Armistice turned on the porch light, its dim rays cast themselves over the steps. Soft raindrops trickled from the wooden beams onto the flowerpots beneath them. Damp earth and honeysuckle perfumed the warm, rainy evening, and the music of chirping crickets mingled with the hoarse croak of frogs in the nearby pond.
Sipping his coffee, Armistice sat down on his rocking chair beside the door and gazed over the meadow. This had been his father’s cabin; the weekend getaway. Here he had grown up swimming in the pond, collecting berries in the neighboring bog and chasing the fireflies that had once glimmered in the meadow surrounding the cabin. In his old age, and despite his children’s protests, he now lived in it, as rooted to this home as the honeysuckle that crept up the porch columns. Armistice knew not how many evenings as perfect as this he had left to enjoy.
Born on the very day World War I ended, Armistice was now one-hundred-and-two years old and fit as a fiddle. His bones creaked, and he had lost the youthful spring in his step, but his mind remained as clear and bright as a summer’s day. He spent his mornings playing with the cryptic crosswords and logic puzzles on the big large-print books he received in the mail. Much to the chagrin of his occasional visiting grandchildren and great-grandchildren, he mopped the floor with them at trivia. After lunch, he took a folding chair to the pond and read until his eyes hurt from strain; books littered his home, jammed into bookshelves and piled into tall pillars that leaned against the walls. When the day cooled, he worked in his vegetable garden, trimming here and nipping there, kneeling for hours while the soil burrowed deep into his fingernails.
But to Armistice, the evenings on the porch were the cherry on top. This was the time of day he let his mind wander over the memories of his long life. He would sit and stare for hours, eyes gazing into a chasm of nothing, while his brain replayed with vivid clarity the events of past decades. His arm would lift the coffee cup to his lips and he would sip it like an automaton, though he savored only memories.
The frogs ceased their croaking as a cloud burst open and rain fell in a thick dense shower, its steady shoosh reminiscent of the radio static of his youth. A soft foxtrot melody oozed into Armistice’s mind. It crackled and popped as the record spun around the jukebox. A smile bloomed on his lips and Armistice’s fingers tip-tapped on the wooden arm of the rocking chair. His legs beat to a long-forgotten rhythm.
Distant thunder rolled down from the mountains, yet Armistice heard only the sound of dancing feet and joyous hubbub. Lightning flashed and lit up the trees lining the meadow. Armistice’s eyes saw only Ann Thrope’s radiant smile as she danced under the string of lights that radiated outward from the gazebo and festooned the town green. To Armistice no one was lovelier, then or now.
He watched her slim figure as she thread and wove with graceful movements around the dancing couples. She danced in Florian’s arms and Armistice’s gut knotted with jealousy and longing. For Armistice, there was no one but Ann Thrope; for Miss Ann Thrope there was no one but Florian.
Armistice heaved a forlorn sigh laden with unrequited love and apprehension for the days to come. He had received a telegram; the United States government required Armistice’s service in the military. In a few days he would ship out to the other side of the world, places he’d only seen on the maps tacked to the walls at school.
Oh, the irony of life, born at the end of one war, only to be among the first drafted into the next one.
Even if tonight, by divine intervention, he caught Ann Thrope’s attention and wrested it away from Florian, what good would it do? He would leave for war and he knew too well its horrors, having lived through them in the letters from his perished uncle he had found among his father’s things. Florian was a formidable rival, handsome, intelligent and amiable, and Armistice knew his chances against him were slim to none.
A clap of thunder brought Armistice out of his reverie, but his mind slipped right back into bygone days. This time, he roared above the clouds, dashing and swooping like an eagle hunting for enemy planes. Despite such a peace-bringing name, Armistice was born for war. He never enjoyed it, but he was skilled at it, and in the heavens of a continent in ruins, he had taken to war like a duck to water. Flight came to him as natural as it comes to a bird.
As the storm intensified, so did the memories. Every thunderclap became the rat-tat-tat of bullets zipping through the air. Airplanes exploded in his mind with every lightning flash. The roaring wind gusted through his brain like the engine of his Warhawk as he soared through the skies, killing enemies left and right.
Despite the death and destruction, Miss Ann Thrope had always remained an illusion as untouchable as manna, yet as welcome and homely as apple pie.
A gust of wind blew raindrops onto the porch and splashed Armistice. The memories faded and his gaze focused on the porch, the flowerpots that lined its edge and the water dripping from its beams. He picked up the cup and took a sip; the coffee had gone cold and tasted bitter. He stood up, creaking as loud as his old rocking chair, and entered the house.
He came back from the war in one piece, saddened by the loss of fallen brethren, but strong in body and sound of mind. In the years to come, he would watch many loved ones die, including Nancy, his loving wife who had planted the honeysuckle that scented his evenings on the porch.
Upon his return, Armistice had sought Ann Thrope. He had knocked on her door; she would not see him.
“Florian died,” her mother had said, “it was a terrible accident, she won’t see anyone.”
Armistice had taken one last look at the dream he had cherished all these years, folded it into a letter, placed it in an envelope, and never mailed it.
That last sip of coffee was still bitter in his mouth.
In the kitchen, he cut himself a slice of his daughter’s apple pie. The sweetness filled his palate. He smiled as Miss Ann Thrope danced through his mind; a flitting dream he only indulged in on perfect evenings.