After the funeral we clear his house, my brother and I. We build a bonfire in his garden and feed the flames with tables, chairs and wooden tools. The rest can go to the dump. We don’t want anyone wearing his clothes. My brother opens a box and takes out a bundle of letters addressed to our father’s sister. They are full of funny stories. He was eighteen and away at sea. Each letter is signed, Your loving brother, Len.
“He told me she died before he could get home,” I say. “He said he found his letters in her desk, tied up with green ribbon. Green was her favourite colour. He said he could never bear to visit her grave. I didn’t know he’d kept the letters.”
“Did he tell you any of these stories?” my brother asks.
“He talked to you more than me.”
“I kept him talking so he had less time to be angry.”
When I was ten I asked him why he told people that he didn’t respect men who hit women.
“I don’t,” he wept. “It’s just this goddamned temper.”
Our mother clattered dishes in the sink.
Our grandmother whispered, “Choose a gentle man.”
My brother pulls a photograph album from the box. The first photo shows our father standing by a desk in his naval uniform. Oh yes, we can see what our mother saw in him. After she met him on holiday she brought him home, dismissing her long-time boyfriend, who according to our grandmother was the gentlest of men. Next day World War 2 broke out and he left to join his ship. They got married when he came back on leave.
My brother takes out another bundle of letters. He reads one and hands it to me. In elegant cursive script our father writes that he’s on deck watching the moon fly over the sea, listening to the silence and the beat of his own heart. The poem describes our mother’s smile, her blue eyes, her thick black lashes and the way strands of her hair shine gold in the sun. It’s signed Your loving husband, Len.
My brother is incredulous. “Did you know he wrote poetry?”
My fingers stroke the scar on my face.
Sandra Arnold lives in New Zealand. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing and is the author of five books. Her most recent, a flash fiction collection, Soul Etchings (Retreat West Books, UK) was published in June; a novel, The Ash, the Well and the Bluebell, (Mākaro Press, NZ) will be published in August. Recent awards include finalist in the 2018 Mslexia Flash Fiction Competition, the 2018 TSS Flash Fiction Competition, and the 2018 University of Sunderland Short Story Award. Her work appears in Spelk, Fictive Dream, New Flash Fiction Review, The Sunlight Press, Bending Genres, and Ellipis Zine among others. She is a guest editor for Meniscus and Flash Frontier. Find her at @sandra32857098.