Were it ever to have happened, she had expected a phone call. Her husband had always used the phone to call her from work, and that's how she assumed the military worked.
She didn't expect to have been woken in the early hours of the morning, still half asleep and wearing her nightgown, by loud knocking at the door. She was glad she had enough sense to quickly pull on her husband's old robe, for the gush of cool air chilled her as she opened the door. She was even more surprised to find two unknown soldiers stood behind it, each bearing the Fuhrer's crest.
She knew the instant she opened the door and saw their blank faces. The Fuhrer did not bother himself with the personal matters of his men. He was an important man, and had a military to run.
She couldn't remember the exact words they used to deliver the message, nor how long she simply stood at the door long after they'd left. Only the light tugging of her nightgown shook her out of her reverie, and a small childish complaint of early morning hunger.
Dropping to her knees, she clutched her daughter, sobbing. She scarcely could feel the hard nose of Elysia's teddy bear digging into her chest, and Elysia's mumbled protests at being held so hard seemed like a far away whisper. She did not tell her daughter why she was crying. She couldn't bring herself to tell her that Daddy wouldn't be coming home anymore—that there wouldn't be anymore surprise lunches with him at work, spring picnics with just the three of them, or strong arms hoisting her through the air and tucking her into bed.
Nor did she tell her why she had to wear a black dress that day. She just laid it out on the bed and buttoned the back buttons that her daughter could not reach. She retrieved her prize possession—a modest pearl necklace her husband had given her for their second anniversary—from its hiding place and secured it around her neck. She fingered it lightly, watching her reflection and the glinting of her wedding band in the mirror.
It was only when they stood by the door, ready to leave, that she told her.
"You know that Daddy works for the military, right, and that sometimes he goes off for a long time?"
"Because Daddy has a job?" Elysia replied, playfully swaying her hips, amused by the billowing of her new dress.
"Well...Daddy went out to do a job, but he won't be coming back."
Her daughter paused and looked at her. "Not ever?"
And in her childish manner, she asked, "Why?"
Gracia crouched down to look her daughter in the eyes. She couldn't bring herself to touch her just yet. Her daughter bore her looks—the same teal eyes, taupish hair, rounded cheeks, and soft jaw line—but inherited her father's expressive face and charm. No one would ever be able to resist her. The wound was still too fresh, and although she saw herself physically when she looked at her, her daughter reminded her too much of him. "Do you remember when you kept a bird as a pet, and he got hurt? He got hurt so bad that he couldn't stay in this world any longer? And when he passed, we said goodbye and buried him? You see, Daddy got hurt while doing his job for the military. He got hurt really bad. And like your bird, he's passed away."
"Do we have to say goodbye to Daddy, too?"
"...I'm afraid so."
"But I don't want to say 'bye! I don't want Daddy to leave! He told me he still has things to do, and—and—"
In that moment, she saw not her husband, but herself. Her daughter said everything she would not allow herself. "I know, honey, I know." She embraced Elysia, murmuring what she hoped were comforting words and stroking her daughter's back in an effort to soothe. She had to remain strong—for the both of them.
The funeral was large, and gladly, it did not rain. A sea of black and navy blue met a sea of gray headstones. She did not meet anyone's gaze as they stood at attention and saluted their fallen comrade.
They were the first to leave.
She did not know the exact circumstances of his death. All she knew was that he was killed somewhere off base. She only wished that she had gotten to speak to him one last time before he died—if not in person, then at least on the phone. She thought back to their dating days, when he would sneak away, sometimes even away from his post, just to hear her voice over the phone. It felt so long ago—had it only been yesterday that she'd kissed him goodbye, off to another day's work?
Walking home hand-in-hand with her daughter, she paused in the middle of the road. It was merely an old phone booth—perhaps the same one he had snuck off to call her with all those years ago?
Her eyes were drawn down to where Elysia was fervently pointing. "Mama, there's something there."
"Probably just litter, Elysia, dear." Gracia bent to pick up the crumpled piece of paper, and was shocked to see her family on it, staring back at her.
She brought the picture to her lips, and knew he was calling home.