Marco, he comes back from the war unchanged.
His three years to the twenty-four hours it lasted for her, almost “there and back again,” he comes back relatively the same — except, just a little more broken in, a little more bone-bruised. Edith, she knows it will not last, has seen for herself how that’s impossible. Some nights, she still remembers her father, burly and calloused and familiar, calling her “sugarplum” one moment, and then elfin-faced and predatory the next. She still remembers not being able to keep track.
There’s no seeming logic to this, no science, no pattern to recognize. She’s just sure, with the tenacious confidence of a little girl, that it will happen — she will wake up one day next to a total stranger, except, it won’t be a stranger, just a strange body. It would still be Marco, scathing/sweet Marco, with the sharp eyes and the boyish curl of a lip. It will happen — she will be brushing her teeth, and an intruder will be reflected on the mirror behind her, except, it won’t be an intruder, just an intrusive trick. It would still be Marco, acerbic/earnest Marco, but with someone else’s nose, some other time’s jawline.
It’s the time difference, she supposes, all those years and blood cramped into that one solitary day she recognizes, even though time is immaterial here. All that time stretched and refitted and out of proportion the moment he walked through her door and said, “Darling, the war is over.”
Her mother taught her this trick, if you find one fixed idea, one identifying tick (“your father, he bites his lip before saying something he’s intellectually aware he’d regret — your father, he scratches the back of his ear when he tells the truth — your father, your father, your father”), the changing faces and the shifting dispositions, they won’t be as confusing. It’s the loaded dice with the perpetual face, something the war couldn’t reach into through the mouth and re-shelf between the ribs, something fundamental. But whatever it would be for Marco, Edith still hasn’t quite figured out.
“Stop worrying so much, babe,” he jokes. “I’m here. They can’t drag me back there anymore. I won’t let them. I won’t leave you here alone.” He is serious. And she wants to believe it, truly, she does, it’s just — a weight has settled in her stomach, and no matter how hard she stares at him, no matter how comforting he is every time, she’s hard-pressed to track every minute change.
And then —
“Stop worrying so much, babe,” is a trembling tenor, and a broken nose from a bar fight that did not cast him as the lead. “I’m here,” is a bored affectation and pale blond hair. “They can’t drag me back there anymore,” is scared shitless and beady eyes. “I won’t let them,” is suave and stubble. “I won’t leave you here alone,” has left.