The buses pull up, tiny, far away. It doesn’t seem as if anyone could possibly cross that Fort Hood field, it is suddenly so cruelly huge. Women wait. They wear outfits they think their soldiers will like: Harley Davidson tank tops and short shorts, Jackie O summer dresses and high heels, jeans and flip-flops. Children hold posters so tightly the paper tears. You expect fireworks and you get a dj with a bad sound system. But none of that matters, just the men on the bus. It’s July in Texas. Your baby is sweating. You are sweating, your makeup ruined, you spent too much time on your hair and now it’s damp and knotted on your neck. Do you look fat in this dress, do you look sexy enough, how much weight have you gained, has he decided he doesn’t love you anymore, have you decided you don’t love him anymore? It’s been so long. You’ve been through this before, but still, it’s been so long. His third deployment. Your third year alone. Everyone tells you the baby has his eyes, but you think he will recognize her only because you have sent him photos. You wonder if he will return with a shaved head, which is how he left you, shorn. You cut it yourself trying not to cry, that extra hair seeming to be all that was soft in the world, all he was leaving behind.
The baby is tired, she’s crying. You are tired, but not.
They get into formation. The command makes them stand at attention, as if testing you, as if saying: you have waited this long, how much longer can you wait? You have not cracked yet, spouses and soldiers, can you stand this Texas sun, this droning colonel, this echoing rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”? Can you wait to see what the war has brought home to your door?
Then they are set loose. Women run, and you wish you could be like them, not thinking, lost in excitement, no self-consciousness, just abandon, ecstasy, jumping into the arms of camouflage, look at me! Look at how much we love each other as my soldier kisses me and swings me [End Page 11] around! But you and your crying baby hang back. Shy. Years of marriage, and this is what you have right now, a sense of shyness, of wishing you could be happier, wishing you could stop thinking. You see him. He has shaved his head, you see the shine of his scalp, reminding you of where he has been, that man’s world where hair did not matter. He is walking toward you. He too is not running, he too is shy, he too is looking at your crying baby, unsure, knowing he has missed so much, wondering if she will let him hold her, wondering if you will let him hold you.
And his hair will grow back. [End Page 12]
Siobhan Fallon is the author of You Know When the Men Are Gone—listed as a best book of 2011 by the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Public Library, and Janet Maslin of the New York Times—and recipient of a 2012 Indies Choice Honor Award and the 2012 pen Center USA Literary Award in Fiction. Theatrical productions of her stories have been staged in San Francisco, Denver, and Dallas. More of Fallon’s work has appeared in Publishers Weekly, npr’s Morning Edition, Hungton Post, and Military Spouse Magazine. She earned her mfa from the New School in New York City.