On the first night back at home after a year in Afghanistan Brendan lay awake with Lucy’s back againsthis chest, her hair tickling his face and her gentle breathing echoing, overly-loud in his ears. While he'dbeen away the other guys had complained about sleeping in the cold, on the ground, in the open. Atfirst Brendan thought ‘I just need Lucy. I can’t get to sleep without her in my arms’, but now the bodybeside him felt strange and unfamiliar, and oddly fragile. He lay still, staring at the ceiling until hisarm, wedged underneath Lucy, buzzed with pins-and-needles so that he was forced to extract it, takingthe utmost care not to wake her. Finally managing to free himself, Brendan moved as far as he could tohis own side of the bed and drifted into an uneasy sleep.
When the sun shining through the window coaxed him into wakefulness the next morning Brendanfound that Lucy had pursued him in her sleep and rested her face on his shoulder, her arms tightaround his chest, clinging almost desperately to him. In that warm, weighty moment of waking he feltcautiously contented, and very nearly happy. He stretched himself a little and breathed in the scent ofhome, and of Lucy. He wrapped an arm around her and ran his hand down her side, remembering thedip of her waist, the bulge of her hips, the smoothness of her skin.
Lucy sighed and shifted her weight a little. A moment later a change in her breathing told himthat she was awake, but fighting it – her eyes resolutely shut. She clung ever-tighter to him and hewhispered ‘good morning’. She mumbled something which sounded vaguely like ‘don’t want to wakeup’, then blearily opened her eyes, raised them to his face, and smiled.
And as that smile nudged him a little closer to his former way of life memories bubbled to the surface,pushing and shoving as they clamoured for attention. Nostalgia of the familiarity and security hehad used to feel slowly seeped back to him. He searched tentatively in the dust-covered archives ofrecollection until he latched onto a good memory and dragged it into the light to be examined.
Australia Day at the beach. First time Sammy had ever been. God, he was gorgeous, playing in thesand. Eating a fair bit of it too. They'd taken him down to the water and he started crying when ittouched his feet. Such a funny kid; so shy and quiet. Two years old, then. And now he was four. Wherehad that time gone?
As though responding to Brendan's thoughts Sammy's little footsteps sounded down the hallway. Hisface appeared at the doorway and a moment later he was clambering up onto the bed.
“Day time. Wake up.”
Lucy rolled away from Brendan to make room for Sam. Looking at the clock he saw that his son wasright, it was daytime; 8:33. Sam cuddled up to his mother and closed his eyes contentedly. Watchingthem, Brendan found himself grinning involuntarily. His little family.
He'd never really thought about having a family. Wife, kids, mortgages and mess. But Lucy did. Itmay have been the only thing she ever knew for sure that she wanted. And now that it had happened toBrendan, well, it was good. He'd almost forgotten how good it was.
Sam opened his eyes again and stared at Brendan, wriggling a little closer to Lucy as he did so. Therewas a mixture of confusion and distrust on his face, as though he'd only just registered Brendan'spresence, and wasn't sure what to make of it.
Brendan reached out a hand and patted his son's arm gently. “Hey, it's okay, Sammy. It's me. It'sdaddy.”
Sam looked at Lucy, as though searching for confirmation of this. She nodded and smiled, but Brendancould see deep disappointment in her eyes. She even seemed to be blinking back tears as she askedthem, “why don't we get up?”
Brendan nodded his agreement; Sam's stare at close proximity was making him uncomfortable. Hecouldn't understand it – the day before the boy had been all excitement, welcoming him home. As theybegan to get up and make their way to the kitchen Lucy whispered over Sam's head;
“I suppose there's a world of difference, for a four-year-old, between welcoming home 'daddy', andwaking up to find a man who you haven't seen for a year living in your house.”
Feeling hurt and slightly lost Brendan followed them into the kitchen. He bumped into Lucy as theyboth tried simultaneously to put the kettle to boil, and then got in her way by opening the fridge dooras she tried to pass. Eventually he sat himself at the table and watched her buzzing around the kitchen,fixing pancakes for them. Unable to think of anything to say he drew back into himself, trying toremember how this all worked.
He remembered the moment when he first saw Lucy; half choked with shyness as she waited outsideher first class at university. She'd just moved into Canberra and had trouble stammering out a greeting,let alone making friends. He had found her intriguing. He had felt intuitively that if he could get hertalking, then they would have no end of things in common to discuss.
Brendan looked up at his wife as she flipped pancakes and nudged Sam away from the hot stove. Hefelt, once again, as though he hardly knew her. As though he'd never seen this woman before. Exceptthat this time she had none of the allure and raised none of the interest that she had on their firstmeeting. She was a stranger. He was living with a stranger and her son and there was no way to escapethem.
Brendan shook his head, as though trying to dislodge the unwelcome thoughts, and tried again to delveinto the world of memory: to discover what had once connected him so strongly to these people, to thisplace.
He remembered the moment that they had hurriedly left the military chapel, making way for thenext ceremony which was scheduled just two hours after the beginning of theirs. There was alwaysa flood of weddings at the end of the year – everyone wants to get married before they go to serve.Brendan and Lucy had looked across at each other as they slid into the backseat of the wedding car andremembered that they had just been married, and Lucy began to laugh.
In that moment he had felt something so powerful, and so precious towards her. Something that he hadthought, at the time, was an eternal and true feeling. Brendan thanked Lucy as she flipped two pancakesonto his plate. He passed her the maple syrup which she dripped onto Sam's food, then her own, beforepassing it back to Brendan. He watched her eat, and admonish Sam for getting syrup on his pyjamas,and he felt nothing. It was all gone. Everything he had felt for her had been left in the past.
Instead, Brendan turned to Sam, watching as the boy tried to fit a whole pancake into his mouth, and heremembered the moment when Sam had first been handed to him, as a newborn baby. The only thinghe could remember about it was being utterly terrified that he would drop or hurt or break the small,squirming, squalling thing which had just been placed in his care.
He looked at the sticky child, licking his plate clean of maple syrup, and felt none of the sametenderness or protectiveness. All he experienced was a mild revulsion towards the lack of tablemanners of the child who hardly even recognised his own father.
Lucy's voice shook him from his reverie. She was making plans for the day. They could take Sammy tothe park, get coffee together at a cafe, buy lunch at their favourite bakery like they used to.
Feeling overwhelmed and intimidated Brendan cut in; “I'll probably go out with some of the boystonight.” Lucy stared blankly at him and he hurried to explain himself. “A few of us organised ityesterday.”
Crest-fallen, Lucy murmured, “but you've only just got back.”
“Well, that's the whole point. We, ah, we wanted to check in with each other; make sure everyone isdoing okay now that we're back.”
As a stagnated silence descended Brendan sheltered behind his lie – his escape – and sweetened it witha second.
“I'll try not to be gone long, Lucy. I want to be here with you.”
This is part 1 or 6 from a Major Work I had to write for school last year. In the end it was rushed, and I was forced to stay with a topic and write in a style which are not my best, so I don't love it. I also had to pander to the markers a lot, which I hate doing. But, thanks very much for reading! I don't absolutely hate this, and I hope you enjoyed it. The rest will be up soon.