“I can’t believe it’s really you.”
It must have been the seventeenth time Blanche uttered this phrase, almost breathless with wonderment. And for the seventeenth time, Andrew barely looked up, let alone said anything. He simply kept staring into the mug of black coffee on the kitchen table in front of him, as if he wished the blackness could swallow him if he stared long enough.
“I knew you’d come back,” Blanche tried again, forcing herself to sound cheerful in spite of the panic rising up in her throat at Andrew’s strange absent manner.
“I knew you’ll never let this silly war and all the ridiculous fighting get the better of you. You’re much too strong for that.”
Still there was no reply from Andrew. He lifted the mug to his mouth and took a long slow sip. From the tension on his face, Blanche could tell it’s hard for him to swallow. But she was too scared to ask about the scar in his neck, or about the limp in his leg, or the blood-stained bandage around his hand. Most of all, she was too scared to ask about the total blankness in his eyes.
Suddenly Andrew cleared his throat and straightened his back. Blanche automatically sat up straight as well, her body trembling with anticipation.
“I just came back to tell Uncle Garth that Jimmy and Edward have both been killed. Luckily it happened quickly, too quickly for them to feel any pain. I didn’t want Uncle Garth to see their names on the list and not know. They were after all his whole life.”
Blanche didn’t know what shocked her the most. The fact that the darling twins who were like brothers to her were dead, or that Andrew told her the news without showing any emotion. She was at a total loss of what to say. Blanche’s father always used to say that there are times when even the wisest, most beautiful words are suddenly void of any meaning or comfort. She instinctively knew this was one of those moments. The busy kitchen with its homely wooden furniture suddenly felt very small.
“It was a night attack,” Andrew continued. “Damned enemy wouldn’t stick to the rules. We couldn’t keep count of the bodies. But Jimmy and Edward were lucky, it happened quickly for them. They were lucky.”
While he was talking, Andrew sat perfectly still, staring at the wall opposite him. Blanche had a peculiar feeling that he was rather talking to himself than to her, that he was barely aware of her presence. She looked down and slowly unclenched her hands that were folded in her lap, frowning at her new cornflower blue dress that suddenly seemed unfittingly extravagant. She gently put one hand on Andrew’s arm. He didn’t move. His hands remained clenched around his coffee mug, the one with the bandage with a slightly looser grip.
How very different is his return than what I imagined, was the only thing Blanche could think. A lone tear was making its way down her cheek, slowly, as if it was scared of the reality it was reflecting.