Fiona watches the dawn break through the trees at Kings Park, her ascent along Fraser Avenue nearing completion. In the distance, she can see over two hundred people standing and listening to the final notes to “The Last Post” echoing from the bugle player.
A single tear falls down Fiona’s cheek as she finishes her contemplative stroll. “Gregory,” she whispers. Her hand unconsciously reaches for the chain around her neck, fingering the locket at the end of it. “If only you could see me now.”
Has it really been fifteen years? – she wonders.
* * * * *
The tall tree was as lush and vibrant as ever sitting between two park benches that look out onto the Swan River. Gregory sat with his hands on his lap while he looked out towards South Perth. His posture was rigid, and his uniform finely pressed.
Fiona was winded as she approached the bench. Her feet were sore from running. A telegraph message was in between her thumb and index finger. Only five words were on the face of it:
Meet me at King's Park.
She knew the spot. They always came here. With the ongoing threat of deployment hanging in the air, the message could only mean the day had come.
She was saddened to see his hair from behind. She loved running her fingers through it, but now it was too short to feel the loose locks.
Fiona joined him on the bench. Her nurse’s uniform was a stark contrast to his own. She reached for his hand, but he put his arm across her instead and stroked her hair. For a brief moment, she felt as if this was just a normal meeting. However, the restrained expression on his face reflected his duty.
Please don’t leave. – she thought.
Gregory spoke to her in hurried tones about eleventh battalions and other-worldly destinations. She hardly heard a word of it. Her mind focused on his appearance. His once jovial countenance was marred with the remorse of an unknown future.
Stay with me.
They kissed passionately and completely, both knowing it may be their last, and after a few minutes of raw emotion, he gave her a final gift – a gold heart-shaped locket at the end of a delicate chain.
We could start a family together!
But the moment came and went. That sense of duty he felt compelled to follow mirrored the nation’s. All too eager to assist in the war.
Fiona watched in mute sadness as Gregory walked away from the park. Taximeter cabs whizzed past horse drawn carriages on the busy streets of Perth. He vanished among them, and she collapsed on the park grass.
Fiona let a few more tears trickle down her cheeks. She is sitting on that same park bench now, looking out along Swan River and South Perth. The world has changed; she has changed.
“Your sacrifice had meaning,” she whispered.
A letter arrived months later. Gregory’s parents had received communication that he was missing in action since that day in Gallipoli. He was presumed dead.
Fiona tore up the letter and stormed out of the house. Along the streets of her neighbourhood, posters and newspapers seemed to appear at every step on the pavement. Each reinforced the decision she had already made. She marched down to volunteer. If Gregory was still alive, she could be there to help him get back to full health. She would help save countless lives.
Fiona sighs deeply, startled back to reality by the sound of a crutch hitting the sidewalk behind her. A man hobbles past to sit down beside her. His arm stretches to cup her shoulder.
I saved only one life, Gregory – she sent her thoughts to him. A persistent fellow, at that. I helped nurse him back to health. If I had not been there, waiting for your return, he possibly wouldn’t have survived, and we never would have been married.
She places her hand on his stump of a leg – a permanent reminder of his time on the battlefield. Where he saw a broken man, she saw a strong human being. She looks into his eyes and sees tears. Her warm smile encourages him to smile back as a trio of children file around the bench and sit in front of them.
They listen in silence at the final words of the service.
“Lest we forget.”
With heads bowed, they sit quietly together with gratitude in their hearts.
“For all who have served, we thank you,” Fiona whispered.