Veronica Demarches sits behind her makeup behind a tailored business suit, behind a screen behind a keyboard. Behind a desk, behind a partition, behind a wall behind an elevator. Behind revolving glass doors, behind a city behind a train. Behind a street, behind a house behind her room. The most uninteresting person she knows. Her red eyes reflected dry against the flickering candescence of the monotony of another day.
The leave she has accrued lies dormant and restless. Long service has come and gone and never ever thought to use it. Perhaps a fear that leaving her station would result in a fresher face to replace her. Perhaps a fear that her station was the only place she felt needed. She had seen to that. She was indispensable.
However at thirty-six years of age and alone, something had to give.
Jennifer was pretty much the only one left. As her other friends had fallen like petals over time there was always Jennifer. Jennifer would be her date to the engagement parties and hens’ nights. To the baby showers and christenings. To the birthday parties and Christmas functions. Good old reliable Jennifer. She and her, a constant reassurance that, no matter what, they would always be there for each other.
‘Just like that?’
‘Just like that.’
They celebrate like lovers, only like lovers departing. The warmth of Jennifer’s embrace no match against the feeble mourning of Veronica’s reply. Now I am alone.
Veronica Demarches sits behind a luminous screen. Her red eyes reflected dry against the flickering candescence of another night at home. Her sixth cigarette lies inhaling itself amongst the bones and ashes of the previous five. She barely smokes. Enough of a draw to get them lit. Then there they sit until they are done. The emails are answered. Mainly the spam has been deleted, but spam in the inbox is not an empty inbox. The status updates of her friends on facebook have all been assessed. Her status hasn’t changed for months.
‘Veronica Demarches is feeling okay’.
Who is she kidding? She’s not okay. She misses him. She’d missed him for years before he went away. As the brother she helped nurse grew into the man she barely recognised the missing began. The skinny boy who now had a jaw and hair and stripes on his shoulders. She misses him now. She has no idea when she’ll see him next, but when next she sees him he will have changed still further. He’ll be bigger. Darker. Harder. Perhaps he’ll even be a hero.
Iraq? It even sounds desolate. At school they called it Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia sounded so much more luxurious. Rugs and jewels and shahs and temples. Iraq sounds like something you coughed up. But at least it’s not here.
‘Adventure Holidays’ flashes in the corner of her screen. Before the thought is processed her mouse has clicked the obnoxious text.
‘Venezuela,’ insists the ghost behind the screen, ‘Salto Angel’, ‘Parque Nacional Canaima’, ‘Caracas Maiqueita International Airport’. Veronica Demarches sits numb. Paralyzed and petrified she is submitting her credit card number.
Not loud. Not rapid. However the knock at the door is so abrupt, so urgent that Veronica knocks the cremation of butts to the carpet below. It couldn’t be. At this hour? It could only be. Veronica Demarches runs to the front door. Through the amber quilted glass she can barely make out the cut of his uniform. The military beret. The epaulettes. Oh God.
‘Miss Demarches?’ the voice is low and unfamiliar as the door is barely ajar. Her shoulders wilt. Her knees buckle. He will come home a hero. He will come home. Behind a box behind a flag. Behind dirt.