I am a student who wrote this story for my English teacher when I learned she was ill with cancer. I have been writing for about two years, but I have not published anything yet.
Pvt. Daniel Boutine
Daniel stood, motionless in his front yard for a long time. He stared at his front door. He watched the falling leaves swirl around him. The tree he had seen since his childhood had late changing leaves this year, they were just beginning to turn to a light yellow. He tried to remember how long it had been since he had seen a tree with leaves. Slowly, he walked up to the tree and felt the soft leaves with his fingers. The sun shone on the leaf making it look both translucent and luminescent. It glowed with a golden tinge. It was beautiful. He stroked the leaf, felt it yield to his pull, but he didn't dare pull it off the branch. To deprive something this beautiful of life, he thought, would be worse than anything he had seen. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
He had imagined the moment for so long. He had walked up the steps a thousand times, turned the handle, opened the door, and greeted his mother with open arms. She would meet him with tears, tears of relief, joy, sorrow, exhaustion, but she would hold him in her arms and all would be right again. He stood at the foot of his steps looking up at the door. The wind blew through his hair. He felt the chill of the October wind dance along his neck and face. He breathed the air in, smelling all of the vibrancy and crispness of the New England sky. He could almost taste the air, like an afterthought along his tongue. His eyes closed as he felt the wind blow through his eyelashes, teasing him, imploring his memories to resurface. His childish games, raking leaves into a massive pile only to jump into them with the abandon of a diver. He remembered sailing through the air, landing in the dry, crisp, prickly, mound of leaves. The trees gave them to him. He loved the trees, and had missed them with an ache that seemed to penetrate into his entire body.
He moved up the steps, and the wind died down. The leaves were still now, as if they too held their breath in anxiety. His hand moved to the handle. He went numb. He tried to block out all that had happened, he was home now. He was home. His mother would make everything all right. He was home. Things are right at home. Things are just as they should be. He grasped the handle and, holding his breath, opened the door.
He let the door swing open at first; he didn't enter until he had taken in everything. His home eased through the door and wrapped around him, like a lover enticing him back. Everything was the same, just as he had remembered it. Just as he had envisioned it in his mind. He stepped into the doorway, into his waiting kitchen that enchanted him like a drug. He felt wave after wave of warmth rush over his body. All he did was breathe: breathe out the excitement, breathe in the warmth. Slowly, carefully, and with trepidation, his mouth opened. Thousands of times he had said it, thousands of times she had come to him.
"Mother?" his voice left his body with the force of a child. He heard it and blushed. Thousands of times he had come back as a man, and now this unceremonious squeak of a voice called to his mother. He straightened his back and tried again,
"Mother?" He set his bag down and proceeded through the kitchen. When he turned, he saw her walking down the hall, slowly, carefully with her head searching the floor in front of her. She lifted it carefully, not wanting the disappointment of her mind playing tricks on her as it had so often. When she saw him, her face took a look of confusion and uncertainty. She stopped walking. For a moment they both stood motionless, staring at each other in disbelief.
"Danny?" it was both a question and an expression of delight.
"Hello mother," He had returned, he was home. The scene was playing itself out.
"Are you all right Danny?...did the army take good care of you? How do you feel?"
Daniel stood, puzzled and anxious. Why hadn't she moved yet? Why was she still frozen in whatever action it was that he had interrupted? Why was she asking him about the war? Couldn't she see, didn't she understand that now that he was home it was all over?
"I..." even the question itself seemed like an enigma to Daniel, it was the first time he could remember anyone asking him how he felt. On his way home, nearly everyone he encountered treated him with either indifference or pride. As if congratulating him on the country's success would provide closure. As if any of the horrible things that had happened could even be remotely justified with a "well done, soldier. Glad we came out on top of this whole mess." The deepest cut of all was the name society had given the atrocity, The Great War. And now this? A similar strain of mock patriotism from his mother was more than Daniel could bear. He began to panic. He felt his pulse quicken and beat like a drum in his head. His mouth ran dry and he clutched his hands open and closed again and again.
"Danny?" she was closer to him now, directly in front of him, staring into his eyes with all of the warmth and sincerity that comes with being the creator of a child. Daniel hadn't seen her walk to him, hadn't seen her gaze searchingly into his eyes for her son. But now, as he regained a sense of where he was, he met her eyes with a tired, tired, relief. He felt his body sigh as he met her eyes. Looking into her eyes, he felt a sad shame for ever believing that his mother could think in such a way. She was not like the others; she could never be like them. She was a saint for him. He knew she would sacrifice everything she had just to see him smile.
"I'm glad to be home, mother." The lines eased in her face. Her eyes shone with relief and sad joy. The son she had brought kicking and screaming into the world had come home to her, safe.
The next thing he knew, Daniel was sitting at his kitchen table and watching his mother pour water into a teapot. She had suggested it to him, he had accepted. He stared at her movements, entranced and dazed. He let his thoughts quiet themselves. His senses existed separately from him now, taking in every minute facet of his surroundings. He watched the water go into the teapot. The water fell with grace. Clear, liquid, sparkling with light and life. She capped the teapot and set it to boil. He watched as the movements of this preparation were performed for him. He had seen them executed countless times in his tea with mother. Now more than ever he appreciated the hours of preparation and gallons of water spent in their quiet communion.
The tea was boiling. The high pitched squeal of the steam passing through the whistle was a siren singing "Welcome home Daniel, welcome back". Slowly and delicately, the teapot was removed from the stove. The mugs were in place; his mother cautiously poured the steaming liquid clarity into them. He watched as the steam danced from the surface of the water. Spinning and twirling like a feather in the wind, it was every shape the imagination could envision and nothing at the same time. Gently sprinkling the leaves into the water, his mother carried the mugs over to the table. The dancing steam invaded Daniel's eyes and lungs as the mug was set before him. His mother had retreated to the pantry to retrieve the sugar and cream leaving Daniel alone with the provocative steam.
It played with him, all the games of his childhood rolled into the perpetual movement of the vapor. He slowly lifted his hand above the rim of the cup. Cautiously he spread his fingers and watched the hot, wet steam escape through them. The warmth of the steam sent a rush of ecstasy running down his spine. He rolled his head back and closed his eyes. Home. Real home. His mother's footsteps brought his senses back to the kitchen table. The spoon was set before him with the pitcher of cream, and the cup of the granular crystalline sugar. He picked up the spoon and stared vacantly at the concave reflection of a person he wasn't sure he knew anymore. He turned the spoon around to see the elongated version of the face. It was old, it was weary, it carried with it the heavy countenance of a soul pushed beyond its limits.
"Danny," slowly the spoon was lowered from his view and sitting across the table was the beautiful, knowing smile of his mother. The age in her eyes was different from that of the face in the spoon. It shone with experience, knowledge, and love. It was the face of a soul that felt contented with its existence. She lived forever in that moment. Smiling at him as the steam wafted up to warm his face. She said nothing further, but instead picked up her cup and slowly tipped the dark liquid to her lips. Daniel looked down into his own cup. He saw a face of relief and comfort. The ends of the face's mouth turned up in the faintest hint of a smile. From it's eyes fell two glistening tears streaming down the face to meet the smile. Daniel breathed out the prison that had held him for over a year. He lifted the mug to his mouth and drank in the warm soothing elixir. He felt the warmth travel down his throat, chest, into the pit of his stomach, the very core of his being. He put the mug down with eyes closed, savoring all he had dreamt of for so long. The tears gently fell from behind his closed eyes. He opened them to see his mother looking on with a pained understanding for the silent torment of her son. They drank and sat at the kitchen table, facing each other, reading each others eyes.
Outside the leaves danced along the ground and fell from the trees as the wind blew, locked in an eternal embrace, whispering promises of what was to come to each other.
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