A Military Couple (part one)
Laura pictures the box of his letters at the bottom of her wardrobe, at their home. The photos of him, comrades, even an ice cream van. She’d squinted at the face holding… no, offering the Flake 99. Offering it to him. Laura’s husband.
Laura’s never been the jealous type. Never needed to be. Until now.
It’s the woman’s brown eyes – like a puppy’s. John’s always been a sucker for those.
It had been her, Laura, who’d prevented them getting a dog. She loved them as much as he did but sneezed just passing one in the street. Every time she saw newspaper articles of sniffer dogs she’d smile, knowing they kept him company when she couldn’t. But now he has this woman keeping him company. Surrounded by deep brown eyes whose owners know how to use them.
And now he’d made the choice. Home to her or stay with them. He’d written so freely, so lovingly that it had never dawned on Laura that there would be a choice. Could be. She’d stood with the other wives, waving, cheering. Except the other wives were holding hands with their children, until their husbands arrived and they let go, threw their arms around them. A group hug. A human parcel of flesh and blood.
She’d watched them one by one, group by group, get into their cars, and drive back to their houses, safe within the confines of the base. A bricks and mortar group hug. To homemade food, parties, reunions. Only Laura’s still waiting for hers.
She doesn’t mind it getting dark. It’s the warmth she misses. A sunny early May day turned into a cold May night. She zips her jacket up to her chin and digs her hands into her pockets. She isn’t sure why she waits; she knows there won’t be another ship. Unlike buses they don’t come in threes. They come in ones and her one, his one, came and went hours ago.
She hears footsteps behind her and turns. A man in uniform and she nods.
“I’m sorry ma’am. I’m going to have to lock up now. Do you have a ride…?
She nods again and walks to her car. It’s still the one he bought her when they were first married but it drives well and she doesn’t want to change it. She doesn’t want anything to change.
The car starts first time and purrs like a kitten. The talked-about kitten that went the way of the dog. She drives the half hour to their detached redbrick house and pulls up to curtained windows with no lights behind.
Locking the car she walks up to the green metal post-box, finds the smallest key on the ring and opens the door. It squeaks as she pulls it and she makes a mental note to locate some WD40. John would have noticed it before now and she’d never have known.
Picking out the solitary letter she recognises everything about it; the envelope, the writing, even the smell. She shuts the door and lets herself into the house.
Putting a pre-prepared casserole-for-two into the oven, she sits at the kitchen table and stares at the letter. She has twenty minutes to decide what to do. She can wait while she eats but she doesn’t want to spill anything on it. She thinks about the dinner and what she’s to do with the other half. There’s no dog to feed it to. Once it’s cooked it can’t be re-frozen so decides it’ll keep in the fridge until it’s binned or eaten. She knows it won’t taste the same; eating alone never does. Conversations turn to silence as she has nothing to share.
The timer pings as the doorbell goes and she stares at one then the other. The dinner, too hot, can wait a while but with no-one else it can be, she knows the other choice can’t.
She runs to the door. He’s changed his mind. Only when she opens the door there’s not one man to greet her but two. One takes off his hat, followed by the other. One goes to speak but can’t find the words. She knows him, from John’s 30th. Andy, she thinks his name his. She recognises the other from earlier in the day and feels sorry for him, that he’s had to leave his family so soon after getting home.
She knows why they’re there so she doesn’t need them to say anything. She knows she doesn’t want them to speak but that they inevitably will.
“Wait,” she says and the men look at each other. “Please come in and wait. Don’t say anything. I need to do something first.”
The men do as she asks, wiping their feet on the mat, although they all know there’s not a speck of dirt to be found. They stand, caps under their arms, a gentle pressure that ensures no dents. They watch her walk into the kitchen, slowly as if stopping time. The men smell the food and Andy licks his lips then bows his head.
She sits at the table, holds the envelope in both hands then turns it over and opens it, pulling out the cream matt paper.
My darling Laura. I have to keep this short as we’re about to go on manoeuvres but I know you’ll understand. Do you remember Andy from my birthday party? No, probably not. Too many faces, names. I’ll send a picture next time. His wife’s due to give birth shortly and he won’t be home in time. He didn’t ask. He wouldn’t, but I knew and… I’m sorry, really I am. I know you’re going to be disappointed, but you’d do the same. I know you would. Anyway, things out here are fine. We even have British ice cream. Not quite the taste I remember without you sharing, but it’s a little piece of home. A little piece of you. Take care my darling and I’ll be with you before you know it. Love always. John xx
She stares at the kisses and pictures his face; smiling, laughing, no fear in his eyes. The eyes, brown as a puppy’s.
She stands up, places the letter into her pocket and walks back into the hall.
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