This story is by Laurel Grube and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
“My Darling Lauren,
The poppy fields have a place for me,
A place where your touch cannot be.
I feel it, know it, my time is near.
Your voice so close I long to hear.
Do not grieve, soon I depart,
Always keep me in your heart.
But not alone remain for me,
Love another and happy be…”
Lauren wept as she lay in the daises under the late spring sun clutching Daniel’s letter she just received, almost two years after his death. He gave it to a comrade to deliver upon his death, but the comrade received his own wounds and delivery was slow.
A sweet breeze caressed her and while cotton ball clouds hung in the blue sky over head, Lauren’s tears flowed freely down her cheek. Eventually wiping the saltiness from her face, Lauren arose, brushed off her purple-grey dress, adjusted her hat upon her pinned up auburn waves and walked back through the field to town.
On the edge of town, she stopped to admire the roses in Mr. Green’s garden. They rambled up the side of his house, almost covering one corner, fragrant and blood red. Daniel. Lauren’s hands gripped the letter as she gulped air and tried to focus on the scene. She could not and in a fit of tears, sagged against Mr. Green’s gate.
William Green turned from weeding his flowerbed, looked up and ran to his distraught friend. “Miss Lauren! Are you okay, what is wrong?”
“A letter, I received an old letter,” was all she could manage to say.
“Come inside and sit, let me get you some water.”
“No, thank you Mr. Green, I’ll be okay,” Lauren said as she wiped her tears with the handkerchief that he gave her.
They talked a few moments about his flowers then she bid him good day. He waved as she quickly walked on, pausing once to turn back and look. Lauren then stopped at her friend’s cottage, the widowed Mrs. Turner to show her the letter.
“Do come in Lauren, sit a spell, I’ll put the kettle on,” the buxom woman said.
Lauren sat at the kitchen table in the bright butter yellow room, the late afternoon sun shown in the western window and reflected through the crystal vase of fading daisies Lauren had brought a couple days before. She enjoyed talking with Mrs. Turner who sympathized with her. Over tea, Lauren showed her the letter and confessed her difficulties. She had been feeling a little better of late but now she felt her loss even more.
“I have been pushing thoughts of Daniel aside lately. If I let thoughts of him remain I become frozen in a wash of tears and yet, if I don’t let myself think of him, I cry from the guilt,” Lauren said. “Now this letter comes. How can I push the thoughts away? He is telling me it is okay to fall in love again. I can’t, I just can’t. Oh, why, why did the war take him? Why did he even go over there to fight in those trenches? It’s been near two years, and yet-.” Tears ran down her face as she thought of him buried somewhere in France, so far away.
Mrs. Turner placed a hand over Lauren’s and squeezed, remembering the loss of her own husband in 1898, such a short war that was, yet long enough to change her life as well. The two women sipped tea, shared memories, hopes gone and dreams yet to be.
“My Charlie wanted us to raise a big family, lots of beautiful daughters, he would say, all just like me.” Mrs. Turner laughed. Then with a tear slipping free, “I’m glad we’re close, you’re like the daughter I never had.”
Night dreams and daydreams of Daniel and the life they had hoped to have continued to torment Lauren. A farm of flowers in the sun was their dream. Just as Mr. Turner wanted to raise many beautiful daughters like his wife, Daniel wanted to raise many beautiful flowers like his wife. Each time Lauren passed Mr. Green’s cottage, she would remember that dream and the pain would stab at her. Yet, she felt at ease in Mr. Green’s company.
One Sunday afternoon Lauren and Mrs. Turner stopped at Mr. Green’s to see his lilies, the Regale Trumpet Lily in particular since its intense clove fragrance perfumed the street. The red climbing rose was past its bloom so Lauren did not have that reminder of Daniel. The ladies chatted with Mr. Green as they sat in his garden sipping tea. He explained each flower and knew each rose by name. Mr. Green gave the ladies each a bouquet to take home.
Cradling her flowers in her arms, Lauren asked, “Why has Mr. Green never courted you? He is such a fine gentleman. Tall and rather good looking, distinguished, I’d say.”
“Oh, yes, but he had. When we were young, William, Charlie and I were inseparable. We went to dances and picnics, ice cream socials and cake walks together. The two of them would spend such money trying to win my cakes, the church surely benefited.” Mrs. Turner laughed. “Eventually I had to choose, and I chose Charlie. We married and six months later at the age of 20, he and William went off to avenge the sinking of the Maine.”
Putting her hand to Mrs. Turner’s arm, Lauren stopped in their walk and looked at her. “Mary, but after, after Charlie was gone? Why not-?”
“Ah, he is a fine man, would make a good husband, but I was too broken; I could not smell the roses like you are starting to. It could never be for us, to many shared memories of Charlie, William’s guilt of not returning home with him, my anger at the time. It just can’t be. We are still friends, dear friends, always will be,” shaking her head, “but nothing more.”
They arrived at Mrs. Turner’s where Lauren kissed her good day. Thoughts of Daniel filling her head, she wondered if she could ever remarry like Daniel suggested or will she remain a lonely widow like Mary Turner?
Yellow chrysanthemums were in bloom and white Sweet Autumn Clematis was covering Mr. Green’s fence like snowdrifts and scenting the distant air. Some roses still bloomed in the late season sun, their last flush of beauty before the frost comes. These past months Lauren visited Mr. Green more frequently, sharing in his garden’s beauty, yet still feeling its pain. One day he told her the neighbor’s field was for sale. It had rich soil with lots of sun and a little creek flowing through it. Mr. Green thought it would make a nice memorial garden for soldiers like Charlie and Daniel.
“What do you think Lauren? Many roses and other flowers will grow there in the sun. I can purchase the land and donate it to the town.”
Mr. Green took Lauren’s hand. “When I returned from war, I started my flower garden; I needed to feel life in those flowers. I want your help in this project; it will do us both good.”
“It’s a great idea Mr. Green; the town could use such a place. I could use the reason to,” faltering, “live.”
Mr. Green was overjoyed hearing her say that, he knew her wounds would heal. “Please, if we are going to work together, call me William.”
“Another thought I would like you to consider for the garden,” said William. “I would like to place a soldier’s statue at the center entrance, a soldier from the “War to End all Wars”, a local boy, a hero for saving so many lives at the price of his own.”
Lauren knew he meant Daniel. How would she feel seeing a statue of her late husband? “William, I would be proud to see him honored in such a way.”
The winter months were busy with planning; winding paths laid, bubbling fountains made and spring planting time soon arrived.
Knocking upon William’s door, Lauren couldn’t wait to plant the rose bushes under the spring’s warming sun.
“Good morning Lauren.” William said. “Come in and have some tea before we get cold and muddy. I hope you brought your galoshes.”
They joined others outside where Lauren worked side by side with William planting the Alba roses at the entrance arbors. Their white blooms will be prominent as people walk under them to the garden beyond. By noon, more people joined them, Mrs. Turner and other women brought sandwiches to add to Lauren’s soups.
The following week William and Lauren planted purplish-blue Dwarf Larkspur by the creeks edge. Stepping wrong, Lauren slipped in the mud. Just before she fell in the cold water, William caught her, pulling her into his protective arms and pressed his lips to hers. She responded to his kiss with a passion she thought was lost and trembling, pulled from his arms.
“Oh William, I ah,” Lauren drew up her shoulders and gripped them, “I’m afraid, confused, I must go, think.” She ran off, but turned back with a brief smile and kindled his hope.
Nurserymen delivered established perennials, but Lauren did not come and plant. William gave her space. Her mind was on Daniel, fighting her heart that was pulling toward William. Sleeping little and eating less, but thinking long and hard.
A couple weeks later, William saw Lauren tying up the spreading roses at the entrance arbor.
“Lauren, I’ve been worried about you.” She smiled and welcomed his caring embrace.
In the months that followed the old-field came alive with color, form and beauty, as did Lauren and William’s romance.
“Tomorrow is Independence Day and we unveil Daniel’s statue for the center entrance path,” said William.
Lauren leaned her body against him, resting her head on his strong chest, remembering Daniel and hugged William tight. He rested his cheek on her head and held her in a loving, protective embrace.
In the sunny July morning, a crowd gathered, the band played taps and they raised and lowered the American flag to half-mast. The Preacher prayed. All eyes were on the covered statue. Anticipation was in the air. After the dedication and the draping cord pulled, a cheer and applause arose from the people. There stood Daniel, taller than life size in full Doughboy attire, upon a pedestal surrounded by blooming orange poppies.
Lauren, pulled in her breath, stood taller, shoulders back, chin out and a smile stretched across her delicate face.
“Oh William,” Lauren said as proud tears slipped from her eyes. He pulled her close.
Mrs. Turner approached and giving her approval, hugged Lauren and William. The people moved about the statue and entered the memorial garden.
William took Lauren’s hand, guided her along the gravel path; they admired the flowers growing and were pleased to see the China roses blooming near the Lilac. Swinging their arms while they walked, they talked of the stately Foxgloves and hummingbirds favorite, the Coral Bells, blooming in beds in full sun, a combination of pinks and deep corals.
They arrived at the fountain benches. The moss roses were climbing up the back pillars, their soft purple pink blooms perfuming the area. “William,” Lauren gasped, “how beautiful the roses look here, such a romantic spot.”
“Not as beautiful or romantic as you my love.”
Holding her hand, he looked into her eyes. “Lauren, I know I am a little older than you, but you have brought such happiness to my life and I would be privileged if you let me have the chance to bring you the same happiness, to cherish and protect you.”
Getting down on one knee, “Lauren, will you bless and honor me by being my wife?”
Lauren looked into William’s eyes, felt the love that she wanted to give him blossom inside and among the flowers in the sun, kissed him, “Yes.”