He lies near the window and can feel the warmth of the morning sun on his face. He feels the bindings with still blackened fingers and his eyes sting.
"Mr Dixon?" She sounds young and sweet and slightly familiar. "Time to change your dressings."
Warm hands and slender fingers unwrap the bindings on his thigh as he feels the water trickle along his skin. The softness of the sponge is soothing and the sting from the burn relieved further with some unction she applies. The mastery of her touch stirring more than it should and reminiscent of the woman divested of a soft and yellow dress, naked between crisp sheets.
She unbinds his eyes and clears her throat to distract herself as much as he, at what she sees. He doesn't hear her gasp when she finally views his uncovered face. Again, warm water soothes although the burn is healing well, it stings and he winces. She leans forward enough that he can feel the warmth emanating from her skin. She smells sweet, a strange combination of Palmolive soap and a familiar perfume, clean, fresh. She makes small talk while she works.
"Where you from then soldier?"
"Great Harwood, Lancashire and you?"
She ignores his question, "Harwood? You're a long way from home. Do you want me to contact anyone for you?"
"No thank you ma'am. They know where I am, but you could write a letter for me."
"Done," She agrees and he's pleased for the opportunity to extend her company at his bedside.
He hears the trickle of a wrung cloth in her kidney dish, "Once we've finished here, I'll grab a pencil and paper."
"What's your name?" he asks.
"You can call me Nelly. I'll be looking after you while you're here. You're all my boys in this ward."
They chatter briefly, the conversation light and breezy as the day outside and careful not to mention the horrors of the Somme. She looks sadly out of the window, and feels remorse and guilt for the young man she's bathing who will never bathe in such light. So much promise and potential. Like one she once knew, so briefly in the past.
"It's a lovely day out there Jack. Would you like to go outside, I can get a chair and walk you to the garden?" He smiles. He can't see hers but he knows she's smiling back and he knows it's beautiful.
She settles him in a timber seat. Unseen gardens stretching before him. Unseen flowers attracting bees to their sweet nectar. "Right then," she adds, "Let's get on with that letter."
Dear Ma and DaThey're quite the 'item' at the BMH but the time has come to leave the sanctuary of rehabilitation. He loves the warmth of her body walking beside him, arm linked in his and leading him into the sunshine. He'll miss the softness of her voice and the gentleness of hands that no longer bathe but caress which both excites and distresses him. She tells him to mind his step as he's led toward the bus bound for Manchester. His helplessness preys heavily on his mind.
I've arrived in Edmonton, Middlesex at the BMH and a very nice nurse named Nelly is writing while I talk. The doctor's say my leg is healing well although I find it hard to bend and the soreness in my thigh keeps me awake at night. My face is slightly burned but my eyes are useless. They dress my wounds and re-bandage but I cannot see anything. Just dancing colour, what I remember of violet and red. I hear everything. I hear Darnley in the bed next to me having night terrors. I hear Smith across the way shouting in his sleep. They'll walk out unscathed eventually. Not Bennett. He's lost both his legs. He'll be wheeled out in a chair or carried in a box. Too soon to tell.
They're helping me here to feel my way around and a man is coming next week to spend some time organising training with for the war blind. I don't want to go there. I just want to come home.
"I won't forget you Jack," she whispers, "...write me when you get home. Let me know how you're coping?"
Before he takes the tentative steps into the vehicle he turns, hands clumsily feeling their way around her face and resting on her shoulders. She doesn't wait for him to risk missing his mark but moves forward into him and presses her lips to his, folds her arms around his neck and leaves a lingering kiss. One too long to be mistaken as a fondness. One that tastes of another time, another place but he pulls away.
"Be a good lad now and learn your Braille, get a dog . . be independent as you can."
"I'll see you . . ." he says.
The words trail as the ludicrous thought of him ever seeing her elicit a sigh of sadness.
He doesn't want to 'see' her he wants to feel her, wants her with him all the time but how can he ask her to be his life's companion, marry an invalid, spend decades caring, slaving, serving a man who is incapable of feeding himself anything other than a sandwich or a piece of fruit. He fights the urge to declare his affection as he turns and boards the bus resolved that she deserves another, deserves better. He can't see the look on her face, the tears in her eyes, as she blows him a kiss she knows he cannot catch.
She sits on the side of a dormitory bed and opens a small brown paper parcel tied with twine. It bears a stamp and French postmark from months gone by. She unties the rough hewn twine and pulls the sheer silk stockings from their tomb. Slender fingers glide the treasured gift over shapely feet and knees, straightening the seams and clasping them at the thigh. She slips on a sunshine yellow dress and skillfully draws the zip. It still fits. A little out of style but sleek and seductive. She draws the brush from a bottle of nail polish and masterfully paints her nails. Sweet lips are smacked with red and lashes lengthened with black. She stands, smooths the dress, grabs her coat and valise then heads towards the station where she buys a ticket to Harwood, Lancashire.
"Jack . . " she taps him on the shoulder and strokes the side of an unshaven cheek with the back of her hand. "What are you daydreaming about? Lunch is ready."
"Colours..." he says, "Black days, green uniforms, red wounds, yellow memories... "
She smiles - she still has the dress, now folded and wrapped in the same brown paper as the silk stockings and bound with the same string. She never confessed and he never asked but he knew who she was. He remembered the texture of the dress, the downslide of the zip, even the sound it made falling softly to the floor. He kept his wisdom under wraps a smug secret of his own. He rises from his chair as she links her arm in his and walks him to the table.
Nelly, "Did I ever tell you what my favourite colour is?
She glances at unseeing eyes and wonders if he even remembers colours.
"No darling, I don't believe I do,"
Written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory "In Love, In War, For Lust, Forwarned"
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