He was ordered to stay back in case they got through the other troops. He looked around at the soldiers accompanying him and flinched when a bomb went off somewhere in the distance. The sound of gunfire rang in his ears constantly; he couldn’t remember that noise called silence. He longed for that silence – silence and Virginia.
He remembered how it didn’t matter what they did – sometimes they did nothing at all – all that mattered was that they were together. But now Virginia had been replaced by this: gunshots, screams of agony, hoarse commands from soldiers, and the sound of bombs blowing up anything in their way. Ralph couldn’t help but feel sorry for everyone on that battleground, even the Germans. For all he knew, those men may have been forced to fight, just as he had.
That’s why, later that day, he felt terribly nauseous. It had all happened so fast. Some of the German soldiers had evaded the troops that had gone forward, and Ralph had heard the signal from the Lieutenant in charge. He had ran with them, ready to protect his country, and then he heard the war cry. He’d turned, and he saw the enemy charging towards him, knife raised. It was either him or the German. His gun went off and the eyes were wide as he fell to the ground. Ralph momentarily forgot where he was – who this was – and kneeled beside the dying man. His left lung was punctured; blood was on his breath. He was about the same age as Ralph, and as he turned his head to face him, the man spoke.
“Sagen Sie Pippi Ich liebe sie,” he gurgled. Ralph frowned. “Sagen Sie Pippi...Ich...liebe...sie,” the soldier repeated. “Pippi...love...” Ralph watched as the light in his eyes dimmed slowly until nothing was left. A tear rolled down his cheek, and he squeezed the man’s hands before running forwards towards the still raging war.
She couldn’t leave it. Ignoring the sirens and her mother’s screams she ran to her bedroom, her heart threatening to leap out of her chest. She rummaged around desperately until she found it under her bed. She let out the breath she’d been holding and then hurried out of the house into the shelter, clutching the item to her chest. Not even a minute after she had managed to get to safety the shelter started to tremble as bombs were dropped on her hometown. Her little brothers and sister were crying, huddling close to her as she tried hushing them and singing a song to calm them.
“What were you thinking?” her mother scolded as soon as they fell asleep. “You could have been trapped in there – you could have died! What was so important that you had to risk your life?”
Virginia sighed as she picked up the photo frame on her lap and handed it to her. “It’s the picture of Ralph and Papa,” she explained. “I just couldn’t leave it. I miss them both so much.”
Her mother placed a comforting hand on her knee, rubbing soothing circles with her thumb. “I know,” she whispered. “I do too.” There was a long pause. “I hope you know that I do like Ralph. He’s a good boy.”
“I do know, Mother.”
“Do you remember that day you introduced him to your father and I?”
Virginia laughed. “He was so nervous!” she chuckled. “I think he asked one of his older brothers for some advice on what to wear; not exactly the most sensible idea!”
“That bow tie!” The laughter suddenly fell dead on their lips. “I miss him, Mama. I miss Papa so much, and now I could lose Ralph as well!”
“No!” her mother stopped her. “Don’t say that. Ralph is a fine young man; he can get through this.”
“You’re right. He can.”
Ralph went through the same ritual that night as he always did. He held the cross that hung from his neck in the centre of his palm and silently prayed to God to help him through this, ending it with the Lord’s Prayer. And then he would hold the brooch that his beloved fiancée had given him. It had been a present for her birthday; he had seen it in the jewellers one afternoon and knew that this was the gift for her. It was a beautiful arrangement of Lucite forget-me-nots with clear rhinestone centres, surrounded with more rhinestones set in silver tone base metal floral bouquet design. It had cost him most of his savings, yet he had known that she would love it.
She had never taken it off until the day at the train station, and now it was never absent from his left breast pocket. It wouldn’t ever leave that place until he came back to her and gave it to her in person.
That was the last thing he thought before a gunshot rang in his ears.