I lay my frail hands on the windowsill and look at the parched land outside. The dry wind sweeps across Meridell’s once flourishing soil, picking up dust as it goes along. My poor yolkalias are wilting, arched toward the ground in defeat, as if all hope of having their thirst quenched has escaped them.
Five months is a long time to go without rain, and not just for the flowers. The crops are failing; soon we won’t have any more food. I cough. Well, if this drought doesn’t take me first, I think with a grimace, then this wretched neomonia will.
I feel like a ghost-Lupe, with my white fur and long white hair, my frail, weak body and the white dress I always seem to wear now. I am haunting my own home. I am sick and tired and dying, with nobody to take care of me. And as much as I dread it, my head is always filled to the brim with thoughts of the war, even though it ended several months ago.
I look over at the tiny music box sitting next to me. It used to belong to Jon. I had brought it down from his deserted room, unable to take the fact that he wasn’t here.
Jon loved the tiny wooden sword his father had made for him. He and his friend Nathan would constantly be playing with the little weapons in front of Jon’s modest farmhouse. They would pretend to be brave soldiers in the Meridellian army, driving away the evil Darigan forces. They created new tactics, strategies, sometimes even pretend battle plans.
It all seemed so innocent at the time.
Jon, my beloved son, was gone from the world because of someone else’s problem. He fought a war that wasn’t his own, and even though it had been won, he had lost.
“Why did you let him play with that sword, Agatha?” I accuse myself. “What were you thinking?”
But it changed when Jon was fifteen. He still used the sword, and he still swung it around with Nathan, but it was different. The blows were becoming harder and fiercer, and the battle plans were no longer innocent, using the most current strategies used in the real war. Agatha had dreaded the thought, and had tried avoiding it, but it was no use.
They weren’t playing anymore. They were practicing.
My husband enlisted in the war. He said that we couldn’t hide any longer; he needed to fight for his king. I tried to keep him away from that death-trap, but he refused to change his mind.
The dry wind blows again. I find myself humming the tune that the little music box plays. It’s cheerful and bright, and I had sung to it many times before to chase away countless nightmares and monsters under the bed.
But soon, the soothing notes are replaced with the sound of the little wooden swords, making knocking sounds as they come in brutal contact.
Jon was eighteen. His father had been killed in the war a year before. Now it was his turn to fight.
“I want to be a soldier, mother,” he declared. He was tall, with broad shoulders, and he was strong from the training he had been doing in secret.
Agatha turned to him, worried and surprised. She was in the process of chopping carrots for dinner, and was caught off guard. “You know what happened to your father...”
“I know,” interrupted Jon. “That’s why I need to go. I need to fight for him, mother. I need to defend my country!”
“You’ll stay here,” she said. “Losing one loved one is hard enough. You mustn’t go, Jon. You’ll...” she choked. “You’ll die.”
“If it’s to protect my kingdom, then so be it,” Jon replied.
“No!” Agatha protested. “You’re not going to war, and that’s final!”
She returned to chopping carrots, and neither said any more.
We’re strange creatures, with strange minds, I think to myself. If we want something, and someone tells us we can’t have it, we just want it all the more.
What if I had told him yes?
The wind seems to utter its response. “You know what would have happened,” it whispers. “The exact same thing.”
The sun was shining with all its heart that day. Agatha was sewing on the front porch, humming the tune that Jon’s little music box played. She was waiting for him to come back from the market.
“He’s been there a long time,” she said to herself. It was well past three o’clock, which was when he was supposed to be back...
Finally, he emerged from the veil of the hill, carrying a basket of vegetables and a loaf of bread.
“Was the market busy?” Agatha inquired.
“Yes, quite,” Jon replied quickly, averting her gaze. Agatha narrowed her eyes.
“Jon, where were you all this time?”
His eyes slowly, almost guiltily, turned to face his mother’s. However, there was the slightest sparkle of excitement in them that made Agatha’s heart leap and her blood run cold.
“I’ve enlisted in the army.”
Agatha dropped her sewing.
Why didn’t he listen to me? I wonder now. He was too caught up in the glory of battle, in the possibility of becoming a hero. Or maybe he wanted revenge on the ones who took his father away?
I run my fingers along the carved surface of the music box. The tune won’t seem to leave my head.
“How could you do this to me?” Agatha yelled.”How could you disobey me like this?”
“The war isn’t just going to end, mother!” Jon yelled back. “They need my help!”
“So do I!” Agatha screamed. “Who will take care of the farm when I am gone?”
Jon was a large blue Lupe, and towered over his mother. He looked darkly down at her.
“I leave tomorrow morning,” he said with finality. “To fight for Meridell.”
Then he went into the house and slammed the door.
Jon has been gone for five months. For five months, my guilt has been eating away at me, until I am nothing more than a weak old woman sitting at the windowsill. A sigh ripples through me and throughout the still house.
A beautiful sunrise is usually a good symbol. But just then, Agatha hoped the sun would never come back up again.
“It’s time to go,” Jon said. His mother was silent. The soft breeze made the ferns around them whisper, as if they were saying their goodbyes.
“Mother,” he said. “I could be sacrificing myself to save the land you love so much, our beautiful Meridell! I’ve worked so hard for years just so I could be a better soldier for this country. Haven’t my efforts affected you at all? Aren’t you even the slightest bit proud of me?”
Agatha still said nothing. She simply looked at her son with tears in her eyes, shook her head, and went back inside.
Jon stood alone in the field. The clouds drifted by overhead, oblivious of the cold farewell that had just taken place. For a split second, he thought about staying in his home, safe from the bloodshed of battle. But then, he remembered that he had a job to do.
“Goodbye, mother,” he said. Then, he headed down the hill.
The music box sits untouched on the seat by the windowsill. It had been Jon’s loving companion, a friend that had never let him down no matter what trouble had been faced. A much better friend, I think to myself, than I have been.
It hasn’t been opened since Jon left. Dust has gathered in the ornate carvings on its neglected little lid. I gingerly place my thin fingers on both sides of it, as if the music would never play again if I move too suddenly. Then, I open the music box.
It opens for me without shyness or hesitation. The sweet music pours out of it, clear as it always was, and I hum along with it. The velvet inside is slightly worn and faded, but the feeling of comfort is just as strong as it always has been, and for a moment I almost feel like Jon is sitting next to me, listening to the music with his eyes closed contentedly.
Just before I close the lid, I notice something stuck between the wood and the velvet. Carefully, I reach for it and pull it out.
It’s a piece of paper, or rather, a letter in Jon’s handwriting. It’s on his best paper, written in his best ink. And it’s written to me, the date on the page matching the date on which he went away.
“He must have written it in the morning before he left,” I say to myself. Slowly and carefully, I unfold the letter.
If the war is over by the time you read this letter, then I have done my job well.
Meridell is in danger. My king needs to be helped, and my father needs to be avenged. But neither of these are nearly as important in my heart as keeping you safe from this war.
I know you resent the fact that I am leaving, but I understand. I am going away from you, and that is selfish of me. But at the same time I am saving you, and that is what matters. Meridell will be a free, beautiful country again someday, and I want to come home when the war is over and show you that I have helped it to be so. But if that is not possible, then I hope someday you can look up at the sky as you sit in your chair on the porch, and say to yourself, “I am here because of Jon, and I am so proud of him.”
I regret making you so upset, mother, and I long so much for you to forgive me. Please, do, and when I return I will see you happy again, and if not then my spirit will be in peace at last.
I want to be there to comfort you. But even if I never come back, you will always be my mother, I will always be your son, and I will always love you.
I read the letter three times. I dry my tears, then read it a fourth time.
“Jon, you weren’t the one being selfish,” I say into empty space, hoping he can hear me. “I was holding you back. I should be the one asking for forgiveness!” I cry.
I realize that there are tears on the letter that aren’t my own. My fragile hands shake with sadness, and I cry some more.
“I forgive you, Jon. I forgive you. Thank you,” I whisper as I hold the letter close, “for forgiving me.” I sob again, but this time they are tears of joy.
A broad blue raindrop smiles at me through the window as it falls to the ground.