THE LETTER an original story written & read by Peter Traves
One morning, Florence Coltman came downstairs and found a letter. She had known that it would come. She had dreaded its arrival. A sudden and almost overwhelming sense of nausea swept over her. Her hand trembled as she reached out to lift the envelope from the mat by the front door. In the desperate hope that it was not the letter she feared she looked intently at the post mark. Arras, France. Florence felt almost faint with terror. Her knees threatened to buckle beneath her. She clutched at the wall to prevent herself from collapsing. Her breath came in sharp, snatched bursts. She felt the pounding of her heart. Her mouth was so dry she could scarcely lift her tongue and her cheeks were stuck to her teeth. Shakily she lowered herself onto the stairs where she sat staring hopelessly at the unopened envelope. How long she sat there she could not tell. She was alone in the house. Alfred was at work in the pit at Chester-le-Street. The same pit Wilfred had worked at alongside his father until…
She had not wanted him to go. She had begged him. Her only son. What would she do, how would she face life if he did not come back? Did not come back like so many others in the village. He had jauntily reassured her. Had he not always been lucky? Had he not on no less that three occasions escaped even minor injury in pit accidents where others had died? Had he not been rescued from certain drowning by mere chance when swimming at Seahouses the summer of his fourteenth year? “Lucky Wilf” – had she not herself given him that name? Why should his luck run out now? Besides it was probably safer than staying down the pit. Let him go Wilf had pleaded. Not, as she knew too well, that she could stop him but he wanted her blessing that much was clear. Let him go, let him see a bit of the world beyond the slag heaps of County Durham. Don’t let him be shamed before his mates as a coward. Don’t let him be subject to the jibes of local girls. “Think too ma”, he had said, with his old smile, “how handsome I will look – why the lasses will not be able to resist me.” That old smile with which he had always turned aside the anger of his parents and sisters. That old smile that had charmed friends and workmates. That old smile that had worn down her resistance.
And so he had gone. Off first to training, six weeks to turn him into a soldier. Six weeks that did nothing to dent his high spirits and dauntless optimism. On leave before shipping out to France he had spent those precious June days at home with her.
“Put a brave face on it mother,” Alfred had said. “Don’t send him off with the image of a sourpuss.”
So she had – put a brave face on it. But the darkest of fears had taken a grip of her heart and had not released its grip ever after. She had known from the first how it would be. How her world would be shattered. How the tiny child she had loved, not more perhaps than the girls, but with a special tenderness, would be taken from her. How the years would stretch out endlessly and pointlessly before her. When he left she clung so tightly and fiercely to him that he flinched, “Have a care mother, you’ll break me neck if you carry on.” And he was off down the alley between the miners, cottages. She longed to run after him to plant one more kiss on his cheeks. To smell his unique smell once more. But she did not. She put on that brave face and held her ground and he was round the corner and gone.
She tore open the envelope and read: “Dear Mr and Mrs Coltman, It is with the deepest sadness …”