STREAKS of pain engulfed his thick, wrinkled hand - an aching memory of wounds suffered so long ago. He gently rubbed his tender palms and began to trace over each thick, entrenched line, each brown, round spot. They were once much softer, less worn.
He remembered her hands, thin and delicate. His would lovingly encase hers. As a fresh sharp stab of pain crippled him, he was transported back to those agonising moments on the battlefield. Sweat pouring from his brow, blood pouring from his hand. The bullet lodged firmly in his palm. He recalls longing for her in those moments.
Rifling through the bucket, emotion overwhelmed him as he pulled out the letters he had sent from the harsh, brutal and relentless battlefield.
I must tell you that I am missing you and even dreamt about you last night. You were lying back on the lounge room floor just as you used to and the dream was that vivid that if I had reached out I'm sure I would have been able to touch you. I couldn't of course, but the thought of that makes me miss you even more. There hasn't been much action, but I'm constantly sitting here cautious, waiting. 42 days and I'll be there, relishing dinner with you.
Goodnight my darling
As he tasted the saltiness on his lips, tears ran down his fragile face. It felt as if it was only yesterday he was running his hands through her refined, brunette locks that fell so beautifully across one side of her face, like a cascading waterfall. Just as the bullet wound in his hand left aching memories of the past, his heart too was left in pieces.
As he prepared for a new beginning, reducing his life to items packed into minimal boxes was more overwhelming than he anticipated. His fingers stumbled across his daughter's worn and much-loved doll. Beautiful blue eyes shining with excitement as she tore the wrapping paper. He laughed as he captured these precious memories through a lens.
As the sun reached its highest point, they made their way to the beach. Grains of warm sand stuck between their toes as they walked towards the unruffled ocean edge. As he took his first steps into the cool water, the heat dissipated. The distinct smell of body oil filled the air as he made his way back up the beach to where his wife and child played in the sand.
Scooping up his young daughter as she clung on to her doll, he safely held her in his arms and walked with her towards the water. His heart caught in his throat as she bravely leapt from his arms into the ocean. As he scrambled to collect her from the swell, her head suddenly popped up and she gasped for air through hysterical sobs. He noticed she had kept hold of her beloved doll.
There were so many things he wished he could take with him. He held a frayed photo in his trembling hands. He remembered the moment it was taken on the battlefield: shadows lingered and dark clouds like symbols of death covered all traces of light in the once bright sky. A pack of cards was dealt out as a sudden tremble made them fall to the ground. The distinct sound of fighter bomber planes. As they gathered their weapons and rushed towards the sound, they were shocked to realise the planes were miles away. They did what they could to stop the attack, shooting straight towards the distant planes, until quiet descended. This would be their last memory as a battalion.
The last item lying at the bottom of the bucket was a photo album. Opening the album, a single tear slid down his ageing face. There was a photo of their first home: that day they felt free for the first time. His mind returned to the first night they spent there. The warmth of her body, the way her soft hair entwined with his, waking up to her tired but beautiful face every day, remembering the way her words healed any problem, big or small.
Loneliness consumed him as came to the end of the album. He gently removed his wedding ring. After so many years, it left a deep indentation in his finger. He placed it with his wife's ring and closed the album. With weakened hands, he packed it into the last box.
It was time to leave the warmth of his home, the years of love, the moments of sadness. His hands quivered as he placed the key in the lock. The bright red tulips in the yard reminded him of the flush of his wife and daughter's cheeks that accompanied their giggling.
He was greeted on arrival at his new home and was overwhelmed by the realisation that he could not go back. The faces around him appeared unwelcoming. As he was escorted to his room, he carefully observed what was around him; one dull grey painted room, a tiny bathroom that contained a slender shower and toilet, a single bed, a television and one small cabinet, which would have to hold a thousand memories.
Entrants were asked to write a short story inspired by one of four photos. Short-listed stories will be published every day in the Newcastle Herald until Friday, January 23.