The memories ease the pain inside
The morning sun’s bright glow made William’s eyes sparkle. Annabelle smiled, and then shook her head slightly. They were still in his room.
“What was it that you wanted to talk about?” She said suddenly, tired of the eternal silence between them. William lowered his gaze, and Annabelle could see how he furrowed his dark eyebrows. She tilted her head slightly to the side, and tried to catch his crystal blue eyes. Then he turned up his head, just so that the sun’s glimmering glow fell on his black, feather like hair.
“It’s about Alice.” Annabelle took a deep breath, and got the feeling that she wanted to jump out through a window.
“Alice?” She repeated questioning. William nodded, and Annabelle noticed how a small smile shaded his pale lips. She couldn’t say if the smile was happy or full of sadness. William let his gaze travel out the window, before he quickly brought his left hand to his mouth and started to cough. Annabelle’s hands flew to her own mouth, when she saw how drops of blood formed between his fingers. They trickled down his hand slowly before they dripped to the floor, creating small puddles of blood on the wood.
“William!” She screamed, and came quickly to her feet. He shook recklessly on his head, just before closing his eyes and falling down on the floor. The hard thud that arose when his body hit the wood made Annabelle angry. This wasn’t supposed to happen; why did these kind of things always happen? Breathe, Annabelle, she reminded herself and bit her lip, and then she fell down on her knees in front of him.
Stubbornly she tried to turn him around, so that he was lying on his back instead of on his stomach, and after several attempts she managed to do it. “William”, she whispered then, and shoved aside some dark strings of hair from his forehead. He didn’t answer, and Annabelle realized that he was unconscious.
With her panic still growing, she rose to fetch a handkerchief. Gently she patted his forehead, and wiped his face clean of the blood. Then she quietly began humming a melody.
Hours later, Annabelle sighed deeply and let her eyes search around the room filled with dying men. She had left William; she shouldn’t have. Who knew what could have happened to him? He had also wanted to tell her something - oh, she really shouldn’t have left him.
She took a deep breath and tried to think of at least one reason to why she had done as she did. She couldn’t stand the sight of blood, that’s why. She had left William because she hadn’t been strong enough to stay. It was the truth, and she hated it. How could she, Annabelle, be strong and brave when she barely endured the sight of blood?
John had been right. She was weak. But what did she expect? That all her fears would disappear, as soon as she got away from home? It was ridiculous, and yet another sign of weakness. Just like the tears that used to fall down her cheeks. Who did she try to fool?
She felt her tears rise within and quickly closed her eyes. She was tired of crying; all she did was cry. Stop fighting it, the voice within her echoed, you are fooling no one but yourself. Annabelle lowered her head, and her broken heart made itself remembered once again. Give up, it said, and Annabelle listened.
The feeling of tears against her cheek scared her, yet at the same time it was beautiful, and she turned her head up again. Alice’s sympathetic gaze caught hers, and Annabelle had a smile shadow her lips through the streaks of tears. The next second she felt the girl’s soft arms around her, and suddenly the dark grief disappeared and was replaced by the feeling of warm friendship.
Annabelle had just finished singing when she discovered William leaning against the door frame. She didn’t notice him at first, so he had to whisper her name to make her look up.
“Hey”, she whispered back, and the blue dress danced around her pale legs as she stood up. Just by looking at him, she realized that he was in bad shape. His handsome face was paler than usual, and suddenly she saw the bottom of his otherwise bottomless, ice blue eyes. His soft lips were curved in a smile, but without joy. She could see the pain he fought so hard to hide; like an aura embracing him, sucking out all the joy and happiness that once had made him who he was.
“William”, she said, placing more weight on the name than she usually would. Then she didn’t know what more to say; she didn’t know what was considered appropriate and what wasn’t. He still smiled when Annabelle with quick steps went up to him.
“How are you, reall-“, she began, but her voice faded away in a whisper when she reached him and his pale, tired eyes caught hers. She raised her hand in an attempt to place it on his cheek, but he turned away his head, so then she placed her hand on top of his heart; the regular beats immediately made her feel calmer.
“I just...” he began, and she could see the pain every letter inflicted on him. She shook her head.
“Don’t talk.” He opened his mouth as if to protest, but closed it again without saying a word. Annabelle smiled. “Come with me,” she whispered, and raised her right eyebrow seductively, “if you aren’t busy with something else, of course.” William took a deep breath, and Annabelle saw how he stifled a cough. She took his hand in hers.
She led him out of the house, away towards the meadow, to the place she had secretly named theirs. The sky was bright blue, colored in that particular shade Annabelle loved the most, and not even a single cloud shadowed the sky. Far away, on the horizon, by the end of the meadow, she saw the beginning of the mighty forest. The tall, beautiful trees swayed slowly in the gentle wind, and Annabelle turned to William.
“Sit down”, she smiled, and then sat down herself. The view was wonderful; they had gone so far away from the house so that they barely could see it - only a small dot far away in the distance reminded them of where they had come from and where they would return. She laughed quietly to herself, before she caught sight of a small, purple flower. She held out her hand as if to take it when she suddenly saw what flower it was.
Vervain, she thought, and just for a second, she let the memories haunt her. She smiled when she thought of her childhood, and remembered the days when Clara had come home with baskets full with the flower, to boil tea for the sick. She remembered how angry she had gotten every time, because it was forbidden to pick vervain; instead, you should bless it. She smiled again, and took a deep breath, for the memories gave forgotten feelings life again.
Then she sighed deeply because of how much she missed them, her family. The feeling of loss, which she thought she had buried deep within her long ago, floated back up to the surface with new, increased power. She could feel her tears slowly rising, and her heart got shattered to pieces and thrown away. She closed her eyes, and searched for William’s comforting hand. When she found it she pressed it hard.
“William”, she whispered, her voice all empty and sad, “are you missing someone?” She could feel how he hesitated, tasted his words before speaking, to see if they were right.
“No”, he said then, and Annabelle opened her eyes, the pain still growing in her chest.
“No?” She whispered, disappointed and somewhat surprised.
“No”, he said again, but it sounded like he didn’t really believe it himself. She turned to look at him, for she could hear in his voice that there were a story behind his choice of words.
“You’ve never told me about your past”, she heard herself whisper, her eyes fixed on his lips, curious about his answer. He turned his head towards her, fixing her with his crystal eyes.
“You’ve never told me about yours.” She suddenly let go of his hand and blinked in surprise. Then she realized how ridiculous she behaved, so she took a deep breath and answered him with her head raised.
“You never asked for it.” He laughed, and Annabelle held her breath, afraid of what would come out of her mouth next.
“William”, she said, before he even had the chance to interrupt her, “can you please tell me about your past? How you ended up here?” She leaned closer to him, getting lost in his mesmerizing eyes. “About the war? How it was to fight?” She said the last two sentences a little hesitant, because she didn’t know what William would think about her when she mentioned a word so dark and dangerous; a word that girls shouldn’t even think about it. William laughed again.
“So Miss Annabelle wants to know about my past?” He finished the sentence with an arrogant smile, and Annabelle clenched her jaw.
“That’s exactly what I want”, she said, and now she didn’t hesitate for a second. Then she added, her voice a bit harder, “and would you do me a favor and not call me Miss?” Because when she thought about it, Annabelle didn’t want to be a ‘Miss’; it didn’t suit her. She was free to go her own way, to do what she wanted, and that didn’t make her a ‘Miss’.
William gave away a little laugh at her last words, and shook his head, but then he shook on his shoulders.
“If you want it that bad, I’ll tell you. But you must understand that my story is different from the others you’ve heard, Annabelle. I’m not like other people.” Annabelle looked doubtfully at him, and for a second, her thoughts brought her back, to a time when another man had said those words to her. John. He tilted his head to the side and Annabelle could see how a smile grew in the corner of his mouth.
“What you’re about to hear, Annabelle Johnson, is the true story of William Smith.” He gave her a soft smile, and she smiled back and followed his gaze up to the clear blue sky. She could hear how he filled his lungs with new, fresh air before he began to speak.
“On a cold winter night in 1845, I was born to a Catholic family in Ireland, which at the time was suffering from a violent famine. My family was poor but wise - with our last money we got on board a ship to North America.” He laughed. “I wasn’t that old when we left Ireland, and therefore I don’t remember very much except that traveling by boat was terrible.” Annabelle smiled faintly at him and his story, which somewhat reminded her about her own.
“Here, in America, there was plenty of food and money so that my parents could support me and my five siblings. When we first got to the New York harbor you could smell the scent of freedom, I’ve been told. We decided to settle in the north, but not too far up, in a climate similar to Ireland’s. It was a wonderful time, the first few years. It was as if the sun never ceased to shine, as if we were living a dream. But everything has an end, right?” William looked down on the green grass, and played with it for a while, as he began to talk again.
“It was long before the war broke out, I remember. One beautiful day in 1853. Spring had taken its first real grip on the town where we lived, making the cold winter escape, and the sun shone like never before. There was a lake right next to our house, you see, a wonderful lake with sparkling blue water that we used to swim in during the summer. I remember how my older siblings always said it was shining because a ship had sank there, and not any ship; a pirate ship. The ship had, according to my siblings, carried too many treasures, which made it sink. Treasures that now lay on the bottom, waiting to be found. Anyway, enough about ships: I remember that I had been out, and when I got home it was as if the sun’s gentle rays faded away, and the sky suddenly became dark. I ran up to the house, and screams cut through my ears, crushing my whole life in pieces. I remember how my siblings screamed for mother, crying. It took a while before I understood, and when I did I handled the situation just like any other seven year old would have. They stood by the lake now, so I ran there. They screamed for me too. I was the youngest, you see. I was the one everyone was supposed to look after, but no one really cared about. When I reached the lake and understood what had happened, I screamed. I screamed until there was no air left in my lungs, until everything went black, until it was no longer a reality, but a dream.” William paused, and looked curiously at Annabelle. She refused to meet his gaze.
“Well, what do you think? Is it what you expected?” He could see how she clenched her jaw, and laughed - a bitter, painful laughter. Then he continued.
“Mother had drowned. That was what I was told, by Eireen and Sheelin, two of my older sisters. We didn’t know when or how - only that she was no longer with us. And that was enough.” He smiled a strange smile, and Annabelle couldn’t decide whether it was sad or sarcastic. She said nothing, and a silence spread around them. After a while, the silence became too much, and Annabelle decided to break it.
“What beautiful names”, she said, and thought about how to pronounce them, “Eireen and Sheelin. Did you have a name like that too - irish, I guess - or was it just them?” William looked almost frightened for a moment, but then he just nodded.
“We all had such names. Irish, yes. My mother, for example, was named Aojbheann, and was just like the name said - beautiful.” He sighed quietly.
“The day she died was the worst day of my life. It was also the last time I saw father. You see, when he found out that my mother had died, he took his coat and walked. He never came back. We searched all around the village, but then we gave up; because even if we would find him, why would he want to come back? He had left us once, and the reason why was clear. He didn’t want anything to do with us. It would never change, even if we found him. To be honest, I think he returned to Ireland. He had never really shared mother’s thoughts of freedom. Two months later, I met Mr. Ericsson and moved in here.”
William looked up at the clear blue sky, and Annabelle took his hand, never wanting to let it go.