‘I hate flies, I hate heat, I hate the desert, in fact I hate bloody everything connected to the place.’
Simon stared around him; the detritus of human life, the sweat, blood, tears, the indelible mark of ‘mans inhumanity to man’
Who the hell did he think he was; Simon Bradley? Why should he live when so many died or came back in this state?
Dull roaring ‘plane noises strove into his consciousness, a murmuring from a few feet away, leaning over he muttered words of comfort this was all he could offer.
“Not be long mate, think of all them nurses, cold pint of lager down the pub”
The man was drugged up to the eyeballs, the forward station had done their best but this was a ‘blighty’ job, he could only keep them comfortable till then. For a moment, he thought of Jane, the girl with laughter in her eyes, the girl with hope in her heart, his Jane, would she still be there though?
Simon boy you truly blew it didn’t you? Serves you right if all you get is a ‘Dear John’ letter telling you to get lost.
The sound of the ‘planes engines drew him into another place, the long hard roads around Basra; the ‘killing fields’, that was what they were, the endless endless nights; of overhead missiles, lack of sleep, the smell, the sweet sweet smell of death. It is a sweet smell he thought, logically, sweet or not it made you sick.
‘You’re a medic lad, that’s the ‘crack’, you get you bl…. arse out there and you save what you can and see the others get buried, that’s what we pay you for that’s what you do, if you don’t like it, tough! What you say lad you joined to save lives, well whoopee bl…..do so did we all and the best you can do is save what you can and let the others go in peace’
He hated what the sergeant said but knew he was right.
In peace, what peace!
He’d dug with his bare hands to get men out; he’d cried tears of frustration at the pointlessness of it all and then as the dawn broke, beautifully, over the desert he showered, changed, and did it all over again.
“Staff there’s a lad in post op. bit nauseous, can you give him ten minutes, I’ve medicated him but it’s not kicked in yet”
Jane turned from the desk and walked to the recovery room, she smiled her gentle smile and sat down beside the man, noticing the lack of a leg and the legion of shrapnel cuts over his body, what did the rest of the world and his family see?
Did they realise what the outcome of this lifesaving surgery would mean to him? He seemed quite young, 23 she remembered, married, small baby.
For now they would just be so pleased to have him alive and home. What would they be like when the nightmares came? When he only felt ‘half a man’, when others looked at him and turned away as they surely would; when all he got was a pittance of ‘compensation’ and a pat on the back?
“Now then boyo, welcome back,” the soft accent stirred him, something about the Irish brogue with its lilting smooth undertones comforted him;
“I’ve heard your lass is on her way so you’d better be getting a bit of kip now so there’s a smile for her when she gets here” whilst she spoke her smooth warm hand held one of his, she brushed golden curls away from the suntanned forehead noticing as she did the paleness beneath; the beads of sweat, cold now, as he began to relax.
She stayed a few minutes as the boy drifted into sleep; her thoughts went away to another blonde suntanned giant of a man, with a huge smile and a body that swept her gently into embraces she had only dreamt about.
Touching the letters in her pocket she remembered the anticipation and then the pain.
‘It’s over, I can’t do this,’
That was it, no explanation, no nothing, what had she done? Where had she gone wrong? Of course it was her fault, who else could it be? Was there someone else?
The blue ‘flimsy’ had drifted to the floor as she sank into a kitchen chair, the cat wove its way around her ankle’s mewing for food, she ignored it, she didn’t even hear it.
She won’t ever forgive me; why did I do it? I know why I did it, six months is only the start, I’m stuck with this for years. I’ve changed; I can’t walk into a room anymore without wondering whether I’ll walk out again.
I knew I had to do something about her and me when I got to the stage of realising I’d forgotten how to cry, how to feel, that everything I did was through a haze.
I still did my job, I still functioned, I don’t think anyone had a real notion how I felt, if I’d been able to I’d have got blind steaming drunk, so drunk that I fell down in a heap and all thoughts of anything would be obliterated, then the next day, when the thoughts came back I’d have done it again.
You don’t do that to someone you love, because you can’t take all that sh.. You don’t plant it in someone else’s lap and give them hell.
Me mam was against the army, she was against it a bit less when it was the ‘medics’, but she was right,
“You’ll see things a man ought not to our Si, it’s not as if you have to go like your Granddad did, you’ve got a good job, a good life”
Yes ma, you were right but only up to a point. I know this is where I have to be, it’s not something I can put my finger on its difficult to know, but I do have to be here.
It was that little Iraqi lad with the cuts and bruises from the car bomb, he didn’t need much doing except a bit of patching up but it was the sight of all that. I held him in my arms till his mam came, he was only six ma, six years old seeing that carnage.
Whatever it takes, that’s it, whatever it takes to help this lot, these lads who are only kids really, God I sound so old, I’m 25, so yea I am old by comparison.
I’ll take this lot back to Brize Norton, they’ve said I can have a few days ‘r and r’ nobody knows I’m coming this was a last minute thing; don’t even have to see anybody I don’t want to.
Jane walked through the office door, she’d ‘pulled ‘another shift, nothing unusual there, she often did extra nights, most of the other nurses had families. Jane was alone, ‘23 spinster of the parish’ and if that letter was to be believed long to remain so she thought with a hint of bitterness.
Everyone seemed quiet now, she gripped the mug of tea in her hands, tea has more caffeine in it than coffee, not many people know that, except people like nurses who have to stay awake long after others have gone to their beds.
She pulled out the second letter, again just a few words.
‘I love you Jane, oh God I love you so very very much but I can’t ask you to share this, whatever this is? This mess, you deserve so much better. Always Simon’
She’d been walking the family dog along the beach, freezing, the only things tingling exposed to the elements her bright red nose and the tips of her ears; the Labrador, full of life, glad to be free chased everything that moved and played catch with the crisp white wavelets, ‘another wet dog’ for her mother to deal with. She smiled at the thought of her mother. Stout, retired, iron grey hair and a wide smile, home baking and a cup of tea always to hand. Jane, like her mother, following in the family footsteps into nursing. The beach at Saltburn is always chill, the wind whips in from the arctic with nothing to stop it bringing with it clear skies, frost and snow. If you wanted shelter you walked in the ‘Italian Gardens’ but on this day Jane wanted freedom, something to blow the cobwebs away.
She’d never trust a man again, Robert was the first last and only, dumped without ceremony for younger slimmer model, the tears slipped down her face and froze in the wind to her cheeks.
She hadn’t noticed him till he was almost next to her, to her five feet he was enormous, cocooned in a duvet jacket and numerous scarves and woolly hat he seemed like a’ yeti’,
“That dogs going to catch pneumonia, that’s if dogs get pneumonia” white teeth against an almost perfect tan.
“Fancy a warm drink at ‘The Ship’?” without even knowing why she agreed, maybe it was the thought of the open fire she told herself, and that was it.
Wonderful days spent together on the heather covered moors, meals in quaint hotels with roaring fires, trips to the great ‘metropolis’ of Leeds to theatres and finally, wonderfully, making love in the warmth of a stone cottage in the dales while the snow
came down in silent drifts presenting a virgin whiteness in the morning, clean and untouched.
Then, in a moment he was gone, the train had left Darlington and she turned tear stained cheeks to another day of loneliness.
He wasn’t due any leave for three months, what was she to do? Where do you start when thousands of miles and an eternity divide you? She had absolutely no idea, only that she loved this man with all she was and had and that was not enough.
‘Jane,’ the nurse’s voice broke her thoughts ‘sorry love, I know you need that chocky biscuit fix but poor old Dennis in bay one is having a bad night and I’m still in ‘post op’
She smiled, brushed the crumbs away and went to work.
Simon glanced from the aeroplane at the dawn with its strange beauty, its golden glow flooding across a green landscape, silent, new.
He saw it but didn’t see it, he looked down seeing the white cliffs beneath him; he even broke into a tiny smile at the thought of how many people had done just as he when they saw these beacons of their homeland.
‘Brize in half an hour lads, best get your lot ready for landing’
Slowly and quietly he went round the stretchers, checking drips, a word of comfort here, a tucking in of sheets there,
‘We’ll soon be there lads, home’
The word brought tears to his eyes, he was running on reserves now emotions close to the surface.
“Jane there’s a flight coming in and they’re short downstairs, I’ve told them we’ll help out, if I stay here can you go down, we’ve got a couple of spare beds up here if
you need them” the Sisters voice was pleasant but firm, she’d been doing this a long time, Jane knew nothing about her except there had been someone a long time ago but now she was single, in her forties, dedicated to what she did. Will that be me? Jane thought, is this my life? Is this what I’m meant for?
Glass doors blew in a cold gale; she stepped back into the doorway to allow the stretchers to be brought in and followed them through. Professionalism took over, she tended wounds, directed the medics where to take them, and finally, after what seemed hours she turned to go off duty.
Warm cape hugging her shoulders she finally went for home; through the glass doors
of the hallway she saw a soldier slouched asleep against a wall, he looked vaguely familiar but they all did after a while. Moving gently to him, not knowing if he was ‘walking wounded’ or not she knelt beside him, recognising as she did the scar on the back of his hand and the signet ring he always wore on his middle finger.
Speaking gently through held back tears she said,
‘Simon, you’re home now, wake up and we can get you sorted’
Blue eyes focussed into hers, tears began to form in the exhausted depths, sand encrusted lashes blinked as recognition dawned.
‘Jane, my Jane, how can you love me, after what I’ve done, I’m so sorry, I love you so very very much?
Loving arms whose strength he desperately needed helped him to his feet; he leaned against the tiny body and began to weep.
“Come on my love, let me get you home”
The big, exhausted soldier, leaning against the small frame, made their way out; through the tears he managed to smile and knew that, finally, he was home.