(“Story Starters” is my creative exercise: 500 words max, 1-2 drafts, inspired by a found image.)
The ladder appeared out of nowhere, but the moment Genevieve saw it she knew who it was from.
Three weeks she had waited. Three weeks she had knelt at the foot of her bed, her knees red and sore from the worn planks of her floor, her throat parched and aching from whispering into the dark. She had knelt there as the days slowly bled into nights, slowly bled into days, slowly bled into nights. She had knelt there long after the funeral had come and gone. Long after her mother tried to console her with her empty words. Long after her father tried to set her straight with cold hard facts.
“He isn’t gone,” she’d snapped before forcing her worried parents out of her room.
Anthony had promised. He had told her he would return, swore that for him no harm would come. “Say it,” she’d told him, sitting underneath the weeping willow tree’s branches, the untouched tin of sweets he’d brought her sitting before her. As if sweets would matter to anyone at a time like this.
“I swear it,” he said, the hint of a smile crossing his lips.
“No,” she swatted him. “Say it and mean it Anthony!”
“Okay, okay, jeez Genny,” he said, laughing. His laughter fading when he saw the deadly seriousness in his little sister’s eyes. “I swear to you. I’ll see you again.”
“Now cross your heart,” she ordered.
He crossed it, his new, stiff uniform making the gesture seem all the more official.
“And promise it in your heart of hearts,” she said.
He nodded, solemn now.
She watched him warily, still not fully satisfied. “I have to see you again,” she repeated, her eyes brimming with tears. “I have to see you again and you have to be okay.”
“Genny,” he said softly as the tears streamed down her cheeks. And he pulled her into his lap, and wrapped his arms around her waist, her arms circling his neck, never wanting to let go. “I promise you Genevieve. I promise you in my heart of hearts.” And she’d nodded against his neck, breathing him in, the scent of his aftershave, and his new clothing smell, and beneath that the traces of earth and sky and fields and hay and lazy summer days and a million other things that belonged to Anthony alone, to her brother in this time and space.
He had promised. And despite the telegram in the mail Genevieve had waited. She had waited. Patiently. Knowing a promise was a promise. Knowing that Anthony would never lie.
So when the ladder appeared, when she stumbled from her bed and peered out her window into the foggy stretch of yard, she knew who it was from. And she knew that Anthony was waiting.