Hero of War (Part 24)

I return home with the letters gripped tightly in my hands. I read Sophie’s over a dozen times until every word, every capitalization, every punctuation, every curve of each letter is engraved in my brain.

A flight attendant helps me with my walker, bringing it to my seat and helping me stand. She’s kind, full of smiles and a certain deep sympathy in her green eyes. She carries my luggage behind me all the way out of the now-empty plane. She gently coaxes me through the lobby and stays with me until we locate my father.

I have only seen my father cry twice in my entire life– once at his mother’s funeral and the other at Steven’s. The tears that stream down his face are a mixture of the same grief he had felt then and relief. He takes my luggage from the kind flight attendant without so much as glancing at her. His eyes are fixed on me and his movements are stiff as though he doesn’t know what to do. I can read in his eyes that he is caught between the need to hug me and the desire to slap me.

“I’m sorry.” I say as though it will excuse my absence and lack of letters. The papers in my hand suddenly feel twice as heavy. They feel thick with guilt.

He nods, then casts his eyes down to my makeshift prosthetic.

That breaks his resolve. He reaches for me, ignoring the walker that poses as an obstruction, and wraps his arms around me. His strong hands shake against my shoulder blades.

We stand like that for a long moment, ignoring the crowds of people milling around.

The scent of his jacket brings me back to the last time he’d embraced me: Steven’s funeral. The sunlight reflected off the smooth, glossy surface of his coffin; the dewey gray lay crushed beneath my dress shoes; the minister’s voice rang in my ears.

I pull away from my father, wiping my eyes on the edge of my sleeve. The memory remains.

I wonder if he can read my mind because his eyes bear the same melancholy. His lips are drawn into a thin frown. Streak marks line the edges of his cheeks.

“Come on,” he says, picking up the luggage he’d dropped. If his voice had been just half an octave higher, it could have easily belonged to Steven. “Your mother’s waiting back at home.” He begins to turn away when he spots the two letters clutched against the walker. “Want me to take those?”

A bout of panic pulsates in my veins at the thought of separating from all that remains of Sophie. I shake my head vigorously as a result, causing the base of my neck to pop loudly.

He raises one eyebrow, looks from me to the letters and back again, then shrugs, turning towards the airport’s exit. I follow him slowly and walk through to doors and back into the real world.

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