. I could feel the soil between my toes, the hot air filling my lungs, my thin white nightgown billowing in the wind like the sail of a ship.

© Copyright 2010 Hetty Kitson (imogen_cr at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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