It's Not Easy Saying Goodbye
Lucille Barnes, or Lucy as she was known to her friends, was in the kitchen of the small apartment she shared with her older brother Julian. The apartment had only four rooms: there was the kitchen, with a few small cupboards and very little counter space, a small window above the small sink, and an old wooden table with three equally old chairs, the main room with a worn out couch and mismatched armchair, a threadbare rug, and a radio on a stand in the corner next to the lamp, a small, dirty bathroom with all the necessities, and finally a small bed room with a squashed mattress on an old metal bed frame, a desk up against the wall, and a window leading to the fire escape and the alley below.
Lucy was preparing supper for herself and Julian who would be returning shortly, as long as he didn’t get into any fights while trying to ‘protect a lady’s honor’ as he said. Julian was always standing up for the little guys and those who couldn’t stand up for themselves.
“Hey Luce!” Julian called as he closed and locked the door to their apartment, “What’cha got cookin?”
“Chicken soup” Lucy replied not looking up. Julian went to the cupboards and got out two bowls and then two spoons and set them out on the table. Lucy finished the soup and placed that too on the table.
“So, how was your day?” Lucy asked as they sat down and served themselves.
Julian looked uncomfortable, “Look, Luce, there’s something I gotta tell you,” Lucy set her spoon down in her bowl and looked at him, “I got word from the enlistment office. I’ve been drafted, to be shipped as soon as possible.”
Lucy sighed. She had known that the day Julian got shipped off to the living Hell across the sea was coming soon. She had merely hoped that it wouldn’t come so soon. Julian watched her, trying gauge her reaction.
“You alright, Lucy?” Julian asked after a short pause, concerned.
“Not really,” Lucy replied truthfully, “but I’ll have to be. Time to take care of myself on my own.”
They lapsed into silence, eating their soup even though neither of them had much of an appetite anymore. When they had finished, they brought their dishes to the sink and washed them before putting them away.
Lucy then wandered over to the radio and turned it on, as was tradition every night for her and Julian. She sat on the couch as Julian draped himself unceremoniously over the chair. They sat quietly for a while listening to the man on the radio describing the latest on Germany and the Nazis.
“I want to visit Ma and Da,” Julian said suddenly, a bit of his Irish heritage slipping through, “before I leave. I want to visit them.”
Lucy, slightly taken aback by the suddenness of the request, replied, “Alright. If you’re sure.” a sad smile creeping onto her face. She couldn’t remember much about their parents their father died in World War I before Lucy was born and their mother died shortly after Lucy’s first birthday, but Julian said they were good and kind people.
It was, as the man on the radio reminded everyone listening, that today was, in fact, the first Anniversary of the air strike on Pearl Harbor. Julian excused himself to the fire escape for a smoke. Lucy sat left to her own thoughts. She had yet to tell Julian about her new job at the production plant. She was worried about how he would react, she knew it was completely irrational to think that way, but she worried all the same. A short while later, Julian came back inside still smelling slightly of cigarette smoke. Lucy took a deep breath, it was now or never.
“Julian,” Lucy started, “There’s something that I’ve been meaning to tell you.” At Julian’s concerned look she was quick to reassure him, “No, no, it’s nothing bad”
“Come on, out with it then” Julian said, one of his signature, easy smiles in place.
“I got a job,” Lucy told him, “At the production plant. I start tomorrow, making weapons for the army. I figured that you would be drafted and sent away soon and I would need something to keep myself occupied as I wouldn’t have to clean up after you anymore” She finished with a teasing smile.
* * *
The next morning found the two siblings seated around their small kitchen table having breakfast. Lucy had pulled her light red hair up into a slightly complicated bun of sorts, a bandana placed over it. She was wearing an old faded button up shirt that used to belong to Julian many years ago and slightly ill fitting trousers. Julian was dressed similarly, a button up shirt and trousers, his dark brown hair hanging in his face; he’d need a trim soon.
“You ready for your first day of work?” Julian asked.
“Ready as I’ll ever be” she replied.
A few minutes later, Julian excused himself for work down at the docks.
“Remember, I’m stopping by the offices on my way home, so I’ll be late home tonight”
“I know,” Lucy said with a fond smile, “You really don’t have to be so worried about me all the time, I can take care of myself.”
“I know you can, Luce, but it’s my job as your older brother to be worried about you.” And with that he left for work. Lucy pulled at her shirt and tried to swallow her nerves before heading out herself.
It didn’t take very long for Lucy to reach the production plant. She took a deep breath and entered the building.
“There you are!” a cruel voice called from farther in, “You’re late” The owner of the voice revealed herself as an older looking woman with a gleam in her dark eyes that could only be described as menacing. Her dark hair was pulled back into a tight bun.
“I’m sorry,” Lucy apologized, “but I was never given an exact time to arrive.”
The woman gave her a sour look, “Just see to it that it doesn’t happen again.” She motioned for Lucy to follow her to the production floor. “We’ll be starting you on the simple and easy to understand machines as it’s obvious that you’ve never done this before,” She explained while looking at what Lucy was wearing disdainfully.
Lucy shifted uncomfortably, but nodded anyway. They entered a room that could have at least four of Lucy and Julian’s apartment inside it and still have room to spare. After a brief bit instruction, the woman left the room.
“Don’t feel bad, Mrs. Moreno is like that to everyone,” a kind young woman around the same age as Lucy herself said, “My name’s Emily Lucas.” She held out her hand.
Lucy took it and replied with a small smile, “Lucy Barnes. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Lucy?” a voice called from the next row of machines in disbelief.
“Leona?” Lucy asked whipping around to face the direction she heard the voice come from.
“I can’t believe Julian let you work at a production plant, of all places” Leona said, “I didn’t think he’d like his baby sister making weapons for the war.”
“Well he didn’t like it, but he knows that I gotta pay the rent somehow.” Lucy replied.
“Get back to work!” Mrs. Moreno barked from the doorway to her office.
The rest of the day passed in much the same fashion. The three friends would talk, get told to get back to work, only to go back to talking a short while later. There were no breaks except for a short twenty minute or so lunch break. Eventually it was time to head home.
Lucy was sore and tired and yet had never felt so alive. She had just finished work, she had done something good. She was doing what she could to help America’s boys out in the war from right there in Brooklyn. A small voice in the back of her mind reminded her, Julian will be one of those boys out there fighting not knowing if they’ll ever make it back. She tried to ignore it, but it proved harder than she liked.
She made it home feeling even more tired than before, but she set about making dinner anyway. When she had finished, Julian walked into the kitchen.
“Hey,” Lucy said with a smile. Julian returned her smile, though it looked forced, strained. “What’s wrong?” Lucy asked, concerned.
“Got a deportation notice when I visited the offices.” Lucy motioned for him to go on, “I leave in three days.”
Lucy’s face fell, three days? I’ve only got three more days with my big brother? She felt tears welling in her eyes.
“Hey, hey. Don’t cry,” Julian took her face in his hands, “Hey, look at me. We still got three days. Three whole days to do anything we want”
“What about work?” Lucy asked, trying to keep her voice from cracking.
“They don’t don’t need me at the docks, they’ve already filled my position”
“Alright, what about my work?” Lucy asked, “I’ve only been there a day, there’s no way I’d get even an hour off,”
Julian thought for a moment, knowing Lucy would never willingly skip work.
“Tomorrow’s Saturday, right?” At Lucy’s nod, Julian continued, “Which means the day after is Sunday.” The look on Lucy’s face clearly stated that she was beginning to question his sanity, but he pressed on, “Everyone has Sunday’s off, right?”
Lucy caught on at this, “We’d have the whole day to ourselves” a grin spread across her face, “We could visit Mum and Da like you said you wanted and then just spend the rest of the day doing whatever we want.”
* * *
Saturday passed just like Friday and, at last, Sunday arrived. Lucy woke up and, after getting dressed, bounded into the living room where Julian was sleeping on the couch.
“Wakey, wakey, Sleepy head!” Lucy suddenly felt like she was 10 years old again when Julian took her Coney Island for the first time.
Julian groaned, but got up without further complaint, he was just as excited. And maybe a little upset, but I’m not gonna let it show. He got dressed and grabbed his coat, they’d be eating out today.
“You ready?” Julian asked. At Lucy’s nod, they headed out.
They ate at a small diner just outside the heart of Brooklyn before continuing on their way. They walked along the sidewalk sightseeing on their way to the cemetery. Before long they arrived outside the church beside the cemetery.
“Alright, we gotta be quiet. We’re still not technically allowed on the church grounds,” Julian reminded his sister.
Lucy snorted remembering the incident that got them banned from the grounds. This church ran the orphanage that Julian and Lucy grew up in. They had been quite the pair of troublemakers, and even when Julian was old enough to leave, he still came to visit his sister and cause trouble. This ultimately resulted in the pair of them being banned from all grounds owned by the church. Of course, they really couldn’t get into too much trouble as they legally couldn’t be kept from visiting their parents graves.
After mentally preparing themselves, they entered the cemetery. Julian had long since memorized where their parents were buried, so it did not take long to find them. The headstones were nothing fancy, yet they held a simple sort of elegance in their own way. Ignoring the ankle deep snow on the ground, Julian dropped to his knees in front of the headstones. Lucy stood just a little ways behind him.
Julian bowed his head and spoke to his parents in his head. Hey Mum, Da. It’s been a little while since we last visited, I know, sorry. It’s not been going very well for those still in the land of the living. See, there’s a war on. World War II, actually. A continuation of the same fight you were in Da. The thing is, I’ve been drafted, getting shipped out tomorrow afternoon. Lucy’ll be fine, she got a job at the production plant. She tries not to show it, but I can tell she’s scared for me. Can’t say that I blame her, I’ve had this feeling of dread since I found that I had been drafted. Something inside me is telling me that this is one fight that I won’t come back from and that terrifies me. I don’t want to leave Luce, but I don’t think I have a choice in this. Tears were streaming down his face, but Julian didn’t notice.
Lucy placed a hand on her brother’s shoulder and gave it a light squeeze, “You okay?” She asked quietly. Julian nodded almost imperceptibly, if Lucy had blinked she would have missed it. She knelt down beside him and gave him a comforting hug which he reciprocated wholeheartedly.
Julian sniffled and ended the hug, “Alright. Let’s get out here” He plastered a fake smile on his face. Lucy pretended not to notice and nodded.
They continued to wander around and tried to forget the fact that Julian was leaving tomorrow. They had lunch in another homey little diner before taking a walk around in the park. They headed for home as the sun began to sink low on the horizon. They fell asleep curled up on the couch together listening to the radio that night.
* * *
Julian woke up first Monday morning. He made breakfast and changed into his uniform, trying to memorize the way his sister looked asleep on the couch. Lucy woke up not long after and got changed herself. She and Julian ate in silence, trying to prolong the inevitable. Finally, they able to avoid it no longer.
Lucy, trying to keep the tears at bay, stood at the same time as Julian. They stood trying to memorize each others faces for a moment. Then Lucy surged forward and gave Julian a rib crushing hug that Julian returned with the same force.
“I’ll miss you,” Lucy mumbled tearfully.
“I’ll miss you too, kid.”