‘Soldier, soldier, won’t you marry me?’
Karen heard the old song running through her mind as she opened the door to Jeff. Always, her heart leapt at the sight of the handsome man on her doorstep, in full dress uniform, medals glittering on his breast. She ushered him in and did what she always did, gave him everything she and her home had to offer. Ever she hoped those magic words would finally come. Instead she heard;
“My best coat got ripped yesterday. I don’t suppose…?”
He knew, she knew, and off she went to the attic, flinging back the lid of her grandfather’s military chest. His beautifully preserved camel hair coat lay on top of many mementoes and Karen wondered, fleetingly, if he minded her giving away his things. She doubted it. He’d always been one for living in the now, not clinging to past glories. She closed the chest, gave away the coat and watched it walk away on the back of her soldier. Without the words.
A couple of months passed. She wondered. Should she let him go, say goodbye to the last shreds of hope? Give herself a chance at someone new, at full happiness? She had almost decided to do so when the knock came at the door. He chatted carelessly about some dinner dance being held at the barracks. He did not ask for her, but for grandpa’s top hat and kid gloves. He tipped the hat to her, did a Gene Kelly dance in and out of the gutter as he disappeared into the rain-sodden evening.
Next leave rolled around and he came with it. The routine remained unchanged, her hope perhaps a little faded, but still bright. She could loathe herself for the skip in her chest whenever his mouth opened, but it was beyond her control. She loved him with everything she had. Preparing to return to barracks, Jeff changed into his uniform, shoved a foot into his boot and tutted. A heel hung forlornly, flapping back and forth as he swung his foot.
She was gone almost before the mute appeal in his eyes met hers. The chest gave up old, but still serviceable, boots, the last shine grandpa had given them reflecting the faint haunted look behind her gaze. She offered them, smiled when he admired his well turned-out self in the hall mirror and tried not to feel disappointment when he waved himself away.
She ran after him, caught him in the street, stared up into his confused frown;
“Won’t you marry me?”
He put her from him, gently, firmly, shook his head.
“I thought you understood what we have. I cannot marry you for I have a wife of my own.”
He hugged her briefly, set off once more.
Karen returned to the house, to the chest, took out a final item, ran after him, aimed, fired.
‘Soldier, soldier, you won’t marry me, and I have a gun of my own.’ She whispered, sinking to her knees in the downpour, watching his blood dribble into the gutter.