A lone girl crept down steep, basement steps to where the church had held numerous canteens for soldiers on leave too far from home. Counting the familiar steps, Charity made her way through the impenetrable black. Her knee hit into something, and she vaguely remembered a chair being tossed aside in the mad scramble after the victory news.
On quiet feet, she crossed to a well-loved piano at one end of the room and rested her hands on the worn keys. Something irresistible called her to sit once more on the bench and play again, this time for an altogether different audience.
Warm light suddenly flooded onto the top few basement steps from the church kitchen above where a few women had stayed late into the night to clean. The young girl sitting in the hazy grey darkness before her piano could hear them quietly bustling about overhead and felt a bit of comfort when someone began softly humming a hymn.
Charity’s finger slowly traced a name scratched into the wood and a chiseled face flashed before her eyes. I wonder where he is tonight, she mused.
She could picture Trent leaning against a brick building, with his hands in his pockets, gazing off into nowhere, but he turned his head when she spoke. “Mr.. ur, Trent?” “Hm?” “Who is Katie?” she had whispered softly. “My little sister back home. Why?” he asked. The girl read a loneliness in his voice not expressed in words, and an aching wish to help swelled up in her throat. Tears filled up her eyes and threatened to spill into her voice. “You called me Katie back there.”
She smiled, though it wasn't without pain, and moved her hand to one after another, stories, hopes, and fears flooding back to her with each one. Her shining, brown eyes smiled as she remembered how precious the church’s cherry wood upright had been to her to the point where everyone thought of it as “that little girl’s piano” and how she had guarded the thing with fierce devotion. So many things were heaps more important to her now, and the thousands of names scrawled into it’s finish were more priceless than anything.
“Hey, you in here, Johnny? We’re wanted back at base; word just came we’re shipping out in the hour. Johnny?” The words rang in the girl’s ears, making her startle and look around, half expecting to see the anxious man that had burst into that same room months ago. Johnny drew a deep breath that sounded more like a sigh, and then he called, “Be there in a second.” Young, dough-faced Johnny had tweaked her hair and said with a wry grin, “Thanks for everything. Keep playing songs to gladden our boys. I won’t forget how you’ve put happiness back into my heart.” The next time she had seen that face it was grey from pain and pale against the whiteness of the hospital bed. He hadn’t forgotten. A truly cheerful grin flashed across his face at sight of her, and he had promptly said, “I suppose the nurse wouldn’t let your piano tag along?”
The girl slipped her hand into her sweater pocket and closed it around a telegram. He wouldn’t ever smile on this world again.
Thoughtfully, she began to pick out a few strains on the keyboard then dropped her hand to her lap, something dampening her eyelashes and sticking in her throat. “Oh God, please protect them!” she breathed and a torrent of tears came rushing to her.
A breeze moved her strawberry hair, and Charity thought she heard a deep laugh as an navy cap flopped over her eyes. “A bit too big, I’d say,” shouted one merry fellow slouching nearby. Giggling, she put her hand up to adjust it and everything vanished.
Disappointment washed over the girl, sitting alone in the still, quiet basement. She looked around at the bare walls and wondered if this were the first time the floor had really been clean since five years. She didn’t like the silence. It just wasn’t right. Her hands slowly wandered over the ivory keys, echoing the melancholy in her throat as the chords rose and fell in volume. Suddenly a memory brought a smile into the song and the melody quickened.
Closing her eyes she remembered how it had been. Her fingers fairly pranced along the familiar keys playing a favorite melody the soldiers had requested over and over at one canteen.
Laughter and singing floated up the basement steps of Christ’s Victory Church and out to the quiet, sleeping street as a group of soldiers pushed open the door and stepped into the warmly lit room. A sight of merry chaos met their eyes. Soldiers, turned boys again for the night, danced with girls in the middle of the room, men lounged on benches along the wall, and others darted here and there laden with heaping trays of sandwiches and cookies. The church folk melted easily into the masses of service men, and the whole crowd was turned into one jolly bunch braving the dull truth the night air told them.
Peeking over the piano her brown eyes could search the sea of faces before her. They were full with the things she had seen in her 12 years, full as her heart was. She caught sight of a young, haunted looking boy in uniform hanging back along the walls, and pain washed over her face when she remembered another like him who hadn’t ever come back. She longed to cheer him, to listen to his fears, and be the sister he’d left at home.
Ducking beneath the top of the piano, she had tried to concentrate on the jumble of notes that blurred before her eyes. Someone sat quietly beside her on the bench, and a strong hand caressed the cherry wood front. “This your piano, miss?” a manly voice had asked in a soft tone. She smiled up into a care-worn face, with a scar across one cheek. “Not exactly, sir, but I feel so,” came the shy answer. There was a long companionable silence in which the song came to an end and the dancers disbursed to fall upon a woman laden with food.
Charity paused in her playing and stared into space. Her mind traveled back to a prayer meeting three years ago. She had only been nine then but the quick message beforehand had stayed with her and would produce itself in vivid recollection during many a hard time.
“This war has ripped savagely at most everyone, but it cannot defeat us, no. Evil never can wholly defeat God’s people. It may get them down for a time, but God gives us strength for the ‘morrow! Courage to fight back!”
Launching into “Onward Christian Soldiers” she could almost hear the pastor now, bellowing courage to the congregation. “Let each of us fight our best wherever God has placed us! Let us arrive in heaven all used up.” With his words, her music softened, strains of “In the Sweet By and By” sprinkled among the flowery chords. The pastor had leaned forward, elbows on his pulpit, and an earnestly joyful spark in his eyes. “And God will give you a whole, new you,” he whispered, and the church rustled as each member leaned eagerly forward to catch his next tenderly spoken words. “And He’ll say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You used yourself up for Me, just like I did for you.”
A great feeling of peace washed over Charity, and she continued playing as though in a cozy, deliciously sweet dream. “Never give up. Never give in. Do not grow weary of giving yourself for others--for Christ”
The comforting words lingered in her mind, as the girl’s head sank wearily to the piano, pillowed in her arms. Her lips moved slightly as the everlasting song inside her lulled the patriot to sleep.
“We shall sing on that beautiful shore the melodious songs of the blessed. And our spirits shall sorrow no more, not a sigh for the blessing of rest.”