The Virgin Widow

Contributor: Bruce Costello

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“Sir, I just can’t walk any further!” the soldier cried out, his battalion exhausted from days of movement and fighting in the mountainous Cretan terrain.
“Get up, lad,” the officer said, kicking the sole of his boot. “You’ve been marching in your sleep the last half hour. Stand up, go back to sleep and keep walking.”
After digging in on the outskirts of a town recently captured by Germans, the men sat down to devour whatever rations were left.
When the officers weren’t looking, Privates Arthur FitzPatrick and Wiremu Parata went scavenging.
Arthur and Wiremu had been brought up on neighbouring farms on the East Coast of New Zealand’s North Island, and were scallywags together at the same country school. A week before the troopship sailed, Arthur had asked Wiremu’s sister, Moana, to marry him.
Wiremu found a tin of raspberry jam poking out from under rubble. He opened it with his bayonet and handed it to Arthur. The pair of them scoffed the lot, hiding behind a burned-out lorry that stank of roasted flesh.
At 1800 hours, two British MkVI tanks advanced along the main road into the town with the New Zealanders behind. Savage house to house fighting followed with bayonet and rifle butt.
A heavy machine gun hidden behind a collapsed wall sprayed them with bullets. One took out the side of Wiremu’s head and splattered his brain over Arthur’s face.
The Kiwis fought their way through to the town square where, totally exhausted, they encountered a concentration of enemy in the southwest corner. It was dark. The major decided on a bayonet attack. “Forward!” he roared and charged, but nobody followed. German bullets tore him apart.
Something stirred inside Private Arthur FitzPatrick and he heard the voice of Wiremu’s old Uncle Henare, who’d taught the boys skills in using Maori weapons of war. A savage chant welled up inside Arthur and brandishing his rifle like a taiaha, he ran screaming towards the Germans.
Yelling and shouting like devils, the other men followed him into a barrage of bullets.

* * *

Back home in New Zealand, Moana was knitting two pairs of socks, one for Arthur, the other for Wiremu. Moana was a small, pretty girl with light brown hair. She constantly wore a lovely smile that was tinged with sadness. Her father had died at Passchendaele and her mother had never fully recovered.
The local postmaster was a kind man with a limp and a big whiskery face, like a garden gnome. He kept his bicycle well oiled, because he liked to travel the winding, gravel East Coast roads himself to personally deliver the telegrams around what he called “my parish.” Some days he traveled big distances.
He held Moana as she sobbed on learning that Arthur was seriously wounded and Wiremu had been killed.
A month later he delivered the news that Arthur was out of danger and could rehab at home. They both danced with joy.
Moana and Arthur married, soon after Arthur’s return, despite his wound.

* * *

Sixty years pass.

* * *

“Here, take this rifle,” Arthur had said to Moana, just before he died the previous year. “Keep it loaded, close beside you in the bed, once I‘ve gone. I won’t be around anymore to protect you and there’s funny people around these days, perverts who break into houses and do unspeakable things to women.”
It’s 2am and there are noises in the next room. With a toothless smile, Moana quietly picks up the rifle and points it at the partly open doorway. Her finger is firm on the trigger.
I’ll not hold back. I’ve nothing left to lose. Arthur’s gone. I’m over ninety years old. No reason to hold back. Nothing to fear. Not even death. I’ll meet up with Arthur again. I’ll come to you intact. No pervert’s going to get me, my darling!
She grins, and glances towards the pillow where Arthur’s bald head used to lie.
How’s that for a thought, eh, Arthur? Are you proud of me? I’ll protect it for you. Nothing to worry about.
Moana presses the rifle butt firmly into her bony shoulder. “Kia kaha, Sis!” She hears her brother’s voice. “Be strong! Kia kaha!” A picture of Wiremu flashes across her mind, his arm around Arthur’s shoulder, leaning over the railing of the departing troopship, calling down to her.
In the next room, Jason Stubbs is going through drawers. He’s sixteen years old, a big lad, doing his first burg.
Should be a piece of piss, Jason’s mates had said. Old lady, shit, she’s about 95! She’ll be deaf as anything, sure to be snoring her head off and if she does happen to wake up and see ya, well, she’s not gonna know who’s behind the balaclava is she? Ya just get ya arse outa there real quick. What are ya, a girl or somethink?
Moana fires at Jason’s crotch and he falls screaming and writhing on the bed. Then, reloading with the speed of many years practice on rats in the barn, she sends a second bullet through his head.
Within minutes, Anaru Te Whaiti, waiting with the full moon for rustlers on his sheep station in the hills behind, arrives on horseback.
“Kia kaha,” he says to Moana, hanging up the phone and wrapping a blanket around her as they begin the long wait for emergency services to travel the long road from town.
“Yes, I killed him!” Moana exclaims, gripping Anaru’s arm. “Bulls-eye! Got him! I don’t care what happens to me. I shot him and I’m glad. Arthur would be pleased, I know. Arthur was a good man. Fought for the country. Saw Wiremu get his head blown off then got so mad he turned into a ruddy hero and got himself shot! Why should some pervert rapist get what Arthur could never have after a bullet blew off his willy?”

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New Zealander Bruce Costello semi-retired from his profession in 2010, retreated from the city of Dunedin to the seaside village of Hampden, joined the Waitaki Writers’ Group and took up writing as pastime. Since then he has had fifty short stories published in literary journals and popular magazines in six countries.
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