This week I pulled an excerpt from my 2019 NaNoWriMo novel The Heart of War. It’s currently in the editing process, and I’m going to try my best to get it out there sooner rather than later.
The Heart of War is the story of Sadie and Jude Rees who met in Wales on the cusp of
WWII. The novel begins in our present, when their granddaughter discovers a trunk in
the attic filled with letters, photographs, and other mementos of their life in Europe
before, during, and immediately following the war.
In this excerpt the end of the war is looming closer and closer, though they don't
know that quite yet. Sadie is trying her best to scrape by on little news and,
admittedly, very little hope.
While Jude Rees was fighting his way across Europe, his heart remained in Wales. Sadie was still working her job at the munitions factory, one of the largest of the Royal Ordinance Factories for munitions that was operated in the UK during the war. They primarily made naval shells, and the nearly 20,000 employees were almost entirely women. It was their way of doing their duty for the war effort, though for Sadie it was also much more of that.
With her grandfather now gone and her grandmother in New York, Sadie was alone with Jude off fighting in the war. Her only true friend was Ophelia Cadarn, who also worked at the factory and who had grown more withdrawn as the war dragged on. Tristan’s illness had weighed heavily on her small shoulders and her already battered heart, and she dealt with it by turning inward. Sadie couldn’t blame her for that, she often felt that way herself, she just wished there was more that could be done to help her sweet friend.
Working in the factory for Sadie was not only her way of helping the cause, it also kept her from turning into herself to far to climb back out again. She would know many years later that what she suffered from was depression, and rightfully so, but she did know enough then to realize she could not let her mind grow too dark. Unlike Ophelia, who let it bog her down, she decided she had to keep going instead so she didn’t reach that point herself. It was scary for her, and so she fought tooth and nail against it.
So she very intently focused on her work, putting her hours in at the factory and then focusing on her small home garden in her free time. When the ground was to cold and hard to grow anything useful outside, she took to growing herbs and other small plants indoors to give her mind some additional focus. She grew basil and lavender, and kept the house smelling good by thinking up inventive dishes with her herbs and her small stock of rations. She even joined a small book club of sorts, where she traded books with others so they could find new things to read and keep their minds fresh. She couldn’t focus to read quite like she could before, but when she got in the mood it was nice to know that the books were there if she had need of them.
Time had truly never passed as slowly as it did in that last year of the war, especially after the invasion of Normandy when communication with Jude faltered substantially. She received his letters after the Dutch liberation, and her heart had broken into a million pieces for him. She could not imagine the horrors he had seen and heard about, or what it had been like to arrive too late to save those poor people who had done nothing wrong to be put into the cross-hairs of an utter monster. Sadie had wept over those letters, and it showed now all these many years later in the smudges and stains on the paper.
There was no Christmas celebration that year, no one had the want or will left inside of them for such thing. Sadie and Ophelia spent the holiday alone in front of the radio, drinking warm water with a faint bit of tea for flavoring as that was all there was to have and there would be no rations for several more days. They hadn’t bothered to put together a proper meal, settling for bread, butter, and a bit of cheese between them. It snowed that night, but the magic was lost. Sadie wasn’t sure if anything would ever truly feel magical again in her life.
Winter set in, and Sadie wasn’t sure where Jude was anymore. There had been no letters from him for a time, and it made her worry. She hurried home every evening to check the post, in hopes that something might eventually turn up. Finally something did in March, a series of letters he had written while in the hospital tending to his feet. They had been able to save his toes, though a couple of them were still rather numb, and he was sure he would come out of things just fine. She wasn’t so sure about that, even his voice on paper sounded different than it had before, but she didn’t dare contradict him. She wouldn’t know anything for sure until he came home, and that still felt a long way off.
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