George looked out through the window of the dining room at the rain that poured relentlessly. He sat with his arms rested on the table next to the carefully laid out cutlery. Every other minute Georges twitch knocked the cutlery together making a clanging sound.
Dianne walked in holding two plates filled with beef stew. She placed a plate in front of George and one in the place set opposite him. George looked blankly down at the food, though he were looking into a black hole. He began to eat absentmindedly.
Dianne took a deep breath, pushed her short bobbed dark hair behind her ears and sat at the table. She watched her husband eat like the food tasted of nothing and her throat began to swell, and her heart felt heavy again. This was a regular feeling for Dianne now, the wife of an officer returned from a long gruelling war, The Great War. She had waited and prayed everyday that her husband would return alive; that was all she wanted. She worked hard in the factory to help the war effort, she wrote to her husband every day hoping that her letter would give him strength. She always thought that as long as he came home, no mater in what state, with missing limbs, scars; it wouldn’t faze her, because she would have her husband back and the war would be over.
Instead, after the armistice the reality of war had left a putrid taste in the mouth and a pain in the chest like no other. There was no triumphant return for George, the man she adored. He came home a shell, his memory lost, with a disturbing twitch and his mind gone to the unknown. He had forgotten the whole of their married life. He remembered meeting and falling in love with Dianne, but not that they had married and been happily married for ten years. He knew he loved her deeply and that if he were better he would marry her again tomorrow. It was upsetting for George to have lost a whole chunk of his life, though his mind was so fuzzy, his thoughts so jarred, he tried to think of nothing at all. It was to much, to remember, to remember what had passed in the last four years.
Dianne watched him mess the table as his hand twitched trying to pick up stew with his fork. It seemed so undignified that a man who had led men in war was reduced to a squirming, aged, frail being who struggled to eat without making a mess like a baby.
He looked up disappointedly.
“Sorry”, he muttered.
She smiled through her pain, lent forward and touched his hand.
“Its fine darling, please don’t worry. I will clean it when you have finished”
He looked at her sincerely with heavy eyes, “thank you”.
She wondered what he must think of her now. She is not the beauty of ten years ago, she knows that. Maybe on his release he thought he would be coming home to a young beautiful woman. She began to feel like a disappointment. She is not the woman she used to be. She has gained lines and a little weight around the hips and stomach, and she has lost her spark, a little, she thought. Once she could make any body feel like the luckiest person in the room; now she couldn’t even make her husband feel better or happy that war is over and he made it home alive, to her.
She pushed her food around her plate and ate as much as she could manage so as not to upset him, and to encourage him to eat as well.
They finished eating, their plates still half full, and left the modest dinning room to retire in the sitting room.
The sitting room was adequate enough, cosy, with a fire place to warm them in the winter, though not as light an airy as the dinning room was in summer, so Dianne opened a small window as the rain had ceased. George sat down in an old wooden rocking chair that his grandfather had given to him as a present before he moved in with Dianne. He loved the chair, it was one of the few objects around him he knew and remembered well. He found it comforting to gently rock the night away looking out onto the pebbled London Street. Sometimes he would fall asleep in the chair while Dianne watched him. She would go up close to him and look at all the new lines and creases in his face up close. Touch his brittle lips gently with her soft hands, rub his stubble and stroke his hair; it was the only time she felt she could really touch him without him seeming like he would break or, she was intruding on his person. She had refrained from doing it recently though as the last time, he had woke abruptly, eyes wide like a cat and bolted forwards suddenly; he nearly knocked her out. She was accustomed to him waking like this – in a frenzy almost, but he had never done so before while she was touching him; she always thought her caress subconsciously soothed him.
George sat in the chair gently rocking looking out the window.
“Would you like the wireless on?”
He moved his eyes slowly to hers, “no, this is fine”. She smiled, he moved his stare back to the outside world. She continued to look at him, moved her lips to speak but couldn’t, and, even if she could, she didn’t know what to say.
She walked away, though didn’t know to where. She felt restless and frustrated, like she wanted to scream and shake him. She sat down in a chair and put her head in her hands.
Just then the doorbell rang. Dianne feared it was his mother. That was the last thing she needed; his mother was always so fussy, fussing around him and ordering Dianne about. She was so proud when her little boy went to war, while he was away she would waltz round the neighbourhood telling stories about her son at war; like no one else’s son was at war. She would tell stories about George in the local shops that Dianne thought she had never heard before and was convinced she must of made them up. Maybe she was just being harsh, we all have our ways of coping, she thought.
George looked round from his chair with a nervous expression on his face. Maybe he was thinking the same thing as her, she thought.
“I will take a look and see who it is.”
She opened the door and was greeted by George’s younger brother Luke, holding his hat with a cautious smile on his face.
Dianne breathed a sigh of relief. “Hello Luke. Come in, how are you?”
Luke stepped in and hung up his hat and coat.
“Can’t complain. You? “
“Yes, fine thank you”
“So, how’s old George?”
Dianne tried to compose herself but the welcome relief of a friend took over her. She covered her face with her hands. George put his arm round her and gave her a strong hug.
“Not good, eh? Don’t worry De he will be fine, he just needs some more time. And lots of that love you give him!”, he gently rubbed her back, then pulled her delicately away.
“Now, dry those tears missy and let me go and see what I can do for that brother of mine”
Dianne wiped her tears with her hanky while Luke bounced into the sitting room. Dianne wished George had been like Luke during the war, not so hasty to go to the battlefield. Luke had served only a short time in the trenches, as soon as he received a small injury a friend of his arranged for him to have an office job translating and breaking codes. Luke had offered George the same; but he didn’t think it such an honourable thing to leave your men. Dianne never agreed – every individuals war effort was as important as the next – why was it more important to send young men; sons, fathers, and brothers to their deaths and follow them? All those fine men slaughtered just like that. Maybe that’s what is haunting him so much now, it would haunt me too, she thought.
She could still remember the day when George signed up for the war. Dianne had begged George to take her to the Palace that night as there was a show she wanted to see. George, as always, indulged his wife happily and off they went. Except that night what Dianne hadn’t realised was, also going to be there was recruiting Army officers. They had laid out tables and were asking for men to sign up. At first Dianne didn’t think much about it; until a beautiful woman in a red and blue dress came on stage smiling and walking around all the tables on stage. She began to belt out ‘Rule Britannia’ and when she had finished she sauntered off stage and walked all through the aisles up and down touching men on the arms and shoulders, asking them to follow her. As she came by George she stroked his head and gave a huge sultry smile. Dianne was astounded when George got up and started following her also, before she had a chance to say a word. He signed up that night and Dianne’s heart sank right there and then. When they got home they had a massive row and somehow in her fit of despair she broke a little trinket he had given her when they met, that had one big butterfly painted on the top, she had kept her little collection of semi-precious stones in it. It smashed into three pieces, well that was it for Dianne and she went to bed in tears. She was angry, upset, but most of all scared of loosing him. The next morning he presented the trinket to her all fixed, somehow he had managed to put it back together again – you could still see the lines where it had been fixed but it was whole again.
George said to her: “I don’t want to leave you either darling, but, the war needs men and so us men must go”
She smiled at him resolutely and kissed his smooth cheek, “Yes, I know. I am just scared of loosing you, I wouldn’t know what to do”
“Don’t be silly my angel, I will be home before you know it”
Dianne never did believe him when he said that and she was right not to; it was three and a half years before he came back for good.
Dianne checked her face in the little antique mirror that hung in the hall. At least he kept his promise in someway, she thought, before walking into the sitting room.
Luke was sitting next to George telling him about his new promotion he had just received. Dianne could tell he had lost the upbeat tone in his voice that he had walked in with. Luke had always looked up to his brother, he knew everyone was proudest of him, and he was too. George was always good to him, every time he came round he sort of expected a miracle to of happened. He always envisaged George slapping him on the back and them having a couple of whiskey’s and a chat. It never was like that though for the last ten months it has been the same, very little improvement. He shook less maybe, but his mind was always somewhere outside the room; with all the other lost souls Luke always thought. Their mother had wanted him to have shock treatment after this snide doctor befriended her and convinced her it would be the only way to cure him; as long as she parted with a handsome sum of money of course. Dianne had flatly refused and so had Luke.
The evening past as pleasantly as possible, the dark drew in and the draft chilled the room. Mostly there was silence in-between Lukes chattering about his job, gossip he heard or his hope for the future. Dianne liked to listen to him; it was so quiet after the war, he filled the air with comforting noise, the notion that there was some normality left.
George thanked his brother for coming and excused himself for bed.
“Shall I help you darling”, Dianne asked.
“No. Thank you dear”, he replied, Dianne smiled at the use of ‘dear’.
George walked to the room; he had been sleeping in the spare room since his return, somehow it didn’t seem right to lie side by side.
He sat on the bed and blinked angrily. He felt anger at his life now, the pain he knew he caused his wife, all the dead men and boys he saw blown apart before him. Limbs flying, intestines slithering, a smile on a hopeful face then that same face with a whole on one side. How did it all fit together? What were you supposed to do after this? It was easier not to feel or think, but deep down he wanted the numbness to go away, to love again, to love for all those who now couldn’t. It just wasn’t that easy. He picked up one of the pictures Dianne had left on the bed stand for him to look at, in the vain hope it might help recover something of her pre-war husband. He looked at the picture; Dianne smiling, him to, handsome with full lips and large eyes, Dianne wearing a cute hat, her hair longer then and let loose. They were on a beach somewhere, he didn’t know where, but they looked happy. George stroked Dianne’s hair in the picture with his finger then put it below his pillow.
Dianne and Luke sat in the lounge together.
“Will you pour me a brandy Luke, please”, Dianne asked.
Luke poured her the drink and sat by her side.
“He is getting better all the time De, he is not lost to us I can see that”, Luke said rubbing her shoulder.
Dianne sipped her brandy and enjoyed the warmth that passed through her as a much needed comfort.
“I hope so Luke, I really do”
Luke squeezed her hand, “well I better be off, unless you need to talk? I can always stay for a while if you need me to”.
Dianne shook her head, “I think you need a rest from talking, do you not?” she said teasingly.
“Don’t be cheeky Miss De. Goodnight, I will see you soon”.
Dianne went to get up, “No, I can let myself out, don’t get up”
Dianne smiled, “Thank you, and goodnight”.
As the door closed she poured herself another drink. She went to the drawing board and pulled open the second draw. In it was the trinket that George had fixed; she picked it up and examined all it’s cracked. She ran her fingers over each crack, opened the trinket and inside was a small locket she had forgotten she had put there. Inside the locket was a picture of George as a child; it had been his grandmothers and she left it to him when she died. Dianne put the locket on the side and sat down in the rocking chair. The chair was still warm from George. She put the trinket in her lap. She began to think what was left for her in life now; she had hoped for new beginnings after the war, maybe a baby for her them to love and raise. That all seemed impossible now, unreachable. She felt that in her heart she had written George off and that upset her the most. She never could have imagined she could feel this way; but it was so hard, did he even love her? She thought about this for awhile. She knew it would be easier maybe if she believed he was beyond help or he didn’t love her at all because then she could move on instead of passing the days in limbo. She picked up the trinket and admired the cracks; it was whole despite being full of cracks – a bit like George she thought. She loved her trinket just as much with cracks, couldn’t she do the same with her husband?…….yes she could, and she would put him back together like he put back the trinket, he will never be the same, like the trinket isn’t, but he will be hers and he will come back to her one day. Dianne placed the trinket on the table near the rocking chair and put the locket with George’s picture on the chain round her neck. She looked at the empty room, tided it quickly and went to bed.
Dianne woke early that morning and the sun was beaming outside. She walked round and opened all the windows and breathed in the air, though London air it maybe. She made his favourite breakfast of poached eggs and ham. When she heard George come down from his room she took a deep breath. As he walked into the kitchen she greeted him with a kiss on the cheek, he was a little surprised but he didn’t flinch.
“I made you your favourite breakfast – poached eggs and ham, the toast is just coming”
He sat down at his place on the table. Dianne brought in the toast. George looked up from his food at his wife.
“I do love you. You know that don’t you”.
Dianne melted inside, relief rushed through her bones, and her legs turned to jelly. Tears streamed down her face.
“Yes George, I know”.