Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Historical Fiction Excerpt: Walk to Paradise Garden

by John Campbell

(Following a brawl that happened in a military canteen during WWI.)

John lingered in the ethereal comfort of near-oblivion, safe within his mind. Yet despite his resistance, dawning alertness drew him to the surface. He lay on his back, eyes closed. His tongue slid over his teeth, checking and rechecking, searching out any sharp edges that hadn’t been there before. Various sensations began nagging him, each fighting for dominance: upper back, shoulders, neck, jaw and stomach. When he tried to take in a deep breath, another agony joined the ranks, a dull, almost restrictive one, telling him his chest must be badly bruised. Ah yes, he thought. The fracas.

He didn’t regret a word of what had inflamed the testy Manchester bunch, but he cursed himself regardless. When would he learn discretion? He tried to open his eyes, but the glare of the room pressed them closed. The glare and…a silhouette stationed close to his bed. Please heaven, not Evelyne. Not with humiliation stuck to his face like scabs.

He forced his eyes open a slit and saw it was indeed Evelyne in her uniform, her lovely eyes searching for his. Her gaze commanded him to open his. He tried to mask his embarrassment, but in that instant she read him, and he knew she understood. He considered feigning a drift back to unconsciousness, but thought better of it. He tried to smile, but his swollen jawline quickly put a stop to that.


In that syllable she communicated a book of sentiments: honesty, understanding, a little judgment, perhaps? Concern, certainly. And could it be…affection? With complete focus, he studied her face, but she averted her eyes toward the small table next to his infirmary cot. Her chair stood next to the mattress, within reach. He sensed movement, then felt her hand settle on his arm. Her cool, soft fingers calmed his jagged breathing, helping him to think more clearly.

“I, uh…” It hurt to move his mouth. His right hand went to his jaw and carefully explored the damage. His puffy skin felt like an overripe tomato. “I, uh, must look a fright.”

She nodded, eyes still locked with his.

“I’d fancy some water.”

“I have some right here. Can I help you sit up?”

“Uh, no, no.” His stomach felt like jelly. He tried to push with his hands against the mattress to raise himself, but could barely clench his teeth to fight the pain. Once up, he needed to catch his breath.

After a moment she said, “Now, as you try to sip, don’t be alarmed if some drips down your chin. You’ll find your lips are clumsy yet.”

He frowned, feeling vaguely pleased that at least he could frown without pain. He couldn’t help but remember all the times Edwina had ministered to him like this.

“I’ll hold it,” she said. “Keep your hands on the bed to steady yourself.”

She placed the tin cup against his bottom lip and tilted it. He tried desperately to sip without mishap, but water came around and over his lame lips, dribbled down his chin and onto his lap. He almost cursed. She could easily read his frustration in his face, but he was relieved she didn’t change her facial expression or say a word. What he could swallow refreshed his throat.

He took a shaky breath. “I feel like a baby.”

“That’s rather appropriate.”

Ah, there was judgment after all.

“Sorry.” Her expression pinched with remorse. “That was unattractive. I know you were only trying to be true to your ideals.” She smiled for reassurance. “Ideals that I agree with, by the way.”

After setting the cup down, she took his hand in both of hers. This time it was his turn to look away, away from this married woman.

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