PTSD is the mind’s own grim reaper that has one, single purpose…to kill the human spirit over time.
A few blocks away, a boy on a bicycle peddled in their direction. Although the 13-year-old was never greeted warmly, everyone knew Harvey. His bike had a bent pedal that nicked the frame slightly, warning that he was coming. This morning, his first stop was a block north on Market Street.
As he rounded the corner, two neighbors talking over their fence abruptly stopped upon seeing him. They stared, wondering where he was going. They resumed their conversation only when he’d passed. Harvey wore no badge or uniform, but everyone knew his official capacity, he delivered telegrams, words cut from the teletype and pasted on to paper and sealed. Harvey carried the light brown envelopes in a pouch attached his handlebars. Harvey stopped at Number 4 Market Street and leaned his bicycle against a hedge, opened the gate, and walked to the front door.
He rang the bell and nervously waited cable in hand. He rang again and waited. There was no response. The cable would have to go back in his pouch. He’d try again this afternoon. As he hopped back onto his bike, a droplet of water bounced off his nose followed by more drops, making perfect half-inch circles on the pavement as he peddled toward Mill Road.
Over that last several months, Harvey had delivered countless messages from the war department. He watched the hearts of the entire community break, one by one. Harvey knew that no one felt joy upon seeing him peddle toward their front doors.
An elderly man wearing a dark sweater sucked on his pipe while waving a match over the tobacco. Upon seeing the boy, he stopped, suddenly alarmed. His grandson, rescued from Dunkirk, now served in Africa. The man dropped the match and intently watched the rider until he was safely past. He looked up at the darkened sky. A few raindrops were starting to come down.
Knowing that what was inside the envelopes will knock a whole family’s world off its axis.
Noticing a clicking sound, Rod looked up the street and saw a boy peddling toward them.
Shelly turned the same direction. Recognizing the boy, she gasped, forcing her attention away from him. She drew her fist up to her mouth, Shelly focused sharply on the bicycle’s path as she said out loud, “Keep going, keep going.”
Harvey continued peddling toward them and stopped at the Waters’ gate where Pam and her mother-in-law had just exited the house. Upon seeing him, their umbrellas spilled out of their hands. Mrs. Waters clinched her jaw and steeled herself. Beads of water began trickling off her nose and cheeks but went unnoticed. He confirmed the address, got off his bicycle, set it down and hesitated at their gate. Mrs. Waters recoiled. Pamela began whimpering and raised her hands to her face, obviously fearful of the approaching boy and the official telegram he carried in his hand.
Harvey approached slowly, avoiding eye contact. Mrs. Waters stood straight, balling her fists as if squeezing hard enough could will him away. “I have a cable for Mr. and Mrs. Edger Waters,” he said respectfully and extended his hand holding the cable uneasily. Alice hesitated. Her son was a navigator in the RAF. The news needn’t be fatal. He could be prisoner or he could be safe in a hospital bed.
She grabbed the damp envelope. Her freshly curled hair, now soaked, lay flat from the rain. The boy continued to look down as he retreated to his waiting bicycle. Harvey had barely ridden a few yards when he heard the women scream. The clicking from his peddling became quicker as the boy pumped his legs to put as much distance from them as possible.
The cable was small, a few inches long and a few more inches wide. How could something so small upend people’s lives? In spite of the rain, there were more cables to deliver this morning and he would have to try Market Street again. The sprinkles had become a steady downpour. Everyone liked Harvey, but in years to come. Some will always stiffen at his sight recalling the time he delivered a cable to them.
“Oh, it’s Hugh!” Shelly cried, “Oh no,” immediately running across the street and leaving Rod uneasy on the porch.
Upon hearing the screams, Harry came running out. Surveying the scene, he said, “Oh, God, it must be their son. This is a heartless war, poor Pamela, with the baby due in a few weeks. Poor little mite.”
At first, Rod wasn’t sure what had happened. After a moment, he realized that Shelly’s neighbor had received word that their son had been killed. The Waters were like family to Shelly. They shared news from their son’s letters, and she, in turn, shared with the news from Colin. Alice Waters had been a great comfort to Shelly when Colin was killed.
Rod was dazed. In an instant, their warm glow had turned to ashes. Shelly needed to be with her friends. Young Pamela sank to her knees and buried her face in her mother-in-law’s apron. Rod felt out of place. “Harry, will you tell Shelly that I’ll write.”
Which heart breaks harder for wives or mothers? The question has no answer. Misery cannot be weighed on this scale.
For a few precious hours, they had shut out the war. Then this heartbreaking event smashed into their private world with a humbling vengeance. Rod gave Harry a quick hug and left without another word. Turning up his collar against the morning’s rain, he looked back to see the three women locked together weeping, the telegram clutched in Pamela’s hand.
The skies opened and the angels wept.
Rod gazed at her through the deluge. Her soaked white dress clung to her tightly like a second skin confirming the fantasies he had about her figure. Now with her neighbor’s loss, he felt self-conscious almost guilty about the way he’d lusted for her just minutes ago.
Shelly turned to find Rodney looking at her, but she could not see his eyes through her tears and the rain. Even in the rain, she could still taste his kiss. The white dress and what she said lured him to her. There was never a thought of repelling him, and her knees almost failed when his hands drew her into him.
Waving back silently, Shelly watched as he turned and walked away, his form fading in the gray of the rain. Would that be the last time she would ever see him?
About the Author:
David McCue is a native of Southern Californian. Like Rod Hirsch, the hero in his novel, his parents were from Iowa and raised him with Midwestern values. He grew up in Palos Verdes and graduated from California State University Long Beach. He and his wife live in south Orange County and have two sons. David is a WWII and Vietnam War era history buff with a particular interest in military aircraft. When Angel’s Wept is his first novel. An avid reader in college, he has been influenced by John Steinbeck, Pearl S. Buck and later Larry McMurtry, Herman Wouk and Mario Puzo among others.
While When Angles Wept chronicles the path to destruction of just one man’s life, the result of the effects of war that hundreds of thousands of soldiers experience today. The book takes readers through the insidious downward spiral that post-traumatic stress disorder causes. You can’t see it; you can’t touch it; it has no taste or smell. PTSD is the mind’s own grim reaper that has one, single purpose…to kill the human spirit over time.
War indeed is hell, but for those with PTSD, it is a personal hell that no amount of medication can cure. So it is for Hirsch as the cracks between reality and horrid war-torn memories deepen and expand. His final break from reality comes when Hirsch finds the body of the love of his life, bloodied and crushed by the rubble left by a rogue German bomb. Hirsch’s new focus is to find the bomber responsible and exact revenge.
When Angels Wept can be purchased at Amazon: https://www.amazon.