Coming Home, flash fiction by Nan Hawthorne

He would bury his loss inside and go on as if nothing had touched him, nothing had cut him into pieces.

The soldiers were starting to come back.  It seemed like everyone in Sligo was peering out their windows hoping that the next tramp of boots on the cobbles would be their Paddy or Sean or Finn.  A stroll down the High Street revealed women’s faces at many of the windows, older ones and younger ones looking for sons or sweethearts or husbands.  The sound would fade and the curtains would swing back, one more heart left waiting and hoping still.  Down the line of cottages would come a cry of joy as the soldier reentered the bosom of his family, or on occasion, far too many of them, the eerie sound of keening meant the soldier shared news of the death of a fellow. 

One curtain stayed still, no woman’s face appearing through its open halves.  Inside this cottage the form of the waiter was not that of a woman.  Michael Shea, a barrel maker, bent over his work in the back trying not to hear the feet on the road.  He knew if his Liam returned he could not cry out with joy like his female neighbors but had to wait patiently while Liam’s family welcomed him.  He knew all too well that even with the joy of seeing Liam home and well his wait might go on, the experience of the battlefield having changed his lover’s feelings for him.  Worse yet if the news came that Liam had fallen his grief would have to remain private, the wrenching pain of it known to him alone.  He would not even be told but would learn of Liam’s death when he heard his old mother cry out at the dreadful news.  He would bury his loss inside and go on as if nothing had touched him, nothing had cut him into pieces.

“Michael.”  The soft voice from his workshop door was so quiet he almost did not hear it.  He slowly looked up from where he slid the adze on the stave he was making.  He turned to see his Liam standing, partially silhouetted in the doorway.  He tried to call his lover’s name, but his throat was so tight nothing came out but a strangled sound.  He dropped the adze and went to his darling, forgetting all caution as Liam opened his arms to him. 

Arms.  A chill went down his spine as he felt the precious arms go around him in an embrace.  He felt one hand pressed palm against his shirt back.  The other hand never reached home , a strange blunt pressure instead where an elbow would have bent.  He pushed away from the embrace to look.  Liam’s left arm stopped at the elbow.  A gasp of anguish escaped his lips.

He looked back to his lover’s face, seeing fright there.  “Och, ma chroidhe, will ye not love a cripple no more?” appealed Liam.

“Liam, buachail, never fear.  I could love you however you came back to me.”  He leaned into the embrace, lifting his lips to Liam’s kiss.  It was so good to welcome him back