Past Lives

Prompt: Write a story set in two time periods.

Past Lives

Joan hadn’t been back to London in over 50 years. Vancouver had become her home; she raised her children, and her grandchildren, here. At 93 years old Joan wanted to believe she has lived her life without regrets, but that simply isn’t the case.

London – June 9th 1944

The war had been raging on for five years, five long years. Joan had been waiting for her husband, Frank, to return from a short tour for over two weeks. Every knock brought both excitement and fear, as Joan waited anxiously to share some news that she had received. One day a telegraph came; Frank Marlay – stop- has perished on the beaches of Normandy – stop. Our sincerest condolences. – stop. Joan fell to her knees. The postman saw this reaction far too often these days, barely flinching as he muttered his apologies and departed for the next house. Joan laid her hands on her stomach; she had found out yesterday that she was pregnant.

Vancouver – August 23rd 2014

Isabelle sat in her grandmother’s living room. “You’re new suite is much nicer Nan.” Isabelle pushed her hands over the plush velvet armchair, watching the colour tones change.

“Well, since I am so damn old, they moved me to the deluxe suite. Probably thinking I won’t get much use out of it.” Isabelle huffed as Joan sat down in the chair opposite her.

“Now Nan, you’ve got to stick around a while longer.” Joan sighed as she shifted, trying to get comfortable. Isabelle was her youngest out of three grandchildren. Stephanie, a lawyer living and working in South America, and Michael, a set designer in Los Angeles, only ventured up on holidays. Isabelle, however, spent every Tuesday and Thursday entertaining Joan. “Nan, I have a few questions if you are feeling up to it?”

“Feeling up to it? Knowing you darling, I probably don’t.” Joan snickered to herself. “Go ahead love.”

“Nan, what was it like living in London during the war? I’m doing a biography project for my creative writing class and you are the most interesting person I know.”

Joan was clearly shaken by the mention of her previous home. “Love, I appreciate the flattery but wouldn’t you be better off talking to Stephanie? She is much more interesting.” Joan stood slowly, walking over to the kettle as it complained loudly. “Nan, you never talk about what it was like. You never even told us how you ended up here in Canada.”

London – June 12th 1944

“All aboard!”

Joan grabbed her suitcase and ventured onto the train, quickly grabbing a window seat near the car’s entrance.

“Ticket please Miss?” Joan absently handed over her ticket to the attendant.

“Ah, heading up North to Liverpool. Stopping there or continuing on?”

“I’m not sure just yet.” Joan attempted a smile as the attendant handed the ticket back and continues on. The train started rolling along, and Joan started watching the only home she had ever known fade away.

The train ride was long and uneventful, and as she stepped down from the car, Joan was exhausted. There was a inexpensive hotel a few blocks away where Joan had reserved a room for the week.

The lobby of the hotel was beautiful, but unmaintained. A few people mulled about; a bellhop here, an older couple there. Joan approached the front desk to check in, but there was a short line.

“Now listen here buddy! I had this room reserved two weeks ago! The fact that you insist you have lost the reservation is beyond me.” The young man was frazzled, and Joan found herself curious of his accent. Almost American, but not quite.

“Excuse me?” Joan politely pushed her way to the front desk. “I booked two rooms originally as I was expecting a friend. Certainly this gentleman can take the extra room from my reservation?” Joan smiled at the flustered concierge.

“Why that would work out splendidly. Is that alright with you Mr.McRae?”

“Thank you kindly Miss, let me help with your bag?” Joan smiled as she nodded. Her face felt stretched from the smile, it wasn’t used to it in these times.

Vancouver August 23rd 2014

“It was a tough place back then Isabelle. Rations were in full swings, nights were interrupted by alarms. Be thankful you have not had to walk the streets in the evening, worried that Hitler was going to drop a big ol’bomb on you.” Joan twirled her wedding ring absent-mindedly.

“What made you decide to come to Canada, Nan? Did you know people here?” Isabelle retrieved a notebook from her bag.

“I knew one Canadian before I moved here.” Joan stirred her tea before taking a sip.

“What about Grandpa? Did you meet him here or in England?” Isabelle’s writing was fevered, her grandmother had never opened up about her past and all information was new.

“Both. It’s a bit of a long story love. Like I said, it was a tough place back then.”

Liverpool June 20th – 2014

His name was William; William Alexander McRae. Joan had been at the hotel for over a week, choosing to extend her original reservation. He had done the same. Morning sickness and fatigue kept Joan in her room for most of the afternoon, but she always managed to make it for tea with William.

Joan sat on the edge of her bed, staring at her unpacked suitcase in the corner. Frank’s money wouldn’t last forever, she would have to decide what she was doing on a more permanent basis, but for now: tea with William.

“Tell me more about Canada, William.” Joan added a touch more sugar to her tea.

“Well, I grew up just outside of the great city of Vancouver, as you know. I have a brother, Robert, and a sister, Joy. My favourite memory from back home was going to our lake every summer.”

“You owned the lake?” Joan’s sceptical smile brightened her face.

“Well, no. But for two weeks every summer that lake was OURS.” William reached over to grab the cream, brushing Joan’s arm slightly. She felt her skin ripple with goosebumps.

“We would swim from sun-up to sundown. You would love it.”

“Would I now? You hardly know me Mr.McRae.” Joan sipped her tea coyly.

Frank had been gone only a week, maybe two, and Joan soon felt a blush of shame rise to her cheeks. “I’m not feeling too fine Mr.McRae. I must retire to my room.” Joan rose before William could protest.

As her door closed she fell against it, sobbing. She had loved him, but Frank was gone for the better part of their two year marriage, only returning home for two weeks every few months or so. The war had separated them, literally and figuratively.

William knocked softly at the door. “I hope I have not offended you Miss Marlay. Please join me for tea again tomorrow.” Joan sobbed, holding her heart.


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