Faithless Frost


Photo © Alastair Forbes

During the war, we who were left behind were united.  One group, together, hoping.  The village worried about spouses, fathers, daughters, neighbors.  I worried about you.  I prayed morning and night.  Talked to our empty home as if you were there.  Cried.

How could one man’s absence carve a hole so deep?

When the soldiers began returning, in twos and twenties and ones, we split into factions.  The reunited, their relief too bright to bear. The mourners, their grief contagious.  And those, like me, still waiting.

Then, amazing news: you survived. You’d stayed behind in the city. You would follow shortly.  My smile filled to bursting, my blood pulsing fervently.

Weeks passed.  Months.  The others settled into one group or the other.  I remained stuck.

Your fellow soldiers tried to comfort me, talking man-to-man, and the other way too.  But mere muscle could not dislodge my love for you.

Nature gave my pain a deadline.  You would cross the mountain before winter, or not at all.

Today, ice rimed our farm’s bare branches, chiming out its verdict.

Snowflakes swirling over my boots, I cut my marriage beard, watching the lost hairs dance away.  I had no tears left to freeze.

Word count: 200.  Written for this week’s Sunday Photo Fiction challenge, courtesy of our faithful host, Alastair Forbes.  Click here to read the other stories.

26 thoughts on “Faithless Frost

  1. This is very good, Joy. Love the slow build, the eeking out of details about the fighting and the returning soldiers. Perfect pace with this one and that final cut as ice descends is heartbreaking. Love it

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you Lynn, that’s so nice to hear! I’m trying to be more conscious of pacing, but it’s hard to tell how it comes across to someone who is not me (who hasn’t already thought through all the details of the story). As far as heartbreaking, well, in the last draft it passed the test of bringing a tear to my eye as I read it, so I figured it was good to go. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Al, I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I wanted him to do something symbolic to mark the ending, and I thought the marriage beard worked well in the story (I really liked the image of the lost hairs floating away). But I realized too late that I mixed up two of my cultures. The one that has the marriage beards is a pretty patriarchal society with strict gender norms, and is often at war with the other one, that has more gender-neutral policies and accepts gay marriages and sends daughters off to war. Oops. Well, I suppose there could be a border region where people from both religions have integrated their two customs. Accidentally world-building: this is how it happens. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the kind comment, Ali. That struck me as I was thinking about the story, how sad it is that a tragic event that initially unites a community then divides it. How can you not resent the friend whose son returned when your child was killed? How can you not feel awkward guilt for your widowed friend when you express relief that your spouse survived?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The pacing, the arranging of the words, the no tears left to freeze, the cutting of the marriage beard — I didn’t know if gay marriage or if women soldiers (man to man or the other way) — but the lost was cruel just the same. And the division — was there a group to belong to — the alive but not coming home — more devastating than death.
    Very powerful tale. The comment thread was great too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for adding such a nice comment to the thread, I’m glad you enjoyed the story!

      It can be so hard to hint at the gender of a first-person narrator without just hitting the reader over the head with it. Maybe I needed to be more clear this time, sorry. I meant both the narrator and his missing husband to be male. So the other (male) soldiers were trying to comfort him by talking, and also comfort him “the other way”, but that idea wasn’t working for him.


      • The story worked for me either way — the man to man if the narrator be female — as formal, and the other way — as suitors/lovers — that it was a man only added to the layering. Gender neutral is fine. I write gender neutral I stories sometimes, letting the reader determine which suits them the best or the story best. I realize you have a world/cultures built that need fit within a framework so it is different. But as was suggested, cultures change and develop new traditions.

        Liked by 1 person

      • A lot of my narrators in the flash fiction pieces end up being gender neutral because it really doesn’t matter for that particular story. But since I already have an Eneanan culture that supports gay relationships, I try to be sure to represent those relationships too.


  3. I think it’s heartbreaking is wife, his love, never arrives. Was she hurt in the war, does she love someone else now? It’s the not knowing that gets to him and you can’t stay in that place forever. So the marriage beard being cut is symbolic. He’s hurt, but he needs to move on for survival, for himself. I agree with the others, great pacing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Amanda,I’m glad you enjoyed it! I was thinking of the missing spouse as being male, but it can be interpreted another way — heartbreak is heartbreak. My idea was that the spouse stopped off in the city supposedly to visit with family and then never chose to come the rest of the way home, leaving the narrator to wonder why.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh I see now. I reread your story and the comments. He’s from the culture that is more accepting of people no matter there orientation? I feel really bad for him now, being ditched by a man, not willing to travel farther or make the effort. Thanks for explaining!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, exactly. The deity Entovan is neither male nor female, and the religion really pushes gender neutrality, including in relationships. It brings them into conflict often with their neighbors, who have very strict norms about men’s and women’s different roles in the family and in public life. And yes, I feel bad for this poor fellow too. 😦

        Liked by 1 person

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