THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER – FLASHFICTION

12 Feb

 

The room was dark and shadowed the curtains open. Heavily laden battle-ship clouds drifted overhead; rain ran down the windows. The garden was a morass but judging by the activity at the pond the ducks were making hay. Rain pelted the surface causing large ripples to ellipse and expand – watery rings circumferencing reed ridden banks. 

“Weather for ducks,” is what his grandfather said whenever it rained, one of the many truisms he loved to share whenever inspiration struck. Another of his gems was, “Where there’s muck there’s brass,” conjuring up images of highway robbed bullion lying forgotten in roadside ditches. Just waiting to be dug up, rinsed off, and spent on lollipops and lead soldiers. 

Jake loved coming to his grandparents; loved the mystery the old damp creaking house possessed. The sitting room was filled with the treasures of ages; the piano in the corner of the room that nobody played, the two shiny brass artillery shells standing guard by the fireplace, the large framed picture on the mantelpiece. The sepia colored man in the picture dressed as a soldier, spit and polished, holding an ancient rifle – a protagonist of a long forgotten war. 

The fire roared in the hearth. Because of the rain, the chimney didn’t draw quite as well as it should;  the back lash of smoke giving an earthy scent and a haze to the already darkened room. He was in the back parlor as his Nan called it; the sitting-room in modern day parlance. Obviously if there was a back parlor, then there had to be a front parlor. That was the room Jake wasn’t allowed to play in. 

The mysteries of the front parlor had only been revealed to him on a couple of occasions. Once when his grandfather had run out of pipe tobacco and he’d followed him into the room, the other when his Nan had been distracted whilst dusting and using the Hoover on the deep piled carpet. On both occasions he had caught fleeting glances of the room’s interior before being shooed away. 

The front parlor was special; or rather the front parlor was for special people. 

Unlike the sitting room, the front parlor was lightly papered with a floral print. There was a large picture window at the end allowing sunlight to enter on warm Yorkshire days. From memory he recalled a mirrored cabinet that bounced the sun around the room creating a sense of well-being – pulling at the corner of mouths – inducing smiles. Upon entering the room on a day like today, it was as though a great weight was lifted from one’s shoulders – the lubrication required to oil the spring in one’s step. His Nan had told him that that she stored her best crockery in there, that and her Belgium lace. They never used it of course, but that’s where it was stored, just in case. Good to know he thought, just in case! 

You could see the ever shut door to the front parlor when entering the house via the kitchen. Through the kitchen door and into the hall-way where the paraphernalia necessary to combat the harshness of inclement British weather stood. The umbrella stand beneath the coats was a large ceramic elephant’s foot his grandfather had inherited from the big house on the hill when the lady had died. Apparently he had done a bit of gardening for her – her eternal thanks expressed in  Wedgewood gigantism. 

A perennial biscuit tin sat on the table however it had been years since there had been any biscuits inside. The tin was red with a picture of a lady wearing a crown waving from a horse drawn carriage. Around the tin, images of places in London titled variously as ‘The Tower,’ or ‘Big Ben.’ Now the tin was full of old coins. Some brass, some silver, and some gold in color. The coins had barely pronounceable names such as thrupenny-bits, sixpences, farthings and half-crowns. There was even a gold sovereign, but his Nan kept that in the front parlor in the glass cabinet for the special people that never visited. 

The fire blazed, the logs spat – wooden shrapnel flying from the fireplace and bouncing off the fire guard. His Granddad had told him the wood had been wet, that the fire would dry it out. Made sense if you thought about it! 

Once again he looked upwards at the large black and white photograph on the mantel and wondered who it was. There was a familiarity, the stance, the nose, the ears and yet he couldn’t put his finger on it. Clearly the young man was very brave, dashing in his soldier’s uniform – flat campaign cap on head, puttees wrapped around his legs, rifle slung over his khaki clad shoulder. The boy in the photograph looked like one of the characters from the old movie reel pictures they showed at the Odeon Picture House before the main flick on Saturday mornings. 

The clock above the mantel struck the hour, the pendulum weights slipping on the chains. 

His grandfather walked into the room. 

“Time for a cuppa,” he said, shuffling towards his chair, paper under his arm, tea cup in hand. There was something familiar in the features of his grandfather that he hadn’t noticed before? Jake watched him as he slipped into the big comfy chair, slurped his tea, flicked open his newspaper and started to read. They sat in amicable silence, each enjoying the company of the other. 

Jake looked out the window, watched as the rain slid down the glass and thought that his granddad was right. 

 This really was, “Weather for ducks.”

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