Janet adjusted the bib of her pinafore and smoothed her hair before entering the ward. The sharp tang of disinfectant barely camouflaged the odor of dying flesh, and she winced. She lifted a breakfast tray and approached the first bed.
“Good morning, Mr. Martin. How are you today?”
“Oh, fair to middlin’, replied the prone soldier. The gauze bandage on his head had slipped to a jaunty angle, and he winked at Janet. “Come and lay yer cool hand on me burnin’ brow, love.
“Go on with you, Mr. Martin. Here’s your breakfast.” She set the tray next to the bed.
“You’re breaking me heart, to be sure.”
Janet flashed him a brilliant smile and moved to the next bed. The soldier was asleep, his exhausted, wounded body and soul lost in healing slumber. Janet quietly walked on to the next soldier.
“Hello, John. How are you?”
“I’m going home, Janet. Doc just said so.”
“That’s great news.”
“I’ll be sent back to the front if this war’s not over soon, though.”
“Oh, John.” There were no other words. It was the way it was.
Janet retrieved another breakfast tray for the next soldier, smiling again at John as she passed. She’d miss him.
“How’s my girl?” greeted Sergeant Palmer, a grey-haired gentleman, who saluted Janet with bandaged hands. Janet set down the tray and pulled up a chair. She stirred sugar into his tea, cream into his porridge, then spread his toast with butter.
“What’ll it be first, sir? Tea?”
Janet fed the sergeant his breakfast and moved on.
“How’s Will today?”
“Tired, Janet. What’s for breakfast?”
“Caviar on toast points. Eggs Benedict. Fruit cups. Real coffee. Want some?”
“I’ll think I’ll pass.”
Janet tried not to look at the blanket covering the wire cage over Will’s legs. Or rather the empty spot where Will’s legs should have been. Worse, she tried not to inhale the slightly sweet, fetid air hovering around Will’s bed. Instead, she focussed on Will’s pasty grey face, his sunken eyes.
“Could I interest you in some tea?”
“Maybe a sip or two.”
Will swallowed several mouthfuls of sweet liquid before falling back into the pillow, exhausted.
“I’ll be back this afternoon, Will, if you’d like me to read or write anything for you.”
“I’d like that, Janet.”
Janet finished her morning chores and, as she had so many times in recent months since she’d been volunteering at the convalescent hospital, deplored the war. She’d seen so many bodies where flesh and bone had been pierced and shredded by flying bits of shrapnel and bullets, and minds that had been no less torn by unforgettable terrors.
Gathering a few books, a notebook, and a pencil, Janet returned to the ward and Will.
“Would you write a letter, Janet?”
And so Janet wrote...
My dear Sarah,
It won’t be long before I shall see your lovely face. I am recovering at the Lennox Hospital, and as soon as the doctor releases me, I shall come to you.
I am anxious to see our son. I can only imagine how tall he must be, how much he has grown. And our precious daughter. You must kiss her golden curls for me.
I long for our quiet home, to work on our farm, in our green pastures. Never again will I complain of the long hours and the hard work.
Soon, my love.
I remain, as always,
“I must sleep now.” Sweat glistened on Will’s brow. Janet carefully folded the letter and put it in her pocket as she tiptoed away.
In the morning, Will’s bed was empty.
“I’m sorry, Janet. He was a good lad.” said Sergeant Palmer.
“His poor wife and children.” Janet’s chin quivered and hot tears spilled down her face.
“Wife? Children? Our Will wasn’t married.”
“But, I have his letter in my pocket.” Janet read it. The nearby soldiers shook their heads.
“Aw, Janet. He were dreamin’. You saw. His legs were gone. Maybe no girl would want him. He couldn’t run the farm. But he could hope, right to his last breath, just like the rest of us chaps.
The tears ran freely down Janet’s cheeks, until she heard a voice behind her.
“Back to work, miss.” It was Matron.
Drying her tears, seventeen-year old Janet got a breakfast tray and set the tray next to a bandaged and weary-looking soldier. She smiled.
“How are you this morning, Mr. Garrick?”
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