(Authors Note: This piece was originally written in 2012. It has been edited because there are some thematic issues I have with the text looking back. Part 1 remains largely intact as it wasn’t too awful, looking back. Part 2 required some severe editing. The piece was originally written in my Year 12 Literature class. It was an attempt to ape the novel ‘Atonement’ in its style and plot elements. Brownie points if you can spot the other literary references)
Perhaps he should not have come at all. Something about this meeting felt incredibly forced. She had sent him a message. Clemens St, Tuesday, 7pm. In her usual fashion, she was infuriatingly brief. Did she mean he was to wait outside on Clemens? It was a cold New London night and he hadn’t had the forethought to bring his jacket. No, she definitely meant the café. It was their place. The café was irrefutable a fact in their relationship as the war, and if there was one thing Milton know about her it’s that she was as sentimental as she was fanciful.
April turned into Clemens St, her brand-new heels clicking along the pavement and digging into her heel. She had half a mind to take them off but she persisted. She couldn’t appear weak in front of Milton. It had been five years; no contact between them. True, the war had not made things easy. Upon seeing her again, he would probably wring her throat. He was the type. The man had a violent streak, and his years in the army were unlikely to have satiated his bloodlust. April was drawn out of her thoughts by the realisation that she was supposed to be looking for Milton. She looked around. Clemens St was no longer the bustling street of eateries it had once been. All along the street there used to be little cafes with idyllic, outdoor dining areas. Half the shops were now closed, the other half were little more than rubble. The German had bombed New London, and Clemens St had suffered for it. Then she saw it, the humble little café they had visited years ago. By some stroke of luck, it still stood. Open, waiting for her entrance. Back when they were on friendlier terms Milton had stared bewildered at the French name of the place. Boire, she had told him, It means to drink. Of course, the word on his boorish tongue, he had mispronounced it. She had laughed. What had made her laugh in those days now made her wrinkle her nose in displeasure. Indeed, there seemed to be little to laugh at these days.
Milton checked his watch again. How quaint, he had thought when he’d bought it. While most modern gents preferred to have monitors installed in their eyes he was rather happy with his old digital watch. It was an antique; genuine 2002. A gift from his father. A piece of the past on his wrist. The iridescent numbers of his watch stared him in the face. 7:18. She was late, as per usual. Her meticulous spirit was only confined to keeping her apartment clean, and to her writing. He still remembered her window sill, the menagerie of exotic animal figurines from all corners of the globe. She was particularly fond of the extinct ones. Her rhino, and her giraffe. Then he heard it, the steady clickety-clack of heels on wood. He knew her American spirit had made her fashionably late. In British society, as he had learned, there was another name for fashionably late, it was simply known as late. She sat on the mahogany chair opposite and apologised for her lateness. He accepted her apology. They sat. Then it set in. The silence. The two of them had little in common except their sins. His crime, their indiscretion. They couldn’t discuss her sister, his lover, June who had died in a German bombing on Blair Avenue a few streets over. The war had taken everything from him. She, on the other hand, had flourished during the war. She was the ghost-writer of several political memoirs. How apt that she should be a ghost-writer, sauntering in, writing someone else’s story and walking away like some benevolent god. He had to leave, but he couldn’t let her win. He had to say something to throw her off her game, to take the self-righteous harpy down a peg.
“This was a mistake,” he said, walking away.
Mistake? A mistake? She was coming here to fix a mistake, not to make a new one. She walked right out of Boire in a fit of a rage, leaving their reservation empty. She made her way back to her motel room quickly and furiously. She was to leave New London tonight. On the next shuttle out of the godforsaken city of New London, next stop anywhere. Just away from here. The shuttle port staff were entirely unhelpful. She would have to make three changeovers to make her way to the newly-settled Hyperborea. Frozen, cold, isolated, millions of miles from anything resembling civilisation. She made a note to herself to collect some new figurines while there. She would have the rest of her things shipped to her new home. Her passion was collecting small animal figurines. People being introduced to her were always thrown by this fact. She had written stories for as long as she could remember. Many thus assumed, wrongly, that writing was her passion. As she often told socialites and interviewers alike: writing was not merely a paltry passion, but an intrinsic part of her being.
As she boarded the shuttle she looked for some reading material. Annoyingly, of the two novels she found in her shuttle compartment, one of them was hers; the other she had read. So, instead of reading, she began to dream. Dream of her country home, of Milton, and of that long-forgotten summer.
Her family’s manor was situated on the verdant, grandiose grounds of the New America plantations. A dreamland of her childhood. Her father, the esteemed Jack Sutler, was tasked by the NAC, New America Corporation, to oversee the cultivation of the newly settled sector designated YET-LBE. In those days, April had affectionally called it Yettlebee. While this name caught on amongst the household it was not the eventual name of designated Sector YET-LBE, though she could not recall what it had been called since then. She recalled her distant father. Her father, on the rare occasions he was at home, was always to be addressed as Mr Sutler, as a sign of respect. While he was absent she was raised and educated by the estate’s nanny, Ms Liddell. Mr Sutler’s high position meant he was constantly travelling. The family employed dozens of workers on behalf of the NAC to work the land surrounding the manor. One of these workers was a young, handsome man named Milton. In those days, Milton was far more built, his hands more calloused from working the fields. He did not possess the wrinkles of later years, nor did he possess the harrowed eyes of the older Milton. April had first met Milton in one of her spare session that Ms Liddell had provided. June, April’s older sister, was speaking to the young worker. Both carried a smile on their face.
“June, you shouldn’t talk to the workers” April lectured, repeating what their father had told her.
Milton then extended a hand towards April.
“You must be April. I’m Milton,” he greeted “June has told me all about you”
April glared daggers at her sister. She kindly shook the worker’s hand. It was calloused, but firm. Milton’s height at first intimidated her. Milton was roughly six feet. As she later found out he was five years older than June. He had a scar on his bottom lip. Loose strands of hair crept around his face, breaking free from his ponytail and framing his face. April thought his long black hair looked greasy. April could tell that working a field was all Milton had ever known. He was of common stock. April noticed that Milton spoke with a British accent, her vague familiarity with the accent had her guessing it was either a Cambridge accent or an Estuary accent. She’d had a teacher from Cambridge who had tried to teach her Received Pronunciation but her tongue rebelled. Years later she would command her rebellious tongue to learn the softer tones of the French language. After their initial meeting with Milton, June often spoke of him. She spoke of every inanity of his personality. April perceived Milton as simple and boorish, not needing further study than that. April missed those long summer days of June driving her mad with all her talk of boys. She would suffer a thousand inanities to have June back in the land of the living. In April’s memory, every angle of that summer was heightened. The lazy heat of the sun was warmer than any other summer. The smell of wildflowers stronger than ever before.
Milton left the café and made his way to his small apartment in New London. While the war raged on, it did so far from here with far fewer soldiers patrolling the new borders of England and Germany. Milton enjoyed the reprieve that came with his return from the front. For what felt like decades he had been stuck between two war fronts, the German-Italian uprising and the wrath of April Sutler. April blamed Milton for the death of her father and her sister; a not-totally-unreasonable assumption. He recalled the night of his sins. The night that set in motion the next decade of his life. April had seen his most shameful moment and had decided the narrative for herself. The night began, as all nights do, with the setting of the sun. He checked his watch. 9:04. The sun set late on Yettlebee. He was sure it had a proper name but he couldn’t remember it. Yettlebee was what June had called it. He was drenched in sweat from the burning sun. Milton intended to head back to his small house on the grounds but found his feet and his heart being drawn to June’s bedroom. He approached the manor; her bedroom on the second story. He knew the way. He shimmied up a pipe that led straight past June’s window sill. He creaked open the window and slid into June’s room. She slept on the bed. He took off his shoes as he had so many nights before, planning to join her; as he had so many nights before. He removed his shirt, struggling with its wetness. Without his noticing the door to June’s room opened. In the doorway stood Jack Sutler, drunk on whisky and dishevelled. Milton had no idea that Sutler had even returned to the manor. Next thing he knew Sutler’s revolver was in his hand. The ringing of the gunshots woke the entire manor. June was already awake, clutching at Milton’s side. April discovered the bleeding corpse of her father first. Her room being closest to June’s.
April recalled the gunshots. The two bangs awakening her; propelling her to June’s room. What she saw was her father laying lifeless on the floor, the blood pooling around his chest. She looked at Milton. She swore he was smiling, revolver in hand. April ran from the house. Mr Sutler had never been a great father but her grief swelled inside her. Milton had robbed her of precious time with her father. Never again would the family enjoy another dinner together. Milton took that from her.
April saw that night as the night that her childhood ended and adulthood swallowed her whole. She testified against Milton. Milton gave his account of events. June said very little. She swore Milton protected her. Between June and Milton’s testimony, multiple fingerprints on the gun, and the alcohol in Sutler’s blood, Milton was acquitted of murder but was to serve twenty years for manslaughter. June was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder from the incident and given a new home at St Isidore’s, a mental health facility on Blair Avenue. Four years later, the war began. Milton was recruited into the army in exchange for a shorter sentence. The year after that St. Isidore’s was caught in a bombing and June along with it. Both April and Milton attended. There was no casket. There was nothing left of June to bury. Milton was allowed to return from the front for the funeral. After the funeral, they all went to Boire for drinks. After Boire, April and Milton headed back to Milton’s apartment and made a drunken mistake. That was the second-to-last time she ever saw Milton. The last being their meeting at Boire years later. As the years went on, Milton’s smile haunted her. Who would’ve believed her at seventeen? That she saw Milton pull the trigger. She saw his open-toothed smile. Milton had murdered her father and her latest book intended to prove it.