A Love so Strong
As I opened my eyes, they absorbed the morning light that had filled our bedroom with the sunrise. In the distance, I could hear an echoing resonance and as dreams became reality, I realised that my alarm clock was alert. I pulled myself up, wiped dry my sleep-filled eyes and stretched my muscles preparing myself for what I had planned that day.
“Elsie, wake up”. I turned to look at my beautiful wife who was still asleep beside me. She was an absolute vision, I could watch her sleep all day, transfixed by her porcelain skin and rhythmic breathing; but not today. We had plans. I had always promised Elsie that we would visit the funfair and being married for eighteen months and with the country still celebrating the end of the war, I thought it was about time I kept my promise. As she stirred, I lent across her sleeping body, breathing in her hypnotic scent and kissed her gently on her forehead.
“Come on Sleeping Beauty, today I’m going to be your very own Prince Charming.”
“Where are we going Merv? I’m so excited; it’s not fair that you’re keeping it from me.”
We drove steadily in my brand new Aston Martin 15-98, a car that I had worked so hard to afford. I was President of a Global Company in the City. People relied on me and I enjoyed the responsibility but because of the stresses that my working day challenged me with, I was ready to relax and enjoy spending time with my wife. It was a glorious day and the sun was beaming down from an endless blue sky, like the calm of an ocean; tranquil and immortal.
“Be patient my love, I want this to be a day you’ll cherish for the rest of your life.”
We soon approached the gates and Elsie’s face was a picture. She saw the top of the big wheel before anything else and was eager to get out of the car and onto the rides.
“What a marvellous surprise Mervyn, you know I’ve always wanted to spend a day at the fair.”
For a moment we lost ourselves in each other’s eyes. Elsie was the one woman who managed to captivate me and all of my emotions. She was unlike any other woman I had ever met and from the moment I saw her, more than four years ago, I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her and today, like any other, I felt blessed to be around her.
We spent the day running from the thrills of the Moon Rocket to the stomach-churning Waltzer and even shared a car on the Dodgems. We would have had one each but I was concerned that Elsie may not be able to control such a heavy ride and I didn’t want her getting hurt. My love for Elsie was by far stronger than what I had ever expected true love to be. It took hold of me and controlled my feelings absolutely and nothing or no-one could ever break the bond that we shared. You may or may not believe in Guardian Angels, but I am certain that the reason I was put on this earth was to protect and look after this woman until the end of my days.
At about 4pm the sun was low in the sky but still warm so we decided to take a stroll through the open field beside the fairground attractions but whilst Elsie enjoyed her candyfloss, I suddenly felt confused. Instantly, the weather became cold and dense and the sky turned dark; I felt utterly desperate, unable to control the situation.
“Elsie, we need to get back to the rides, if we walk too far we’ll get lost. I want to get you home safe.” I pleaded as I caught sight of her beautiful eyes.
“Mervyn,” she said “how could we ever be lost when we have each other.”
The months past and it was soon after Elsie fell pregnant with our first child, Jack, that I was called to war. The Brits were being defeated by the Germans and it was my time to defend our country. Being half Italian was not in my best interests and was what got me captured and tormented in an abysmal Concentration Camp which was ruled by the hardened Nazis.
“Mervyn. Mervyn, wake up! You must wake up, they are taking groups down to the gardens and so far, not a single man has returned and there are only twenty men left in here. If we’re going to go through with this, we need to get moving. Now!”
It was weeks ago that I had started working on an escape everyday as soon as the sun went down, until it rose each morning. My friend, Jessie and I knew the only way to escape this hell was to dig our way out. We had been trapped in a room below ground for weeks, months even and with little water and no food, people were soon dying and their bodies now filled the ground around us. I had been dubious about our escape as there had been unsuccessful attempts before ours and I knew that I had to return home to my troubled wife and child, who was soon going to celebrate his first birthday.
“OK,” I eventually muttered, “let’s do this.”
We scurried our way to the back of the damp-filled room that was full of a stench so vile it caused me to experience constant nausea; I had almost forgotten what fresh air was like. Although we had other friends in camp, we couldn’t risk leaving with any more people than the two of us, as getting caught would mean instant execution. We used our bare hands and feet to pull and kick at the mud that disguised our tunnel to freedom. We seemed to be ahead of time when suddenly we heard the roar of German soldiers heading back to our pit of hell.
“Quickly Jessie, dig.” I was so desperate to clear the path of mud that I buried my face into the muck and as well as using my feet and hands, I used my mouth as a shovel. As we heard the Germans get closer, so the door unlocked and seven men walked in. They weren’t particularly big but they were healthier and much fitter than any of us prisoners. I watched from the far corner of the room, hidden behind a huge mound of mud, as several British soldiers were grabbed, one by one, and taken to their deaths.
“Mervyn, now!” With those words, we pulled ourselves into the tunnel of mud and began to crawl through the slim passageway. The months leading up to this moment were a blur and I had no recollection of how we ended up in that place or how long we had been there, all I knew was how much I needed to get out and to return home to my family; my family who had been told I was dead.
We dragged ourselves what seemed like miles but could only have been a kilometre long, along a never ending burrow which combined frustration with optimism yet held in one place, our freedom. As we reached the final mile we knew that although we would be confronted with a long journey ahead of us, we would eventually make it home. We both tore our way through the final wall of grim mire and were finally blasted with the brightest, most stunning ray of sunlight that blinded us. For minutes, even hours we just stood, absorbing the open landscape that overlooked the most spectacular scenery I had ever seen, unable to justify the previous months but finally able to imagine a future.
“Mervyn, Mervyn, wake up. You’re dreaming. Mervyn!” I could hear the sound of a woman’s voice in the distance and as I came to my senses, I realised the woman was in my room, next to me.
“Elsie?” I asked as I reached out my hand. “Oh Elsie, how I have missed you.” I manoeuvred my hand so that I could touch her, feel her skin against mine but as I searched in desperation, I realised that although I recognised this woman’s voice, it didn’t belong to my wife.
“Dad, you’re in hospital. You’re here with me and Nurse Doris. You have been in an accident. You scared us all.”
“I don’t understand, I don’t have a daughter, I have a son, Jack. Jack where are you, where’s Elsie.”
“Dad, it’s me, Mary. Jack is on his way. Dad, Mum died three years ago, you live in a home now. You …….”
She continued to speak but I couldn’t hear what she was saying. I didn’t understand. How am I here? Why can’t I move? The last thing I remember was that I was running, escaping from the Germans.
“It’s 1944. I am in Germany. I have a wife at home and a son, Jack whom I have not yet met. My friend Jessie and I are extremely dehydrated, we’ve not eaten in weeks.” Why wouldn’t she understand? “I need to get up, I need to get home.”
“Dad, it’s 2013. You’re 89 years old and suffer from Alzheimer ’s disease. You escaped from the home you live in last night and whilst running through the forest, you ran out in front of a car. You need to relax and let the doctors check that everything’s OK.”
As she continued to speak, I recognised her face. She looked a lot like Elsie but with longer hair and her style of clothes was much different. The way she spoke, the confidence in her voice; I recognised her because she was telling the truth; she was my daughter and I, a frail, elderly man. I had not been trying to escape the Germans but my own life. As I finally accepted who and where I was, I took my daughter’s hand as I drew, what I never realised, was my last breath and as I did I smiled as I could hear the calling of my wife’s voice. As I closed my eyes, I felt Elsie’s hands embrace me, the warmth of her arms surrounding me. Oh I had missed her, longed for her adoring touch.
“I waited for you.” She said as she took my hand,
“I always knew you would.” I replied.
As I reciprocated her hold of me, she guided me through a tunnel, one so much different to what I had experienced all those years before. This was a tunnel which was filled with light and love, and drew so much excitement from within my body that I could have stayed, with Elsie, in this tunnel for eternity.
“Come on Mervyn, we must keep moving, we could end up lost here,”
“Elsie, we could never be lost when we have each other.”
No longer do I have to wake up to the sound of an alarm or to the calling of my squadron. No longer do I have to feel the haunting of the darkness or the burning of the sun. I don’t have to be reminded of who or where I am or of an illness which had grown into me and made me become a man who was always searching through his past. Because now, finally, I am free.