A New Life
by Sorcha O’Dowd
My submission for #J.A.MesPress ‘Rebirth’ Anthology
Title: A New Life
Word Count: 983
Author: Sorcha O’Dowd
The road was rocky, causing the pony to struggle over the cobbles, its jerking movements leaving Maria and the driver bouncing up and down on the trap. She held a hand to her head, making sure the hat pin was doing its job of securing her hat in place.
It was growing dark when they finally reached the main square, a lone light shone from the single lamp post that stood in the far corner by the baker’s.
The small village of Tucker’s Prior had changed little in four years. Where London had been overtaken by sights of war; news sellers on every corner holding papers aloft, with a new figure captioned, “10,000 CASUALTIES IN FIRST SURGE”, Tucker’s Prior showed no such changes. The grocer’s stood where it always had, the only difference from 1913 being the faded notice in the window; the one that was handed out at the beginning of the war which explained the rations allowance.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to drop you somewhere nearer home, Ma’am?” the driver asked her, looking cautiously around at their dark surroundings before offering his hand to help her down.
“No, thank you.” Maria replied with a soft smile as she hefted her bag from the back of the trap. “I’m near home.”
He nodded, although still unsure. “You take care of yourself Ma’am.”
Holding her bag in one hand she watched the driver give one more concerned look around before turning and urging the pony back along the cobbles. She smiled sadly as he rounded the corner, the retreating trap signalling the end of her journey.
After taking a moment to deliberate, she let her feet take her away from the path leading home. She guiltily thought of her mother, most likely in her rocking chair waiting to welcome her eldest daughter home. Maria pushed the guilt away, knowing her Mother would understand if she knew her plan.
But, would he want to see her? Would he still think her as selfish as he once did?
She could feel the heavy carpet of her bag brushing against her skirts as she walked. Reaching a stile she hoisted the offending hem and stepped over, trying to avoid covering the bottom of her skirt with the slimy mud that was quickly coating her boots.
She felt a quick smirk grow on her lips.
“Welcome back to the country,” she murmured.
But despite her bravado, her limbs felt weighted with her every step, as though her body was trying to dissuade her traitorous heart as it led her onwards. It wasn’t until she turned the corner, spotting a light at the end of the road that her confidence waned.
It was the light that should have told her she was home, that she was safe, that she wasn’t alone.
Instead it gave her a rush of memories, memories buried in desperation by a broken hearted girl.
She forced herself to walk on; trying desperately to push their last meeting from her mind, but his heated words flowed over her, cracking her heart a little more with every remembered word.
“I need to help. I refuse to stay here in this tiny village doing nothing! I have to go.”
“No Maria, you’re not going off for your country. You are going off to escape. You just needed any excuse to escape from the fact that I’m in love with you.”
She pushed the tears away that were threatening to flow, and approached the farmhouse. The house was in darkness, unsurprising as it was past midnight, and when Maria lifted her hand to knock on the door she hesitated, suddenly unsure. Memories of Sarah Darling kissing him as his platoon left for the front flashed through her mind, and she blanched.
“What was I thinking?” she thought desperately. “He wouldn’t still be waiting for me.”
Suddenly a light from her right caught her attention and she turned curiously, seeing a thin strip of dull light spilling from the barn door which had swung open.
She moved without thinking, heading straight towards it before her courage failed her.
Her heart stopped as she peered around the corner.
He was there.
Unlike the village which remained frozen in a previous life, time and the war had changed him. His once dark hair, was now speckled with grey strands, despite him being not yet thirty-five. His shirt sleeves were pushed up above his elbows, displaying the strong muscles built from long hours working on the farm, and the years fighting in the trenches.
It was Robert.
The sound of an animal bleating redirected her attention, and only then did she notice the sheep that lay before him. Its back legs jerked as she gave birth, and enraptured Maria watched Robert as, frowning with concentration, he reached low, hands entering the lamb and pulling hard. A split second and it was over, the lamb slipping from its mother’s womb and flopping onto the straw covered ground.
Not once had he lost a lamb.
His words jolted through her and she jumped back, but there was no malice in his face as he moved to standing, leaning heavily on one leg; his limp, a momentum from the trenches, now obvious.
“That was my first lamb this spring,” he said quietly. “Hopefully means the birth of better times to come.”
Her head shot up, and at the soft smile on his face the flood of tears she’d held in for years finally fell.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered, as he moved closer looking down at her tenderly; his fingers still messed from the birth stopping a breath away from her cheek.
“No!” He exclaimed, a small light in his weary eyes. “It’s behind us. It’s a new beginning, a new life.”
“Together?” She dared to ask as hot tears dripped down her cheeks.