by Peter Jordan

When Gene Briggs returned from Afghanistan he moved back in with his mother and kid sister.

Those first few months, he would borrow his mother’s car and drive along the coastline. There was something about the white egrets that stalked the mudflats; something about their long white bodies, their detached movement, that reminded him of where he had been.

The family doctor prescribed sleeping tablets. They worked at the start, but not now. Although he still took them.

Sometimes he would sleep till after lunch.

His mother said he needed to see a special doctor. He told his mother he’d picked up a parasite overseas. There was a truth in that.

He walked downstairs—he wasn’t sure of the time—it didn’t feel like afternoon.

His little sister Rebecca greeted him: ‘Hey lazybones.’

He was older than her by five years. It may as well have been a lifetime.

‘Hey,’ he said.

‘You woke me up last night.’

‘I did…’

‘You were shouting out in your sleep.’

Briggs was momentarily gone, wondering what the hell he’d said.

‘You gonna come see me in the play?’ she asked.

‘What play?’

‘I told you, already… The Wizard of Oz… I’m Dorothy.’

‘You told me,’ said Briggs, trying to get something right in his head.

His mother carried two mugs of coffee to the kitchen table.

‘Becca,’ she said. ‘Let me have a word with Eugene.’

Briggs sat down. He was ready for the coffee.

‘How are you today, son?’

‘Good,’ he said, adding milk. ‘I’m good.’

He watched the milk cloud the coffee, rising in swirls, and he was gone again.

‘What about work?’ his mother asked.

‘What about it…’

‘Well, don’t you think it’s time you looked for something?’

He lifted a teaspoon.

‘I haven’t decided yet what I want to do.’

‘What about signing up again?’ asked his mother.

‘You want me to go back there!’

‘No, I don’t want you to go back. I love you son… I’m worried about you… You’ve changed.’

Briggs stood up straight, knocking the chair over. ‘I’ve changed? The whole fucking world has changed!’

His mother put her face in her hands and cried.

Later that evening, he sat in his mother’s car in the school parking lot. Two years previous he had attended the same school. Right now, he struggled to remember a single thing about it.

He finished the last of the brown liquor, then staggered inside and sat on a fold-up chair at the back of the dark hall.

The play was almost over.

He watched his little sister on center stage, dressed in pigtails with red lipstick.

She clicked the heels of her ruby slippers.

‘There’s no place like home,’ she said.

Three times she said it.

The lights went out for the final act.

When the lights came on again for the homecoming he was gone for good.

Peter Jordan is a short story writer from Belfast. Over 50 of his stories have appeared in literary magazines and journals. His debut collection Calls To Distant Places will be published in May 2019. He is currently the ‘virtual’ writer-in-residence with TSS Publishing.