Lulu pulls herself from the wailing woman in her dream and into a new day. The house is empty but not silent.
Its wooden floors and ceilings creak and groan in anticipation of a warm day. The walls, like her heart, echo voices from the past. She doesn’t want to get up, needing to spend a few more moments with her memories, but too soon the farm workers stir in the fields, pulling her reluctantly from white cotton sheets and warm recollections.
The clacking heels of her navy pumps disturb the empty silence of the hollow hall as she makes her way to the white washed double doors leading to the front porch. She pauses with her hand on the door and glances to the right where the solid, round oak table patiently bears its burden; a crumpled wad of paper – which gives her the willies – and his photo. His bold stare pierces her soul and she shudders at the memory of their last touch, and final farewell. Her fingers trace the plump red skin of pinning lips, he kissed so long ago.
The war was drawing out to a long untidy end, returning remnants of its platoons in broken- minded dribs and shattered bodily drabs or just plain old wooden boxes. Once loving fathers, brothers and lovers – now hardened and changed – were expected to fall back into a life forgotten. Were these women luckier than those left with Sunday visits replacing withered greens on empty graves? The overwhelming ‘Yes!’ resounds through her broken heart as she gently strokes her husbands printed face. Mindful not to touch that piece of paper – yes, they were, dammit!
On the farm next door, Clayman’s son had returned last month physically sound, but mentally warped. He spent his days beneath the large oak overlooking their vineyard, muttering to his ghosts. At night, Clayman said, he barely slept for the screaming as demons of the past pulled his son back into nightmare trenches. “Best my boy had died.” Then, looking at her with sad sunken eyes, “Hope you’re spared this pain.”
“No, never!” Lulu says a little too loudly.
Musky morning air, redolent with aging hops and overdue grapes wash over her as she steps outside. Closing her eyes, she can just hear his voice calling out to her – his voice!
Her eyes fly open and she sees the uniformed man – her uniformed man – standing just beyond the garden gate. “Lulubelle,” he calls.
For a shooting moment, she stands outside herself and stares at her own shocked image. “Douglas!?” The scream erupts from her constricted throat as she vaults out the door. She ignores burning lungs and aching and aching muscles as she sprints towards her husband. Screaming his name over and over again, petrified that he might vanish into a smoldering mirage if she stopped.
Lulu wills her legs to move faster, cursing the restrictive pencil skirt as she kicks off the damned pumps, not caring that her last pair of silk stockings is ruined on the gravelly dirt path. Their bodies collide in a smash of clothed skin and bone, the force throwing them off balance.
“God Doug, is it really you?” She asks, trembling hands cupping his drawn face. His skin feels chilled and his once starry gaze, is pale and empty. Her thumbs run along his chapped lips as he whispers a hoarse. “Y-yes.” She pulls him back into her, never wanting to let go again. “You waited,” he says, folding battle weary arms around her. “You came home,” she sobs into his shoulder.
He smells of war, cigarettes, bombs… and death.
Gripping his cold, callous hand, she leads him back to their home and up the stairs to the bathroom where she sits him down on the stool in the corner and runs a deep, hot bath.
Steamy fingers rise up from the chipped porcelain tub, stroking the air around them. Her relieved sigh at his homecoming is cut off by his icy, stare that sends a shiver through her heart. Clayman’s words of ‘best my boy died’ echoes through her mind. A stubborn ‘no!’ escapes her lips.
“Uh, what’s that?” he asks, confused.
“Nothing, it’s nothing.” She says, smiling back into his stark expression.
Lulu moves to help him undress. “What are you doing?” he asks.
“I am going to wash you,” she says, fiddling with his jacket.
“It’s okay Doug. You’re safe now. You’re home.” Slowly he relaxes his head nodding at this affirmation and the lightest blue returns to the dark holes in his head.
She rubs the soap-lathered sponge slowly up and down his back and over his arms. To her heart, so close to bursting, this all feels like a dream. Un-cried tears suddenly dissolve her vision. A wet hand reaches up and cups her cheek. “Lulubelle…”
Not bothering to dry, he steps out of the bath. His long, lanky arms wrap themselves around her, melding her to him. Cool cracked lips possess hers and she gives her husband all she is.
Their hands grope and claw like feral cats, but he stops this when they reach the bed.
“Slow,” he utters in a throaty whisper.
Lulu knows his need. Bit by bit, she peels off her skirt and cotton top, shoes and underclothes. His cold blue eyes make her shudder, but she pushes it aside – he came back!
Time slows down – it very nearly stops – as the two lovers meet again. Entwined in one another, determined never to let go.
The bright rays of another dawn tickle Lulu’s naked skin through the open window. She reaches over – empty! With only a sheet wrapped around her, she races down the hallway toward the foyer – and collides with the shadow of the weeping woman clutching the crumpled piece of paper.
“We regret to inform you…”
Standing outside the open door, a uniformed man, his blue eyes wild with a loved farewell, softly whispers. “I came home Lulubelle.”