He remembered the light, then the roaring. A silence followed, succeeded by screams.
People gathered around him, doing things, barking instructions. He tasted blood. The pain came suddenly, a blinding, screaming pain tearing him in half. He heard the screaming again.
“Morphine! Now!” someone shouted. And he knew the screaming was his own.
He opened his eyes and saw white. And light.
A man’s voice. “We’ve got this, Peter. Soon you’ll be dreaming.”
He saw the café. They had stopped for a coffee. It was safe, in the green zone. They had stopped there for coffee dozens of times. He liked the coffee that was so strong it could keep him wired for hours.
He saw the girl. Dark hair and eyes. She was perhaps six. Someone at the table handed her a candy bar, a treat that carried with them for the children. She smiled. And pulled at her belt.
He could feel the vibration and knew it was a plane. He could smell leather and metal, and something antiseptic. He heard beeping sounds. Through a haze he saw a drip bag. A face.
“You’re going home, Peter. It won’t be long.”
His lips felt cracked with dryness, and he moved his dry tongue over them. Then fingers on his lips, smoothing ointment. Mandy will be glad.
“Joanie will be there with me,” Mandy said. “She’s my coach, but she’ll have a camera and take lots of pictures. When the baby’s born, of course. You won’t want to see the actual birth and the mess.”
“But I do,” Peter said, “I want to see it all. I want to be there.” He didn’t tell her that his captain was moving heaven and earth to try to get him leave for the birth. He knew how the army worked, and he might get it, or he might not. He didn’t want to disappoint her. Or himself.
She was due in three weeks.
He woke with the touchdown on the runway. He was fully awake. He saw a nurse come by and smile.
“We’ve landed,” she said.
“I know,” he said. “I felt it.” He could see portable military beds. Some men were standing. Bandaged. A man was the right side of his face bandaged. “Are we going to hospital?”
“The Royal Chelsea,” the nurse said. “They have great facilities there.”
He knew. It was where they took they badly injured, flown from the airbase in Basra to the big RAF base near Norfolk, and then driven to London by ambulance.
He saw her inject something in the tube from the drip bag.
Two men in white coats were talking. He could hear their voices but not make out the words.
He was lying on the floor of the café. Something was on his chest. Someone’s leg. And the wet stickiness. He pushed at the leg. It rolled to the floor.
Mandy. He heard her voice.
He felt a hand on his cheek.
“Yes, Pete, it’s me.”
“Have we had the baby yet?” he said.
“Not yet. Just under three weeks.” He heard the stifled sob.
“I take it I’m in a bad way. No one’s said.”
The sobbing was no longer stifled.
A nurse doing something, fiddling with the IV tube.
The voices pulled him from a deep sleep with no dreams. He didn’t recognize them. A man and a woman. The man was being deferential, and Pete wasn’t sure why.
Someone sat next to his bed. He opened his eyes.
“The open eyes are a common feature,” a man’s voice said. “He’s still asleep.”
He stared at the women’s face. She was beautiful. Her brown eyes had flecks of gold.
“Are you sure he’s asleep?” she said.
“Quite sure, ma’am. He’ll likely not regain consciousness.”
He felt her touch his cheek. Feeling her fingers on his skin, he could immediately tell he needed a shave. She didn’t seem to mind.
She stood and, leaning over him, she kissed him on his forehead.
“It will be all right,” the woman whispered. “She’ll be okay.”
Before slipping back into sleep, he realized she was right. And that she was an American. Were all angels American?
Escorted by the hospital administrator, Sarah Kent-Hughes walked down the hall to a waiting room. A very pregnant young women, tears staining her cheeks, looked up. Stunned, she struggled to stand.
“Your majesty—” she said.
“No,” Sarah said, “sit. I know what late-term pregnancy feels like.” She sat next to the young woman and took her hand.
“It doesn’t seem like it,” Sarah said, “but it will be all right. It doesn’t mean it won’t be hard, but it will be all right.”
The soldier was dreaming of angels with American accnts.
Top photograph by Des via Unsplash. Used with permission.