Goodbye For Now by M J Hollows
Two brothers, only one survives.
As Europe is torn apart by war, two brothers fight very different battles, and both could lose everything…
While George has always been the brother to rush towards the action, fast becoming a boy-soldier when war breaks out, Joe thinks differently. Refusing to fight, Joe stays behind as a conscientious objector battling against the propaganda.
On the Western front, George soon discovers that war is not the great adventure he was led to believe. Surrounded by mud, blood and horror his mindset begins to shift as he questions everything he was once sure of.
At home in Liverpool, Joe has his own war to win. Judged and imprisoned for his cowardice, he is determined to stand by his convictions, no matter the cost.
By the end of The Great War only one brother will survive, but which?
George Abbott would never forget where he was that day, when those very words were spoken. He was sat at the family kitchen table, a roughly cut dark wooden frame, with an off-white cloth draped across it to hide its wear and tear. He leaned over a bowl of oats, playing them around with his tarnished spoon. Beside it was an enamel plate with some bread and milk.
His sisters, Catherine and Elisabeth, sat either side of him. Catherine was looking over at George to see if he would eat his bread, or if she could take it. Her hair was a deep black mess of curls, the same as their mother’s, framing a pale, chubby face, whereas little Elisabeth’s hair was a distinct copper colour, more like their father’s. At the other end of the table, across the other side was George’s brother Joe, gaunt and long like their father, although with a growth of unkempt curly black hair. He wore the deep brown suit that he always wore to work, even at the breakfast table. He was careful not to get any food on it.
The back door had burst open and their father limped in clutching the Daily Post to his chest and calling to the family. If George were to look him in the eye, it would be like looking in a mirror, except his father was older and thinner. Their faces were exactly alike and the resemblance was uncanny. It was only his father’s eyes that looked different, like they had seen a thousand things, and crow’s feet pulled at the edge of his face.
‘It’s war!’ he said. ‘We’ve declared war.’ He carried on as if unheard. ‘Britain has declared war on Germany.’
Everyone stared, not knowing quite what to say. War had been brewing for some time, so they weren’t surprised.
‘Pass your father the kedgeree,’ their mother said to Catherine and she did as bid, passing the dish of flaked fish and rice that everyone but their father despised. He must have picked up his taste for it in India.
‘I thought we were allies with Germany?’ Their mother was ever the practical woman. She carried on eating while the rest of the family grew excited and agitated. George pushed his plate of bread towards Catherine to distract her, but she just stared at it, then at him.
Their father finally found his seat, hanging his cheap coat behind him as he wrestled his body onto the chair.
‘No, no, love. Belgium. They’re the ones. They invaded there, so ol’ squiffy told ’em where to go.’
‘Belgium invaded Germany?’
‘No. The other way round!’
She didn’t appear to be listening and smiled conspiratorially in her husband’s direction, before collecting up more plates.
Joe stared across the room at the news their father had brought with him, wringing his hands in front of his face. Joe was older than George, but in this moment he looked even older, worry lining his face. His hair threatened to grow too long on his head and his feeble attempts to grow a beard in patches on his chin was a constant source of ridicule. The object of Joe’s gaze was a faded photograph of their dad dressed in his uniform, beaming with pride at the South Africa medal pinned to his breast. He still often wore his medal, stroking the silver disc absent-mindedly. Father turned to Joe, putting the paper down.
‘D’you know what this means, son?’ Joe didn’t respond and their father looked around the room, at the rest of them, testing everyone’s reaction. ‘The papers say they’re going to issue a call. They’re gonna need more men.’
George carried on playing with his oats, knowing that this was between Joe and their dad. Joe looked into the middle distance, the edges of his mouth moving as if about to form words but thinking better of it.
After a tense pause, Joe spoke. ‘I won’t do it,’ he muttered under his breath, so quietly that George almost didn’t hear.
Their father banged a fist on the table, and cutlery jingled as it was disturbed.
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