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Page 5

Bernard Peasley

When the flight nurses took over the gurney and dragged it up the ramp, he panicked as her hand slipped from his arm for the very last time.

The duty nurse watched them all approach her desk and directed them to his room. Her eyes followed them down the corridor: a father, a mother and a brother, close together, ready for anything. Trailing along behind, the girlfriend, one careful step after another. They closed up at his door, braced themselves, and filed in.

‘There’s no easy way to do it,’ the plastic surgeon had told them, ‘one day the bandages have to come off, and you have to be there for him – he’ll need you all, like never before. You can’t predict how you’ll react when you come face-to-face with real war.’

He had been sitting up in bed, straining to hear their approach, and here they were, fanning out around his bed, eyes riveted to his face. He had explored every inch with his own fingers and failed to recognize a single contour. What alien horror was facing them now?

His mother rushed forward in silence, fearless, drawn by only one pure thought – her son, in need of more love than she could possibly give. He knew her from her smell, the tender way she held him, her silent weeping.

His father moved quickly to join them, his already cynical view of the modern world calcifying with every step. His arms were stiff and unprepared for the affection he knew they had to give. For the first time in his entire life, he realized that his own patriotism had come at a fearsome cost. He felt his son’s forearm shudder under the touch of his calloused fingers. How could he convince his eldest boy that this was not failure?

His younger brother, distanced by regret for all the petty rivalries, was unable to find any language at all to reveal the love that had always been there.

But the one visitor whose touch he wanted above all others, had failed to move forward, failed even to speak. 

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