Every time I shut my eyes, I see your face.
It seems there is no respite from this summer’s heat; not the cucumber mother forces upon me, insisting on its mental as well as nutritional benefits, and not the rosewater father bought on his travels to Turkey, which only serves to remind me of the rosebush at the Weston-Symes’, until I can no longer bear even to smell it.
And there is certainly no respite in the simple act of closing one’s eyes, since the ensuing darkness brings to mind a face I have been trying – and failing – to shake from my memory.
You left me, Lands.
A woman (I suppose she was pretty; the sort of placid waif my mother might introduce to me at an elderly someone’s at-home) boldly approached me in the street as I walked out of Jenners. By the look on her face, I thought she might strike me, so I stepped back, alarmed. She proceeded to hand me a white feather. Then, silently, she disappeared into the curious crowd.
I can withstand their eyes on me, Lands; I can withstand my fellow Christians’ revulsion at a refusal to kill. Where the waif (how pale! how inconsequential a body!) succeeded, however, was in shining a light on my betrayal — not of a country, or a king, or any notion of freedom that others appear to enjoy, but of you.
I betrayed you. I let you go to war, to Ypres. I let you leave me.
I cannot fathom the horrors your eyes must have witnessed before they closed for the last time. I blink away the gunfire and smoke, the gas, the flurry of attack and defence, the savage switch of a body from a bullet to a shell, all in the space between one heartbeat and the next.
And I also blink away our days on Calton Hill, when we were ancient and limitless, until you turned your back to become a man, while I stayed behind with the grieving women.
I wonder if the last thing you smelled was a memory – a rosebush at the Weston-Symes’, or the wind on Calton Hill that almost knocked us from a different shame.
I wonder if the last face you saw, when your eyes shut, was mine.
You left me, Lands, and I left you. But when I shut my eyes, you come back, and you are no longer a shell. There’s the respite. There is the forgiving gap, between betrayal and love.