Lily smiled at her mother and father, at Daniel’s parents, and at every one of the long drawn out procession of well wishers. She smiled until her jaw locked and she feared her teeth would push through her gums and leave her smiling still, a mess of red blood dripping down onto her white lace dress. She felt Daniel squeeze her hand occasionally and took each press of his fingers as a promise that, soon, they would not have to stand there for the benefit of friends and family. People had warned her about cold feet, but she’d also thought those sorts of thoughts were supposed to come before the ceremony. It wasn’t until after she’d said, “I do,” that the sound of a judge’s gavel had echoed through her head like she was being sentenced and she’d suddenly wondered whether this man she was standing next to was really someone she could stand to be near for the next twenty minutes, let alone twenty years.
It was a Tuesday when I came back from the War, and never a Tuesday like it will anybody ever see again; flags were flying, bands were playing and all the old ladies and young boys and others who stayed at home were out to watch the local regiment march back into town. The people all wore their Sunday best, and called to each other over heads, saying, Evelynn, darling, you look smashing, and replying, I do sure hope Johnny thinks so, while the urchins scurried about hawking papers proclaiming the end of the War, and Victory most sweet. And then we turned down main street and first the voices quieted and then the bands petered out until there wasn’t much sound left but our feet slapping the cobblestones. The looks on their faces was almost enough to make me want to turn around and go fight another war. Furrowed brows, squinted eyes, wringing hands. We were not what they expected to see. We were not what they wanted to see. “Where is my son?” someone cried. The call was taken up by others until we were bombarded by questions. We trudged onwards. Some were fortunate enough to find their families quickly, others had to push through the crowd, arms that had held rifles turned to pushing the infirm, the young, the innocent aside. Nobody called out to me. I walked through the crowd with my eyes on the cobbles. What a disappointment it must have been for them all. Instead of proud soldiers inflated by victory they got us, a cluster of broken men.
Puddles filled the potholes in the street, miniature lakes that reflected the light of the sunlamps. Occasionally a car bounced along, the headlights blinding him until they sped away, leaving him in the dark again. He trudged along, hands shoved in his pockets, brow furrowed with concentration. His feet didn’t seem to want to do what he told them. He was still staring at them when someone moved at the corner of his eye, walking towards him. He turned his head and the rest of his body felt like it followed on its own, yanking him around so he stumbled and had to catch himself on the lamp pole. He put his hands back into his pockets, reassuring himself that the pistol was still there. Not that he could hit anything in this state, a part of him whispered. He pushed the though away. “Hello?” he said, wincing at the slur in his voice, “who are you?” There was no reply. He squinted into the darkness for another few seconds, then minutes. Swaying shadows of the past were all he could see.