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Through The Iron Gates of Life

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The electricity had gone off hours ago now, late in the evening when most of the street were already asleep, and all it had done was make Laurie realise that the flat was woefully ill-equipped to deal with power cuts.

There had been a couple of partially used candles in the drawer on the side, and he'd been a little blasé about the whole thing because he'd burnt both candles at the same time, sitting at the table and scraping the last of the butter over the last of the bread. When they'd guttered out, one after the other, he'd been reduced to scrambling in the dark for the little box of nightlights he'd once remembered seeing in the back of the cupboard; now he sat in the bedroom with one floating next to him in a saucer of water, as he used to do as a child.

There wasn't enough light to read by, and he'd tried; a letter from Ralph, received five days ago, and already unfolded and folded enough times to look much older. He struggled to read past the first page in the flickering light, but he was so far past tired that sleep was beyond elusive, so he leaned over the nightlight, leg bent awkwardly, and tried again.

My dearest Spud, it started. I hope you've been able to thank my old friend Laurie for passing this letter to you. He does me a great service, for I think of you frequently, and without him, wouldn't be able to tell you.

I think of the two of us, after the war, and over again, in endless different passages of time with endings that all differ apart from one thing: you, by my side. Is it wrong for me to wish that you think of these too? I talk to you here, conversations where I imagine what you might say in response to me saying - I think of forever. You'll excuse this outpouring of ill-fashioned hope for the future, I hope. it has been some time since I slept for long. For so long I've thought only of today, or breakfast time, or dinner time, or sleep, but now it all appears to be over, except in the east, and it might be that one day soon I'll knock at your door and tell you I'm there to stay.

I want that, my dear Spud. I want us to think about the future together, to put our minds to what might come next. Somewhere for you and I to make a life together. There has to be somewhere for a freshly demobbed sailor and my Spud to go that makes sense. It's been a long time since i've made a home for myself away from the sea. I've never made one with you. Not a lasting one.

Do you think it's possible? I feel time's winged chariot hurrying near. Maybe we've all felt it, these few years, but now it feels hopeful, like it's going into the light and not the dark. Forgive me these passages, my love. We are overcrowded and under rested. I had a few hours earlier when I was supposed to sleep but all I could think of was how you've bracketed my time at sea; that time, when I left, when you were there and wanted me to stay. And now, when I so desperately want to come home, and I hope you're there, and wish that i could ask you to stay.

I will rue these words, I'm sure. I'll send this letter and hope that it finds first Laurie, and then you, but then I'll remember how I've spilled my heart across the page and I'll wish I had been more circumspect.

But for tonight, my Spud, mine mine mine, I'll settle for sending this off into the dark, and promising you that when the dawn comes - the real one, the end of all this, the beginning of everything new - I'll be coming home. I'll see first Laurie, and then I'll see you. My Spud. My love. Had we but world enough and time.

But we do, Spud. Or at least: I hope we do. I want for us to.

With love. Your dear Ralph.

Laurie pressed his thumb to Ralph's name. Your dear Ralph. Oh yes.

The nightlight was burning low. He folded the letter up into the pocket of his dressing gown, and eased himself up and onto his feet so he could go and perform his nightly ablutions as best he could in the dark. There wasn't any hot water so he splashed cold across his face and tried to find his toothbrush. He brushed, and spat, and brushed again. Outside the road was quiet and dark.

My dearest Spud. Ralph's letter curled around his chest, warm where the chill of the night couldn't reach. A life stretched out in front of them, years where the war would seem distant, and over. He wasn't even sure he could imagine an England outside of wartime. So much had changed.

So much of him had changed.

He hadn't penned a response to Ralph. He didn't know where he was, or when he was coming home. A letter might chase after him, run him to ground, or it might not. it might stop somewhere, Ralph's name on the front, another abortive attempt to reach a loved one before it was too late. Even now, when war was all but over, there was always that risk that those they loved wouldn't come home. That Ralph wouldn't.

He crawled into bed and pulled the covers up and over him. It was cold enough that he left on the dressing gown. He imagined a response to Ralph, imagined a world without censors and oddly conceived stories of careful letter passing under the cover of darkness.

My love, it would start. Or maybe: My dear Ralph. Then maybe… I dream of our future too. You, me. Our love. A happy ending of sorts. One that travels through the years and doesn't have to settle in dreams.

It was the kind of letter he would never send.

In the morning, when Laurie was making tea and lamenting the end of the bread, there was a knock on the door.

"Laurie," Ralph said, when Laurie opened it. Then, "Spud."

"Ralph," Laurie said, heart pounding, and Ralph smiled.