“We don’t talk of him” her eyes returned to her sewing. Only a slight pause in the stitch indicated that the question was unexpected and painful. There was an exchange of glances between the two other ladies, each taking a sip of the proffered weak tea before they too returned to their sewing.
There was talk in town, of an unexpected visit to Helen MacDonald. The war made everyone desperate for any kind of information that wasn’t written in the paper. Families with soldiers or politicians were invited to more events and to more teas- always with the hope of more information that was given in the papers. Letters said nothing of details, but offered the most important information- we are still alive. At least up until the last two weeks (or more) of the letter.
The fact that Mrs. MacDonald wouldn’t speak of her son made her friends think the worst. Was he wounded, mutilated or dead? Before the war, when life was blissfully normal, her friends would roll their eyes at their friend’s boasting during Saturday tea; “Have I told you where Tommy is going for University?”
They didn’t mind . The three of them had grown up together: played dolls, went to dances, fell in love, got married, had babies, and now the war. It’s not as though they hadn’t been touched by the war themselves- Haddie’s daughter lost her fiancée in the war, and Beatrice’s son couldn’t join because he was flat footed. God knows the family had been ridiculed by his inability to join. Certainly his father had borne it poorly- he was almost unable to speak to the boy without looking away. It had made a boy that was joyful and carefree quiet and brooding. Yes, this war was changing people.
And now Helen wasn’t speaking. The thoughts of her companions hovered in the room united in the vastness of the comfortable past and the painful present. They resolved themselves to be present if Helen should speak. Part of them was afraid that she would, possibly shattering more of the remnants of a life and community that was once intact.
The hours ticked away. Socks were stitched and a blanket started for the boys overseas. The talk was brief , pregnant with what might be spoken. But somehow even without speaking, without sharing in words , their space in the room eased the pain of the present.
It was Haddie that spoke first. Excusing herself. Her daughter would be expecting her home for dinner. The ladies stood. Helen, avoiding eye contact with her friends returned with their coats. While it was agony to be together- words unspoken, it was harder to part.
It was the parting words- the good-byes that did it. She wasn’t intending to look them in the eye. She had done this so many times with them, just in this way, but something had changed- her world.
They knew- how could they not. It was only at the last moment, just as they were going to walk out the door. She looked at them and they couldn’t help but know- her lips quivered and her eyes filled with unquenchable pain. Without missing a beat they encircled her spreading their arms around her- a protective cocoon fashioned on thirty years of friendship. They simply held her as she screamed.