Title: The Holly and the Oak
Author: G.S. Wiley
Length: 3,900 words
Publisher: Free story on author’s website
Genre: m/m historical romance
In the midst of the Second World War, on the eve of the summer solstice, Alan has an encounter with an American serviceman that helps him deal with his troubled past and face his uncertain future.
I first read this story when it was released in the TQ anthology Taste Test: Summer Solstice. In fact I bought that anthology for this author’s story alone when I was going through a phase of glomming her backlist. It’s a little gem of a story and I’m glad that the author has released it as free fiction on her website because now everyone can enjoy it.
The story is set during WW2. Due to an injury sustained in a motorcar accident, Alan cannot go to war. Instead he stays in the village where he grew up and runs a flower shop. Gary, a serviceman from the local US airbase, takes an interest in him and allows Alan to face up to some of the things that have happened to him in the past.
It’s so difficult to describe what I love about this story because it’s all part of a whole. The story is perfectly executed with tight prose which manages to explain everything you need in a few words. This also reflects in the character of Alan whose actions and behaviour suggests a deeply lonely man, who maybe longs for more than his current confining existence. However, this is never baldly stated in the story but given to us through Alan’s wistful glances out onto the Salisbury planes, or the fact that he is so repressed and tightly wound, that it’s hard to see how he could continue as he does.
The character of Gary is a bit of an enigma, but realistically so when they only meet on a few brief occasions. Gary is big, larger than life and has a charm which endears him to many. His presence fills Alan’s life for a time and initiates a catalyst which allows Alan to unwind slightly and sets him on the road to healing. Again, this done in an understated way which fits well with Alan’s character. It’s a quiet confession to an almost stranger, given in the peace of the night, rather than one of hysterics and angry words.
The story ends without a happy ending. It’s not a sad ending either but rather one filled with different sorts of hope. Hope for Alan that he can now set aside his past; hope for Gary that he returns from France. It’s the only sort of hope that can happen during wartime and as such I was happy to leave it that way – although part of me longs for another story, to see these men perhaps 10 years down the line.
Overall, this is a truly delightful story with a conciseness to the writing which is necessary for a good short story. It reminded me again why I love this author’s historical short stories (and her contemporaries too), and I’m glad that she’s back from her leave of absence and writing again.