As is my custom, I am serialising one of my past books here on the blog, and over the next few weeks, stories from my 2020 collection, Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries, Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet. I hope you will enjoy.
Connections – Some are too strong to be broken. Over the years and across dimensions souls reach out to share our lives.
The Wedding Day
Herbert watched from the shadows beneath the oak tree in the orchard as the sun rose, glinting on the windows of the house in front of him. He would have to move soon, to a more secure hiding place, as the occupants of the house stirred and began preparing for the upcoming celebration.
His daughter Phyllis was getting married today, and whilst he was banned from attending, he hoped to be able to watch from a distance at the village church, and then here in the orchard for the reception. It promised to be a sunny September day, and he hoped for once the skies would be clear of the dog fights of the last month between the Royal Air Force and Luftwaffe escort fighters, accompanying the bombers pummelling the docks each day.
He had overheard his wife and daughter talking as they sat in the orchard yesterday, sharing a much needed pot of tea and a few minutes respite from their hurried preparations. Unexpectedly, the bridegroom was being shipped off tomorrow to France on active duty. They had originally planned to get married in two weeks, but with Jack’s sudden orders, they had been faced with cancelling the wedding until his return. Following his hurried phone call to let Phyllis know the devastating news, she had sat on the stairs, tearfully contemplating not just the change of plans, but the prospect of not seeing Jack for a long time.
Determined that she would do all she could to pull something together for these two young lovers, Georgina rang the vicar and, following their conversation, she contacted several friends in the village. They had known Phyllis since she was a year old when she arrived with her mother, who had been born and raised in this house on the hill, and as a community, everyone had come together to make sure this young couple had at least one day of happiness.
Listening to Georgina and Phyllis talking about the new arrangements had brought back memories of his own wedding day in 1915, but at least they had three days before he returned to his unit in France, a brief respite from the relentless fear and danger.
They had enjoyed a little longer reunion a year later, when he was injured for the second time, warranting a two month recuperation period and rehabilitation in Kent where they had rented a small cottage. During those happy and carefree months Phyllis had been conceived. After returning to his unit, another severe injury had brought him home in time for her birth, and it was decided that he would not be sent back to the front. His duties as a regimental clerk meant he and Georgina had been able to enjoy life as a family for their daughter’s first six months. With the final push by the allies, it became necessary to recall all who were capable of active duty and Herbert left his wife and baby in early 1918 for the remainder of the war.
It was the last time he had held his little girl in his arms, and following his failure to return home after peace was declared, his wife had moved back to her parent’s home where they welcomed daughter and granddaughter with open arms.
Many men found returning to their families difficult, for physical and mental reasons, after the horrors they had seen, preferring to live isolated lives in the shadows, or wandering the streets aimlessly in search of peace. Herbert had joined their ranks, unable to forget the horrors he had witnessed and experienced; only comforted by the company of those who shared his nightmares. Despite his lack of physical contact with his family, he had remained in the vicinity of the village and watched over his wife and daughter at a distance over the years. He knew how hard it had been for them in the beginning as they adjusted to his absence, and it saddened him deeply.
When Phyllis was seven years old her grandmother Sarah had died and Georgina took over the running of the house for her father Norman. He was devastated by the loss of his wife, but took great comfort in having his daughter and grandchild sharing the home that would have been so empty without them. Georgina made an effort to remain strong for her father and daughter’s sake as they grieved together. She had shared a bond with Sarah that went far beyond mother and daughter, and she missed her frequent hugs and wise counsel every day, despite knowing that her mother would always fill this house with her loving spirit. As she and friends prepared the wedding breakfast and set out the tables in the orchard for the reception, Georgina knew her mother was somewhere, watching over them.
In her bedroom, Phyllis sat on the side of the bed smiling to herself as she admired the dress hanging on the back of the door. Her mother had taught her to sew when she was very small, and she became a dab hand at adapting the designs in Vogue, a magazine she grabbed off the shelves in the newsagents as soon as it was available. Her grandfather had bought her a sewing machine for her 18th birthday and she had lost no time in creating the latest fashions. The Dog and Whistle in the village was probably not the ideal venue to wear some of her creations, but she found herself getting orders from her envious friends, providing some very welcome funds to buy the more luxurious fabrics from the department stores in the city. As a teenager she had carefully packed these lengths of material away in a chest in her bedroom, hoping one day that she would make them into a dress of her dreams to walk down the aisle.
Jack had swept Phyllis off her feet at a dance at one of the nearby army bases and after a few months of dating he had proposed and been accepted with much delight. With Jack certain he would be based in the area for at least a few months, a date was set for their wedding. She spent weeks pouring over the pattern books and bridal features in magazines, and had created her own unique design. Her wedding gown was made from ivory satin with lace trim, the skirt sweeping down from a ruched bodice and cascading to the floor. The veil was attached to a raised satin covered headband, and she had managed to find some matching satin pumps with a small heel. As she had tried on the dress yesterday, it suddenly hit her that it was no longer a question of one day, but tomorrow.
‘Are you getting ready Phyllis?’ She roused herself at Georgina’s call and headed off to bathe and wash her hair so it would be dried to its normal curls in time to get dressed.
Her mother had been wonderful, as had everyone from the Vicar’s wife to the local taxi driver, already decking his car out on the drive in front of the house. They had pulled out all the stops to make this a day to remember, and she felt a flutter of excitement as it sunk in that today she would be Mrs Jack Compton.
Nervously she contemplated their brief honeymoon; sad tonight would be the only time they would have together before he shipped out. She also knew that his life would be in danger on active duty, and despite this beautiful dress she was about to be married in, it meant little compared to the day-to-day fear of losing him. She stood in front of the mirror and added her shoes and veil. She was determined to make this the happiest day of Jack’s life.
As she ran her fingers down the soft silkiness of her dress, she felt a twinge of regret that one person would not be there today. She had never known her father, and her mother had rarely talked about him, except to explain he had been lost in the war. She told her that photographs of them as a couple, and a family, had been lost in their move back to the village, but according to her description he had been a tall handsome man with jet black hair, inherited by his daughter. Georgina told Phyllis she found his loss too painful to talk about, and not wanting to cause her mother any more sorrow, she had not mentioned Herbert in many years. She remembered from her childhood, and occasionally since, dreams which contained a man watching her and smiling, who bore a resemblance to the description her mother had given her, and eventually had taken comfort from his presence.
The church was filling up with villagers excited to see Phyllis walk down the aisle, no doubt dressed in one of her creations. They had already warmly greeted the bridegroom, who looked a little nervous, but very handsome in his uniform, standing at the altar with his best friend Vic beside him. Jack faced the door of the church expectantly, waiting for the first glimpse of the girl he had fallen in love with across a dance floor six months ago. He hoped she was not planning on being the traditional ten minutes late.
At the back of the church, a figure slipped into an alcove, providing a safe place to view both the entrance to the church and the altar. Herbert watched as his wife walked in and thought how beautiful she looked in her smart grey suit and feathered hat. He reflected on how little time they had together, but at least they had shared the joy of their lovely Phyllis. Thankfully Georgina had not noticed him in the dark recess, as he knew, despite how much she had loved him, she would have been angry in case their daughter also caught sight of him.
The organ music swelled to fill the small church and, backlit by the midday sun, Phyllis on the arm of her grandfather, stood for a moment in the doorway. Herbert, careful to remain in the shadows, stepped out a little further from his hiding place so he could see her more clearly. As the congregation turned to watch her walk down the aisle, Phyllis glanced from side to side, smiling and acknowledging their kind comments about how beautiful she looked.
As a shaft of sunlight illuminated one of the stained glass windows, she paused briefly as she saw a figure captured in its brilliance. Norman turned to her and whispered encouragingly. She responded by squeezing his arm, but turned back to the man in uniform looking at her longingly across the church, unable to believe the truth of what she was seeing. Sensing the congregation stirring and talking amongst themselves, Phyllis smiled at the man she had dreamt of all her life, and gestured gently with her hand for him to come closer.
He knew this was likely to result in severe consequences for breaking his terms of the agreement to never to let his daughter see him, but Herbert had waited twenty one years for this moment. He slipped to his daughter’s side and she smiled happily at him, before turning to her patiently waiting, but oblivious grandfather and continued her walk down the aisle.
From the front pew Georgina gasped as she saw the three figures walking towards her. Phyllis looked radiant as she glided as if walking on air between the two men proudly escorting her. Herbert looked young and handsome in his uniform, ramrod straight and cap under one arm whilst the other gently held his daughters elbow, as she clasped her bridal bouquet in front of her. Norman, unaware of the presence of this spirit from the past, beamed proudly at his granddaughter as they approached the waiting bridegroom and best man.
Georgina had inherited a special gift passed down from mother to daughter over many generations, and it was now obvious Phyllis too had the ‘sight’. A gift and a curse, it allowed the recipient to see the ones they love beyond the veil between life and death, in the interim world called limbo, where so many restless souls found themselves trapped.
She had seen Herbert watching from the edge of their lives in the early years of their daughter’s childhood and had accepted his presence. In fact she had cherished the brief moments they could be together even if they could no longer hold each other. When Phyllis was five years old, she had woken screaming from a dream, terrified of a man in her bedroom who had stood over her and was crying. Georgina was not sure if her daughter had seen or sensed Herbert’s presence or it was simply a nightmare, but after talking it over with her mother, felt she had no choice but to tell him he must have no further contact with either of them. He had promised to stay away despite the pain of banishment, as he didn’t want his daughter to be afraid of him, but he had continued to watch over them both at a respectful distance.
At the altar Norman took the eagerly waiting Jack’s hand and placed Phyllis’s in his palm. The bride turned to her grandfather and kissed his cheek lovingly. She then looked over her shoulder to where Herbert stood unseen by the congregation beside her mother, blowing a kiss in their direction. She felt instinctively that she might not see him again and whilst she did not know how, or why she had been gifted this vision today, she knew it was something to be treasured.
Herbert watched as his daughter and her new husband left the church to begin their new lives together. Beside him Georgina wept with joy and also sorrow as she knew this would be the last time they would be together. He had now found the peace he had been seeking all these years and could move on. She felt a feather-light kiss on her cheek and he was gone. Arm in arm with her father she followed the wedding party, realising that tomorrow, she and Phyllis would need to have a long overdue talk about this gift they shared and, at last, the truth about her father.
©Sally Cronin 2020
One of the recent reviews for Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries
Patricia Furstenberg October 2021 Bookbub
There are writers who can keep you on your toes, and writers who can entertain. And there are writers who can compose soulful stories that speak to your heart. Sally Cronin is one such writer, and ‘Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet’ is a collection that will pull at your heartstrings. Even those you’ve forgotten about. 🙂
I was pressed for time when this book came out, and I could only pick it up now and then, taking in one chapter at a time. It only made the enjoyment of its reading last longer.
Cronin’s stories shine a spotlight on life’s simple humanity and on the humanity that rolls back into life. They are a reminder that life IS filled with hope. A read for all.
A perfect book during such trying times.
My latest book is a collection of poetry and was published on July 2021
Thanks for dropping in today and I hope you have enjoyed the story.. I always love your feedback. Sally.