What They Won’t Say
“Write if you please. Sincerely, Jonathan.”
She stared at the crumpled piece of paper that had arrived in the water-logged envelope. His messy writing stared back at her. The stationary and envelope must have both soaked and dried before he wrote it because the ink hadn’t bled.
“What does he have to say today?”
Anna nearly jumped, looked up, startled. Her mother wasn’t watching her, eyes transfixed on the cross-stitching work in her lap. Anna tried to hide the disappointment in her voice.
“Oh, nothing of consequence,” she shrugged. “You know how he is.”
Now her mother looked up, searched her face, and frowned. “Anna, he must be very busy.”
Anna just shook her head, recalling his words, “Life here is awfully boring. There is not much to occupy one’s time besides drill.”
“Anna,” her mother said, a bit more sternly. She waited until Anna tore her eyes from the letter. “He will write when he has time. Don’t worry, honey.”
“I know,” Anna smiled—or at least tried to. Inside, she wanted to cry. “I think I’ll go out for a walk.”
“Wear your cloak,” her mother said, already immersed in her stitching. Anna nodded, trying not to think as she wrapped the warm, blue wool around her. The day was chilly but still warm for November. Most of the leaves had fallen to the strong winds that had plagued the area in the last week. The hills looked barren without the bright foliage, and the sky reflected the landscape, dismal and gray.
She had left the letter on the table. She didn’t realize it until she had reached the small apple orchard, a pet project of her father’s. Wishing she had brought the letter yet not inclined to fetch it, Anna walked on, past the apple trees, the barn, the chicken coup.
Hired hands bustled around yet took no notice of the quiet girl weaving her way across the farm. She wanted to say she didn’t know where she was going, but she did.
He just looked at her. She stared at the ground.
She smiled. How well he knew her. “I’m horrible, I know.”
He shook his head, stepped outside and gestured to the porch bench. Her skirts rustled as she situated herself, leaving room for him beside her. Instead, he pulled over a stool and sat across from her. Again, she smiled. He was well aware of the boundaries: how carefully he avoided them.
They sat in silence for a moment; he kept his gaze down, his green eyes averted. Anna studied his familiar face, his clothes. His dark brown hair was long, bordering on unruly, untamed today without the hat. His shirt was made from a floral pattern, bright red—an almost comical color—with tiny blue, black and beige flowers, and he wore a wool vest, a butternut color that matched his trousers. His skin was dark, especially his face and hands—her mother wouldn’t have approved, but Anna liked his tan, proof of long hours in the field. He was so unlike all the other boys, especially those from the city.
“Sun burnt?” Anna broke the silence.
He looked up, frowned, and then smiled. With a shrug, he said, “I forgot my hat.”
Anna shook her head, “No, you didn’t.”
He stared at her, barely grinned and brought his finger to his lips. Anna laughed, for a moment forgetting the letter. The following silence brought it back.
“What did he say this time?” Joshua finally asked, watching his hands, and glanced up when she didn’t answer.
She shrugged. “I—it’s just—” she searched for a way to explain just what she meant. “It’s not what he says that’s the problem…”
Joshua interrupted, “It’s what he doesn’t say?”
“It’s just… so hard,” and the tears came. She could hold them back no longer, yet she colored red with embarrassment.
“I know—” he began, but she cut him off.
“No. You don’t.” She heard the anger in her voice, and that released a new flood of tears.
Moments passed. “I just… don’t know if it’s worth it,” she said quietly as the tears subsided and the hollow numbness came over her.
He said nothing.
“Half the time I’m missing him,” she admitted, her voice so low he had to lean in to hear her, “and I spend the other half of my time fearing he’s forgotten me.” The tears again threatened to fall. She whispered, “I just wish it would be over.”
Joshua kept his eyes on the floor. Anna grew angry at his silence, angry at Jonathan’s silence, angry at her own silence.
“How long has this war lasted?” Anna asked, her voice rising with each word, growing more bitter, more caustic. “A year? A year and a half? And we’re no closer to its end now than we were when it all began.”
She stopped and took a steadying breath. More quietly she admitted, “He’s been gone not even three months, and I’m going mad. How am I supposed to make it another two, three, God forbid, four years?”
Joshua refused to look at her. He feared his eyes would give something away, something he had tried for so long to hide.
She could see it. It was obvious. She even felt her own stomach leap just a bit in response. But she couldn’t say it. She couldn’t even consider it. She maintained the silence, the status quo, and held on to her misery.
He saw the pain in her face and hated to see her hurt; but what could he tell her? The very words she would not say he hoped beyond hope to hear.
And the silence remained.
“Maybe if he just told me how he felt,” she offered lamely, another excuse, another reason to hold on. She finally looked up, laughed, embarrassed. Her cheeks were stained pink and shiny with drying tears. Her eyes were a bit puffy and her nose seemed slightly swollen.
“My goodness, look at me. I’m a mess,” she laughed and rubbed her eyes. “I’m sorry I’ve burdened you—”
“—with all this trivial—”
“It’s important to you.”
Their eyes met, and Anna tried to ignore the dizzy rush that swept over her. They looked away, and Joshua stood, signaling the end to this meeting.
“Well,” Anna stood on the first step, reluctant to leave. “I really appreciate…” she trailed off. He was looking at her, intensely. She could feel his mind working and searched his eyes for clues. And once her own met his, she couldn’t tear them away. She stood frozen, afraid to break the moment.
He finally looked away but only to grab her hand. He studied her soft, pale fingers, so different from those of his tanned and callused hands. Anna still watched him, waiting, wishing, hoping.
“Sometimes,” he wouldn’t look at her, stared only at her hand, “sometimes, we have trouble saying how we feel, but it doesn’t mean we don’t feel it.”
Anna knew they were not talking about Jonathan.
“Well,” she answered just as quietly as he had confessed, “sometimes, we are waiting to hear it.”
He looked up at her, looked quickly away. He dropped her hand and forced a smile. The moment passed.
“Well. I’ll be sure to pass that advice along.” Joshua hopped down the steps, signaling her cue to leave. But still she did not want to and followed slowly behind him.
“Joshua,” she stood before him, tried to will the words from his mouth.
He looked away, stood with his hands folded across his chest.
“Go home, Anna,” he said brusquely. “Write to Jonathan. He’ll be happy to hear from you.”
Her forehead crinkled with her frown.
He stared at her again, in that hard, searching way, and finally shook his head.
“I’ll say it when you say it.”
She didn’t have to ask what.
He stormed away, through the darkened doorway that opened onto the porch. He left her alone in his wake.
“Just give me a reason,” she whispered, though there was no one around to hear.