I watch the sinking sun, a blood-shot ball exhausted by the long hot day. A million blades of grass irritate me through the thin cotton of my post-war trousers. I swear Lorna has stitched them from some salvaged tablecloth from the sideboard drawer.
I toss my sandwich crusts to the birds, their feathers frayed and singed by the war. The hills on the horizon seem guarded, as if a secret waits in their folds. They know when we will once more turn the world on its head and shake the loose change of good living out of its pockets.
I shield my eyes from the bloody horizon. The hills turn black. Black with memories of screaming birds scattering.
The birds have rediscovered their nests. And I have come home.
Home to find my Lorna’s hands roughened and mottled from war-work and scrubbing and turning the soil. Our servants gone. Either dead or with new independence, working in factories where they run a line of machines instead of running back and forth at our command.
We’re on our own now. Me in my seersucker trousers instead of my strong khaki. No men at my side. No gun in my hands. I feel like white blubber, awake in the deep-blue of the night with my grotesque dreams of hearts blistering like blooms from khaki shirts.
“Only one way to get these blighters. And that’s to stand up and be counted.”
All my mates were called Tommy. No point remembering names now. And that was Tommy’s last shout before he spun three times and flopped like a fish back into the trench.
And Lorna in her patched frock, holding me with her hardened hands. That’s what I came back to. This is our new life. The cries of scorched birds, the flinty eyes of the brooding hills, servants’ bells that will never be answered.
The sun drops into its slot, glad to be gone. I stand up and brush the crumbs from my trousers. I go home through fields still peppered with prisoners of war, berry-brown and flaxen-haired. Longing for home too.
We all wait together for the new dawn.
Joanna Campbell of Gloucestershire writes short stories all day at home in the Cotswolds, with three cats and occasional bowls of cereal for company. She has been published in various magazines and anthologies. In 2010 and 2012 she was shortlisted for both the Fish and the Bridport Short Story Prizes. In 2010 she was shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize. She is currently writing a novel as well as trying to be her husband’s company secretary. She hopes she is a better writer than she is a secretary, as does her husband.