After writing a management book, several scripts for educational videos and two intense memoirs, I decided to write a book – just for fun. Five Short Stories and Twelve Poems is an eclectic collection. There is a love story or two, a maniac story, a funny old people story and not-a-story story. Yes. That’s right. I’ve also included poems, most of which are simply funny, however, there are a couple poems that I slip in the mix that will make you think, and may provoke a tear or two from your eyes.
This morning, I thought I would share with you one of my favorite short stories. If you like it, go to the reviews section and read what other people said about the book!
Five Short Stories and Twelve Poems
Brian M. Hayden
Copyright © Brian M. Hayden 2012
Introduction to “Silent Hearts”
“Silent Hearts” is my first real effort to write a short story. The basic story came together well. It was born from memories I have in the military, as well as stories I have been told, and pictures I have seen. It is a fictional story based on true memories of mine, and others. Though the story came together well, it just didn’t feel right. I asked Denise to read it over, and a couple of hours later she had the story all marked up. Do this, change that. At first, my ego was bruised, but as I read her comments, almost all of them made sense. I made each of the more than 100 changes she suggested. The results: well you decide, but I am very proud to present my first short story, co-written with my wife, Denise. Sometimes a guy just wants to write a story.
By Brian M. Hayden and Denise S. Hayden
Once in a man’s life he is struck with love. We have plenty of “lusts”, but only one true love. If you are lucky enough to find it, hold on tight, for lost love is almost never found again.
The year was 1945, and we were still a little dizzy from the world events of the times. Although I was a gunner on a B-17 bomber, that life was short lived as my plane was shot down over Hanover Germany in 1942. When we left Thorpe Abbotts Air Field in England toward our target in Hamburg, I could never have realized that my last breaths as a free man were numbered, and in fact lying in wait on my bomber, and on that spring morning in 1942 I breathed them all.
I had spent the last three years in a German prisoner of war camp. It was a small camp located high in the Austrian mountains just South East of Salzburg. If not for the wooden shacks we lived in which had no floor except for the one God put there, I could imagine this place as a tourist spot. I can almost see the ski lifts and wonderful sloped hills full of trees, and ski paths where the space was between each shack. Although they were used as roads, they could not reasonably be called roads because they were constructed of mud, dirt, rocks and in winter, ice and snow. Nevertheless, that is what they were called, and the camp smelled of feces and rotting food and corpses and dysentery ran continuously through the camp. We lived and died in the filth and freezing temperatures instead of enjoying a ski lodge drinking beer, eating sausages and sitting by the warm pine fires.
I was six feet tall and 165 pounds when I graduated from high school. I enlisted in the Army that same week. A tall and lanky boy, I was always being told by my aunts that I had “such good facial bones.” When I was re-patriated to the allied forces in 1945, I was the shadow of my former self, crouched over from loss of muscles; bones brittle from the lack of minerals in my diet, I was 82 pounds and the oldest 21-year-old man the world has ever seen. The muscles in my arms, my legs and well… everywhere else had disintegrated. My eyes had retreated to the back corners of the recesses of my skull and there was nothing remaining to support and pad them. Any fat reserves under my skin had long been absorbed as we rarely received any food, and what food we did receive was rancid, full of maggots, completely un-redeeming and the lack of nutritional elements made my skin almost translucent, and a soft shade of blue.
Then there was Reginald, who was one of the fellows with us. He was a middle aged Englishman, a sophisticated sort that even in the filth and cold his body language told of a stoic and brave man. He was an officer – a captain I think, and a scholar whose facial bones showed good breeding; with high cheekbones, his nose small and slightly up-turned and his eyes – far enough apart to make you trust him. He talked with such poise and clarity despite the chaos we lived in, and taught us the benefits of eating the maggots. While the thought of eating the white wiggling little worms was revolting, it was protein, and our free pass to life.
It was fall in southern England when I arrived at the Nocton Hall RAF hospital. As we took the brief ride from the airfield to the hospital, I could see the trees and brush, and they were full of color and the leaves blew in the wind, forming piles as drifts of snow would line the sides of the roads. The bus was warm, but I remember thinking that perhaps the warmth came from the reflection of the sun, through the windows of the bus. No matter, the warmth from whatever source warmed my skin and comforted my soul. For the first time in three years, I felt safe and warm as if my mother herself had wrapped her arms around me, and comforted me, and told me that all would be right now. As we approached the hospital, we drove up a small road lined with trees that had already prepared themselves for winter. They were barren of leaves and so beautiful. I had seen trees in the fall before, but it seemed as though I was looking at the world all around me with new eyes. My perception of the world had changed and I was excited to see the rest of it.
Finally, after what seemed like hours but was actually only about fifteen minutes, the bus arrived at the hospital. I was sure it was the hospital, although it looked more like an 18th century mansion with a light yellowish brown– mustard like brick covering the surface, the building was very wide and almost pyramid shaped beginning with three or four stories on the ends, and as you approached the center, added stories emerged. First four, then five until finally in the middle of the building there were nine or ten stories with a copper dome at the apex of the building. Yes, a copper dome with detailed stone sculptures of Gargoyles and dragons attached to its edge. Ornate designs were clearly showing in the hammered copper. The dome was green from the oxidation of the copper but now and again small shiny copper plating shown through. Ivy was growing in the tracks of the brick fighting the vines of other plant life for space and in many places, there was so much foliage the wall disappeared.
The entrance to the hospital was majestic, in that there was a three-story arch that rose from the second floor of the building and stretched up and over the road, creating a very large roof covering the road in front of the hospital. The corners of the structure matched the main building with its yellow-brown brick and castle-like structures on each of the corners but instead of the copper dome, the overhang was sheeted evenly with the patinas of aged copper and a brick tower sprang from its center.
Suddenly, the world around me filled with noise and chatter. It was the noise of people running around, and nurses and assistants scrambling about, getting equipment for my fellow passengers and me, so we might disembark the bus. Wheel chairs and gurneys were the order for the day and every one of us had a free ride into the hospital.
My senses were on fire, all of them collecting the sights, sounds and smells, which rushed to me as I passed the threshold of the entrance to the hospital. The first things that I noticed were the smell of antiseptic and bleach. There is an earthy, almost calming smell emitted from iodine and chlorine when they are used in close proximity, and especially when those scents are blended with the most wonderful aroma of coffee. The Red Cross had a cart, with a lovely older lady, who was passing out coffee to anyone wanting some. I looked at the nurse. She sadly shook her head no.
“I am sorry,” she said. “We must acclimate your body to food and drink first. Otherwise, you will just get sick. I am sorry young man. I am sorry.”
With that lovely British accent, and her soft touch to my brow as she spoke the bad news to me, I could not be mad. Instead, I took a deep breath, relaxed, and continued to take everything in. Almost at the same time, my eyes caught the floor. THE FLOOR, and it was bright, beautiful and mud free like the floors I thought I had remembered, but could not quite and they shined like no floors anywhere in my memory and they were dry and I felt a tear fall from my eye. Perhaps the first tear I have been able to produce in a very long time.
As we worked our way deeper into the heart of the hospital, I continued to look at everything. The reception desk was to the left of the entrance and maybe 20 meters into the building. A nun behind the desk gave out warm smiles and greetings to all that passed her way. She occasionally stopped to answer a question or give directions. She appeared war –torn, but the spirit she shared was palpable and it was comforting. We rounded a final corner and entered a long hallway. The hall way was wide and there were several pipes running along the edge where the wall and the ceiling met. No frills, but the walls were clean, white with the occasional light blue wall which seemed to be randomly distributed. There was a single light bulb encased in a wire cage located about every five meters or so. Not a lot of light, but plenty to find your way down the corridor.
Half way through the hall, we came upon a large stair well. Probably five or six meters wide, and the stairs were not steep. It was a straight shot to the second floor, about forty steps ahead. Not surprisingly, an orderly was nearby to lend a hand and get me up to the second floor. Traveling backward and a little laid back, we tackled the stairs. Beginning with the first step, then the next, the next one and then the one after that until we reached the platform, which was the entrance to the second floor, and the entrance to what would become my home for the next six months.
We left the platform and I immediately noticed that something was different here. “What was it?” I asked myself. Then I noticed: There are huge windows here, and lots, and lots of light spilling into the room as if it were a tower of water falling gracefully over a waterfall, filling a river below. We left the second floor platform and began the short drive to ward 2B, an area reserved for the near dead and starving former prisoners of war. I was told by the nurse driving me there that all staff nurses on 2B were especially trained to help people like me and she would not be surprise if I was walking and eating in a few days. I was excited at the prospect of eating and sleeping in a clean, dry bed with clean, clear water at my bedside. Slowly now, traveling the corridor, I took everything in. I saw that there were rooms to the right, and only those lovely big panes of glass with light shining through on the left. Here, the walls were painted with that soft blue color. Only the ceilings remained white. For me, that was so comforting and relaxing. I was going to like it here. “Yes”, I said to myself, “I am really going to like it here”.
Finally, after what in my mind seemed like an hour when in real time was, oh maybe ten minutes we arrived at the ward. I knew we had arrived because across a small archway that divided the building was a sign that read: “Ward 2B”.
A nursing station was just inside the entrance. An orderly greeted me warmly. Putting his hand on my shoulder, he asked my name.
“We were expecting you Sergeant. Welcome to 2B,” the orderly replied.
He then introduced himself as Mr. Phelps. The nurse that had brought me to the ward was finished. She ran her hand over my cheek, and gently kissed the top of my head. She wished me good luck, turned and walked away. Mr. Phelps immediately took over and began wheeling me to my room. Well, not so much a room as a large bay with windows as large as the ones on the 2nd story platform and extending the entire wall. Going through the bay door, I saw eight beds – four on each side of the room with the foot of each bed facing each other and leaving a through way in the middle of the room that was, oh maybe 2 meters wide.
Each bed had a nightstand, and a footlocker. There was a small reading lamp on each of the nightstands, along with an ashtray and a bible. In addition to the fixtures, each unused bed had a package on it. I was anxious to see what was in my package.
Mr. Phelps arrived at my bedside, but begged my pardon to remain seated for the moment. Of course, I agreed. He took the package, sat down beside me and began to open it. First out were pajama tops. Size: Large. They were blue cotton with a pocket over the left breast. There were small buttons; only four of them connecting the right side to the left. The sleeves we long and baggy and I do not believe I have seen anything nicer ever! Next out were a matching pair of pajama bottoms. With three buttons to affix the fly and a pull string to tighten the waist, they look very big. I opened them wide and looked at Mr. Phelps. He smiled and said he would find a smaller size later in the evening. “For now sergeant, we’ll get you into those.” Then there was a case of “Lucky Strike” American cigarettes, courtesy of the Red Cross, a box full of stick matches, and a new set of dog tags, as the Germans had relieved me of mine a long time ago. Finishing off the package were a pair of slippers, a razor, some blades, a shaving cream bar, a shaving brush, a comb, a toothbrush, a bar of soap and a soft towel. Mr. Phelps looked at me and asked, “What do you think Sarge?”
Although it was difficult to respond, the tears running down my face said “Thank you. Then Mr. Phelps helped me change clothes, wash up, shave and get into bed. It had been a very long time since feeling that good. Very long indeed. He helped me lie down, shook my hand, welcomed me back and said good-bye. His last words to me this evening were “Good night Sarge. My shift is over. Your nurse will be in soon to introduce herself and bring you dinner.” Then, he was gone.
Lying in the bed was nice and it was comfortable because I had not felt a bed so nice since leaving my Texas home three years ago. I began daydreaming. Dreams of my home and my friends on the ranch and then… she walked in. I was sure it was an angel. I looked again and thought to myself “am I awake?” Yes, I was and she is an angel and she was walking directly toward me.
“Hello” she said in a soft feminine voice that could only come from the mouth of an angel. I looked up at her and saw a rounded face with soft features, and long dark brown hair flowing past her shoulders toward her waist, and I could tell by looking that her hair felt like silk. Her eyes were brown and large. They were reminiscent of the deer my father and I hunted back in Texas, and gazing into those eyes, I sensed a gentle and friendly spirit. Her round, full lips surrounded a well-sculpted mouth that ran wide across her face. Everything about this woman was friendly and comforting. When I looked at her, the smile on my face emerged. Nevertheless, I was transfixed on her face and her smile. Hers was an easy smile that brought the butterflies to my stomach and put a weak smile on my face.
“Hello” I responded. “My name is Donald…eh.eh.eh. Don. eh. Call me Don.”
“My name is Samantha, but you may call me Sam if you wish.”
“No”, I said with a bit of a tremble in my voice. “May I call you Samantha?” Happily, she agreed. She had brought my supper with her and sat down beside the bed to help feed me. My hands trembled so severely, I could not hold a spoon or a fork. I glanced over my supper tray. I saw chicken broth, red gelatin and a glass of milk. “That’s all?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “It is going to take some time and work before you will be able to eat any solid foods. We must work on it slowly. Now then, let’s begin with the soup.” She retrieved a spoonful of soup and brought it gently to my mouth. Her left hand softly cradled my head while the right hand brought the nourishment.
“How is that?” she asked. “Here, have another;” her words were spoken before I could even answer her question. After the second spoonful, she put a straw in the milk and brought it to my lips with the same care as before. It felt cold and creamy and tasted incredible. I did not remember milk tasting that good, but it did that day. Then she fed me some more soup, followed by the milk until all of the food was gone. “Do you like gelatin?” she asked. I nodded my head in the affirmative, and before I knew it, the gelatin was gone too.
After the meal, she helped me brush my teeth, and prepared me for a good night’s sleep. She looked at me with such compassion in her eyes, and that half-smile never left her face. Samantha told me to get some rest, and that she would see me in the morning. She turned out the light on my nightstand, and walked out the door. I am sure that in under a minute I was fast asleep.
Just as promised, Samantha was at my bedside when my eyes opened in the morning. I asked her if she ever left her work, and she told me that she was a volunteer. She usually picked one patient to help through the transition. Apparently, she thought that it was the least she could do.
She opened the curtains and allowed the morning to enter the room. As I looked around the room, I saw only two other soldiers occupying beds. I wondered, “what were their stories?” Each man had a young lady assisting him. Samantha spoke.
“Don, are you here this morning?” She asked with a bit of a giggle and a smile. She had caught me daydreaming. Samantha told me to grab the steel triangle that hung from the post that ran the length of my bed. I did not understand. She helped me grab hold, and told me to sit up carefully.
“Oh,” I murmured. “The devise is to help me sit up. I get it,” I added.
Samantha began what was to become a daily ritual for the next six months. First, with warm water in a white steel basin, she put the bar of soap in, lathered up a washcloth and begun washing my back. At first, the warm water on the cloth stung. Then, after a moment, I realized that the cleansing was merely waking all of the nerves that had long since gone to sleep. My skin tingled as the strokes of the cleaning cloth gently caressed my skin. The message was sent to all of my parts: my skin proclaiming, “I AM ALIVE! I AM ALIVE!” Slowly and gently, she moved the cloth to every inch of my skin, cleaning and awakening my body, which until moments ago had rested in a coma-like status for years. The last stop of my wash-up was my hair. Much of it had fallen out from poor hygiene and diet. From the bed, she skillfully wet my hair and massaged in the soap. I think I liked that part best. She quickly rinsed and combed my hair. I was feeling better by the minute.
Next, she helped me change my clothes. The smaller pajama’s Mr. Phelps had promised me were waiting on my footlocker. I began to blush, but she immediately calmed me down and with swift professionalism, had my clothes changed. Once comfortably resting after the bath, she brought me three pills and some water. “Your breakfast will be here shortly. Rest a moment, and I will be back.”
I was looking out the window and once again found myself dreaming of my younger days. A mere three years ago, I was a high school graduate with my whole life ahead of me. In a moments’ time – the life I knew – the life I hoped for was gone. Hitler had seen to that. While I was day dreaming Samantha returned with my breakfast. Her presence had once again startled me. She wore that mischievous smile and giggled like a schoolgirl. I think it was then that I realized that I was madly in love with this girl.
“I brought your breakfast Don”. The tray carried a bowl of oatmeal with cream floating on the top, not yet stirred, an orange, peeled, with the sections separated, and a large glass of water.
I said to her, “I did not like drinking water. I would like some coffee please.”
She smiled and said “No. You are severely dehydrated and will drink the water this morning.”
“Ok, but I do not like cream in my oatmeal and will not eat it that way”, I said.
“Sorry,” she retorted.” Your stomach is not used to food. We must feed you this way for a while. In time we will feed you what you like, but for now you must eat what I bring you.”
“Ok,” slid out of my mouth.
She had begun to feed me. Between bites, she asked me about my home back in the states, my time in the Army and lots of stuff. I enjoyed talking to her, and telling her about my family’s ranch just outside of Dallas. After breakfast, she suggested we get up and go for a little walk. “I will bring the wheel chair with us,” she said. “You may use it to steady yourself and when you get tired, you may sit.”
That is what we did every day. I loved our walks. We spent hours talking about our homes and I told her about my plans to place a cottage on 100 acres adjacent to my family’s ranch. We even discussed what the cottage should look like. She, giving me her ideas and me offering up mine.
Time past, and as I regained my strength, our walks lasted longer and longer. By the time Christmas had arrived, I was twenty pounds heavier and walking an hour or more two times a day. Winter had arrived and most of the time it was too cold to go outside, but Samantha and I managed to investigate every spot in this huge mansion-like hospital.
As time does not stop for any one person, spring was at hand. The barren tree branches were beginning to sprout green buds and the weather was becoming increasingly tolerable. Soon, we were walking outside, enjoying the trees and the birds and the rays of the sun felt warm and comfortable on our skin. We would walk for a while, and then sit on a bench to rest. One day, we ate our lunch on the lawn near the back of the building. That was wonderful, and I almost mustered the courage to tell Samantha how I felt, but it was 1946, and that is just something a Texas gentleman does not do.
Then April came, and so did my orders to return to the United States. Though I knew that this day would come, I trembled at the thought that I would leave my angel, Samantha. She was my constant companion, nursing me back to existence, caring for me as a wife would care for her husband, reading the mail to me and being an absolutely charming companion. How could I leave without telling her what was in my heart? What would I do without her? How could I do anything without her?
With a sad smile on her face and a tear in her eye, she hugged me, drew me tight, kissed me softly on the cheek, and said good-bye. Her hand grazing the side of my cheek as she walked away, I felt as if I had lost the only friend I had in the world. I wanted desperately to tell her those three magical words. I wanted with all of my heart to say, “I Love you” to my angel, Samantha. Moments later Mr. Phelps entered the room and said that my bus had arrived. There would be no “I love you” spoken that day. Not that day.
The next afternoon I found myself at the Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington D.C. The flight from England to Washington seemed to take forever, as my thoughts were fixed solely on my sweet Samantha. Barely noticing I was now back in the United States, in a smoke-filled room with what looked like a couple of hundred soldiers, all waiting to be processed and debriefed from our ordeal. The Red Cross volunteers came by and brought us a sandwich of peanut butter and jelly, and our choice of a Coca-Cola or cup of coffee. I chose the coffee and went through the processing. They gave me $2,422.14 back pay: payment for the three years as a POW, and a bed to sleep in that night. I fell asleep with thoughts of the past six months, and of the angel I left behind.
The next morning I received my discharge orders and a one- way ticket on a troop train bound for Dallas Texas, my home.
When I arrived, there was a great welcoming party. My parents of course, along with my aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors and my big sister who was three years my senior. She had already left home to volunteer with the Red Cross but was now at home and married. As a group, we followed each other, one by one from the train station to my parents’ ranch. There, we found the spit rotating with half a steer on it, and a couple of ranch hands tending to the area.
The party was warm and heart-felt. There were many tears from everyone as I relayed my story to them. As I finished telling them about Samantha and the last six months of my life, my sister lifted one eyebrow with a curious look in her eyes and waved me to walk with her.
“You are in love with this girl, aren’t you,” smiling and mother-like.
“Yes, but she is 6,000 miles away. I am here. It is where I belong.” Giving me another hug and a smile, we walked back to the party.
The next day, I began the business of living. I worked on the ranch with my family, and, over the course of the next couple of years, set-up a nice little cottage for myself on 100 acres adjacent to the family ranch. I had included nearly all of the details that Samantha and I had planned out, including the shutters over the windows, white paint with a soft yellow trim, the mandatory picket fence and chickens running on the side of the building. I had visions of Samantha and I living there one day, and I think it was that dream, and dreams like that which kept me going. Once again, time has a way of doing what it wanted, and moving on is what time wanted to do. Before I knew it, I had been home nearly 15 years, still feeding myself the same dreams of my lost Samantha. I began to wonder if I ever would see her again.
“Nonsense;” I began talking to myself. “I had to see her. She is the love in my heart. I must see her. I must,” were the words flowing repeatedly through my mind. But she was still 6,000 miles away and I was shoulder deep in debt trying to keep the family ranch out of the hands of the bank.
In an instant, another 15 years had passed, and time cautioned that it really does not wait for anyone. Over these years my father had passed. We decided that the family ranch would be sold, and that my mother would come to live with me on my one-hundred acres and a cottage of white with yellow trim.
With money in the bank, and life settling down, we were at my sister’s house one Sunday afternoon for supper. The year was 1981. After we ate, my loving sister suggested we go for a walk. While we were walking, she broached a subject I did not talk about to anyone. At least I had not talked about it since my homecoming and the brief mention of Samantha to my sister.
“Do you still think of her, dear brother?”
“I do, and I have her in my heart and in my head constantly,” I said with sadness and remorse.
“It is like I never left her, and looking back, I never should have.”
“Don, it is time for you to go to England and find Samantha.” The words shocked me, but the truth of them ran deep.
“Yes,” I said. “I will. I don’t care if she is married and has 15 children, I am going!” Within a week, I left.
The hospital was located in Lincolnshire County. My plan was to visit a few of the nearby townships and start asking questions. I walked into a pub. The first I had seen. I ordered a beer and began talking with the bartender. After an hour or so, I began recounting my story to the young man behind the bar, of my time at the local military hospital, and the young lady that took care of me for those six months. I told him every detail, and wondered why we never mentioned that we loved each other. I was certain that she loved me, and I hoped that she knew that I loved her.
Soon there were six or seven guys around, all listening intently. Suddenly, one of the guys hollered out. “Auntie Sam. That must be Auntie Sam!” He yelled out that he would be right back and ran out the door. A few minutes later, he returned with a picture in his hand. It was the photograph of a woman worn with time and a hard life, but it was my beloved Samantha. My heart was racing. Had I finally, after all this time found my beloved.
I asked, “Is she married?” She was not. My hands were trembling now. My heart pounded fast and hard against my chest as I found the courage to say, “May I see her?” The young man shook his head with an affirmation.
The young man and I walked out of the pub and began the walk to my Samantha. I was nervous. Oh was I nervous. I was like a little boy with his first crush. I was feeling exactly like I did that wonderful day Samantha walked into my life. As we approached the end of the town, I noticed a park. It was beautiful, and I heard the sound of a brook running through it. He pointed toward it. I was confused. I followed him into the park and down a path.
“Wait”, I said. “This is not a park. This is a… a… this is a… cemetery.” The young man confirmed this. He took me to the place that held my angel.
For the next several hours we sat on the grass alongside the grave and he told me of the great stories which were told to him by his auntie. He relayed stories of her as a young woman who had volunteered at the old Army hospital a few kilometers away from here, during WWII. He recounted that she had met an American, which he presumed was me and she had fallen in love with him, but did nothing because the American did not seem to want to pursue the relationship. She had never married, having been in love with me her entire life, and clinging to the hope that one day I would return to her. I glanced at the stone. It read that she had died a mere six months ago, giving up hope that I would return: she deprived herself of nourishment and wasted away like a man in a POW camp. I began to cry, openly and loudly. The young man left.
I lay beside the grave, talking to her as if she could hear me AND I know that she did, and she was relieved that I had finally come back to her. I lay beside the grave, giving my beloved all of my heart and soul, and tears, until I thought could cry no more, but I did keep crying and the night fell quickly. I lay beside the grave and held the head stone, as if I was hugging her closely and lovingly. That was my last hug.
“I love you Samantha”, were the last words I ever spoke using the last breath I would ever breathe.