By Michelle Garren Flye
The child wakes in the dark, still night. Once, he would have cried for his mother and wanted his father to come chase the demons away. Now his parents have other things to deal with. The child tries not to add to their worries. It's hard having a parent away fighting a war. At least, that's what his Grandmother says. She comes to take care of him in the afternoons now. To keep him from being too lonely, she says. The child knows she's lonely and worried, too. He wonders if she ever wakes, cold and sweating, from a dream of guns and noise and sand. He thinks the sand might be the worst part of his dreams. It's so sharp and bright and invading. In his dreams, it's everywhere – in his mouth and eyes, under his clothes, encasing him in a fine armor that makes it impossible to run from the violence surrounding him. He wonders if that's what it's like in the desert on the other side of the world.
The child sits still as a pool of silvery moonlight breaks through the clouds outside and spills across his bed. Mother could chase his fears away. Mother has always been his protector, his shield, the "safe" base in a game of tag gone mad. For a moment, he believes he can run to Mother, feel her sweep him up in her arms, kiss him, and tell him there's nothing to fear. But then the moonlight is gone behind a cloud again and he is alone in the darkness.
The stillness overwhelms him and he slips from his bed and pads down the hall to the kitchen, hoping one of Grandma's cookies will rid him of the fear. He stops, surprised to see a bright streak beneath the kitchen door. He considers going back to bed, but the dark hallway is too frightening and he shoves through the door.
Father sits at the table, his head in his hands. He looks up When the door opens, then holds out his hand to the child. The child runs to Father and is picked up and cuddled on his knee.
"You're thinking about your mother," Father says and the child nods his head against Father's chest. "You shouldn't worry about her, you know," Father says.
The child looks up at Father. "Why are you awake, Father?" he asks.
Father sighs and hugs his son closer. "Because it's daylight there and I wonder what she's doing," he says with a little smile. "Because it's hard letting her go thousands of miles away."
To fight a war. The unspoken words hang deadly in the air between father and son. Neither looks at the dangerous sparkle of truth. Instead, they pretend for a moment that mother is thousands of miles away doing something fun. That she is safe and happy.
They try not to remember because Mother cannot protect them this time.
Michelle Garren Flye is a full-time writer, wife and mother who currently lives in Maryland. She holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Masters of Library and Information Science from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her short stories have appeared online and in print. Contact Michelle.