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Short story - Night-time prayer

Updated: Apr 10, 2023

Submitted to a short story competition on the subject of grieving.

Word limit - 500

Night-time Prayer

I gave him the penknife your grandfather gave you all those years ago when he left for India. I know you wanted him to have it. And I gave him a new razor, like yours; fine bone handle with a proper steel blade. You mustn’t worry, it wasn’t much. I’d been keeping pennies in the tin near the pantry door for a time like this. I wanted to give it to him for his birthday but now he won’t be here. Peggy and Alice are upset; you know how much they enjoy birthdays. And I gave him your extra shirts from the cupboard, the ones made of thick cotton that will keep him warm. I gave him a tin of biscuits and a grey scarf I’d been knitting for Mumma. Then I gave him a hug to squeeze the air from his soul.

He promised me he’d be careful and do what the officers, and the sergeants told him. He said yes mum to everything, even when I’d stopped telling him what to do. We both smiled at that. And he promised to polish his teeth and keep his feet dry. He promised me he’d be safe and stay out of harm’s way. He said he’d teach me proper French words when he got back, like that maid who worked up at the big house those years back. You’d remember her, she was pretty.

That was all of two months, yet it feels like yesterday. The house is getting cold and the gutter is leaking. Mould is back on the kitchen wall, near the stove like last winter. I can’t find the effort to clean it.

Yesterday a man came to see me, which was strange. You don’t see many men around the streets these days. All official he was with his cap and his moustache and his striped trouser legs. He asked me my name and if I lived here. Fancy that! Then I knew something was wrong.

He held a white envelope, and looked past me like I wasn’t there. When I took it, he touched his cap like a soldier, turned on his heel, and left me in the doorway. Inside was a letter signed by a Captain Fraser, and it said Billy was missing in action. What does that mean?

I haven’t let go of that letter since yesterday.

So now you’ve both gone and it’s winter. Every part of my body aches from crying. Peggy and Alice and me, we’ll be all right, please don’t you worry about us. Sleep well my darling, I miss you so much. Look after our boy if he’s with you, and if he’s not, you promise me you won’t stop searching until you find him. Because you can look in the places I can’t reach yet.

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