The following story was an unsuccessful entry in the 2018 Edinburgh International Flash Fiction Awards.
Jack Martin, 1900-1971. The stone discloses nothing.
Sixteen when he left his sweetheart behind, promising to marry her when he came back. He disappeared in the mud. “Missing presumed dead,” said the letter to his family.
His sweetheart refused to accept the news, believed he would come home. The Armistice was signed and the Great War ended. The men came home in their millions, but not Jack. His sweetheart kept hoping.
Taken prisoner, he had been sent as forced labour to coal mines. Ill-fed, ill-dressed, he had no papers. The war had ended and there were too many emaciated, ragged men for another one to be noticed. Slowly and painfully, he had crossed Europe, his only desire, to see his sweetheart again. What if she had given up? What if she had not waited?
One day, in 1919, he limped into the town; torn clothes and rags for shoes; a shadow of a man. He was her Jack. Being recognised, he was raised onto the shoulders of friends.
Jack never fully recovered, his strong youthful frame was gone; his feet remained bent. Later he was old before his time, he would sit at the fireside, his sweetheart beside him.
Jack never told that story. To be taken prisoner at sixteen and to suffer terribly was not a tale he believed should be told. It was enough, for him, to have come back. Jack’s war would be forgotten.
Stand at his grave, and, like Jack, the stone discloses nothing.