I hugged myself on the living room floor. And clutching the soft camel toy he’d sent home months ago, I cried and cried.
Thank God, I thought.
When her soldier husband goes off on tour, Lara is usually happy to be left behind. Stephen’s job takes him all over the world but she is more content at home. This time it’s different. She’s eight months pregnant on the day he leaves, and it’s not a business trip he’s going away for; it’s a war. Lara has to face the struggles of birth and motherhood by herself, afraid of terrible news at every knock on the door, and wondering, even if her husband does return, whether she’ll be the same woman he left behind …
I dropped the baby when I heard the key in the door. Not far, as I was already crouching to retrieve his fallen dummy. Josh slipped from his perch on my tired hip and landed safe but stinking on his filled nappy. His bottom lip wobbled and so did mine. I opened my mouth to reassure him but couldn’t find the words. Instead, I found breath-stealing sobs escaping me, timed almost in unison with Stephen’s marching footsteps down the hall.
I sensed my husband hovering tentatively in the doorway. Through bleary eyes I looked over the shoulder of our crying child. I was able to make out his features. His strong jaw and strictly shaven face; his thick bottom lip and small, sporadic freckles. My heart thumped in my ears like a bass drum. His dominant, rugby-humped nose, his war-hollowed cheeks. We made eye contact and my stomach turned.
Bewildered by my reaction to him, Stephen focused his attention on Josh. I looked around the room. The carpet was awash with a rainbow assortment of toys, teddies, and building blocks. Amongst our mess, Stephen’s uniform was too formal. It took all my strength not to scream for him to get out.
Josh stopped crying, intrigued by the man in the doorway. I collected myself and broke the silence.
‘Take your uniform off by the door Stephen. Please.’ I said, piercing the space between us with, ‘Don’t come any closer.’
He took another step forward, into the living room. He reached out for my baby with calm assertion. I kissed Josh’s forehead and handed him over. His eyes widened as he contemplated Stephen. They turned away from me and Stephen walked slowly back into the hall with our son held up in front of his face. He touched their noses together and I thought I heard Josh start to cry. His bright red dungarees and wispy blonde hair were a stark contrast to Stephen’s bleak desert uniform. As he clomped back into the hallway, his boots scuffing the laminate, I hugged myself on the living room floor. And clutching the soft camel toy he’d sent home months ago. I cried and cried. Rocking myself back and forth.
Thank God, I thought.