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34 Swan Lane

by D. A. Spruzen

January 25, 2013

Crabgrass and stinging nettles smothered the path to 34 Swan Lane and the key left in the lock of its sagging door glittered with rust. The collapsed fence on the right and a garden full of roof tiles obviated the need for keys, though, I needed no more than my Wellington boots and heavy gloves. And my scarf as a mask for the odor that already clamored for attention.

We grew up in this ruin, always grimy and musty, even when whole. Never the same after he came back from France, Tom sent me a letter I only got that morning. “I’m finished, Joanie, I can’t get them out of my head, especially him. Especially him, lying there like that. I can’t bear it any longer. I love you.”

I knew he’d come here, this place I visit each Sunday, always carrying a thorny red rose that pricks my hand. Not for them this time, for him. Tom was a medic who helped patch up and transport casualties of the British army’s relentless push forward. He’d been in harm’s way, certainly, but not like those broken bodies he salvaged and worked over. He seemed to feel guilty about what he called his holiday tour, and especially when his friend (he never told me his name) lay in front of him missing his legs and an arm, near enough bloodless to be hopeless.

“I loved him,” he’d whimpered, “He tried to say something, but he was too far gone. My name, that must have been it, he was trying to say my name.”

“He died knowing you loved him,” I said, a sorry platitude being the only thing I could muster in the face of such profound misery.

“The love of my life. Dad would hate me even more for it, wouldn’t he, just.”

“ He hated the Nazis most of all. And you did your bit there. Mum still loved you, though, you know that.”

“She never wrote.”

“Dad wouldn’t let her.”

“She would have tried if she cared enough.”

I’d gone to see them before a bomb wiped out most of the neighborhood and them along with it. I whispered to her while Dad was upstairs in the toilet. “Write to him, Mum, he could be killed, how would you feel then?” But she was too beaten down by thirty years with Dad to even dream of standing up for her children.

Dad once cursed Tom and beat him almost senseless, calling him a freak of nature, a disgrace to the family. Dad was a drunken bully, and it was he, I tried to explain to my devastated little brother, who was a disgrace to the family. But Tom couldn’t take that in. A parent’s belittling cruelty never goes away, nestles somewhere deep in the soul and festers until it boils into a poisonous eruption.

Like here, in the parlor of 34 Swan Lane.

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