They wouldn’t believe us

The ‘prosery’ prompt over at dverse is to write a story of exactly 144 words including this line from a poem by Jo Harjo:

“These memories were left here with the trees”

I haven’t used exactly the same words, just the sense from them. We lived for almost ten years among the French battlefields of the Great War and the atmosphere of the entire area is a very special and very melancholy one.


She had always found it a sad place, the landscape, the people—too rural, enclosed like the big fortified farms, no outlet for any feelings. There were mature trees growing around the foxholes now, and shell craters were filled with bracken. The mutilated and the broken lay almost hidden, but she imagined she heard their cries as they were blown from their roots. Men were turned to bloody soup in these woods that became cellulose soup, then oceans of bloody mud.

The fields were tilled again and flowers blew at their edges, but beneath the trees memories lingered. If she dug her hands into the deep earth she could pull them out. They whispered in the delicate woodland flowers, but it was the trees that held her in their spell, the horror of their stories, the unquiet memories that were buried in their roots.


Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

17 thoughts on “They wouldn’t believe us”

    1. I got very depressed when we lived there. It was mainly because of my condition (it gets very cold up there in winter) but I used to be in tears just driving through the villages round about, all with their cemeteries, their monument aux morts with the list of names of dead soldiers in every tiny village. Heartbreaking.

      1. I’ve never been on those battlefields, but I can understand. All battlefields seem full of ghosts to me, but those WWI battlegrounds somehow seem particularly tragic. Maybe because everyone hoped it would never happen again.

      2. Yes, I think you’re right. We talk about their ‘sacrifice’ and I feel like saying they were lambs to the slaughter. So many died this part of the country where we live now was completely emptied and there was no one to work the land. Farmland was offered to Italian peasants if they would farm it. Almost everyone here has an Italian name. The mayor is called Dante Rinaudi, the senator is Freschi, the nephew who sold us the house is a Miozzo, the architect (we never hired) Bonetti, the farmer who cut the hay is Amadio…

      3. They weren’t hired, they were given it! The farmland in some places was completely abandoned. The death toll was incredibly high, entire populations wiped out without the men to do the heavy work in the fields the women had to move to the towns.

      4. It’s hard to believe now that they’d be given the land.
        I’ve seen two movies in the last few years–one set in Scotland and one set in France–that show the women taking over for men on the farms during WWI.

      5. There was the conjunction of very low birth rate at the time in rural France. If they’d had big families they might have been able to cope, but they didn’t. The holdings were tiny, sharecropped mostly and barely big enough to support a small family. The countryside emptied. It’s hard to imagine the impact on the economy of the losses in the war. They couldn’t allow the land to go back to nature, and there simply wasn’t the population to farm it.
        The farmer who mowed the hay said one of his grandfather’s neighbours (from the same region in Italy) had had to cut his way into the farmhouse through a forest of brambles. They were over the roof.

  1. What a challenge telling all this in only 144 words. I love it, even the story is about very sad things, and looking out of the windows you always have to remember this. The melancholy is always around. Best wishes, Michael

  2. Places of death are full of ghosts. I wonder if we will ever learn the cost of our lust for power. Of course it’s not the powerful that suffer most of the time.
    Your words are heartbreaking and true. (K)

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