The Homecoming

soldier

My father is coming home today.

I don’t really know how to feel about it.  I mean, I don’t really know him.  I was only two years old when he left.  I don’t have any real memories of him at all.  His picture is on my desk, he sits smiling at me as I do my homework at night.  He’s dressed in his crisp army uniform.  It’s an old picture.  He was only a Corporal when it was taken.  He made it up to Sergeant while he was away.

 Fourteen years.  That’s how long he’s been gone.  Pulled into action because of a war I can’t understand, in a place I only know about because my mother showed me where it was on a map.  It’s on the other side of the world, pretty much, and it doesn’t mean anything to me other than it’s where my Dad went to fight.

 He didn’t come home with so many of the other troops when the war ended.  Captured, placed in a prisoner-of-war camp.  They didn’t even know where he was for years.  After the war ended, he was one of the many soldiers that were missing.  Peace was declared, but still he was missing.  They finally found him, along with some other guys from our side when they were patrolling, in a prison camp our side didn’t know was there.

 So like I said, I don’t know how to feel about it.  Should I be mad?  Angry for all the years that I missed with my father?  Mad at all the dance recitals he missed, all the school plays, all the things a dad is supposed to do with his daughter?  How about relieved, that they finally found him?  Perhaps both?

 He’s been in the news a lot – Him, and the soldiers who were with him in that prison camp.  How he was on a bombing run before his plane was shot down, and, as they now know, was captured.  They’re using a newer picture of him on the newscast.  He has his Sergeant stripes in that picture, But he has the same smile in that picture as the one on my desk.  He looks a bit older in that picture though. 

 My mother laid out my best dress for today.  We have to go and meet the airplane. It’s a great big photo opportunity, and the media will be everywhere.  My mom wanted us to be dressed nicely because”We’re going to be on television, nationwide.” She said.  All sorts of important guys in uniforms will be there too.  Something about being present when the last of our brave troops come home.  Apparently this war took a lot out of our country.  I wouldn’t know about that, I was a little kid through most of it.  But this sort of thing seems important to everyone.

 I don’t really care for the dress. It’s itchy and stuffy.  I’m far more comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt.  But my mother would never let me go to this thing dressed like that.  Everything has to be proper, neat and dignified, if we’re going to be seen on the news.

 It’s time to go. I quickly toss on the dress and run a brush through my hair.  The car is waiting to take us to the airport.  They’ve sent a limo to bring us even though it’s only a few minutes away. No expense spared, it seems.  My mother is already in the car.  Good thing it’s a limo, or she’d be behind the wheel honking the horn to hurry me up.

 As I approach the car, the driver opens the door for me.  I can see my mother inside, looking out the opposite window.  She and I never talked much about dad being away, so I don’t see much reason to talk to her now that he’s on his way back.  What is there to say, really?  Before I get in, I notice a man in a uniform approaching.  He hands me a box.  It’s then I remember that my father won a medal.  The army guys thought it would be special if it was me that brought it to meet the plane.  I think it’s just a good public relations stunt.

 I hop in to the car, and we pull away from the house.  To save myself from having to talk to my mother, I fiddle idly with the window controls.  It’s a fairly warm day, so the breeze passing by feels nice. Soon I can smell the airport.  It’s a unique smell of exhaust, tarmac and rubber that you can recognize in an instant.  I roll the window up so I don’t have to smell it, but it’s too late, it’s in the car already, and we’re pulling past the security checkpoint.

 The limo pulls up outside a hangar.  There are media personnel behind a picket that has been set up.  Cameras, microphones, cheap suits and over-styled hair are everywhere.  We don’t have to go near them though; there is a spot reserved for us.  They have set up a red carpet walkway with a matching red carpet for us to stand on.  No chairs; it looks like we have to stand through the entire thing.  I turn my head at the sound of engines.  It doesn’t look like we have to stand there for long; the plane is already taxiing up to the hangar.  I wonder if it’s our luck to arrive just in time, or if they timed it just right.

 I take my place beside my mother, and watch the plane rolling to a stop.  I can hear cameras snapping, reporters murmuring in to recorders or microphones.  The plane is loud enough that I don’t hear what they are saying, nor would I care to.  I find it so unfair that this day has to be a circus of media, so that the entire nation can take part in my father’s homecoming.

 The back of the plane begins to open, and I can feel my pulse quicken.  I don’t know why.  Like I said, I don’t remember this man at all.  Shouldn’t a daughter have some feeling though?  Maybe it’s because I’m my mother’s daughter. She’s never been much for showy displays of emotion. 

 The plane ramp finishes descending.  The engines switch off, and I can hear the reporters go from restless to silent.  It’s a military plane, which means the floors are nothing but metal, so I can hear the footsteps beginning from the depths of the plane.

 My father has come home.

 A drum starts rapping out a military beat.  It matches the steps I can hear from inside the plane perfectly.  The medal in my hand seems very heavy.

 My father has come home.

 From the top of the ramp, I see the six honour guards, carrying his casket down the ramp to meet us.  The medal falls from my hand to the carpet without a sound.  My mother begins sobbing quietly beside me.

 My father has come home.

 And I don’t know how I feel about it.

(Thank you for reading.  This piece was a challenge presented to me by a comment in my “rusty helmet” post, where I can be given topics to write on, and try and come up with either a story, opinion piece, or even a humour piece as a result.  Please freely critique this piece!  I would love to discuss it.  Also, please visit “The Rusty Helmet” and give me some more topics to continue to challange myself.  The suggestor in this case chose not to link their blog, so I won’t indicate it on here (even though I know who it is, in this case!) But I will mention the person who gave me the idea, and their blog, should you choose to give me another topic to write on!  I hope you enjoyed this short story, and I look forward to any feedback that will help me continue to improve!)

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5 responses to “The Homecoming

  • Anonymous

    From a readers perspective……I really enjoyed your story, it had lots of detail, and kept me on the edge wondering what was really going to happen in the end.

    • Cheddarmelon

      much appreciated! I had some friends read it, half figured out before the end, the other half, they had no idea. In a story like this, you find yourself trying to sell the twist, but depending on the reader, some catch it early and spoil the effect, some don’t. Thanks for reading!

  • multiplemonster

    Wow… you wow me every time. Even on a piece like this, that are “short story”, I am just in awe. The emotion, or lack of in her view, is stunning, and I feel for a character that I never even got a name for. The details are wonderful, but all still so vague that this could be anywhere.

    I have recently been working on my family history, with what seems like a sense of urgency with a parent just having died, and I have a large amount of military in my own history, some of which never came home. I too have the photos of people who never came home, and I never had the chance to know. This piece hits home.

    It puts the realism to a over exaggerated topic. Gun-ho patriotism is fine, but sometimes, it doesn’t fix the questions or the wondering.

    I really, really, truly enjoyed this piece. May I share it?

    • Cheddarmelon

      Thank you very much!

      I deliberately obfuscated details. I didn’t want nationalistic identity as part of the story, I wanted it to be applicable to anyone, and I felt that the purposeful vague protaginist actually added to the piece.

      In actuality, the photo on the piece is of a german solider, from the world war 2 era, although there was no intent to paint the picture that they were germans either, it was to remain non-descript.

      Please share! I hope that others would enjoy the piece. If you are reblogging for me, that can only help me reach a bigger audience, who can perhaps continue to help me be a better writer.

      thanks so much for the kind words, and good luck with your family history! I’m sure you’ll find some very interesting things.

  • ceraia

    The best part of this, for me, was how well you captured and conveyed the girl’s character. My favorite stories are those which center on personal experiences and emotions. This affected me, which is surprising since very little ever does. Even knowing that it was going to be a tragedy, so the ending was somewhat expected, did not detract from it’s power. That is skilful writing. Well done.

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