Old War Stories: Coming Home

They never tell you what it’s like, when you leave the battlefield and return to civilian life.  I’ve had so many comrades going home, and I honestly wonder if they are doing well.  They said that they would be sending letters to me, so I suppose I’ll be able to see for myself if what they said is true.  However, as I got off the train and headed down that dusty pavement path, I couldn’t help but wonder if they had the same feeling as I did.  My hand sat on the hilt of my blade.  It looked so regal on me now, but that wasn’t its purpose.  That wasn’t the purpose it had served for me, during my days as a soldier.  This weapon has blood on it.  So much blood.  It’s stained my hands, my dreams, my memories.  Everything is stained, now.
The first thing I notice is the wind.  There is never, and I do mean never, not a breeze running through this place.  In the summer, it is warm winds from the south, bringing rain and sunshine to the crops that grow.  During the winter, it is bitter and terrible winds from the east and the north, biting cold and making you appreciate your hot garva that much more.  It feels so good.  The trees lining the road shake and I feel that hot air on me.  It’s such a good feeling.  Summer is coming to an end.  The harvest will be happening soon.  That means the Harvest Festival.  Not a bad time to come home.  Sheer chance, though.  I was bound by my oath until the war ended.
A motor vehicle passes by.  The driver is some rowdy kid, clearly having just been given this new toy.  Its not uncommon to see vehicles, even out here.  We’re about 20 years behind the times of every place you’ll ever go.  I pull the duffle across my back in tighter.  It was slipping.  Hearing my feet on the pavement, the wind on my face, my thoughts drift back to old memories.  I come out past the trees, and see the wheat fields of several families.  This brought something back.

“Give it back!” she shouted.
I kept running.  The girl was gaining on me, but I wasn’t about to let her have her way.
“Gotta ask real nice, Lily!”
“I’ll ask when I hit you really hard!”  Her pace is quickening.  It’s only a matter of time until she gets me.  Dressed in her overalls, and her blue shirt, the indignant look on her face is adorable.  I’m running through the fields.  Were I far enough ahead of her, I’d lose her in it.  It’s high enough now to hide.  But I can’t stop.  She’s too close, and the distance is getting slimmer.  This might be bad.
“When I get you, you’re gonna be sorry!”
Perhaps.  I have her book in my hand.  It’s her favorite.  Not my fault that the girl was reading it while I was talking.  It was something really cool!  Not every day you see a traveling show!  But she just couldn’t tear herself away.  She reads that book all the time!  It could wait.  Said she was listening.  I tested that.  She failed.  So I decided to make sure I had her attention.
Just then, my feet contacted something.  It was a rock.  What was a rock doing out here in the field?!  This was bad.  I was falling, very quickly.  However, there was a bright side.  Turns out, she had been right behind me.  So she was caught up in my falling.  As I went down, she was right behind me.  I landed on my stomach, with the book still in my hand.  She was on her side.  In a flash, she was up and on me.  Her hand grabbed her book, and the two of us rolled around, neither wanting to let go.
“Give me my book!”
“No!  You’ll just go back to ignoring me!”
“You were being boring!  Not my fault if the book is more interesting!”
We grappled through the field, until neither of us could move.  Both of us were breathing hard, still holding on to the book.  I was now the one on top, smirking down on her.  That’s when things got ugly.  She threw dirt on my face.  It  got in my eyes.  Hurt really bad.  I fell back, crying out in pain.
“Well next time, give me my book back!”  The girl took off running, while I sat there, crying.

It was later that evening.  I had gone home and was in my room for the rest of the day.  That night, I was sitting on my bed, still hurt and eyes all puffy.  That’s when I heard something hitting my window.  It was a soft sound.  I got up and walked over to see what it was.  When I look down, I see her there.  She’s shuffling her feet and looking at the ground.
“What do you want?!” I call out, as softly as I can, so as not to wake up the parents.
“Can I come up?”
“No!  Go home, jerk!”
She looks up, and I can see a pained look on her face.  “Please?  Just for a minute?”
I don’t want to let her in, but there’s this little voice that says that it is the right thing to do.
“Fine, but I don’t want you here long.”
The girl climbs up the side of the wall.  It has these little pathways for the ivy to grow that make for great hand and footholds.
Coming in, I keep my distance.  Got a book of my own, as a weapon.  Her feet go back to shuffling and she looks down.
“I’m sorry, about today.  I didn’t mean to throw dirt in your face.  I was just so mad about the book, and how you weren’t giving it back.”  Finally, she looks up at me.  “Do you forgive me?”
I don’t like her enough right now for that, but I don’t want to hurt her anymore.
“No.  But I will later.”
A tiny smile comes onto her face.  Her blonde hair is such a golden mess.  She walks over and kisses me on the cheek.
“What was that for?!  I don’t want any of that love-y junk on me!”
She’s already at the window.  “See you tomorrow?”
“No,” I reply.  Still mad at her.  “But maybe the next day.”
She looks bummed, but bounces back.  “Okay.  See you.”  And just like that, she’s gone.

I wonder if she’s still in this town.  Probably not.  The girl wanted to be a machinist.  For as long as I knew her, she was tinkering with things.  Her mom said it wasn’t ladylike, but I always knew that her father liked it.  He always had a little helper for when he was busy with stuff.  Those two were so close.  When he died, she was so torn up.  Way I see it, she must have moved on from this little town years ago.  Perhaps I could find her mom and figure out where she went.  It would mean more travel, and I already got done with a series of train rides, but it was worth it.  To see those who are important to you.  The reason that we live, as an old war-buddy said.  Another girl who I wondered how she is.  I’d get to see her soon.  So far as I knew, she was still here.  The other of a group of friends who went to fight, and only the two of us came back.  Those are the bad memories that are with me.

About an hour later, I’m past the wheat fields, and now there is something new to greet me – the smell of citrus.  The fields of fruit trees in front of me, it’s so beautiful.  Would it be bad if I went and stole one of those fruits?  This close to the harvest, they have to be done.  Didn’t care.  I am going to take it.  Hopping the fence, I walk into the rows of trees.  I hear the workers not too far away.  Reaching up, I grab one of the delicious red fruits.  Hopping back onto the road, I peel the skin off and take a bite.  It’s heaven!  After four years of military rations, I finally had fresh fruit again!  What bliss.  What absolute bliss.  This is better than sex.  Of that, I am certain.  Did I appreciate this enough when I was growing up?  If not, I was going to make up for that by gaining 50 pounds eating the stuff.  Memories of the soup made from this fruit filled me with inexpressible joy.  Or the desserts made with it.  So much eating to catch up on!
This is where I see the big red farmhouse at the top of the hill.  I’d recognize it anywhere.  In a town that you know everyone’s name, you learn all the landmarks.  Growing up, I never lost my way because I always had that giant structure to welcome me home.  When the sun goes down, you go back to your house.  That was the rule.  When the lot of us had been together.  It was hard to resist the urge to take of running.  The sun wasn’t going down, but it was getting pretty late.  Every part of me just wants to take off running and hope that there’s a warm dinner waiting for me.  All those feelings of childhood.  Had it really been so long ago?  Felt like yesterday.
Going past the hill, I see it there.  The white fence of our home.  The fields that my family tended to.  We raised cows and pigs.  I smile when I think about how much shit I’ve ended up shifting out of the barn or the pens during the winter, when the animals can’t roam free.  Looking out on to the vast ocean of green, the cows are all there, chewing or just lounging around.  Such memories.  I remember my little sister and big sister out with the dogs, herding them.  Those girls were born to be farmers.  I would wonder where they are now, but then I hear the sound of horses coming up the field.  Moving quickly, I make behind a tree.  Don’t want them to spoil the surprise for mom and dad.  As I look out, I can tell who is who.  Big sister, broad-shouldered and having a few extra pounds.  Don’t let her looks fool you.  That girl could probably damn-near lift that horse.  The first child, and never far from the old man when work had to be done.  I was the middle kid, so I got away with not being around.  Being the middle child means you get ignored.
Little sister is lithe, small, and has that bubbly smile on her face.  I see her, and I’m in awe.  I leave and she’s this little kid who follows you around like a puppy.  I come back, and she’s damn-near a woman!  I get the feeling that she is fighting boys off with a stick.  Unless she digs the attention.  Don’t like to speak ill of family, but it’s never enough attention for her.  Girl was spoiled silly, growing up.  Thankfully, she liked to do a lot of thinking.  Girl wanted to go into Vernard City and study to become a Counselor.  One day come back and run for Mayor of our town.  That girl was going places.  Not one person who met her didn’t like her.  It was impossible.
The two girls are giving each other shit about their riding, showing off.  The cows look up and I can tell that even they are rolling their eyes.  Once the two speed off, I decide to keep moving.  It’s time to go home and give my parents a heart attack.  This is going to be good.

When I get to the front door, I don’t bother knocking.  Using the “stealthy tactics” I learned in the military, I go inside and put down my duffle bag.  There’s a smell coming from the kitchen, and I know that something amazing is happening.  There is the sound of the old man snoring in his chair.  He’s turning into his mother.  She used to fall asleep in her chair, either reading a book or listening to the radio.  In this case, I hear a metal game on the radio, with our home team up by ten points.  There’s a little pride there, not that I ever cared about metal discus.  One of the channelers in my unit had been a player.  He talked about going back to that, when he got home.  He actually has gotten the chance, since he walked away with all of his faculties intact.
Moving into the kitchen, I hear a couple of voices.  One is clearly my mother.  The other is a young woman.  Who could it be?  They are swapping rhunar pie recipes.  Another thing that sounds pretty great.  I peek in to see a girl with long, flowing blonde hair sitting in the chair.  I can’t tell who it is.  Then there’s my mother.  She’s got her back to me, over the stove.  It’s time!  I move in, not making a sound.  Make sure the uniform is nice and gallant on me.  Now I just wait.  Don’t have to wait long.  She turns around, with a spatula in her hand.  It falls out of her hand.
“Goddess!” she whispers.
The girl looks back, and then I see it.  The face of a girl that I had left behind, so long ago.  My oldest friend.
“Lily?!”  I’m in shock.
There is this beautiful smile that come to her face.  “Welcome home, Luger.”

Until next time, a quote,

“Every parting is a kind of death, as every reunion is a type of heaven.” – Tryon Edwards

Peace out,

Maverick

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