Do you know what's worth fighting for?
Many days and nights passed without Annabelle being her true self. Many soldiers came and went; soldiers who were nothing but an empty name for Annabelle. Then came a day when the girl’s father woke up. Instantly, she was there, by his side, watching over him. Many tears were shed, and smiles exchanged.
Before he fell into his almost death like sleep again, he made her promise to tell her mother, Charlotte, how much he loved her, for both he and Annabelle knew that he would never get to speak to his wife again, though none of them mentioned it.
That night Annabelle prayed to God to make her father smile more often, because it filled her with so many memories and made grief and fear escape, if only for a moment. That night she cried too, because she knew that he had to leave her soon, and she was no longer ready to let him go. So she prayed again; Bless father, and cure him of his suffering. Do not take him yet, for he is still mine. Do not let him leave me, not yet.
Like so many other nights she fell asleep with wet cheeks, and her sleep was haunted by nightmares. She became obsessed with time, it was like a watch was constantly ticking inside her, reminding her that his time soon would come to an end. Every second brought them closer to the end, and the worst was that there was nothing she could do about it.
Many weeks passed without Annabelle speaking with Alice, as she spent many days by his side. The fear within her grew larger every day, feeding on the girl’s happiness and hope. The loneliness became her only friend, and the darkness no longer scared her. Time didn’t matter either, because she was determined to stay until the very end.
Many hours were spent by Annabelle singing all the songs she remembered from her childhood. She sang, while the memories flooded back to her and tears formed in her eyes, and she did not stop until the darkness and sleep again took her in its violence.
Many hours passed by with her looking at him, begging him to come back. Sometimes she looked after his injuries, and prayed that he would wake up again. One day they were visited by Alice, who brought food and new bandages. Alice spoke, told her of other soldiers and their wounds, but Annabelle did not listen. She had to hear her father breathing, because only then she could be sure that he was still alive. When Alice walked away, Annabelle did not look after her, just as she did not hear the girl’s steps fade away as she disappeared farther and farther away.
Another day when her father was awake, they talked again. Annabelle cried, but her father did not.
“Save your tears, Annabelle”, he whispered weakly, and his daughter took his hand. She waited for a few seconds before she answered him.
“But I want to cry, father”, she murmured in reply, “I want to feel grief.” He laughed softly, a hoarse, raspy sound, and Annabelle smiled a little. She did not like to see her father so weak; it made her feel weak too.
“Grief is too damn overrated, if you ask me.” Annabelle laughed through her tears, and he smiled, a weak and broken smile, though his eyes still shone with kindness.
“I just do not like to see you weak, father”, she told him, “that is all.” He pressed her hand harder, and Annabelle was surprised by the strength he had left.
“I know”, he whispered, and suddenly his illness made itself reminded, just like all the years he had lived and walked the earth. Annabelle tried to smile at him, but instead tears rose inside her.
“I’m so sorry that this had to happen to you”, she murmured, almost too quiet for him to hear. “I’m so sorry that I can not help you.” He said nothing, but only closed his eyes. Annabelle was not sure, but she thought she saw a tear slowly falling down his cheek, dirty and dull and lonely. Somehow it was comforting, she thought, to see her father cry. Knowing that she was not alone in her misery; that it was alright to be sad and hopeless and just too tired of breathing.
But at the same time it crushed her heart, over and over, for she knew then that all hope was gone and that it really was death that was coming for him.
Then came the day she had dreaded for so long; though at the same time, the day she had been waiting for. Annabelle was awakened early by Alice’s soft voice whispering her name.
“Annabelle, wake up, please”, she whispered, and patted her gently on the shoulder. Annabelle had fallen asleep with her arms on her father’s chest and rose gently when Alice whispered her name. When Alice saw that she was awake, she took a few deep, quivering breaths. “Come, Annabelle, please, just come with me.” Annabelle could hear in her voice that something scared her, and she bent down again to see her father, who seemed still deep in the world of dreams.
“You have to come with me”, Alice said, as she saw what she was about to do, but her voice was too weak and she closed her eyes instead. She already knew what had happened.
Annabelle immediately noticed that the man’s heart no longer was beating. His lips were cold, blue, and his face had turned into a whiter shade of pale; almost gray. He was gone.
There was no going back, she realized, as she looked down at her father’s eyes, wide open but still not able to see - he really was gone.
He had left her on a warm day in June, when birds were singing to the flowers and the sky was brightly blue. When the sun was shining and the world seemed to be at peace, for once; he had left her then, just when she thought everything might be alright. He left her when her hope had begun to grow again; he had left her, and as he had taken his goodbye, her hope was gone, too.
Surprisingly, she didn’t feel any sorrow, at first. She was stunned, shocked, speachless and dizzy. Had death come so quietly, so peacefully that she hadn’t even noticed it? She shook her head and then, suddenly, it finally hit her: she had lost her father. Annabelle put her left hand to her mouth and tears began to form in her eyes. She was still too shocked to speak, and Alice saw her chance.
“Come on, Annabelle”, she said softly, and grabbed the girl’s arm to make her stand up. Annabelle resisted, but her sorrow had turned all her anger into nothingness. She couldn’t scream at Alice, no matter how much she wanted to. She was too tired.
“No, no...” Annabelle whispered, scared by her own voice and the fear of reality that quickly spread within her. Then she felt how all her strength and energy disappeared, leaving her body like an empty shell, and she sank to her knees on the cold wooden floor, her sobs echoing against the empty walls. She waited with a hungry grief to drown in the sea of lost life that she herself had made.
“Annabelle...” Alice tried, but Annabelle just shook violently on her head.
“It is my father!” Alice stood behind her now, ready to carry her away. Annabelle turned her head up, towards the ceiling, and her voice vibrated with anger and sadness. “You couldn’t take him! He wasn’t yours, not yet! He still belonged to me... You couldn’t take him...” The last sentence was interrupted by Annabelle’s voice, which no longer could bear the words; they were too heavy, and became more and more heavy by each second that passed.
She collapsed on the floor, her body shaking with grief. “No, no”, she whispered over and over again, and the longer Alice looked at her, the more her heart began to crack at the edges. I have to get her out of here, she decided, whatever I need to do, I have to get her out of this room.
“We have to get out, Annabelle, you are just making it worse”, she began, but was interrupted by Annabelle, who slowly stood up and turned her head towards Alice. Her eyes were overflowing with tears, clear as if they were made of glass, and when they fell they painted long, shimmering stripes across her pale cheeks.
“It is my father, Alice! Does that not mean anything to you? It is my father, and-", here she had to take a break, to try and stop her sobs and her shaking body, “he is dead, Alice, it is my father and he is dead, he is gone and he will never come back...” Again her voice burst, and with hands over her eyes she fell against Alice’s shoulder.
“It will be alright, Annabelle”, Alice tried to comfort her, as she herself felt tears forming in her eyes. “I promise you, Annabelle, that it will be fine. It will be just fine.” Alice could feel how the girl shook her head.
“No”, Annabelle whispered, and Alice did not dare to say anything more, for she knew that the girl was right. I can not promise that everything will be fine, she thought, but I can promise that it will get better.
Alice brought Annabelle to her room, where she let her be alone and deal with the grief in her own way. Then Alice went back to Annabelle’s father, and closed his eyelids with sore fingers before she said goodbye and went to see where they could bury him. Annabelle should be on the funeral, she thought, but she should not have to deal with any of the hard things, like preparing the body.
Later that day, when the sun had started to fade away and the color of the sky had changed into a different hue, Alice went to take Annabelle away from the room she spent the day in. Still, her cheeks were wet, and faded, red stripes along the cheeks indicated that Annabelle still had sadness in her heart.
The girl’s eyes were dull and empty when she followed Alice out on the meadow behind the house. The same meadow Annabelle so many times had looked at through her window; the meadow she so often had ran across. The meadow looked just like it always did, and just the sight of it said nothing in particular. But Annabelle and Alice knew more; underneath the soft grass were graves filled with men who had died for the freedom of their country.
Annabelle could see the grave from afar, a place under one of the oak trees at the end of the meadow, because no grass grew there, and once again her mind was drowned in sorrow and solitude. She bit her lip hard so that she would not cry, and lowered her gaze down to the grass. Annabelle’s broken heart ached when she noticed the cross, which was stuck in the ground by the grave. The cross was made out of wood, and there was nothing written on it, it only stood there silently and peacefully.
Once there, Alice took Annabelle’s hand tightly in hers, and nodded to the girl to say something. Slowly Annabelle shook on her head, for she knew that she would not be able to say a single word without tears overflowing and crushing her heart. Then Alice shut her eyes quickly, as if she gave herself a moment to think, and then, when she opened them again, she nodded and took a step closer to the grave.
She took out the rose she had carried with her, and placed it gently on top of the soil. Alice took a deep breath and then began to speak.
“I never knew Mr. Johnson personally, but I know his daughter, and her grief tells me that we lost a good man today.” Alice gave Annabelle a soft smile, and then continued. “I mourn for Annabelle, and the family where I know that Mr. Johnson will be missed. I mourn for the South, who lost both a good man and a brave soldier. I mourn for all those who over the years that the war has raged, also lost someone like we lost Mr. Johnson today. I mourn for the dead and pray that the grief of those who has lost someone, one day escapes their minds and hearts, and that they too will find peace.” Annabelle looked at Alice and a sad smile glimpsed in the right corner of her mouth.
Before they started walking back to the house, Annabelle turned around to see the grave one last time as she silently prayed for his soul.
“Goodbye, father.” The words left her lips like a faint whisper, along with a tear that in its solitude quietly fell to the dark earth.