Love After War

This is a short story inspired from the poem 'The Manhunt' written by Simon Armitage.

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1. Love After War

‘He was coming home.’

My mind raced and my heart thudded hard against my chest. I could feel bliss run through my veins at the thought. He was finally coming home. After all those months, days and hours of solitude; I was finally being pulled out of that remote hole. I glanced at the clock again for the millionth time. Its hands didn’t seem to move, like they were stuck in the same place, slowing down time for all. Though within, I knew that in just a few moments I would be embraced by his manly arms and pressed close to his chest, feeling his very own heart thudding in his chest. It’ll be just like before. Just like the ‘passionate nights and intimate’ days we had, all before he went to war.

With each pearl earring I decorated my ears, with a dangle of a necklace I placed on my neck and with every clinking bangle I beaded on my wrist; I looked in the mirror. My reflection was smiling back at me. My cheeks were tinted pink, my lips covered in cherry red and two pools of blue gazed back at me. I felt like I was a bride once again; walking up the isle and looking into the deep brown orbs of my husband. I smiled at the memory. It won’t be long now, not long at all, before my husband will come knocking on my door. He would tilt my head up with his gentle hands, commanding me to look up at him.

I turned my head to look at the clock again and frowned. Why had the time not flown by, just like it always does? The hour and the minute hand remained frozen, as the second hand whizzed around. Was the clock broken? I hoped not. I was eager to see my other half. I wouldn’t be able to bear it if more time was still to go. I huffed and turned to face the front door. I watched it with my careful eye, just imagining the love of my life walk through the door and lift me up in his arms, spinning me around the room. I would laugh in delight and he would stop and press his lips to mine. I felt a blush creep onto my cheeks.

‘Knock, knock, knock.’

My heart flipped in glee. He was here. Just beyond the door, on the other side of that piece of wood, only a few yards away. I scraped my chair back and stood up abruptly. My excited hands smoothed my curly locks and patted my flowing dress. My shaky legs automatically strode towards the door, until I could sense his presence from the other side. My trembling hand rested on the cold brass door knob, before twisting it and letting the door swing open. My cheeks pushed up to my eyes as my smile grew. He was here.

I immediately lounged at him wrapping my arms around his broad shoulders. “Oh James, I’ve missed you so, so much.” I mumbled into the crook of his neck, holding him closer to me. I expected him to lift me up off my feet and embrace me in his own arms, but neither came. It was rather like I was hugging a statue, all cold and still. Stepping back, I gazed at him.

James’ tall figure loomed over me, his dark brown hair pushed under his uniform cap and his arms by his side. I looked at his face, and my own smile vanished. He looked like my James, but he didn’t feel like it. This James didn’t wear that cheeky smile on his face. Instead cracked thin lips stayed in a straight line. The sparkle from his eyes were gone leaving it dull, with dark circles underneath.

I lifted my hand up to ‘trace the frozen river’ which now travelled through the centre of his face. Its touch underneath my fingertips was so unfamiliar, that it caused me pain thinking about how it got there. I pulled back immediately, holding my hand close to my heart. “Oh James.” I whispered in sorrow. He said nothing, but walked straight past me into our house. I followed close behind him, as his dusty army boots thudded on the wooden floor.

It was not long before he stopped by the window and rested his palms against the cold glass. The heat from his skin fogged where he touched. I stood near him, but it was not close enough. I yearned for him to look at me, just once. I cupped my hand around his cheek and forced him to look my way. I felt a click against my palm as his lower jaw moved. It was much like a ‘blown hinge’ of a broken door.

My hand slowly traced down his naked neck down to his collar bone. Where it once used to be smooth, but now held deformed lumps. The feeling and look was unnatural and odd. Tears started to brim in my eyes as I imagined a false piece being pushed through as a replacement. My own bones started aching in pain. Sensing that underneath my touch it would break, much like ‘porcelain’. I moved my palm again and felt the ‘fractured rudder of his shoulder blade’. How many bullets must he have taken to save his country and get in this condition.

I realised that the pain he went through moved us both, emotionally and physically. I had to discover more to know his state. I lifted my trembling hands to the buttons of his shirt and started unfastening. With each button undone, more pale and tortured flesh showed. My ‘finger and thumb’ traced the skin stretched over his ‘punctured lung’. I started to shudder at the devastating thoughts that could have caused it. A damaged ‘parachute’ would have done the trick. The thought of my love being beaten, was like a bullet to my chest.

My palms moved lower pressing on his body as he hissed in pain. Deformation of his ribs was an understatement in his circumstance. I just wished I could ‘bind’ each strut and then ‘climb the rungs of his broken ribs’, just to feel what he felt at that time. Just to ‘feel the hurt’, and when I would reach to the top, I would see the damage of his ‘grazed heart’. I stepped back, my head hung low. I couldn’t see my other half so harmed so… dysfunctional.

Abruptly, I felt cold, hard fingertips lift my head up. James held my gaze, his eyes still lifeless. It was something that he had noticed my presence. Even though his was so mentally and physically broken, I now knew that he didn’t forget me. James still acknowledged me. He snaked one arm around my waist and pulled me closer to his chest. I felt a shot of cold through my dress from his bare skin. My palms rested on his upper body and so did my gaze.

I noticed sore, circular shaped marks. As my palms covered them, I pictured ‘the foetus of metal beneath his chest, where the bullet had finally come to rest.’ Salty tears ran down my cheeks as I lay my ear on his chest, listening to the drumming of his heart. It’s beat telling me a story of his journey in the war, telling me the thoughts ‘buried deep in his mind’. Just like the soldiers buried deep in the ground.

James’ arm wrapped around me tight, his gesture indicating something else, like he was trying to let me in. Letting me into something much deeper than what we had shared before. With his every bruise and cut throbbing, and his ‘every nerve’ tightening within my hold. I realised ‘then, and only then, did I come close’.

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