This is short story I wrote a few months ago, called Scattered. It's about a family living in the World War II era, who lose a loved one and all hope of survival. The theme is hope, as you can probably guess. Enjoy!
by Julia Duke
by Julia Duke
I stared at the crumpled letter lying in the corner, neglected by all in the room. Tears stung my eyes and I clenched my fists in anger. I glanced round at my family. Jerry sat in a numb state on the sofa, fixing his gaze on the ground. The half-empty coffee mug on the table left evidence of Mother’s previous presence in the living room.
I returned my gaze to the letter and shut my eyes, trying not to believe it, trying so hard to forget it. The delivery of the yellow telegram had dashed so many hopes to pieces. From the moment the officer placed it into Mother’s hands till the time she opened it and began to read, I knew. The way her eyes pooled with tears before she even came to the fatal words. The way her gaze drifted towards the wall, her face growing pale and her grip on the paper loosening.
My heart racing, I snatched the letter out of her hand and read it out loud, not believing at first. Not wanting to believe. My eyes scanned the words again. Walter Tarnika. Killed in action.
Mother’s face peered around the corner of my bedroom. I tried not to look shocked as her thin form came into view. Her hair lay in tangles, while her dress was dirty and worn, the top buttons missing from their usual places. I closed my book and leapt up from my bed, placing the hardcover back on the shelf among many others.
“What is it, Mother?”
“We need to talk. All of us. Jerry’s waiting in the living room.”
“The future. Our family’s future.”
I nodded and followed Mother out of my room, watching as her feet dragged along the floor. Jerry hopped out of the rocking chair as Mother entered, and plopped himself down on the sofa. I took my place beside him, while Mother stood beside the rocking chair, resting a hand on it. She heaved a sigh.
“Children… As you both know, things haven’t been going well for us lately. Money is running low, and we’ve had to ration our food.”
“I’ll say,” Jerry cut in, rolling his eyes.
Mother flashed him a look. Jerry grew silent and dropped his head.
“The thing is, there’s not much for work here and I can’t raise enough income to pay the mortgage for the house.”
Her eyes darkened, contrasting with her pale face.
“It’s been two weeks since the funeral. I think it’s high time we start a new life.”
I glanced at Jerry, then fixed my eyes back on Mother. “Meaning?”
“Meaning we’ll be moving. To another state. To a new town. We’ll meet new people and start a fresh life for ourselves.”
“What?!” Jerry leapt up, his eyes widening. “We can’t move!”
“And why not?” Mother asked, her complexion weakening from the reaction.
“Because… All my friends are here! All of Celia’s friends! We can’t just leave them!”
I laid my hand on Jerry’s arm, attempting to stop him, but he slapped it away and continued.
“Please, Mother. I’ll find work. I’ll do anything!” He pounded his fist. “Oh, if I could only join up, then I wouldn’t have to be a burden on you two.”
“Jerry!” Mother stepped forward. “Don’t speak that way! You know you’re not a burden on us. Listen to me.” She paced in front of the wireless, one hand on her hip, the other on her forehead. “I don’t want this any more than you do. But times are hard and this is the way it has to be.”
“Then I don’t want to be a part of it. I’ll leave if I have to. I’ll fake my age. Others have done it!”
I sensed a cue for me to speak, and stood up. “Jerry, you’re only 15! They’ll never let you through! And anyway, you can’t leave us. Dad’s gone, and you’re the man of the house now.”
“Well, I don’t want to be! Dad abandoned us! He left us alone in this world to fend for ourselves!”
“Jerry.” Mother’s voice cut in, quiet yet sharp. “Don’t ever say that again, you hear me?”
A dull silence filled the room. Jerry stared at Mother, his mouth open in preparation for his next words, but they never came. I sensed the tension between the two and stepped back a little.
“Mother, I—I’m sorry…”
Without answering, without her face so much as flinching, Mother drifted towards the hall and disappeared.
I glared at Jerry. “Nice going.”
“Oh, you think I’m going to have pity on you? Just because of you and your friends? Jerry, we’re a family! We have to work together! Can’t you even try to understand?”
Jerry had nothing to say. At least, nothing worthwhile hearing. I turned and left him to dwell on his own thoughts.
A chill hung in the air. Clouds encircled our house, threatening to let loose its violent drops upon us as we stood on the front walk, coats shielding our bodies. Neighbours peeped out of windows and through the cracks in their doors, waiting. We too waited for the time we would leave our beloved home.Jerry carried our luggage to the end of the walkway, Mother following close behind. I remained behind, stealing one last glimpse of the place we once called “home”. So many memories lay behind those rigid walls, so many evenings spent in the living room with Father, listening to broadcasts on the wireless. And laughing. Always laughing. I stored these memories in the most hidden part of my mind, and knew I would cherish them forever.
A car door slammed. I spun around as a man in a business suit stepped forward to address Mother. I narrowed my eyes and made out the shadows of another man, hidden behind the steering wheel of the car.
“Mrs. Walter Tarnika?”
“Yes. That’s me,” she replied.
“Right. I’m here to pick up the car.”
Mother nodded and fumbled around in her purse before lifting up the keys. “The car’s there.” She pointed to our brown caravan, parked to the right of the house.
The man grinned, retrieved the keys, gave a tip of his hat, and then stepped into the vehicle.
Jerry sidled up to me and said behind gritted teeth, “Celia. They’re taking Dad’s car. Why isn’t Mother stopping them?”
I watched as the man drove off, the other car following. “Because she sold it.”
“She sold it?!” Jerry gave me a stare, revealing shock and disbelief. “That was Dad’s most prized possession! He wouldn’t even let me near that car!”
I chuckled. “Now that was just pure reason.”
Jerry rolled his eyes. “C’mon, Cel! This is serious! What would Dad say?”I glanced at the ground. “He would’ve understood. Believe me, Jerry.”
Mother called to us and Jerry sprinted off, flinging our suitcases into his hands. A frown still etched his face, yet he erased it as Mother’s sad eyes bore into his. She beckoned to me and we set off down the street, leaving an empty and lonely house behind us.
Little did Jerry know that I was battling my own set of problems. Little did he know that hurt and fear stabbed into my soul, leaving an emptiness I could hardly bear. My thoughts lay elsewhere as we trudged to the train station, rain beating upon us and seeping through our clothing. Knowing I left hundreds of precious memories behind pained me worse than my chilled body and aching arms. My mind drifted to the previous day.
Sunlight streamed in through the bookstore window as I stood beside it, waiting. I struggled to sustain my tears as the clerk lifted one book after another out of the trunks on the floor, nodding his head in approval at each one.
I forced myself to look away from my treasured possessions, instead watching Jerry as he buried his face in a war magazine. That only made it worse. Images of Dad began to flow in. Dad as he sat in his study reading novel after novel, sometimes on his own, sometimes with me situated upon his knee. Dad as he watched me open my birthday presents, chuckling when I danced around the room clutching a brand new book in my arms.
“That’ll do just fine, Miss Celia!”
I spun my head back to the clerk, who stood with a pleased smile on his face. His complexion turned to confusion after a few moments’ silence.
“Are you sure you want to get rid of all these books? It must be your whole collection!”
“Quite sure, Mr. Larriby.”
He stared. “Well, alright then. It’s your choice, not mine.”
I pursed my lips, refusing to take this any further. Mr. Larriby seemed to take the hint and began counting up the money for the books. He placed the bills and coins into my hands and I fled for the door as fast as I could.
“Say, where is it you folks are movin’ to again?”
Mr. Larriby whistled. “That’s a mighty long way from Colorado. Well, have a safe journey, then!”
“Thanks, Mr. Larriby,” Jerry replied as he pushed me out the door.
Jerry jabbed me in the side. “Celia!”
“Ouch! Stop it, Jerry!” I glared at him, then lifted my head to find the conductor standing at the door with a raised eyebrow. I felt my face turn red as I handed him my ticket.
“That’s quite alright, Miss.”
He punched a hole in all three tickets, returned them, then disappeared.
“That hurt, Jerry.”
“Sorry! But what else was I supposed to do?”
“You could’ve gently nudged me.”
“I tried that! You were too busy dreaming.”
I rolled my eyes.
“Now, now, children,” Mother cut in. “We have a long ride to go yet. I’d suggest getting along so you’re not sick of each other by the end.”
“I’m already sick of her,” Jerry muttered.
I pretended not to hear and turned my face to watch the scenery fly by.
“What was that?” Mother snapped.
“Good, I’m glad it’s nothing.”
Silence occupied the compartment. I watched, mesmerized, as city turned into countryside. Tears threatened to spill as I said a silent goodbye to my homeland. I willed those tears away.
Hours passed by in silence, with me reminiscing about the future and the others most likely doing the same. We slept, ate, and talked little. I filled countless hours with sketching, journaling, and reading the one book I had kept, Jane Eyre.
After thousands of miles, a city came into view. Our new hometown. The train skidded to a halt and released hundreds of passengers, only a few bearing the same expressions as ours, that of fear and ignorance of the new world before them. I watched as children ran into the arms of awaiting parents, and families reunited, smiles of joy written upon their faces.
The train pulled out of the station with a great heave, leaving only the three of us on the platform. Mother eyed her pocket watch and frowned.
“What is it, Mother?” I asked.
“Our new landlord. He said he’d pick us up at noon.”
Jerry set the suitcases down and wandered the empty train station, scouting out the area. I wiped sweat off my brow and paced the wood floor, worry creeping into my spine.
“I’m sure he’ll be here soon, Mother. He was probably held up. By the looks of this city, it’s a hectic place. Most likely hard to get around in.”
Mother nodded, her eyes fixed on the horizon.
“Yes, you’re probably right, dear. There’s no sense in worrying.”
With that, she situated herself on a bench, where she could still keep an eye on the road. Longing to stretch my legs, I wandered around for a time, taking in the vast expanse of the city of Los Angeles.
A considerable amount of time passed before my eye caught a figure materializing in the distance. I craned my neck and made out the shape of a girl running towards us. The girl halted upon reaching us, panting and sweating. She looked to be about 16, despite her thin build, and she wore her dark brown hair in braids.
In a foreign accent, she asked, “Are you the Tarnika family?”
Mother stepped forward. “Yes, we are. And who are you, child?”
The girl smiled. “I’m Clara. I have been sent by Mr. Rosenthall to retrieve you. He was taken ill and could not come himself.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. But why did he send you? Do you live in the apartment?”
She shook her head. “No, ma’am. I live in the home for orphan girls beside the apartment. Mr. Rosenthall often gets us to run errands for him.”
“You ran all that way?!” Jerry asked, admiration evident in his tone.
“Wow, that’s impressive for a girl!”
“Jerry!” I scolded. “Don’t mind him,” I directed to Clara. “He can be a little rude sometimes.”
I glared at Jerry, who stuck his tongue out at me. Clara giggled.
“Come on, then. Mrs. Rosenthall will be getting anxious, I’m sure. She’s prepared a fine dinner for all of you.” Her smiled faded. “I’m afraid we shall have to walk.”
“That’s perfectly alright, Clara!” Mother said. “We could all do with the exercise after such a long train ride."
Clara grinned and motioned us forward. “Follow me.”
The sun’s rays beat upon us as we travelled down the road and into the city. I felt an immediate change in the atmosphere as soon as we got closer to the buzz of activity. Noticing Clara walking a little ways ahead, I sidled up to her.
“Hi there. I’m Celia.”
She glanced over and smiled. “Nice to meet you.”
“So, what’s it like to live in Los Angeles?”
“Actually, I haven’t lived here long myself. So there’s not a lot I can tell you.”
“Where are you from?”
She looked at the ground. “Germany.”
My eyes widened a little, but I tried to keep myself composed. Clara lifted her head, caught my look, and chuckled.
“Don’t worry. I’m on your side. I’m a Jew.”
“A Jew?” Jerry hopped up. “How did you get out of Germany? I’ve heard it’s difficult for your kind.”
I rolled my eyes, but Clara only smiled. “Yes. It was by God’s grace alone that I was able to escape Germany. And with an uncle’s help.”
Jerry and I exchanged glances. I pretended to cough. “What about your parents?” I asked.
“My parents?” She sighed. “I don’t know. The soldiers took them away to the camps.”
“The camps?! I’ve read about those places! They sound absolutely dread--”
I elbowed Jerry, then turned and gave Clara a sympathetic look. “I can’t imagine how difficult that must be for you.”
She shrugged. “It is, but I have hope. I know that whatever God does, He does for a reason. Right now, I just have to be strong and put my trust in Him.”
I began to choke up. “How can you be so full of hope after all this has happened? You’ve lost both your parents and you’ve been sent thousands of miles away to an unfamiliar land. I’ve lost only my Dad and am moving two states away, but I feel so hopeless.”
Clara gazed off into the distance. “It was hard for me at first, too. But I find it a lot easier to deal with when I keep my eyes fixed on God.” She turned to me and her eyes sparkled. “I’m just thankful to be away from danger. I’m thankful to have such kind people looking out for me. It’s hard to be depressed with so many cheerful faces around you, don’t you think?”
My mouth curved into a smile as I thought about her words. After a time of walking in silence, I began to realize just how right she really was.
From then on, I began taking life with much more joy. I strove to complain less, and started reading my Bible again. I shared Scripture verses with Mother and Jerry, and this seemed to brighten up the day for all of us. Jerry and I fought less and laughter began to take the place of our moody composures.
As for Clara, we remained friends. She continued to inspire me by her willingness to serve and her joyful nature.
Clara reminded me of two things: that God is there for those who accept Him, and that He will guide us through every trial if we put our trust in Him. I entered the city of Los Angeles that day with a renewed hope for the future. A brighter future. Even though Dad was gone, even though we were entering a new and unfamiliar phase of life, I held onto that hope. And I wouldn’t let go.