Christopher has been sent home from Afghanistan after being wounded by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). He's been recovering from surgery.
Grace hated January. It was cold, grey and empty. She spent two weeks waiting, as the days became a seamless silence of soft, white mist. Sally phoned, once, to tell her that the hospital had phoned to let them know that Christopher’s wounds were healing as well as could be expected. He had asked to see his parents but that was it. Margaret’s phone call was weighty with things that were left unsaid. Grace listened to his mother’s chatter. He hadn’t spoken much but he was pleased to see them. He cried a bit, but recovered himself.
“I asked him if he was ready to see you.” Margaret said and then, fell silent.
Grace puffed on her cigarette. She knew what the answer was even before his mother said it. She had used the empty days of waiting to do her research. She knew more than she ever wanted to learn about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. “It’s all right.” She told her. “He doesn’t want to see me.” Another draw on the cigarette and her eyes swam with tears. “He’s too broken and damaged and he doesn’t want me there.” She stared out of the window, at the mist. A starling settled on the fence, regarded her with a cold, silvery eye and flew away. The world was so still.
“He says that he’s not that man you fell in love with.”
God, now what do I do? How do I fix this mess? She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. The cigarette burned away to ash in the ashtray. She curled and uncurled her free hand. “As long as he lives to draw breath, he is the man I fell in love with.” Grace wasn’t going to cry, not on the phone. “I suppose, somehow, I need to convince him of that, when the time is right. If there’s a right time.”
“Darling, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to say. We’ll do all that we can, you know that.”
“He needs you, Grace, he just doesn’t realize it yet.”
She sighed and twisted the cold butt of the dead cigarette between her fingers. “We can’t force him. Not yet.” She wondered how she could sound so calm and reasonable when her guts were being torn to pieces.
“Shall I talk to the psychiatrist? Do you think that would help?”
“It might.” Grace glanced at the calendar; the big, black crosses fell away at the beginning of the month. It was nearly February. He had been home for nearly a month, away from harm, yet, he could’ve been lost in the hinterlands.
“”We’ll do that, then. We’ll arrange to speak to the psychiatrist when we go to the hospital in a couple of days.
She wanted to ask how Christopher looked. Instead, she looked at the photograph on the wall. The one that she had loved, the Guardsman gazing at something that no one else could see.
“Grace, are you all right?”
No, I’m dying, Margaret. I’m dying and I don’t know what to do “I’ll be all right. I think it’s best that I try and keep busy. You know, that way, I won’t think so much.” Maybe it won’t hurt so much.
“I’m sorry. I know how hard this must be for you. How much it hurts.”
Grace’s voice cracked.”Yes, it does. It hurts a lot. Don’t worry about me. Just concentrate on Chris. Help him to get better.”
She put the phone down and stared out of the window again, grateful for the mist. Sunlight would have just been a mockery. She looked at her watch. Morning break was over. It was time to get back to work. She hoped that her father would give her a stupid, dangerous two year old to ride. Something that needed her full attention and, if she happened to break her neck in the meantime, that would be all right too.