Outside, it sounds like the whole world is exploding. There are people laughing, people cheering. Everyone is happy because the war is over. The ceasefire was announced on the public broadcast channel an hour ago, and already bottles of beer and wine are appearing as if by magic. Families are spilling into their yards, carrying boxes of fireworks pulled from sheds and cellars, setting them off in the middle of the street in vibrant shocks that set the sky ablaze in blues and reds, yellows and greens. I must admit it looks beautiful.
I sit curled up in the window seat of the loft, my legs drawn up to my chest. There is a photograph in my hands, one I’ve looked at many times. In the bursts of colored light, I look down at my boyfriend’s face and smile. He is a little younger in this picture; it was taken two years ago, when we were both stationed in London during the war. Shortly after that picture was taken, a rifle blast to the thigh ended my military career. His continued.
Dangling over the corner of the frame are his dog tags, which have been cleaned and given to me. I wear his spare one, the one that came with his enlistment papers. It hangs on a long silver chain beside my own, from when I was Fleet Commander. When you serve, even if you’re discharged, you never feel right without them on. I never take mine off. The chain bears these well-worn tags, and my engagement ring.
Another burst outside the window momentarily pulls my attention away. He loved fireworks, because they hadn’t set them off where he came from. It was part and parcel of another culture, and the idea of things blowing up in the sky, naturally, appealed to a military man.
I can still hear him saying, “Look honey! Aren’t they beautiful? They look like burning flowers.” He was right. I still think so, even if the sight of them causes a sudden, painful jerk within my chest. It feels like every beat is a stab wound. Eventually, this pain should have been enough to kill me. But miraculously, I’m still here. I’m still waiting, stupid me, for him to walk through that door. Drop his duffel bag on the floor. Run to hold me in his arms. But he doesn’t.
I look at the heavy black steel door on the other end of the room, and I wait. I wonder. I hope. But all I hear are the sounds of merrymaking outside. The shrieks of happy children playing in the streets. Tomorrow, their family will be whole again. Everyone will be together. I hear glasses clinking in the hallway, the sound of running feet. Knocking on doors and calls of, “Ceasefire! They’ve called a ceasefire!” But there is no way for me to lay down my arms and surrender. I survived.
SIERRA NITSCHKE graduated from Northern Kentucky University with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. She also earned the 2012 Japanese Student Award. She has has been an avid reader of fiction and poetry since she was very young, and draws much of her inspiration from Arthur Conan Doyle, her favorite author. She is hard at work on several writing projects, including a novel, and her first poetry chapbook. She lives in Northern Kentucky with her boyfriend, and their two spoiled cats. Sierra‘s unpublished works and thoughts can be read on her Tumblr Blog here.