By Leigh-Anne Burley

John Henry looks up into his mother’s face as his plump fingers tug at her billowing skirt, pulling her towards the shoreline. She smiles at him and then turns a troubling gaze toward the ocean and the vastness beyond. While building sandcastles, she tells him his father was a hero fighting for his country. John Henry nods his head and says,

“When I grow up, I want to be a pilot like Daddy. Maybe he will bring me back a toy airplane.”

She wonders how a child could comprehend death. Gathering him into her arms, she says,

“John Henry, remember when Charlie died?”

He turns his head away to hold back the tears. His mother holds him tighter and says,

“Daddy is like Charlie; he is never coming back.”

“Daddy is not a bunny!”

“Yes, but people die too, even brave pilots.”

He wiggles free from her embrace and runs towards home, thinking his father is there with his present. However, John Henry needs to outrun the past intertwined with the present, stealing picnics, ball games, and sandcastles. Grief overshadows mother and son as they walk together with a limp.

Leigh-Anne Burley was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and resides in Virginia with her husband of 42 years She has three children and six grandchildren. Leigh-Anne has a BA in English and MA in Pastoral Counseling. She is published in nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. Leigh-Anne enjoys walking and hiking in nature, reading, writing and movies.

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