Mary Russell’s War (fifteen): the jack of spades arrives
10 November 1914
I have been neglecting this Journal in recent weeks. Nonetheless, it appears that my life will continue, and Dr. Ginsberg feels that some weekly notation might be of use in the restoration of normal thought. So I shall resume.
My family is dead. I, however, am alive. And following the increasing number of visitors and letters who insist that I have a future, I admit that plans for it must be made.
I am no longer in the hospital, but lodged now in a building that from the outside might look like a private residence, along with four other unfortunates who have 1) survived their injuries and 2) lack the resources for returning to a family’s care. The staff gently prods us until we move our bodies about the grounds, gently pesters us until we have eaten food from our plates, and gently persists in finding things that might restore an interest in our surroundings. All this meek compassion and softhearted torment makes me want to curse aloud and crash some pans around.
However, they are right, my life will be in limbo until I begin to cope with the mounting demands. Hence, I have agreed to see one or two visitors a day, and to work my way through the intimidating pile of condolence letters.
The visitors have proven trying, although fortunately my attending nurses here remain in hearing, and intervene to send the more emotional guests on their way, with many sympathetic pats. But the letters are if anything more difficult, since most were written soon after the news reached the writer, when the shock was raw and no thought of lessening the impact on the survivor had yet occurred to them.
There is an old woman assigned to help with things such as correspondence, and it would appear that she has seen it all before. After a few days, despite making little impact on the depth of the pile, I began to feel as if the entire world mourned the loss of my parents. My elderly helper has taken to reading the letters first, setting a few of them aside for later consideration.
I felt ashamed at this cowardice, but until recently, my strength has only permitted so many trials.
Then today, after she left me for my period of afternoon rest (when normally I fall asleep like a small child) I found my eyes resting on the small pile she had set aside. They rebuked me, this collection of letters from those who had loved my mother and my father. So after a time, I got up and brought them back to bed to read.
And there it was, the one I had been wondering about, the one I had been hoping for since the day I first woke up in my hospital bed, the only one that really mattered. The words were few, but the bold strokes of his pen might have been dipped in blood, for the agony they imparted:
Mary, Mary, my favoritest Mary. Oh, child, my heart has been ripped from its chest. If I’d thought it would not merely compound your grief, you would wake to see me standing at your bedside, instead of reading this.
It is your choice: if you want me there, however briefly, I will come. You know how to reach me.
The note was not signed, but there was no need. Although in case I had lost my mind—or my vision, necessitating other eyes but mine on these letters—the paper was folded around two playing cards: an eight of hearts, and a jack of spades.
No: I did not need him to come and stand beside my bed, especially since I suspected—knew, even—that the additional “grief” to which he referred would be his immediate arrest for some crime or another.
It was enough to know that Uncle Jake was thinking of me.
* * *
Mary Russell has an Uncle? Well, so it would appear. In fact, there’s now a story about him, on Kindle or on other platforms here. You can read a sample of it, to tease your palate. And yes, we’ll even try for a printed version with this one…perhaps by Christmas?
And the earlier episodes of Russell’s War are collected here.