I’m scared to dust; I don’t want to sweep a bit of George away. Yellow ribbons in all the trees. Women who don’t busy themselves endlessly, they send themselves crazy with the fluttering.
My husband isn’t even a soldier, and he’s been sent all the same. He was so calm telling me the Church was sending him out there. I cried, like a girl, and he held me. He told me that Jesus too, toiled in the desert. And he picked up his bag, and got in his ride to the airport. I had to pick the boys up from school.
The men our country has abandoned, the good vicar says, cannot be helped from the comfort of his pulpit in the suburbs, he’s got to be in a cammo suit, stood beside them. Bloody boys.
It only hurts because I love him, of course. So I save up his letters on the mantelpiece. Like talismans to guard us. If anyone touches them I have no way of holding on to myself. But I can’t hide them away. I need to walk past them twelve times a day, not keep them in a drawer. He writes one every three days; sometimes they don’t arrive for a week, then two come together. But I never open the newest one till the next has arrived. I need to know he’s still alive. I need to know I’m not devouring the last piece of him without knowing it.
So there is always an unopened letter waiting. And it haunts and soothes me in equal measure. The baby screams to break the spell, and once she’s back asleep, and looking like an angel again, I come back downstairs to frown at the mantelpiece for another little while. I sit across the room, next to George’s chair.
The light in the kitchen is broken and I can’t bear to take any of the parishioners husband’s up on their offers to help. But it’s waiting for George; the god he believes in will send him home soon. And till then I have brought down my reading lamp from our bedroom, and I cook in the shadows that the living room casts. Anyway, I don’t read before bed any more, I can’t concentrate on the shapes of the words.
The other day, one of our boys kicked out a picket from the fence at the front of the vicarage. It was an accident in a touch football game gone rough, but I scolded them both, and brought them inside. I felt miserable right away, so I got them to help me in the kitchen, so I could keep them with me. So that they knew it wasn’t a punishment, I told them I needed their help. We were peeling the vegetables, and chopping them. Tenderising the meat. And I confiscated the onions, to excuse things I couldn’t stop. I didn’t need the boys crying too, and I didn’t need them to know it wasn’t the onions that got me. The fence is only decorative; a teenager could swing a leg over it. But our vicarage had a perfect smile before, and now there’s a tooth kicked out. Like a goofy child. It will wait like that, some scruffy-smiled fence, till George comes home. It’s something people notice more than the kitchen light, so it’s harder to keep refusing, but I do. And I never was good at asking for help. Maybe that’s why I married a vicar? He’s too good to everyone else for any time to fuss over me; but so kind.
I can’t stand people fussing, but what I wouldn’t give to have him here. I don’t want well-meaning help, I just want George. It burns me every time someone tries to fix things. George is always glad to.
It feels like the whole house is coming down brick by brick, there’s a chip off the ceramic tub upstairs, there’s squeaky hinges and wobbly handles on all the doors. We have two ‘lodgers’ with us now. They are both kind men on hard times. They want so badly to fix the things that fall apart without him. They pay no rent, and we wouldn’t dream of taking any. I wouldn’t dream of it. Nor would George, if he was here in this ramshackle vicarage, but then his office wouldn’t be empty to accommodate them, I’d have had to find them another family to stay with, and they wouldn’t be here, watching me keep all our rituals, waiting for George, and hiding my blues, for the boys.