The Old Lie

Reads: 693  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 4

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Based in the aftermath of the First World War, this is a story of a forgotten hero. Tommy made it home. He was one of the lucky ones, wasn't he?

Submitted: August 08, 2011

A A A | A A A

Submitted: August 08, 2011

A A A

A A A


The Old Lie

 

The twirling, dancing skirts of the pretty young girls fly past Tommy in a blur as he sits, forgotten in the corner of the damp village hall.  Their frivolous laughter wraps itself around him like a boa constrictor and he cowers down in his rickety old wheelchair, desperate to avoid the cloying, irritating din.  The girls and their eager partners glide by him, oblivious to his presence.  A million years ago, he would have been dancing with the pretty girls, watching them throw back their heads in laughter as he spun them around and around.  He was young then and considered a catch.  Now he was an old man, old before his time, and the flushed, adoring glances were replaced with pity and revulsion.  He could see it in their eyes, despite their best efforts to avoid looking his way.  He hadn’t wanted to come to the dance anyway, but his family wouldn’t allow him a moment’s peace.  His gnarled, scarred fingers reach down to straighten the tartan blanket over his ravaged knees and he catches the eye of a small boy.  The boy doesn’t look away as others might, but gives no voice to the question Tommy knows is on his lips.  ‘Where have your legs gone, mister?’

 

Held high in the air by his team-mates, Tommy basked in their adoration.  He’d scored a hat trick, taking them into the county soccer finals.  The crowd had gone wild, cheering his name and Tommy felt like he could climb a mountain or fly in the air.  He was invincible!  Later, when he chose to think back, Tommy realised it was the euphoria that made him do it.  It was 1917, and there was a vast recruitment drive to encourage young men into the army, to fight for King and Country.  ‘Your country needs you’, their posters declared:  ‘It is your duty and an honour to serve your country’.  Swept along by victory and pride, Tommy joined two of his friends at the sergeant’s desk after the match.  The old lie slipped easily from their tongues:  ‘We’re nineteen, sir’ said the three sixteen year old boys.  Everybody was doing it.  Nobody ever checked.

 

Of course his parents were dead set against it.  His girl, Harriet was tearful and promised to write daily, hourly, as long as he swore to return in one piece.  They would be married once Tommy came back from the war, everyone knew that.  When the day of their departure arrived, the three boys were given a glorious send-off.  The villagers had lined the streets, waving their Union Jacks, cheering them on.  Tommy felt like they had won another football match.  If it wasn’t for the jubilation of the crowd and their own high-spirited bravado, it might have occurred to the boys to be terrified.

 

Tommy must have dozed because his blanket had slipped down and his rough army issue trousers, sewn short at the knees, were exposed.  He was angry with himself for the shame he felt.  But then he was invisible anyway.  He’d been home a year now and at eighteen, he was beaten.  His lungs were damaged by the mustard gas and his frostbitten fingers held no strength.  He’d lost an eye to schrapnel and a grenade thrown directly into his trench had seen to his legs below the knees.  Tommy had returned to the village alone.  His two friends would never come home at all.  Sometimes, Tommy couldn’t help wondering who had come off worse.

 

Harriet had waited for Tommy, just as she’d promised in all those letters.  But he’d set her free to find a man who was whole.  She’d wanted to nurse him, to take care of him, but he’d insisted.  He didn’t love her any more, he’d said.  Another lie, but at least this one had some purpose.  He watched from the back of the church while she’d married Archie, his cousin.  Archie hadn’t gone to war.  His Asthma had put paid to that.

 

Tommy is tired now, he wants to go home.  He glances at his pocket watch.  In ten minutes his father will arrive to push him the short distance home.  He waits patiently, silently.  For Tommy, waiting is all he has left.

 

 


© Copyright 2019 Karen Talbot. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

Comments

More Historical Fiction Short Stories