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Friend Mildred

by DS Levy

DS Levy lives in the Midwest. She has had work published in the Alaska Quarterly Review, Columbia, Little Fiction, Brevity, and others. She tweets @122cats. 

December 9, 1915

Friend Mildred, A view of a town in Germany that we passed through on our march. We also spent the night at this town. I am on the sick list at the present time, but not at the hospital.

Yours truly, Louis

Mildred Anderson was an only child who lived with her mother. By age twenty girls were married and most were already pregnant with their second child, but Mildred was 38, far beyond her prime. She was too old to be wooed by a man, especially one fighting the Good War overseas. Still it had been kind of him to call her “friend.”

She’d only been doing her part, serving her country. The women in her church had come up with the letter-writing campaign. She’d never expected to get anything in return. His postcard had come in the mail. A bright spot lying on the dark kitchen table, postmarked December 22, 1915. Gerolstein, Germany appeared to her an odd mixture of stone castles and lush vegetation set against a backdrop of what could only be said to look like the US Western plains--which Mildred knew from photos. She’d never been farther than the Mississippi River. The area didn’t look dangerous, there were no rifles, machine guns or bayonets as she’d read about, no troops in deep dirt trenches. It was nice to pretend there was no dying.

She held the postcard to her nose. It smelled like ink. She hoped Louis was feeling better by the time he had sent it, and that he’d gotten a good night’s sleep. She wondered why he was on the sick list but not in a hospital. How sick did one have to be to get a hospital bed? Maybe he had a common cold and was in need of warm socks.

She imagined him reading her letter, which she had composed on scrap paper then copied to clean stationery. Was he tall and thin with warm penetrating eyes, or short and solid with a reliable chin, square and true? Maybe he had nice wavy hair like Charles Chaplin.

She fancied he’d had similar questions about her as his hand tracked across the back of the postcard leaving kind words in red ink. His penmanship was the mark of a serious man, each letter laid down with tight precision. Did he carry thoughts of her with him as he and his regiment marched through the small German town into the surrounding mountains and on into battle?

She touched the postcard to her dry lips imaging the lingering traces of genteel fingertips. Though she was as plain as the postcard’s washed out golden sky, he’d taken the time to write. He had been kind enough to call her “friend.” Friend Mildred. She hoped he had several pairs of good, warm socks. Sometimes warm socks were closer to God than heart-felt caresses. It was nice to pretend.

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